fresh bread: how following Jesus is different

As Jesus walked alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, because they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” Right away, they left their nets and followed him.  Continuing on, he saw another set of brothers, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with Zebedee their father repairing their nets. Jesus called them and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-22, CEB)

Perhaps it’s because I enjoy fishing so much that this text always catches my eye or maybe it’s because there’s much more going on here than meets the eye.

In Jesus’ time, if a person wanted to become a disciple of a Jewish rabbi or sage, they approached the rabbi and asked to follow him. Jesus did something nearly unheard of when he reversed that sequence: he chose his own disciples. And so from the very start, discipleship with Jesus is different. The call is different in itself, not merely the demands of discipleship. Which gives rise to the question to me today: “As Jesus calls me, how will I respond?

Many fishermen in Jesus’ day were better off economically than most of the folks around them. While they weren’t even remotely close to being one of the elite of the land (who made up perhaps 1% or less of the population), they were definitely a leg or two up on 90% of the people. Fish was a staple in Galilee and keeping the business “in the family” could only add to economic advantage. But when Jesus called these four disciples, they “left their nets.” It’s even emphasized on the part of James and John that they “left the boat,” apparently with permanence in view. For a fishermen to walk away from his trade, even for a relatively short time, would certainly be costly to himself and all who depended on him. Even now, those who answer Jesus’ call find that it costs them in every way, especially their wallet. The question is obvious: “What do I love most?

And one thought more. James and John “left … their father.” It was unusual for rabbis of Jesus’ day to expect their disciples to be away from their families to study more than a few days at a time, thirty days being the outside limit for most. But Jesus expected more; much, much more. The potential repurcussions back home are not hard to imagine. And today, this much has not changed: to follow Jesus can mean real strain on familiy relationships. “Who do I love most?,” is the question.

Father in heaven, help me as I fish with you for people, to help them count the cost of following you. May I never leave the wrong impression, that commitment to you is “cheap.” May every heart you call respond not only freely, but fully. This I pray in the name of the Master Fisherman, Jesus. Amen.

ct: Jesus Christ – and him crucified

The question of people in developed societies today is not “Is there anything after death?” but “Is there anything before death?” What the theology of salvation  must address if it is going to speak to an age (or at least to a context) that is as it were condemned to life is whether life is purposeful. … it is the great responsibility of the church in every age to try to discern the overarching predicament, the question behind the questions, that is the situational background of all human striving. (Douglas John Hall, The Cross in Our Context, p.129)

fresh bread: never leave him

If people escape the moral filth of this world through the knowledge of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ, then get tangled up in it again and are overcome by it, they are worse off than they were before. It would be better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than, having come to know it, to turn back from the holy commandment entrusted to them. They demonstrate the truth of the proverb: “A dog returns to its own vomit, and a washed sow wallows in the mud.” (2 Peter 2:20-22)

I’m late posting today’s Fresh Bread devotional for a reason, and to be completely transparent, it’s an emotional one.

You see, several days ago I decided I would post a devotional thought today from this candid, haunting passage that forms the conclusion of 2 Peter 2. That’s what I had in my head, but my heart has been in the way. As I read this text, I keep seeing people; “dead people,” as it were. I keep seeing the faces of people I’ve known across the years who once made a good start with Christ, but who have long since left him, choosing instead to go back and try to live their life without him.

Some of their stories I know; some I don’t and probably never will. I’ve buried some of them while others still live. Some still living I’ve kept up with while others I can only wonder where they are. Of those I know still, some I know seem to be getting along just fine, while others only act as if all is well. And there are others still, I know from their own words, who live in utter despair.

But this they all have in common: my heart bleeds for them. They are my brothers and sisters in the Lord, but they’ve left home and kin, Father and siblings. Some left with a will while others simply drifted away, but the end result for most of them is the same: they become even more entangled with the world and its ways than they ever were before. It’s a dirty, sickening sight to see and my throat grows tight and my eyes a bit misty even as I try to write now. The words haunt me: “It would be better for them never to have known …”

I need to pray.

Heavenly Father, bring whatever is necessary into my life and the lives of my brothers and sisters to humble us and keep our hearts warm toward you. Remind me often of my pledge to you and do the same for all in your family. For I want to never leave you and I yearn for all who have to return. Be patient, I pray, and have mercy on us all. We are weak and live only by your salvation. Take our lives from us before we would ever forsake you. Save us so in the name of Jesus I pray.Amen.

don’t go back

If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.” (2 Peter 2:20-22, TNIV)

fresh bread: what makes a false teacher “false?”

“… false teachers will come among you.” (2 Peter 2:1)

Peter chose his words carefully. That’s what men who know they’re about to die are want to do (2 Peter 1:14). He surely lingered not only over his choice of subject and expression, but deliberately spoke so as to maximize the chance of what he had to say becoming memorable (2 Peter 1:15).

This is how Peter penned his last letter, at least the last of which we have record; 2 Peter. Nearly 40% of that letter he spent warning believers of “false teachers” coming their way. Five times he called them such (2:1,2,12,17,19) and he described their ways in detail.

Now we would be naive to think “false teachers” are only a thing of the past. But if we are believers and the words and example of Scripture matter to us still, then we should be exceedingly careful as to who we would ever brand as “false.” We would do well to ask Peter here and now: “What ways would make a teacher so fallen as for us to rightly tag them as ‘false?'”

While nothing in this letter would cause us to think Peter was comprehensive in his answer, we ought to notice its scope for the teachers Peter labeled as “false” were obviously, and exceedingly, ungodly in all their words and ways.

Their tongue was untamed. They introduced destructive opinions (2:1), lied with premeditation (2:3), and were unafraid to use insult (2:10b). They used “slander” as they addressed what they didn’t even understand (2:12b). They were teachers whose speech betrayed their true allegiance.

Christ’s Lordship is something they had left far behind. As Peter put it: “… they deny the master who bought them …” (2:1) What they had to say about Jesus, whether with words or ways, was anything but fitting of his place or power as ruler of all.

Immorality was their ID. Their unprincipled living wasn’t just a reality, but was “unrestrained” (2:2,18a). They followed after “the corrupt cravings of the sinful nature” (2:10a). “Unruly parties” were their trademark and “seductive pleasures” (2:13b) are what they sought. They appeared to “always [be] looking for someone with whom to commit adultery” (2:14). Clearly their cravings enslaved them (2:19b).

Money was their master. They were given over to “greed” (2:3a), their “hearts [being] trained in greed” (2:14). So obvious it was that money was their god Peter could only say it reminded him of one who “loved the payment of doing wrong.” (2:15)

People were their prey. Though their ways could be subtle like a snare (2:18), they lived to “take advantage” of people (2:3), targeting those weak of faith (2:14), those just coming to faith, and those who had wandered from faith (2:18). People were only their means to their selfish end.

And they had a propensity for pride. “They openly defied “the Lord’s authority” and were “reckless” and “brash” (2:10b). Their harsh words or mockery were even known to be openly directed against beings greater than themselves (2:10b). You would think the universe revolved around them.

Now what makes a false teacher false? Surely from this short study we can say that at least in this instance, the issues involved not merely the teachers’ words, but their ways; their motives and character as much as the content and style of their teaching.

The thoughtful reflection on which should lead us to pray.

Heavenly Father, give us the discernment and courage to always stand for what is truly of you. But Father, we confess our history is strewn with the wreckage and results of the careless use of the phrase “false teacher.” The slightest variance in the understanding of your word and will has all too often given rise to the labeling of falseness and fostered the needless division of your people. Father, forgive us of this sin; have mercy on our souls. This we pray in the name of him who is nothing but True. Amen.