Let Down the Nets

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(Luke 5)

“At your word, I’ll let down the nets,” Peter said.

Having fished all night, having passed the optimal time of day for catching fish, having spent his entire life fishing, Peter knew that Jesus’ idea was a long shot.

On the other hand, he had just listened to the Teacher’s words. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. The favorable day of the Lord is here.

What if His words were true? What if this man was God’s promised King? 

“Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing. But at your word, I will let down the nets.” Because it’s you, Jesus. Because you’re the one asking, I’ll take the chance.

Maybe you’ve been there.

“Master, I’ve worked on this marriage. For years. It’s changed nothing. But at your word, I’ll keep trying. I’ll keep praying.”

“Master, I’ve worked on this sin. For my whole life. I know this problem and I know it’s unsolvable. But at your word, I’ll keep fighting. I’ll pray again. I’ll try again.”

“Master, I’ve worked on my brother, my father, my friend, my co-worker. I’ve prayed for them. I’ve told them about You. It’s changed nothing. But at your word, I’ll try once more.”

Peter knew the odds were long. But maybe, just maybe, the odds were irrelevant here. He had heard the Teacher say it: the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

So he put the nets out one more time. The catch came in so quickly that he couldn’t haul it shore. The nets began to break, and so did Peter’s self-assurance.

The fisherman who was so certain that the fish weren’t biting was suddenly overwhelmed at how wrong he had been. Only God could usher in such a catch. And that was a terrifying realization.

A sinful man in the presence of God, Peter begged Jesus to go away. But Jesus came here for people like Peter. For people like you and me.

“Do not be afraid,” He said. “From now on, you will catch men.” From now on, you know that nothing defeats the King. You know that the kingdom is at hand. You know that He is Immanuel, God with us. And He will do things so much greater than catching a few fish. People will find eternal life. The Spirit of God will come and live with His people.

Peter thought Jesus’ expectations were too grand. Jesus knew that Peter’s were too small.

When Jesus says to let down the net one more time, let it down. Your experience and objections and fears are no match for the power of God. One more throw and you just might find that He wants to do something bigger than you imagined.

Maybe, just this once, the odds are irrelevant. Maybe, just maybe, He is who He says He is.

You think His promises are too big? Maybe your view of Him is just too small. 

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The Word Became Flesh

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(John 1)

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

He was there when God spoke the universe into being, full of power and glory and light, full of everything we think about when we think about God.

The Word became flesh, a child born to an unwed mother, in a tiny town that was mostly known for being the childhood home of a great king from Israel’s past.

In heaven, the angels sang His praises. On earth, He was celebrated by a few shepherds, a rather undistinguished greeting team for the King of the Universe.

He became flesh and dwelt among us.

The perfect Son of God lowered Himself to live in the midst of angry, immoral, disobedient people like us. He became one of us, eating and drinking and sleeping. Like us and yet so deeply unlike us all at once.

The Light shone in the darkness, but the darkness could not comprehend it. He was like us and yet so unlike us that we simply could not understand who He was.

“He who has seen me has seen the Father,” He said. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus, the Word made flesh. He explained God and offered us the right to be God’s children.

The Incarnation of Christ is impossible to fully understand, and yet the Incarnation paves the way for us to understand enough about God to know Him.

As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God. To those who believed in His name. Here in the darkness, we cannot comprehend the blazing light of God’s glory.

But we can believe it.

Full of grace and truth, the Word of God, the eternal Son, came as a child, born to an unwed mother in a tiny town, all so we could know His Father. Truth to reveal who God is, and grace to forgive our sin and lack of understanding.

Grace upon grace.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We may not understand Him, but there is no Life without Him. 

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The Only King We Need

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(1 Samuel 8, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles)

When will we stop waiting for the next king, the next leader, the next hero to save the world?

When will we learn that kings and rulers will never meet our expectations, or fulfill our deepest hopes? Earthly leaders can never do what only God can do.

Israel never learned that lesson. I wonder if we will.

Like you and me, Israel wanted a leader who would make their nation look good. They wanted a ruler to reflect their values: strength, power, and maybe a little morality thrown in for good measure.

“Give us a king,” they said. “We want to be strong and respected, like all the other nations.”

So God gave them what they asked. They rejected His leadership and made idols out of their kings. And Israel’s monarchy was a disaster, just as God warned them it would be.

Saul, their first king, was power-hungry and godless. His successor David worshipped God, but was violent and deceitful. David’s son Solomon was wise, but his unrestrained lust led the people into idolatry.

Rehoboam’s arrogance split the nation in half. And on and on the cycle went.

There were nineteen kings in northern Israel, and every one of them worshipped idols. There were twenty kings in the southern kingdom, and most of them worshipped idols as well. Even the “good” kings of Judah were often violent, usually arrogant, and sometimes idolatrous.

The root of Israel’s problem was that they did not trust God’s leadership. For nearly 400 years, the people followed their kings into all sorts of evil, until God judged the nation by sending them into exile.

When they returned to the land, after 70 long years, they still clung stubbornly to their hope that a human king would save them.

And all the while, God kept sending prophets to tell them the truth: Only one King could save them. But they never listened.

They kept looking to their leaders, expecting them to do what only God could do.

So God Himself came, clothed in human flesh, to save His people from their enemies and from their sin. Born in a manger, raised by a carpenter, with no palace of His own, He didn’t fit their model of a what a king should be. So they killed Him.

But this King was not like Saul or David or Solomon or any of the others. He would not stay in the grave. He rose again to lead His people to victory and life, to save them from sin and death and Satan, once and for all.

And yet the people kept waiting and hoping for somebody else. Rather than submit to the Savior, they kept looking for a better option.

Will God’s people ever learn that there is no better option? Will His people ever see that there is only one Savior?

The pattern of Israel’s idolatry continues in the hearts of God’s people today. We look to governments and kings to save us. We want them to free us from our national sins and lead us into righteousness. But they won’t. They can’t. Because there is only one Savior.

Are you disappointed in your government? Are you disillusioned by your leaders? Well, that’s not a bad starting point on the pathway to trusting God. Because once we free ourselves from the old and tenacious lie that kings will save us, we become free to trust the only King who can.

He’s a good King. He’s a powerful King. And He will save us. Don’t lose heart, and don’t place your hope in the kingdoms of the world.  

Instead, worship the One True King. Proclaim His glory to those who need to hear.

And wait for His salvation, because He’s coming back soon.

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Always Present, Always in Control

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(Matthew 14:22-33; Psalm 139)

There is nowhere you can go where Christ’s presence cannot follow. There is no crisis, big or small, from which He is absent.

He is always present, and He is always in control. 

You say, “I know that. I learned it as a child. God is always with me.”

Yes, of course you know. But do you forget?

On a dark and stormy night, Jesus’ own disciples forgot His presence and doubted His power. In a small boat on a small sea, the wind raged around them and the rain poured from heavens. The boat threatened to break apart and they were terrified.

When they saw the man walking on top of the water, they thought it was a ghost. Perhaps death itself had come to claim their exhausted bodies and wayward souls. They cried out in fear, until He spoke.

“Take courage. I AM. Do not be afraid.” 

The Maker of the Seas was in their presence. The King of all Creation was walking on the water. He was always present and He was always in control.

You know the rest of the story. You probably learned it as a child. Peter got out of the boat. While his eyes were on Jesus, he walked on the waves. When his eyes shifted to the wind and the waves, he fell.

And the Captain on the Storm took him by the hand, pulled him from the water, and stopped the storm cold. No more wind. No more rain. No more waves.

Jesus was always present and He was always in control.

Just as Jonah learned the hard way, and just as the Psalmist wrote so many years ago, nobody escapes His presence. 

If you fly to the highest heavens, if you descend to the depths of the earth, if you go to the east or the west, He is there. Even if you turn off all the lights, He sees you.

If you find yourself in a crisis not of your own making, He is present. If you find yourself feeling out of control, He is in control.

You can panic or you can trust. You can pretend you’re in control, or you can grab ahold of the hand of the God who is. 

And like the disciples remembered so many years ago, you’ll remember who He is. The one who conquered death will not abandon His people. The one who defeated hell itself will eventually resolve every crisis and wipe away every tear. He never leaves and He never loses.

The Maker of the Universe lives in you and me. Every place, every moment, forever. 

Always present. Always in control.

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The Prayer God Loves to Answer

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(1 Kings 3, James 1)

There is a prayer God loves to answer, a request to which He eagerly answers, “Yes.”

It is a prayer that was offered by Israel’s third king, and encouraged by the brother of Jesus Himself. It is not a prayer for good health, long life, extra money, or easy circumstances.

What is the prayer God loves to answer? It is a prayer for wisdom.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all, generously and without reproach.”

When you and I, like Solomon, ask God for wisdom, He opens His storehouse and provides. Perhaps not all at once, as He did for Solomon. And perhaps not to the same degree that He gives to another. He might not make you the wisest person in history. The Queen of Sheba will probably never sit at your feet to listen to your pearls of wisdom. (At least she’s not coming to ask me for advice! Perhaps you’re wiser than I am, though).

But God will generously give you wisdom. He will never mock your naïveté, and He will never rebuke you for coming to ask. He will give to you freely and without reproach.

We face a dizzying array of decisions each day. Some are insignificant, but others matter deeply. How should we use our limited time? How should we allocate our money? How can we respond to our spouses or roommates or kids or bosses or professors with the grace and truth of God?

All too often we worry about the right decisions, when we ought to pray for wisdom. We substitute anxiety for prayer and simply refuse to cast our cares on Him. We read articles, we ask our friends what to do, we lie awake with worry, but we seldom pray for wisdom.

But wisdom is the very thing that God is eager to give. He possesses it in infinite quantities. He never runs out, and the man or woman who asks Him for it will receive more than enough. He’s filled His Word with wisdom, and He can fill our hearts and minds with it as well. Yet for some inexplicable reason, we stubbornly refuse His help, hoping against hope that our small minds can gather enough wisdom, all alone, to make the right choices. And time and again we prove ourselves wrong, while the very Maker of Wisdom offers us bountiful wisdom beyond our wildest dreams.

Solomon’s wisdom overflowed the boundaries of his own country and made him famous throughout the whole world. God was delighted when Solomon asked for wisdom, so He gave Him more wisdom than He even imagined possible.

He’s waiting for us to ask as well. God loves to answer our prayers for wisdom. He loves to give it generously and without reproach.

The only question that remains is whether you and I, the people of God, will ask for it.

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God Laughs

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(Psalm 2)

God laughs as they plan, as the nations and their kings plot destruction against His people. He laughs at the evil men who plan to destroy the people of the Cross, who plan to reduce God’s kingdom to rubble.

God laughs from His throne, but not because their violence is funny. He laughs because no man can overthrow his own Creator. No nation can destroy the One who spoke the very earth from nothing. Like a kingdom of ants trying to defeat a pride of lions, evil men bite and sting and threaten, but to no avail.

The people of God will prevail, because God cannot lose. Because the day is coming, the day is coming so quickly, when the enthroned and holy Maker of the earth will no longer countenance violence against His people. No more will the nations and kings and terrorists of the world line up God’s people for execution and imprisonment and destruction.

From the very start, violent men and women have launched their little wars, determined to wipe out the authority and power of the One who made them, determined to exterminate anybody who dares proclaim that One God rules the cosmos.

But God laughs, and God’s laughter is only the prelude to His powerful justice. 

Then He will speak to them in His wrath, and He will terrify them with fury.

“I have established my king on my mountain and no man can overthrow Him. You kings and wicked nations, heed My warning. You kings and wicked nations, bow before my Son. Bend like a reed, or you’ll break like a vase.”

God laughs, but the day approaches when His laughing will cease and His judgment will begin. 

God’s people have no need to resort to violence. Instead they bathe their brothers and sisters in prayer, knowing that the King of the Earth is their One Protector. They know how He will vindicate the persecuted and put a stop to all those who seek their destruction. The day approaches fast, the day approaches so fast, when God will destroy rebellion forever and set up His kingdom, a kingdom that will never fail.

The holy mountain of God will shine with the glory of the One who died and rose again. No more will the innocent be threatened by death. Death will be dead forever. Violent plans will no longer succeed. The kingdoms of the earth, the plotters and schemers who think they can wipe out what God has built, they will all pass away.

The people who stand in the glory of Christ’s resurrection will live forever, basking in His glory and mercy and love. And the dead in Christ will rise, never again to die. Never again will wicked men of violence come anywhere near God’s people.

God laughs because His plans will prevail. He never worries, because He always wins.

And yet God waits for even violent men to turn and find His mercy. He knows that grace is stronger than violence, and love is stronger than fear. He knows that no kingdom of man can ever prevail against His power and love, against the powerful love of God.

All who stand against Him are destined to fall. All who fall before Him are destined to stand. And those who stand in Him will laugh for joy when they see His perfect plan unfold.

A plan for no more fear. A plan for no more death. A plan of life that never ends for the people who bear His name.

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Keeping Up Appearances

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(1 and 2 Samuel)

Both kings were handsome, but the resemblance ended there. 

Saul, the first king, was more handsome than anybody else in Israel. He was tall and good-looking and everything people wanted in a leader.

David, the second king, had nice eyes and red hair, but he wasn’t the first one you’d notice in a crowd. Unlike his brothers, and unlike Saul, he was never described as a tall man.

Saul’s appearance commanded attention, but David’s usually didn’t

The differences between them went much deeper than appearance, though. The trouble with Saul was that his life and his reign were defined by appearances. Saul’s philosophy was encapsulated thousands of years later by a famous camera commercial. “Image is everything.” As long as he looked good, he saw no real reason to do good.

Saul and David both disobeyed God. Both were confronted by angry prophets, and both paid dearly for their sin.

But Saul lost his kingdom, while David kept his. Saul’s line was wiped out, while David’s line was preserved forever. Have you ever wondered why?

The answer is found in how each man responded to God’s discipline.

Saul’s first instinct was to keep up appearances. He cared about how he looked. So he denied and evaded responsibility and refused to admit his sin. And when he finally was forced to acknowledge what he’d done, he was more concerned about being embarrassed in front of the people than he was about making things right with God.

On the other hand, David’s first response was to admit his guilt and acknowledge his sin against God. He made no excuses and offered no evasions. He replied with one sentence: “I have sinned against the Lord.” He was more concerned about being right with God than looking good in front of others.

When God called David “a man after God’s own heart,” he wasn’t saying that David was sinless, or even that David was particularly nice all the time. He’s saying that David’s heart was soft toward God, in tune with the fact that God cares more about who we are than about how we look.

David knew that in order to remove his sin, God had to expose it. He knew that receiving grace required him to admit he needed it. And in the final analysis, that’s what defines everybody who has a heart after God’s own.

You and I, we also need grace. We are sinners. Like Saul and David, we’ve disobeyed God over and over. The only question left is whether we will allow His light to pierce our shadows. Will we let His mercy overcome the lies that separate our hearts from His, or will we try, like Adam and Eve and Saul, to hide from His all-seeing eyes?

David, the man after God’s own heart, knew the truth: Grace arrives just in time for those who need it most. For those who know they need it. For those who ask for it. There’s no keeping up appearances in the presence of God. He loves you too much to let you get away with that.

So will you hide, or will you step into the light of grace and find the forgiveness and love you so desperately need?

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Hope from Barrenness

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(1 Samuel 1-2)

Hope was no friend of the barren woman. Hope served only to disappoint, month after month, year after year, as the hoped-for child never appeared. Longing turned to bitterness, and bitterness became hopelessness.

Hope became Hannah’s enemy, and she wept bitterly. She made promises to God and begged Him for mercy. Her emotions were so strong that her priest thought she was drunk. Her pain was so piercing that she couldn’t even speak when she prayed. She poured out her soul to God, hoping against hope, even in the face of hope’s enmity.

She yearned to bring forth life, but her body betrayed her. “Barren” was a terrible word, but accurate. Hannah’s heart dwelt in the desert. Lifeless. Devoid of hope. Barren.

But God brings hope to the hopeless. “He raises the poor from the dust, he lifts the needy from the ash heap.” Out of barrenness God calls forth life. It has been His way since the beginning of the world.

The God who sits enthroned on high heard the prayer of a poor barren woman. He took away her reproach and gave her a son.

She named him Samuel. “God heard.” He listened to her prayer. Her weeping did not escape Him, and He answered.

When God is near, hope is near. Hopelessness, barrenness, and death may have their day, but they cannot prevail forever. 

Out of the ash heap of Hannah’s broken dreams, God brought forth a prophet who would judge the nation. A leader who would anoint and depose kings. He proclaimed hope and life to a nation mired in despair and far from God. He was a living representative of the power of God, this man who sprang from a barren womb.

Hope from barrenness is God’s specialty. He knows what it is like to weep for a lost son. He knows the sting of death and hopelessness, but also He has the power to overturn it. Only He can bring hope from hopelessness, life from death, growth from barrenness.

He hears your cries. He knows your hurt. He is drawing us toward the day when He will restore eternal hope to we who live in the shadow of lifelessness and death.

In His presence, hope will never disappoint. Month after month, day after day, we will dwell in the presence of all-consuming Life. Barrenness will cease forever and Life will drown out all hopelessness. Forever and ever.

“My heart exults in the Lord…because I rejoice in Your salvation.”

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Love is Stronger Than Death

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(The Book of Ruth)

Hope grows from the soil of God’s faithfulness. It has no other reliable source. A seed of hope planted anywhere else will die.

Naomi’s bitterness sprang up from the sting of death, a weed that still threatens to choke out our hope. Left alone by a husband and two sons, she had no earthly hope remaining. All she had were two bereaved daughters-in-law who could no more give her hope than they could raise the dead.

Without hope, without any means of provision, Naomi was sure to follow her husband to the grave.

Her name meant “pleasant,” but she changed it to Mara, a name that means “bitter.” “Call me the bitter one,” she said, “because I’m empty now. God must be against me. I am without hope.”

But God was never against her. Our God gives hope to the bitter. He fills their empty cups from His own storehouse of infinite hope. 

He gave Naomi a foreign daughter-in-law who chose to be a conduit of His faithful love. Like God Himself, Ruth told Naomi that she would never leave her. Ruth chose not to plant herself in the thin hope of a new Moabite husband. She knew that hope can only grow from the soil of God’s faithfulness, the One whose promises of life never fail.

And Boaz chose to care for a poor foreign widow and her bitter mother-in-law, despite having nothing to gain.

Ruth is a love story, but it’s not about romance. It is a story of the fierce and unchanging love of God. 

Ruth is the story of our great Redeemer God, the One who gives hope because He can raise the dead. You and I are born under the shadow of death’s sting. We plant our hopes in the dead soil of this world, looking for life to grow from all that we can never trust. Spouses, children, jobs, money, fame. Like Naomi, we see our earthly hopes fade and die and call ourselves bitter and hopeless and alone.

We tremble with the fear of death’s sting and we cry out for redemption.

And the God of Ruth and Naomi and Boaz calls back, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me will never die.” The one who trusts in Him is never without hope, because His love is unfailing. His power is infinite. Death will lose the battle.

He raises up hope from the ashes of certain death. 

Boaz was the father of Obed, who was the father of Jesse, who was the father of David. From the line of David came Jesus the Messiah, the King of Israel, the One who would live and die and live again. Our Savior would one day make a promise, rooted in the soil of God’s faithfulness, that those who believe in Him will never die.

There is no hopelessness in the presence of God. He makes the bitter pleasant and gives the dead their life.

Hope is rooted in the soil of God’s faithfulness. It has no other reliable source.

His love is stronger than romance. Stronger than even death. It is everlasting and perfect and it never fails.

And death will be swallowed up in victory, beaten by the everlasting love of God. Our bitterness will turn sweet, and our hopelessness will be eclipsed by His eternal hope. And like the very hope of God, those who believe in Jesus will never again have cause to fear the sting of death.

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When Ability Outpaces Character

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Judges 13-16

A leader’s ability should never outpace his character. Strength and cunning cannot replace submission to God. Talent is no substitute for spiritual maturity.

Samson was the strongest man alive, but he was hollow at the core. He used his power to take vengeance and to satisfy his lusts. He forgot that his strength did not come from his hair. It came from God. He was appointed to protect Israel from the Philistines, to deliver them and lead them into worship. Instead he simply protected his own interests and didn’t really lead at all. In the final analysis, Samson acted like a Philistine himself. Brutish, angry, out of control, and godless.

He killed more Philistines in his death than he killed during his life. That’s not a glowing epitaph. It’s a tragedy. Samson is a vivid illustration of the theme of Judges: “Every man did what was right in his own eyes.” God gave him every advantage and every opportunity, and he squandered them all. When a leader’s talent outpaces his character, the result is disastrous for everybody involved.

Like Israel, we are too enamored with talent and strength. We follow men and women who are gifted without asking whether they’re godly. Those of us who lead are often too quick to cultivate our skills while neglecting our character.

Character takes time to develop. There is no easy road to spiritual maturity. So we settle for a mirage. After all, who needs character when talent is so much easier to come by?

But that approach is a tragic mistake. Time and again, God’s Word shows us that He exalts character over strength. He often passes over the tallest, strongest, and most talented leaders in order to lift up the humble. He knows what we sometimes forget, that the humble person depends on God. It’s not that talent and maturity are mutually exclusive. It’s just that extremely gifted people sometimes have a harder time trusting God. Letting go of control is tricky, and it’s even tougher if you feel capable of being in charge all by yourself.

That’s why Paul’s qualifications for leadership don’t include qualities like charisma, height, good looks, eloquence, talent or strength. They are all about character. Gentleness, sobriety, peacefulness, self-control, faithfulness.

Character trumps talent every single time. If you want to make an eternal impact, if you want to lead in a way that benefits God’s people, cultivate your character first. Talent will follow if God wants you to have it. And if He doesn’t give it to you, it’s because you don’t need it.

For those looking for somebody to follow, don’t assume that the most gifted person is the best leader. Don’t make the mistake that Israel made, the mistake we too often make even today.

Ability should never outpace maturity. There is no substitute for spiritual maturity, no substitute for dependence on God, who exalts the humble and humbles the proud.

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