Archive for October, 2012

There are all sorts of reasons to feel inadequate. One of the main reasons is that you are! There are situations in many of our lives that are frankly too much for anyone in the whole world, so it’s OK to look at it and say, “Here I am, Lord…send somebody else.” Of course there might not be anyone else to send, and then you have to decide what to do. This is a Moses Moment!

– Jill Briscoe, Here I Am, Lord…Send Somebody Else!

I read this book years ago, and it has never moved far from my consciousness. Feelings of inadequacy were my prime driver for many years, before Christ called me back to Him, and showed me how to become satisfied in myself, in Him. (and that has made all the difference!) I used to kill myself to excel, unable to honestly judge my work on its own merit, instead depending upon the opinions of others to determine my worth; if they said I did poorly, it confirmed my private evaluation, but if they said I did well, I was relieved for the moment, but the blush fades oh so quickly…and now there is an expectation that the next effort will meet or exceed the last, and so the pressure mounts before the task is even begun. It’s no wonder to me that I turned to every drug, distraction and diversion the world has to offer, in an attempt to drown out the misery and make believe I felt good about myself; the wonder is that by grace God kept me around, that He had something for me to do…whether I thought  I could do it or not. I resolved to submit, to accept any opportunity to serve that came along…but I  reserved the right to decide when I would be sufficiently “ready” to do that thing, because surely God only wanted my best, not the best I can do right now. I wouldn’t bring a lame offering, so why a lame effort? And this kept me on the bench, out of danger…and unsatisfied.

About a year ago, I went on a three day spiritual retreat, looking for an experience, and got an answer instead, from a totally unexpected direction. I wanted God to tell me exactly what He had in mind for me, to spell it out so I could go and be the best servant He ever saw. I needed to know what to do so I could go get ready, because getting ready is my specialty…I can prepare like nobody’s business, as long as I never have to perform. But what He told me, through the men I heard and shared with that weekend, was that the only thing I was not ready to do was give up my sin of pride, disguised as false humility…by saying, “I’ll do it God, but not yet, I’m not ready,” I was saying that I knew my heart better than He did, that I was more worthy to judge than He, that I was a better God for me than He was. By grace, He allowed me to leave that sin behind that weekend, to go from “I’m getting ready,” to “I am ready, because of You.” I have to admit, it’s a big relief to not be responsible for my results, but only my obedience. That is the biggest part of what I am writing about, of what this book said to me then. But there is one other thing, something it says to me now, something that ties into another post here recently.

Scroll back to the top, and read the last two sentences again…I’ll wait.

It says, “sometimes”, and it says, “then you have to decide”. These are important qualifiers, and I get overwrought when I forget this part. I forget that not everything is a calling, or at least not MY calling. I don’t need to jump headlong, hoping this is IT…when IT comes I will know. I do think that we each should pray, meditate upon the Word, and search ourselves when something does come around, and have an idea if we would be willing or able to respond. That’s what I have been doing, working out what I think God might require of me, and counting the cost…so that, if there is no one else, I will know how to decide what to do. It’s not a Moses Moment if someone else is sent, but it is my nature to rehearse for it, so my “Here I am!” will not be timid or fearful. I am not worthy, by my own rights, but I can accept that, as C.S. Lewis put it in The Weight of Glory: “If God is satisfied with the work, the work may be satisfied with itself.”

I hope this clears up any misunderstandings I may have created. Thanks to all who reached out, and reminded me of how great God really is.

Following hard after Him,


A good workman can accept the reward of his labor with assurance, but one who is idle and shiftless cannot look his employer in the face. That is why we must devote ourselves heart and soul to the task of well-doing, for everything comes from the hand of God and He has already warned us,“See, the Lord is approaching, and His reward before Him, to pay every man as his work deserves.”

– Clement, 4th bishop of Rome, 90-100 AD

1st Epistle to the Corinthians, Ch.34

I’ve been reading a lot of early Church writings lately, because I have this crazy idea that maybe they understood what Jesus intended His disciples to be doing with their lives, and why, with more clarity than we tend to display today. (Of course, that idea is not original to me; I am indebted to my friend and spiritual director, Phil, for handing me Pagan Christianity to challenge me, and then Justin Martyr to convince me, that we have gone a really long way down a side path, and making it really hard to hear our Shepherd’s voice.) Every so often I get another confirmation that I am on a more fruitful track now, and I wanted to share this one with anyone out there who ever wonders why we do what we do – don’t be afraid to ask questions! There may be very good reasons why, but you should know what they are, not just take things for granted.

OK, not starting a rant, just sharing a thought. What do you think about the way the early Christians lived out their faith? Is there a valid criticism of “modern” practices implied or expressed by the words of these men who followed so very closely to our Lord, not least in time? I would like to hear your opinions.

“Jesus promised His disciples three things—that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.”

-G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

This one makes me smile – I am reminded of Jesus’ letter to the church at Smyrna, where He tells them (please excuse my paraphrase)  “I know you’ve had a hard time, but you have this to look forward to – it’s gonna get worse!”

A pause that refreshes…

Posted: October 16, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Just feeling a little overextended today, so please enjoy your morning/evening, and I will be back tomorrow. Thanks for stopping by!

Following hard after Him,
(even when it’s really hard)

Nicky

 Day Four: Philip and Nathanael (1:43-51) -The Apostle John now moves the scene to the “home office” of Jesus’ earthly ministry, along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus reveals another aspect of His heavenly warrant, by knowing what could not be known by men; He also promises an even greater revelation still to come.

 43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, He said to him, “Follow Me.”  44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, He said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”  48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”  49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”  50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.”  51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you,  you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’  the Son of Man.”

The apparent abruptness of Jesus’ decision to return to the northern region (v.43) hides a very real truth – at around 100 miles, a two- or three-day walk, the journey from Jerusalem to Galilee (specifically Cana, as we will see in the next chapter) was not undertaken lightly. Surely only dedicated disciples would be willing to travel this far beside their master, so in a sense this is also a kind of winnowing…one in a series of decision points that each of us must face as we “walk with Christ”. Upon His arrival, Jesus continues to call His disciples. He finds Philip, and offers the same invitation we saw previously given to Andrew and John, and Peter: to follow after Him, and accept Him as their master. Given John’s recurring theme of evangelism, v.44 would lead us to understand that Philip had probably been approached earlier by Peter and Andrew (they were all from the same small town, they may have even grown up together!), so Jesus is merely giving confirmation that he has been called.

The next verse repeats the scene we saw in Judea, when Andrew went to find his brother; Philip even uses the same words: “We have found Him!” But we also see one of the first skeptical responses, when Nathanael hears Jesus is from lowly, simple Nazareth and gives his famous reply, “Can anything good come from there?” What is that all about? We can think of it on two levels: first, he is expressing a typical prejudice that great things must come from great places, and Nazareth is certainly not a great place! Second, however, he is posing a well-grounded objection: the Scriptures clearly state that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem. He was born there, as we know from both Matthew and Luke, but only under unusual supernatural circumstances…if not for the census ordered by Herod, that required Joseph to travel to his hometown, Jesus would have been “from” Nazareth…and He would not have been our Messiah. Philip responds with the best answer he has…”Come and see.” He knows that meeting Christ will remove all Nathanael’s doubt.

The greeting Jesus uses when He sees Nathanael, one single sentence, exposes a depth of personal knowledge not readily understood by modern audiences, so let’s look at v.47 closely to glean all the details as Nathanael would have understood them. First, Jesus calls him “truly an Israelite”, making a particular distinction in a diverse region equally populated by Hebrew and Greek Jews. In the language of the New Testament, being “an Israelite” was considered worthy  of honor, a claim of descent from Jacob, the first Israel and patriarch of the Twelve Tribes. The rest of the greeting is a tacit recognition that, before God changed his name and his nature, Jacob was not a very nice person…he is perhaps best known for cheating his brother Esau out of his birthright (trading a bowl of stew for it) and their father’s blessing (aided by his mother and some goatskin). By declaring that “no deceit is in Nathanael, Jesus is affirming that He has intimate knowledge of his character…a bold claim for a man who he never met before! In v.48 Nathanael questions the source of this knowing (notice he does not deny anything Jesus said…He was right!), and Jesus comes right back with another, bolder statement – “I saw you.” Again, there are layers of meaning behind the words. “Under the fig tree” is more than a physical location, it is a cultural idiom peculiar to the Jews – a call to pray specifically for the coming of the Messiah; this is what Nathanael would have been doing when Philip found him…praying for the Messiah to come. Further, by claiming to know his thoughts and his heart from afar, Jesus is calling to mind the words of King David, writing in the Psalms to glorify the Lord for His intimate and inescapable knowledge of us.

In v. 49 Nathanael receives these assertions as sufficient, convincing evidence, and declares his belief in Jesus as “Son of God…king of Israel”.  The final two verses of the chapter contain that promise of more revelation, as if all we have seen so far is not enough. Jesus again reaches into the Old Testament for a familiar image, and applies it to Himself; Jacob is once more featured, or rather the heavenly vision he received of God’s servants traveling to and from the earth, attending to the Father’s will. By placing Himself, the “Son of Man” in the place of the ladder, Jesus explicitly makes Himself the conduit of God’s will on earth…and of God’s grace, as well.

Before we leave this chapter, I would like to make a  couple of quick comments about some words and phrases Jesus uses here, which have a recurring significance: First, “Son of Man” is the self-applied title most preferred by Jesus; in John’s Gospel alone it appears 13 times. This is a particularly non-political appellation, compared to “king”, “Lord”, “son of David”, etc. as commonly applied to Him by others. Second, Jesus introduces His final remarks with an unusual construction of words. Various translations render them as “surely, surely”, “truly, truly”, or “most assuredly”, but Jesus is actually using a variant style normally reserved for the closing of corporate prayers – His, “Amen, Amen,” at the beginning of speaking, would naturally provoke strict attention to the words that followed, a “signature move” that we will see repeated anytime He has a particularly important point to emphasize.

Next week we will begin  Chapter Two, verses 1-12, and see the first of the Signs of Glory (as John calls the miracles of Jesus), which proclaim testimony to His heavenly origin and mission.

On Mondays I present short versions of the Sunday school lessons I teach at my home church. We are studying the Gospel of John, with the focus of seeing Jesus as the Apostle wishes: the holy Son of God; the Messiah prophesied by all of the Old Testament; the fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption. Once we see Him, we will have to believe, and thus be saved.  Scripture references are NIV unless otherwise noted.

This week’s Friday Forum is quite personal, and some what longer than usual, but it’s really on my heart to share this. Thanks for your indulgence.

I have written some about the struggles my home church is going through, but I would like to expand on a personal  aspect of that fight, share some thoughts, and get some feedback from people outside the bubble.

We are a small (<100 members) Southern Baptist church, in a neighborhood that has changed dramatically in the 50+ years the church has existed – so much so that (in my opinion) we no longer relate very well to the community. Specifically, we have operated in a cash-intensive manner, with high overhead  and facility costs, that our current membership frankly cannot sustain. So a new approach is obviously required. Concurrent to this, our pastor resigned at the beginning of the year, and moved to another church in another city. Baptist ministers move around a lot; this is natural and expected in our tradition. He had been there over ten years, a relatively long stretch, and in all honesty he knew he was moving on long before he left, he was only unsure of the direction. Unfortunately, his ambiguity left a leadership void, and we as a church ended up with an internal division – about half (generally the seniors) were wanting someone to keep things going the way they always had; about half grouped around the new worship leader, whom they felt had a clear calling from God to restructure. (Full disclosure: I fall into the latter group. Tradition is not evil, and legacies do deserve respect, but “because we’ve always done it that way” is not sufficient justification for anything.)

Lately the issue has come to a head: we are voting in two weeks whether or not to call the worship leader as Pastor; he passed an earlier vote for Interim Pastor a few months ago, but that only stoked the flames of contention. This is a defining moment – if he is not called, he will leave and start a home church, and nearly the entire core leadership of the church will leave with him; most of the teachers, most of the deacons, most of the elders…and most of the money, as well. Let’s not put too fine a point on it – the church is broke. We have made all the cuts and revised the budget as far as we can with the current mission plan, down to about half of previous years, and tithes and offerings cover roughly 2/3 of that new requirement. Without that core group, the bank account will run dry in a matter of months, and that will be the end. (Even with them, something has to give, or we merely extend the inevitable a year or so at best.) A dramatic upheaval will give us a fighting chance, but of course there are no guarantees. I personally believe the new idea is a good idea, and I am voting in that direction, but the issue is going to be close. So what happens if the church votes no? In particular, what happens to those who are left behind, who are anxious to maintain “the church” at any cost? It absolutely breaks my heart to see people who have lost the vision of Christ, and would rather trust in the status quo than in the Spirit of God. OK, so they don’t want to be led in the right direction…does that make it right to leave them to themselves, with no spiritual direction at all? And if not, what am I going to do about it?

This is the hardest part for me. I am absolutely torn, and at a true loss for which way to go. Over the last year, God has opened up inside of me the need to serve Him harder: I began teaching adult Sunday school, and leading seminars; I was called as a deacon by this congregation; I preached the opening message for our students’ summer evangelism retreat, and the Sunday morning main service once, with another scheduled for next month. I was allowed to lead a team for the prison ministry I serve with, and that led to a decision to enter vocational ministry. The seminary application is completed, it only requires a few hundred dollars to enroll the first two prerequisite classes to register my degree plan, and I will be off. (This part is on hold…our finances have cancer, too.) I have stepped out into leadership areas I never imagined I could do, and God has been glorified. So I want to believe that I could step up and serve this need. But is my belief enough? Do I actually have the servant’s heart it will take to help lead a flock away from a cliff they are resolutely determined to jump over? Would they accept me, unqualified as I am, because they will not be able to afford to pay anyone a salary but I have a good job and don’t need to ask for one? Can they or I, afford to risk the effort to find out?

All these thoughts swirl through my mind, making me search for God’s face, for the motives of my heart, for the best way to go. I find myself almost dreading a “Yes” vote, because I won’t find a resolution to my own little crisis…how selfish is that? Lord, forgive me.

So I put it out there for you, Dear Readers. I’m not looking for solutions, I just want to hear some other voices, with a little distance and perspective…I think one of the blessings of fellowship and community is how God can comfort us by His agency in others, speaking into their hearts on our behalf, and I am asking: What is He telling you about my situation? Reply in the comments, I have moderation off so speak freely (don’t be uncivil, I will delete rude and hateful speech right quickly.) I look forward to the discussion.

Following hard after Him,

Nick

Those of you who have been reading know that I am married to a beautiful, Godly woman named Karen. I have talked about our struggles dealing with her cancer, but I thought it would be good to let her tell some of her own story, in a guest post (I hope to convince her to appear again.) Please reply in the comments, I will be sure to forward them to her. So without further ado, here she is.

My name is Karen. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in my right breast May 14, 2012; May 23rd, we found out it was in my left breast too. I can’t begin to tell you what that news does to your life. Suddenly everything is pink and hardly a day goes by where I’m not talking about having cancer. Oh and the TV… if you don’t want to hear the word cancer, don’t turn it on.

OK enough complaining.

Here is what going on with me now. I had a double mastectomy June 1st. After some time to heal from the surgery August 13th I went back to the hospital to get a portacath put in: a simple procedure, in and out;  for me it was 8 days. During the procedure my lung got punctured. Fixing it was supposed to be a 24 hour thing but it seems sometimes as if nothing is going to come easy for me. I didn’t heal like they thought I would and on day 3 I pulled the tube almost completely out and had to get it put back in. So I also had to heal from that before I could start chemo. Now I’m doing chemo. It’s really not as bad as I thought it would be but it isn’t fun. Right now it’s every two weeks but soon my chemo drugs change and then it becomes once a week. I’m sure that means new challenges.

I’m not a hero, I’m just a person with Cancer who is following her doctors’ orders. I have a strong faith in God and I believe He has equipped the doctors with far more knowledge than I have. My faith has also given me great peace. ”It is what it is.“ I say that a lot. God will heal me in His way and I have come to terms with the fact the healing may not come in the shape we want it too.

Keep watching for more special posts from my lovely lady, and thanks for all your prayers, we really feel them.

Following hard,

I signed up for a writing course taught by Jeff Goins, called Tribe Writers, and my first practical assignment is to write a short, first-person, non-fiction story, and submit it for feedback. I thought posting it here would be an easy way for people to help me improve as a writer. So, I am asking you to read the story, and post in the comments, answering three specific questions: What (if anything) makes this unique? What could I do more of, or less of? How can I improve? Thanks, in advance.

I wonder sometimes about what the inner voices of other people sound like…if their voices drive them as nuts as mine try to do. “Mine” is a plural possessive, here..there is more than one voice involved in the conversation. The reason I wonder this, is I see other people who are never indecisive – they always know what is the right thing  to do, the right word to say. Not that they have it all planned out and carefully scripted, it just seems that nothing ever knocks them off stride. I wish I had that kind of security in the right-ness if my choices…but I don’t. What I have is a Greek chorus of doubt, a litany of past failures, present shortcomings, and pending disasters; in the wings on the other side of the stage, the cheering squad is hard at work, “You can do it!” (The ego slips the squad an extra five to tell me just how great I am sometimes, but I try to discourage that.)

All these voices are my voice..but they’re not, at the same time. None of them are entirely me.I have learned to pay attention to what is said, and how, and I’m getting better at recognizing the sounds of my many voices…describing their many noises is not what I’m trying to talk about though…it’s more the process of learning which voice to trust, which one to listen to the most, that I wonder if others go through as well, or if it’s only me who has to struggle. I learned to trust in the voice of Jesus, speaking to me as His disciple, telling me to trust in Him, follow Him, and He will guide me well. I believe Him.

I manage other people at my job, and counsel people at church, and doing those things is what most often triggers the thought, “What could he have been thinking? Where do you have to be for that to look like a good idea?” I find myself reaching and straining for some kind of common ground, a desire for empathy, a way to get inside and understand their mind…because I think it would look familiar, and maybe I can help them hear a different other voice, a better voice, I think…the voice I follow, of my Lord Jesus. I think so many people are confused by the cacophony of voices, inside and out, all demanding attention and respect. If my lessons in voice-discernment can assist another, how can I do anything less?

I love a good running gag in a movie – a particular scene, prop, gesture, or phrase that occurs again and again, with a better laugh every time it comes. Many will recognize the line above from “The Princess Bride”, one of my favorite movies of all time, yet I find it oddly appropriate for so much of the rest of my life. (My wife and I seriously considered adding that  line into our renewal vows earlier this year – with the closer, “…but I’m gonna hold you to it anyway!” We were out-voted by our kids.)

Strangely, this line has become a running gag in real life, as Karen goes through chemo, and people try to comfort and reassure us that everything will be OK (in between telling stories about every person they ever heard of who had cancer…and was miserable all through treatment…and died anyway). They often quote scriptures meant to inspire, but…here’s the rub: I write and teach specifically about reading the whole of what the bible teaches, and not selecting only that which supports whatever point you want to make. Most people who do this are not malicious in their intent; they are simply passing on something they learned (wrongly) from someone else. If they think to check what they were told, the verse is usually quoted correctly, or “pretty close, I guess,”…and that’s as far as they go; they simply accept whatever interpretation someone tells them, if it makes them feel good; and hold on dearly to that “promise”. The problem is, “I don’t think that means what you think it does” applies most of the time.  Here’s one example I see a lot: someone in a small group will share with about some disappointment or new difficulty that has arisen, and they don’t know exactly what to do yet. Inevitably, someone will rush to tell them,”I know it’s hard right now, but remember Genesis 50:20 : “What the devil means for evil, God uses for good.” So have faith that God will turn this around and make it all work out good for you.” And once again I fight down the urge to “shot-block” that prayer right back at them. (h/t to  Jon Acuff for that awesome phrase!) So, how does “I don’t think…” apply here? Let’s look at the context surrounding the verse, and see if the popular interpretation holds up.

In the bible , we read in Genesis the story of Joseph, hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, his death faked to hide the crime. God brings Joseph into Pharaoh’s house, and blesses him for his faithfulness (even while imprisoned on false charges of attempted rape), eventually making him Vice-Pharaoh of all Egypt. So it is Joseph who the poor, starving sons of Israel must come to, begging to purchase enough grain to survive the famine which has struck the land. Initially concealing his identity from his brothers, he at last breaks down in joy at the reunion. Their surprise turns to fear when they realize they are face-to-face with the man they tried to kill – and he has ALL the power now.  He forgives them, explaining that by what he understands the bigger picture to be, summed up in the referenced verse:

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” (Gen 50:20 NLT)

So, how does our friend’s proffered reassurance match up to the real verse? First, it is misquoted: Joseph says his brothers’ intent against him was evil; he does not attribute this to Satan, but allows them to be responsible for their own actions, just as God allows us to be responsible for our sin – we do not need forgiveness for things we are not responsible for, do we? Second, the blessing is misplaced: it is not Joseph that God is concerned with doing good for…reading the rest of the verse shows it is the people whose lives were saved by placing Joseph in a position of authority, and guiding him in wise decisions by prophetic dreams and interpretations of dreams. Any good that befalls Joseph along the way is entirely collateral to the purpose of God’s plan. To be sure, this is an encouragement to the believer: when the circumstances of life go against us, we have the assurance that God is aware of our suffering, and will sustain us through hardships, because we serve a part in His plan. But it is most certainly NOT a guarantee that “things will turn around, you’ll see” . They might, they might not; but getting this wrong…promising someone the wrong thing…is a faith-killing trap for anyone “going through it”, waiting for their “good” to happen… and getting discouraged when it doesn’t turn around. For me and Karen, life is not “turning around”; if anything it is gaining speed and momentum as it careens downhill. (Sorry, feeling kind of tired and cranky tonight, but I’m not going to edit out an honest thought!) We have been blessed by God, and sustained through this time of trial…but the good is being done on behalf of others – those who are encouraged that they also can be sustained, can endure whatever is happening to them, for the same reason…because God has a purpose for them and He will take care of hem along the way. That is the true promise of Gen 50:20 – that people and things will try to hurt me, and often succeed; but God is in control, and as long as I trust in Him, it will be OK in the end – as He defines OK; maybe not as I define it, but as I should define it, and as I am learning to define it.

I cringe when I hear or see this kind of lazy, false teaching being propagated. It’s the biggest reason I started writing again – to try to help people learn to read and understand the bible the way it was always meant to be: for what it really says as a whole, not sliced and diced into pleasant little sound-bites. I will probably not reach the world, and some people will never be convinced; but if even one person learns something from what I write, it was all worth it…and now we are two, and may reach one or two more; and so on, and so on, and so on…I did not intend this to be a manifesto, and it does not encompass enough to suffice for one, but it’s a start. We will visit this again.

Following hard after Him,

On Mondays I present short versions of the Sunday school lessons I teach at my home church. We are studying the Gospel of John, with the focus of seeing Jesus as the Apostle wishes: the holy Son of God; the Messiah prophesied by all of the Old Testament; the fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption. Once we see Him, we will have to believe, and thus be saved.  Scripture references are NIV unless otherwise noted.

John the Baptist, Day Three (1:35-42) – The Apostle John  grants us a look “behind the scene” at the genesis of Jesus’ earthly ministry – the calling of His first disciples in Judea.

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.  Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”  They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are You staying?”  “Come,”  He replied, “and you will see.”  So they went and saw where He was staying, and they spent that day with Him. It was about four in the afternoon.

(v. 35-39) – This second day begins much as the previous one: John the Baptist is out with two of his disciples; sees Jesus; and repeats his identification of Jesus with the prophetic Messianic title “Lamb of God”. This time, though, we see a response to John’s message – the disciples leave him to go follow Jesus!
“Following” someone, becoming a “disciple”,  in this time and place involved something very like a contractual agreement between teacher and student, and in this passage we watch the negotiations as they occur. First, because of John’s testimony, these two men recognize that Jesus is someone worthy of learning from, and so they begin to (literally) follow after Him, going where He went  and doing what He did, hoping to attract His notice (it was considered unseemly to demand the attention of a teacher). Second, Jesus does acknowledge them, asking them what they want; this is an important question, because not everyone who is interested in a teaching is automatically committed to learning. Jesus wants these men to declare their intentions – both to Him… and to themselves. Next, they do exactly that: by addressing Jesus as “Rabbi”, they express their desire to become His students; by inquiring about His current residence, they are saying that they understand that following Him will mean leaving behind the lives they already know, and living instead in the place and manner of their Teacher. This is the hallmark of discipleship – to live in the same manner as the teacher, under complete submission to his authority, in a desire to wholly absorb and reflect the likeness of the one followed. Jesus responds to this by extending an invitation – “Come and see.” Jesus lets them know that they need to be aware of what they are in for, to “count the cost” of being His disciple. This same invitation is the crux of the whole of John’s Gospel, and in fact the basis for Christian evangelism. Finally, we see the men complete the negotiation by deciding to remain with Jesus, and continue to follow Him.

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

(v. 40-42) – The Apostle now reveals the name of one of these first two disciples – he is Andrew, son of John, brother of Simon Peter. Andrew is not prominently featured in John, only appearing two other times (6:8-9, 12:20-22), but it is worth noticing that every time we do see him he is bringing someone to meet Jesus; evangelism has become a priority for him – we see his motive in the words he uses with his brother,“We have found the Messiah.” All Jews placed their hopes in the promised coming of this person, the Chosen One to rescue and redeem God’s people; by using this name for Jesus, Andrew is expressing his belief that He is the fulfillment of the hopes of generations. He believes so completely he brings his brother to see for himself, so he may also be convinced.

Simon Peter must have been very puzzled by his first meeting with Jesus – by the text, His first words seem almost arrogant, calling Simon by name, then giving him a different name. But there is more going on than we see on the surface; in fact, two different sub-texts are in play. One theme is disguised by reading in English, rather than the original languages. Jesus is making a play on words by exchanging the Greek petros, meaning “stone”, for Cephas, a transliteration of the Aramaic kephas, meaning “rock”. The difference is in the way these names are used. Simon Peter could be loosely rendered “Hard-headed Simon”, or “Simon with a head like a stone” – not the most encouraging thing! But Jesus uses Peter as his first name, implying steadiness and dependability – far more inspiring. So how would Jesus know anything about this man He has only just laid eyes upon?  This is the second theme: Jesus is asserting His identity (as being privy to the knowledge of God) and authority (having the power of God) in a unique way, by naming someone. The privilege of naming is normally reserved for a father, and expresses some aspect of the recipient’s character or personality. We see God the Father exercising His privilege to change a name several times in the Old Testament (Abram/Sarai becoming Abraham/Sarah, Jacob becoming Israel), with the change being a sign that God will intervene to make the person live up to their new name. Peter as we know him from the Gospels is not the stable, steady influence his new name would suggest; rather he is impulsive, temperamental, and proud. Later, however, God would use Peter (and Paul, another disciple who received a new name) to found and lead the great churches at Antioch and Rome, which would spread the good News of Jesus far and wide.

One final note: who is the other disciple? No name is mentioned here, but the Synoptic Gospels list the first disciples as Peter, Andrew, James…and John, the writer of this account. By habit, John rarely names himself in his writings, preferring to keep the focus on Jesus; he is often described simply as “the beloved disciple”. We may imagine that when Andrew left to find his brother on that very first day, John remained at Jesus’ side; this special period of one-on-one interaction may very well  have led to a deeply intimate bond between them.

Next week we will finish Chapter One, verses 43-50, as Jesus returns home (there’s a wedding He has to attend).  He also calls more disciples to follow Him, and reveals more of Himself along the way.