letter from the editor:
Following the leader

“I have decided to follow Jesus,
I have decided to follow Jesus, 
  I have decided to follow Jesus,
No turning back, no turning back. 
  Though none go with me, still I will follow..."

In pre-school, I was introduced to Jesus. To me, He was so much more than a kind looking man on my coloring page. Even then, I knew there was something extraordinary about the fact that the God of the Universe desired to have a relationship with me.  Skeptics might say that I was far too young to understand, and that there was no way I could fully grasp the weighty and overwhelming truths about sin, the cross, the Trinity, and forgiveness. Perhaps I didn’t on the same level that a twelve-year-old, or twenty-year-old would, but God’s love has so many depths and layers. Sticking my toes into the ocean of His love didn’t make my relationship with Him any less real to me than to all the adults diving into the ocean far out over their heads!

To me, it was undeniable. I felt His presence. As I flipped through the pages of my illustrated Beginners Bible, I knew that God was real. He made me, He loved me, and He desired for me to follow Him. I sucked up every Bible Story like a yummy chocolate milkshake, slurping through my straw of wonder and delight. At a very young age I knew that I was loved and that I had a purpose. I was so aware of God’s smile as I finger painted, bit into an apple, and sang Sunday School songs. As I look back at the beautiful beginnings of my faith, I am in awe of God’s grace. How sweet, compassionate, and mind-blowing is the fact that God would reveal Himself to a little child?! How can it be that the King of the Universe would stoop down to my puny little three-year-old level and stretch out His arms, in a way that captured my heart?!

I am utterly floored by His grace! The verse, “You did not choose me, but I chose you,” {John 15:16} couldn’t be more true in my life. That was the beginning of my testimony! I didn’t ask to be born. I didn’t ask to breathe. I didn’t ask to have an encounter with God’s love at such a young age. I did nothing to deserve any of His goodness. Yet, my life has been drenched with it. I am seriously sopping wet and totally soggy from the crazy downpours of God’s goodness raining down on my life!

It was all God’s grace. 

 “I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.”  {Isaiah 65:1}

As I grew older, God continued to reveal Himself to me in deeper, wider, and spectacularly vast ways. Just like a bottomless ocean that can never be fully exhausted; God’s character of love and His pure nature of mind-blowing goodness is the same endless adventure! I’ll be in heaven for ten million years and never exhaust the exploration of who He is. I am in a constant state of learning! Every day, He is pulling back the veil from my heart, and revealing more and more!

Dropping My Nets to Follow Him
Everyone’s story with God has a beginning. Now that I’ve shared a little bit of mine with you, let’s look at the beginning of someone else’s history with Jesus - His disciples. Specifically, Peter and Andrew. 
Peter and Andrew grew up playing on the shores of Galilee. Their dad was most likely a fisherman and they had been raised on the water. I can only imagine how much fun they must’ve had; splashing, fishing, and wading in the waters as little tykes, then growing up with the understanding that they would someday inherit the family fishing business.

One day Jesus approached them and said, “Come follow me. And I will make you fishers of men.” {Matthew 4:18}

They immediately dropped their nets and followed Him. {Matthew 4:20}

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found this passage a little bit strange! I mean, how socially awkward is this scene? 

Think about it. The brothers are out fishing, minding their own business, when suddenly Jesus offers them a crazy line. “I know you like to fish, so let’s go fish for men. Drop everything and follow me. Leave your homes, your families, and everything you’ve ever known. Let’s go!”

I’ve always been puzzled by this passage. Like, what was it in Jesus' voice that made them want to follow Him? Was there so much passion in His voice that drew them? Was His presence so powerful and overwhelming as they suddenly had the revelation that the Savior of the world was standing before them, and they would do anything to be a part of what He offered?

Maybe some of these thoughts could be true, but they don’t seem very likely. We know that Andrew and Peter didn’t know that Jesus was God, because that wasn’t revealed until later. It’s hard for me to imagine this scenario playing out in my head, and to understand why they would’ve followed Him.  

There are a lot of passages in scripture that leave me stumped. Many of the things Jesus said and the actions He took seemed so bizarre and out of place! Why is it so hard for me to wrap my brain around some of these things?

Often times, I find that my problem is this: I’m using an Americanized, Western Culture, Twenty-First Century mindset to read and interpret scripture, rather than mentally traveling back in time, and learning about the Hebraic culture that Jesus lived in. Believe it or not,the majority of things that Jesus spoke were not strange or awkward to the Jews in Galilee!  Sure they were challenging, deep, and clearly from Heaven, but for the most part the Jews were not scratching their heads the same way that we are when we read the Words in Red. Why? Because they understood the context.

As an American church, it is really easy to take things out of context. Instead of immersing ourselves in the rich history and Biblical study of what was happening culturally during the time Christ was on earth, we tend to glance at these verses and think, “Okay, so how does this fit into the framework of my life?” I have been guilty of taking the beautiful nature of God and the amazing stories of the Gospels, and slicing them apart with my American mindset cookie-cutter. I try to find what fits with my life, and toss out everything that doesn’t.

But that never works! It’s like trying to eat a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich by cutting off the crust, scraping off the peanut butter, and then tossing out the jelly. That kind of a “sandwich” might “work” for you, but honestly, you’re not eating a traditional sandwich anymore. You’re only eating a piece of bread with nothing in it! When God dreamed up the “peanut butter and jelly sandwich” of His Word, He wanted us to eat all of it, and enjoy the richness of His invention! Not just the soggy leftovers that remain after we tear it apart.

Anyway, with all of this peanut butter and jelly talk, what I’m simply trying to say is: Lord, renew my mind! I want to think the way You do! You are the Creator and Author of Your Word, and I long to be transformed by it! Help me to remove the yucky leaven (wrong thinking patterns) that hinder what You desire to do in my life.

Let’s return to Peter, Andrew and Jesus by the Sea of Galilee. When Jesus said, “Come follow me!” it was not strange at all. In fact, it was so culturally relevant that you’re going to be shocked by how normal this was in Galilee! Teachers were saying phrases similar to this all of the time. Here’s why…

The Education System in Galilee was totally different than what ours is today. I don’t have time to go into vast detail, but their education was based on learning foundational scriptures, studying and memorizing the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible), and learning a trade. Then if they were really exceptional and outstanding students, they had the opportunity to seek permission to study under a Rabbi. If the Rabbi approved of them and wanted to be their teacher, the students left their homes, their families, and everything they knew; to go eat with, live with, and travel with their Rabbi. Instead of earning a degree in a college classroom, the talmid (which means disciple, or student) was to emulate, copy, and become exactly like their teacher, in hopes of passing on everything they learned to their own students someday!

So when Jesus said, “Follow me,” Jesus was offering Andrew and Peter an invitation to study in His real-life, hands on, missionary school! 

At this time, Jesus already had a reputation of being “one who teaches with authority.” He was respected, and given the title “Rabbi.” For Andrew and Peter, it was an honor to be given this opportunity! Of course they would drop their nets and leave everything! Studying under a Rabbi as wise as this one would be hard to turn down! (Little did they know their Rabbi was also God! Woah, plot twist!)

Can you imagine? All of the young men who chose to follow Jesus and become His talmid had no idea of the fullness of what they had said "yes" to. They simply thought that they were furthering their “religious education”. When Jesus started performing miracles, healing the blind, and walking on water they must’ve thought, “What have we gotten ourselves into?! Who IS this Man?” It was like nothing no one had ever seen before in the “religious community.” 

With this fresh understanding about what life was like for the Jews, let’s return to this passage. Imagine that it’s you, hanging out by the seashore, casting your fishing nets, hoping for a good catch. Jesus arrives on the scene and He invites you to come and study under Him. You squeal with delight! You can’t believe it! You’ve been offered an opportunity to study under a wise man in the field you are most interested in and passionate about! Following Jesus will be like the ultimate internship. 

An Incomparable Invitation…Will You Follow?
As a little girl, I thought I knew what it meant to follow Jesus. Ptsh, last week I thought I knew what it meant to follow Jesus. But line upon line and precept upon precept, God keeps teaching me more and more about what it means to be His talmid (disciple.)  

The Creator of the Universe, the Master and CEO of everything in existence, has invited us to be His students. He has called us to drop our nets, abandon our agendas, and surrender everything. When we follow Him, we eat with Him, live with Him, travel with Him, and rest with Him. We go wherever He goes and say whatever He says. Our whole goal and purpose as a student is to emulate and become exactly like our Teacher.

“Wait, what?” I hear you ask, “Become exactly like Jesus? That’s impossible, isn’t it? I mean, nobody’s perfect!”

No, we’re not perfect. But we were created in the image of God, remember? God’s original plan with the Garden of Eden was to have an earth full of students who looked like Him, talked like Him, and loved like Him. When sin messed everything up, Jesus had to come and restore it all through the cross. But now as New Creations in Christ, everything has changed. Once again, purity and holiness has been restored so that we can be like Jesus! In fact, the Bible says that we are predestined to be conformed into His image! {Romans 8:29}

How amazing is that?! He wants to teach us everything He knows, and He daily gives us the grace to be transformed from “glory to glory.”  
{2 Corinthians 3:18} 

In the same way that a teacher has a detailed curriculum for their students, God has a definite plan for your life. There are certain truths, concepts, and heavenly realities that Jesus, Father, and Holy Spirit have purposed to teach you! Just like advancing through the grades, in God’s school we go from one level, to the next, to the next. The older you get and the deeper you grow in your walk with Christ, more challenges arise and “tests” occur. But tests and trials are never to destroy you, they are simply to evaluate where you are at, then help you master whatever it is that you’re struggling with! If you battle fear, God wants to help you overcome that! If you have a problem with worrying, or struggle with anger, unforgiveness, or have a bad self-image, your Teacher is going to help you! Jesus desires to continually reveal the heart of the Father to you, expose and erase any lies that you’ve been believing, overwhelm you with His love, and transform your mind to think like His, until you are fully conformed into the image of Christ! 

So, if God has the curriculum of my life entirely planned out and if He has certain truths, areas, and spiritual terrain that He wants me to travel, wouldn’t it be a lot easier if I surrender my own plans and just go with His?!

A good student, a true talmid, drops their nets, lifts up their hands and says, “I’m yours. I’m following you. It doesn’t matter where we go, or where you lead, I am in this for the long run. I’m determined to learn everything that you long to teach me. I know that your heart is for me to become like you, so here I am! I’m like clay. I want to be moldable and pliable in your hands. Teach me!”

God’s classroom is in session our entire lives. He never stops teaching, and we never stop learning. His love is like a blissfully exciting school that I never want to graduate from!

May the endless adventure and glorious unfolding of knowing God, continue in all of our lives!

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