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You can’t fulfill the Great Commission without having been filled with His greatest love first

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I was going to talk about our ministry and the big work that God is allowing us to be part of. At the same time I understand that before we can do something for God and together with God it would be good for us to explore another topic: our commitment to God and renewing our commitment. We can’t serve God without loving Him or without being totally surrendered to Him. And we can’t love God if we don’t renew our love for Him or are not restored in our commitment to Him after we make mistakes and fail God.

I have been thinking for quite a while now about something that we as Christians don’t talk very much about yet it’s so important for most of us and that is, what do we do after we make mistakes and bad choices? What can be worse than a messed up relationship with the one you love? And it doesn’t matter whether we did something really bad or just small stuff. It doesn’t matter whether it was due to our weakness or we did it on purpose. It doesn’t matter what we meant by it or even what we did specifically. What matters is that it did happen and it happens all the time. At least it does with me. What can we do after it happens?

We need to renew our relationship. The thing that we did, didn’t ‘cancel’ our first commitment. But something broke inside. It didn’t completely break as we didn’t stop believing in God. But it did break enough for us to probably be unable to live our lives to the fullest in that condition. We’ll carry on with a sense of brokenness, inside conflict, unhealed wound…

All of that is part of my personal experience. I never doubted God but what I really needed was to renew my relationship with Him after disagreeable or really bad choices.

That’s why I love the last conversation of Jesus with Peter recorded in the last chapter of the gospel of John.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” (John 21:15-22)

I remember studying the gospel of John when I was little and it felt very special to me. The way I can describe it, it felt so serene, tender and radiant. One verse from second chapter really caught my attention. “What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11) I thought to myself, “So strange that they had already said ‘yes’ to Him, they had followed Him, and believed in Him only when walked with Him.” It would be so great if we got the whole deal right from the beginning. But it didn’t happen the way I wanted it to be.

Similar to other disciples, Peter responded to the words “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” And then all of a sudden he got scared and said, “I don’t know Jesus.”

There were many times when he “believed.” And then there was one time when he lost everything. Or so we think. We think that we can do things that will cancel everything. But God doesn’t think so. He always gives us second chances.

And the final conversation that Jesus had with Peter is an invitation to all of us to examine ourselves and renew our commitment and renew our love.

When I was being ordained for the ministry, one of the pastors asked me a simple question, which is a Jesus’ question, “Do you love Him more than these?”

In order to feed the Lord’s sheep we need to love more, we need to serve more and think less of ourselves. That includes thinking less of our bad past.

The question that the senior pastor asked me impacted me so much that my heart still beats faster every time I think of it. It really was as if it came directly from the Lord.

Let me explain why it’s so important to me.

I grew up in a Christian home and was quite young when I answered the Lord’s call to follow Him and be the fisherman of souls. I remember so vividly how it happened. It was in summer at night in a Christian camp. It was still during Soviet Union times. We went very deep into the woods so we wouldn’t be found. And there, our older ministers taught us on faith and faithfulness. We called it our “woods church.” It wasn’t exactly a camp or some type of recreation. It was precisely that, a church.

That night I listened to real stories of those who went through persecutions for their faith and remained faithful to God. And I thought, “Isn’t that the best way to live your life by giving it to this high purpose – serving Christ and His church, His sheep?”

I still have a commemorative card about that day that says, “To Michael Cherenkov on his day of accepting Jesus into his heart.” That really was the most important day of my life when I made a decision to follow Jesus and carry out His work.

But then there were many mistakes and weaknesses in my life. Some of them were so serious and sensitive that I thought, “I am not worthy of carrying out God’s work. I am not to be among His disciples.”

I tried to go back to simple life of ordinary people to fish like everybody else. But it didn’t work out for me. Because when you once experienced that joy of following Christ you will never be happy without Him and you will never be able to replace Him with anything. No success, dreams, fun or thrill will fill that void.

When we understand that there is no greater joy than follow Christ, and that the world is empty without Him, and that we can’t even catch a fish without Him, we suddenly meet Him. Or rather, He meets us with fish, bread and a very simple question:-

“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” (Σίμων ’Ιωάννου, ἀγαπᾳϋς με πλέον τούτων?).

How much do you love me? How highly do you appreciate me? Do you revere me and choose me over others?

Jesus repeats His question three times reminding Peter about his three denials but at the same time, healing that rejection and overcoming it in the confident strength of the increased love.

Jesus repeats His question because He wants us to answer it not simply with our feelings but with our mind as well. He doesn’t want us to answer it impulsively but rather, He wants us to make a calm and conscious decision.

When Jesus tests us, He doesn’t do it to reproach us for our weakness but to establish us in our commitment. It’s amazing that after what happens He doesn’t lower us in rank but entrusts us with even greater ministry.

The Lord has a lot of work for us to do but what He has even more for us is His trust and love.

For us to be participants of His saving mission in the world we need to renew our commitment, our love to Him. Only then we’ll be able to fulfill His great commission.

We can’t feed His sheep if we don’t open up to His love to the full and don’t learn to love him in return. And we won’t learn to love from the first try if we don’t examine our relationship with Him, work on it to make it better and renew it.

You can renew your love towards God only when you listen to His voice more attentively and more obediently than your own weak and spoiled self, when you are ready to move forward with Him instead of remaining in the captivity of the past; when you can accept God’s will for you and trust Him with big and unknown future; when you go “where you don’t want to go;” when you are willing to glorify God even with your death; when you stop comparing your life with that of others; when you are ready to imitate Him and serve others,  when you are wailing to take care of His sheep and not yourselves; when you don’t believe in yourself anymore but only in Him; when you understand that you can’t follow Him without loving Him; that you can’t love Him without receiving His love, forgiveness, healing and trust; and that you can’t fulfill the Great Commission without having

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