And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.”  When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him … After that He went out and noticed a tax collector named Levi sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me.”  And he left everything behind, and got up and began to follow Him.  (Luke 5:10-11, 27-28)

When I was in high school, my father was the choir director for my family’s church.  My mother played the organ.  My sister often sang in the choir.  And for a time, my grandmother played the piano.  As for me, I sat on the back row and tried to get some sleep.

I did not like “going to church.”  Being religious was, to me, a confinement … something that had to be endured.  I did not like getting up early on a “no school” day.  I did not like putting on a coat and tie.  I did not like listening – for one solid hour – to a Sunday School lesson.  Nor did I like sitting through a sermon for yet another very long hour.  When we finally pulled into our garage, I leapt from the car like a bird that had just been released from its cage.

I suppose most, if not all, of my friends who knew me back then still – to this day – do not understand how I ended up in the ministry.  This unexpected turn-of-events must have been to them like watching “Leave It to Beaver” and hearing Eddie Haskell tell Wally Cleaver that he plans to be a missionary.  But the fact is, something happened to me many years ago that whirled my life around 180o.

At the age of 19, I encountered the living God through a series of events that, as I replay them from memory, continue to amaze me.  I can still remember the moment I finally understood the Gospel for the first time:  that because of my sins, I deserved to die … that God sent His Son to die that death for me …  in my place … as my Substitute … so that I would not have to die for them myself.  I can still remember that moment when the Spirit of God rushed into my ruined soul.  I felt like a bird that had just been released from its cage.

Now, every time I read Luke chapter 5, I feel what Levi must have felt on the day Jesus said to him, “Follow Me.”  I have an idea this tax collector never looked back at his tax booth.  When this despised man stood up to follow Jesus, the misery and the emptiness of his bankrupt life were forever gone.  No doubt, for this wealthy man to leave his collection box behind (and for Simon and his fishermen-partners to leave their boats behind) was costly.  But more than likely, it did not feel like much of a sacrifice to them.

Over the years I have run across a number of people that gladly follow the Savior because they know, firsthand, what a soul without Christ feels like; and they know what it is like for the resurrected Son of God to fill that emptiness with Himself.  They know that the fool’s gold this world dangles in front of them does not hold a candle to the riches of Christ.

Yes, there are a lot of whirled-around lives out there who are more than happy to abandon everything this dead world has to offer in order to devote every fiber of their being to follow the One Who rescued them from eternal death and ushered them into eternal life.

They are all like birds that fly out of their cages … and never look back … but leave far behind them the misery of their bondage to religion … or their bondage to immorality … or, like me, both … in order to soar – fully and forever – in the freedom of Christ’s gracious release.

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