It was ten days after the resurrection. Another day had passed. Like the previous ones, we pondered what to do next. Last thing we remember was Jesus telling us to wait. So, we had waited. And frankly, the waiting was boring. Today, I decided to do something different. Today my restlessness got the best of me. So, today, I decided to return to that with which I was very familiar.
“I’m going fishing,” I told the others.
It was just after midnight, when the Sea of Galilee typically teemed with active, easy to catch fish.
Thomas, the sons of Thunder and two others joined me. It was fun to go back to something we had once enjoyed regularly. The past few months, even the past three years, had all been such a blur. Jesus had turned our world upside down. We had been fishing… but for new souls, new converts, not Tilapia and Herring.
There was something joyful and peaceful about the repetitious nature of throwing our nets out and bringing them back in… And yet, as the moon passed from one end of the horizon to the other, that peace and joy turned to angst and frustration. We caught nothing. Absolutely nothing! All night long. Here I am… a fisherman… Sure, I’ve been away from this day to day life since we were on the mission with Jesus… but, this is in my blood… same with James and John… My mind raced back to the night Jesus was arrested… I felt like such a failure then, too!
At daybreak we saw a man on the shore. He asked about our luck with the nets. I hid my face as John told him we had caught nothing. The stranger told us to try the right side of the boat; we’d find our fish there. That riled me up even more! “Right side of the boat. Left side of the boat. What difference does it make? Are we going to listen to some guy on the shore?” I queried to no one in particular. Thomas urged us to give it try… Thomas!
So, we cast our nets out the right side of the boat. You wouldn’t believe the haul of fish that weighed our nets down! The seven of us couldn’t even bring them on-board. Who was the stranger on shore? Could he have something to do with this? Nah…
Just then the dawning light of the new day shown right on the man. John looked out over the water and recognized the figure. He shouted, “It’s the Lord!” My heart skipped more than a beat or two as I plunged into the icy water and swam as fast as I could towards the shore! Jesus helped me out of the water and we enjoyed a laugh-filled embrace.
The others met Jesus around the fire as I pulled the net ashore and laid out all of the fish… 153! What an amazing catch. We enjoyed a breakfast together with fish that He had already caught. It was such a joy to be with Him again!
He took me aside and asked me three questions… well, it was the same question, but He asked it three times. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” That caught me off guard. He hadn’t called me by my birth name in three years! Of course I loved him! With each affirmation He asked me to take care of and feed the sheep He was leaving in my care. By the third time I realized what He was doing… I looked over at the others around the camp fire and remembered the last time I warmed my hands at a fire and the shame I felt at rejecting Him to a servant girl. I fell at His knees and wept… Three times I denied I knew Him. Three times He asked if I loved Him. Three times He commanded me to tend to His sheep. He was asking me to join the ranks of shepherds like Abraham, Moses and David.
Along that sandy beach, in the middle of a pile of flopping fish and the distant stare of my best friends… I was humbled, broken, really. He was recommissioning me as He did that day back at Caesarea Philippi, when He last called me “Simon” and the first time I truly confessed that He was the Messiah, the Son of Living God.
Some of the words, actions and thoughts perhaps of Simon Peter, from John 21.
We have all failed at something, right? For some of us… it might be many, many things… Maybe you’ve failed at a job or a career. I have. Maybe you’ve failed at a being a friend. I have. Maybe you’ve failed your parents, your spouse, your kids. I have. Maybe you feel like you have failed God. I have. But hear me: you might have failed at something. But God says you are NOT a failure!
The steps of good men are directed by the Lord. He delights in each step they take. If they fall, it isn’t fatal, for the Lord holds them with his hand. Psalm 37:23-24 (NLT)
I don’t understand why I act the way I do. I don’t do what I know is right. I do the things I hate. What a miserable person I am. Who will rescue me from this body that is doomed to die? Thank God! Jesus Christ will rescue me. Romans 7:15, 24-25 (MSG)
So, here is Peter… he feels like a failure. He denied Jesus. And now he can’t even fish anymore! Yet he’s been fishing his whole life, right? But, he was now trying to do it on his own terms.
Jesus gets his attention in a big way, right?! As if to say… “Peter, you’re not a fisherman any more… you tried… all night long you tried… but you couldn’t catch anything without me… and that’s because I’ve got a greater purpose for you now!”
It’s morning… a new day has dawned… for Peter and for all of us. Each new day is a new day to start afresh. Peter recognized the Lord. And he leaped out of the boat and swam to Jesus to be with the Lord. It was a simple step. Like throwing the nets out of the other side of the boat.
I think that sometimes we all believe that we must take a giant, Grand Caynon leap of faith in order for us to be right with God. No, it’s as simple as turning from left to right… or just running to Jesus.
“Apart from me, you can do nothing,” Jesus had told them all in the Upper Room (John 15:5).
I’m an entertainer. A showman. I love being the center of attention. I love dazzling the people with illusions and tricks and sleight of hand. I wear only the finest silks. I love to pretend that I am a really important person, even though I’m just a common Samaritan. They call me Simon, the Great Wizard! And everywhere I go, people are in awe. But what’s really ironic, is that I’m not at all powerful. It’s just an act.
This man Philip, a follower of the Nazarene, came to town recently. He gathered such a large crowd as he preached that the people began to forget about me. He took my audiences away from the town square to the river where he was baptizing people in the name of Jesus. I was fascinated at his ability to inspire and was so touched by his words, that I too, decided to become a follower of Jesus and was baptized. You wouldn’t believe all the things that Philip could do. He would put his hands on a person, say a quick prayer and they would be healed in the name of Jesus! And let me tell you… Philip’s power was real! Not like my illusions.
One day, some others they called “disciples” also came to town. Peter and John were two that walked with Jesus in Jerusalem and were considered in His inner circle when He was alive. They also drew large crowds here in Samaria and they said that not only did new followers of Jesus need to be baptized, but they might also receive the power of the Holy Spirit. I watched in wonder as they laid their hands on people, prayed for them and then, they received the Holy Spirit.
I thought how amazing it would be, how amazing I would be, if I had that power, too! So, I decided right then and there that no amount of money would be too much to pay for me to have that kind of power! I approached the one they called Peter after he healed a man with a deformed arm. I pulled him aside and asked “How much? Please show me how you did that! Name your price! I’ll pay anything if you show me your secret!”
Peter, who up until that moment was filled with laughter and great joy, suddenly turned very angry! “May you and your money perish for thinking that God’s gift can be bought!” he said! “You can have no part in what we are doing if your heart is not right before God. Turn from your wicked ways, Simon, for you are jealous and there is sin in your heart!”
He was right! I wanted to follow Jesus. But I also wanted the power to dazzle and thrill audiences. I fell to my knees right then and there. My heart broke with fear and with awe at who God was and what Jesus had done for me. “Pray for me, for my soul, Peter!” I cried out through my tears…“I only want to know Jesus, the power of His resurrection and the joy of truly following Him,” I thought to myself.
Peter and John returned to Jerusalem after that… Philip left too… Those of us who remained in Samaria saw the power of God continue to change hearts… even mine!
The words, actions and thoughts, perhaps of Simon the Sorcerer, as it is recorded in Acts 8… with the hopeful conclusion that Simon’s heart was changed too!
How about you? Do you embrace the fullness of the Holy Spirit? God gives us the gifts of the Holy Spirit for His glory and our joy… not for our glory! Simon the Sorcerer was attracted to the gifts he saw in Philip… confidence, boldness, compassion and joy. And Simon saw those things and wanted them… but he was interested in making his own name famous and thought the power of the Holy Spirit could be bought for a price. The Apostle Peter called him out on it! Peter told him to repent, and we see that the wizard asked Peter to pray for him. We can be hopeful that he was truly repentant.
We need not fear the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives. If we know what gifts God has given us through His Holy Spirit, when we know how we are wired, we can serve Him in our sweet spot and can grow deeper and deeper in our faith and dependence of Him. That’s where God wants us. That’s where I want to be.
The list of the gifts of the Holy Spirit can be found in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4. The fruit, or confirmation, of the Holy Spirit in our lives is shown in Galatians 5.
But don’t focus on the gifts. Focus on the Giver. Don’t focus on signs and wonders. Focus on the wonder of God instead!
I recently watched the TV series AD, Kingdom and Empire, on Netflix. It’s the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, up to about Acts 9. An amazing thing happens every time there is a miracle, or work of the Holy Spirit… whether it is by Peter or one of the other followers of the Nazarene… the wind blows, the music swells, the clouds move. As I watched I thought, “why doesn’t that happen to me?” And, I honestly believe it is because God wants us to see that using our gifts everyday is as miraculous as when people are healed instantly or something supernatural happens. Can we get to that place where we don’t need to see the wind blow, the clouds move or the music swell to know the Holy Spirit is real?
It was an ordinary day. The sky was blue with beautiful white puffy clouds. The air was typically hot. I was tending sheep at the base of the mountain. It was a simple, anonymous life in the country. It’s what I needed. I was a fugitive. I had killed a man back in Egypt because of the way he treated one of my own. And each day I wrestled with the guilt – the guilt of the murder, the guilt of my people breaking their necks as slaves of Pharaoh, the guilt of growing up in the privilege of the Palace. None of it was right. It didn’t seem fair. The desert air and the mundane nature of my responsibilities was all I needed.
It was just after noon, the heat of the day. The sheep were nibbling at little patches of tall grass. The thoughts in my mind were 1000 miles away. I looked up to my right and beyond a mound of prickly pears, I saw smoke rising from a fire. As I approached I realized it was a bush fully ablaze… but it was not burning up. I thought to myself “how strange?” and approached to consider it further. Just a few steps from the fire I heard a voice call my name. Again, “how strange,” right? Who in this desert knows my name? “Yes?” I replied with a quiver in my voice and began to take another step forward.
“Don’t come any closer. Remove your sandals from your feet. You are standing on holy ground.” At this I knew in my heart it was Yahweh. Quickly, I dug my bare feet into the sand and fell to my knees and hid my face in my hands. Then He said, “I am … I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.”
He continued to share His heart with me… Together we felt the pain for my people, our people… and He told me that He would answer the prayers of His people to deliver them from Pharaoh’s evil ways and bring the children of Israel to a land flowing with milk and honey… wide open spaces where they would be free and no longer slaves!
This was very encouraging news! And as I wondered about God’s plan He stunned me with these words: “I am sending you, Moses! Go to the Pharaoh. Lead the people of Israel out of Egypt.”
“What? Meeeee?” I stuttered. “Why me? Who am I? I’m a fugitive. I’m on the run! Pharaoh will never listen to me!”
And God assured me that He would always be with me. And for proof, He told me that one day, I would worship Him again, right here in this same spot.
“Just one more question…” I asked with a crazy, unknown confidence. “If I take this assignment, if I go to the people of Israel… who should I tell them sent me? What is his name?”
God said to me… “YHWH… Yahweh …” It sounded like He was breathing deep, life giving breaths. “Tell the people of Israel, I Am That I Am sent me to you.”
I protested a bit further, but, I knew it was in vain. The very presence of YHWH was going with me. So, I took my wife and sons that very day, and with my Father in law’s blessing, began the return trip to Egypt.
And was YHWH with me? Oh yeah… oh yeah!
Some of the words, actions and thoughts, perhaps of Moses at the burning bush, as revealed to us in Exodus 3 and 4. This is from the opening of a sermon entitled, “What We Believe: God.” You can watch it here: What We Believe: God
I think it’s significant that when Moses asked God what His name was that God didn’t reply in Aramaic. He didn’t reply in Hebrew. Nor Greek. Nor English. God’s name is the sound of breathing… the sound of life itself!
God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit… all together in one function, breathing life into mankind, from Adam, to the disciples, to you and me.
The sound of breathing… is the name of God. In Hebrew YHWH is translated “I Am.”
God’s name. I Am.
It is our very life – our created life.
Our life for a set period of years – our living life.
And our life forever — our eternal life!
I am that I am.
I am everything.
I am the Alpha and the Omega. The first and the last. I was before there was anything.
I am the smallest of microscopic strands of DNA. I am the largest galaxy in the farthest distance.
And because of that, God is everything, God is the only thing, you need.
He is not just the sound of breathing, His breath is life itself!
And He offers that life to you!
Think about it! When the “I AM” offers you life? Can I say it? You’d be crazy not to accept it… not to accept Him.
Like Moses at the burning bush… God is holy. He’s waiting for you to approach Him. And at the same time God is with us by way of the Holy Spirit. He goes before us, as Jesus did, to conquer sin and death once and for all. The Bible says He is opportunity. He is healing and love. He is our protector and guide. He is gracious and kind and jealous and righteous. He is the Most High. He is perfection and truth. He is glorious and beautiful. He is our Redeemer and Savior. He is Immortal and Invisible. He is. Period.
And here’s the most amazing thing… because of Jesus, God is accessible to you and me. He loves you. Look at the 23rd Psalm. He longs to be your Shepherd. You lack nothing. He longs to take you to green pastures and quiet waters where you can find rest for your soul.
Today started as yesterday began… and even how Friday dawned… As the sun came up I began to weep and mourn. For today was to be another day without my Messiah. The Sabbath was not kind to me this week. Most of the day I sobbed uncontrollably. We met with the others and cried together. Tears of confusion and anger. Tears of disappointment and fear. What would our lives look like now? Oh, how I loved Jesus. When He healed me of my seven demons, my whole world flipped right side up for the first time in years. Of course, I followed Him, I served Him, I loved everything about Him… On Friday afternoon I gazed up into His beloved face as the sky behind Him grew fierce and black. I stayed until He breathed His last. I fell to my knees in horror as the soldier pierced His side. I helped Joseph and Nicodemus take the body down from the cross, cleaning it as best we could in the short time before Shabbat.
The new week began today with the same heaviness deep in my heart. I went to the tomb to properly anoint the body with oil and spices. I kept hearing His promises echo in my head… “I will never leave you nor forsake you…” There was an eerie darkness in the garden. The birds, normally singing loudly in the pre-dawn springtime, were unusually quiet. I wondered how I would roll away the stone.
As I arrived at the burial spot, I was confused because the entrance to the crypt was wide open. Was this the right place? Had I misunderstood Joseph’s directions? As I looked inside, I saw an empty slab in the darkness. A cold breeze slapped my face! Immediately my anger increased as I wondered who had stolen the body? I ran to tell Peter and John and they quickly competed to see who could get there first. They both confirmed my initial discovery and left me standing in front of the vacant tomb.
I sobbed uncontrollably for what felt like hours. I paced back and forth. I fell to my knees. I shook my fist at heaven. Something prompted me to look inside once more. I saw two angels sitting about six feet apart. An empty burial cloth lay between them. They asked me why I was crying? Why do you think? There is a massive hole in my heart and the pain is great!
I looked away and began to leave. A man was nearby; I thought he might be the gardener. I couldn’t see his face for the sun was rising over his right shoulder. He too asked me why I was crying. With all my heart I asked him if he had taken the body someplace.
He spoke my name. “Miriam. Mary.” My heart skipped a beat as I recognized the familiar, loving voice of Yeshua! In that instant, I recalled a time when the Lord told us that He was the Good Shepherd… and that the sheep know His voice… I spun around quickly, like a dancer! My weeping suddenly turned to great joy as I recognized my Lord and fell at his knees! “Rabboni!”
He’s alive! He spoke to me first! He told me to go tell the others. I would say that I can’t believe it, but I do believe it! He has risen! I have seen the Lord!
There was great sorrow and weeping last night. And the night before that… But today… today… joy has come with the morning!
The actions, words and thoughts, perhaps, of Mary Magdalene, as recorded in John 20.
What do you do when you feel sorrow or sadness? Run to Jesus! Listen to His words in Matthew 6:
“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place… Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.” Matthew 6:6 (MSG)
Oh, to sense His grace… You’ll find it as you meet Him in your prayer closet each day.
Inheritance. Moses had been promising a Land flowing with milk and honey for 40 years. And now it’s ours! Somedays it’s truly hard to believe that we are actually here. Living in this inheritance hasn’t been easy. But it is so worth it.
Over and over again we were told that God would be with us as we entered the Promised Land. Forty years earlier, Moses sent an advance team to scout out the territory. They reported that there were giants in the Land and we’d be better off staying in the wilderness or going back to Egypt. But Caleb and I saw the beauty of the rolling hills, the fertile acreage, the amazing size of the crops and we were certain that Yahweh was blessing us…We were honestly dumbfounded that He would give us cities we didn’t have to build and allow us to eat from olive trees we didn’t plant. And now, we were the only two given the privilege to return.
First things first, we had to cross the Jordan River. While normally it flows lazily from Mount Hermon down to the Dead Sea, it was spring time, and the water had overflown its banks. It was time to see God’s amazing hand lead us as He had led our forefathers at the Red Sea.
The people nervously gathered by the water’s edge. We heard the Canaanites on the other side we’re confident the river would protect them as we moved from East to West, just south of Jericho. The Lord told me to put the priests out front and to have them carry the Ark of the Covenant. If God was going to be with us, His presence should lead the way.
With great fear, one by one and step by step the Levites waded into the rushing rapids… all while balancing the great Ark. Honestly, I wasn’t so sure what would happen next as thousands of our people watched from the muddy banks of the Jordan. Would the priests slip and fall in? Would the Ark topple and get carried downstream by the current? But we had faith. We knew God hadn’t brought us this far to leave us stranded.
A miracle for our generation happened next! The water began to pile up, like it was splashing against an invisible dam. Some started shouting and praising God. “Look! It’s just like the Red Sea, Joshua!” I smiled as I thought of my parents being chased by Pharaoh, and then watched as my own children skipped across the dry river bed holding their mother’s hand!
Everyone was laughing; some were dancing!
We built a monument to the Lord in the middle of the river bed to remind generations after us of the great beginning to our crossing into the Promised Land.
We didn’t really know where we going or what to expect next. God continued to guide us and deliver us… There were victories at Jericho, Ai, Gibeon, Lachish, and many others… 180 towns altogether west of the Jordan.
We’ve been living on the Land in peace for a long time now. All of the tribes of Israel have just gathered for a delightful and moving celebration at Shechem. I reminded the people of God’s faithfulness through the generations… how He has fought for us, just as He promised. Our enemies ran from us, not because of our swords or our military strength… for we are just wanderers… They fled because of God. Some tried to fight us, but God gave us the victories, just as He gave us the Land. Oh, how He has kept every one of the promises He has ever made to His people! How sweet God’s inheritance has been to every one of us.
I may not be here much longer… but for however many days I have left… as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord!
The story of the people of God and their leader, Joshua, from the book of Joshua.
Do you ever feel like each new day is a brand new expedition, full of unknown diversions, diasters or battles with people you don’t even know? You wake up to new challenges that you didn’t expect to encounter? Today’s toddlers are achieving greater computer mastery than IBM executives in the 1950’s. Nothing is like it was. Everything is changing. It seems we live in a completely different world than just a decade ago. How do we find our way with daily, new unknowns?
God. It’s a simple answer, but it’s true. He is constant. And the same Holy Spirit that was with God in Genesis 1:1 at the creation of the world is with us today. As we follow the Spirit’s prompting, we receive God’s intended inheritance.
Only those people who are led by God’s Spirit are his children. God’s Spirit doesn’t make us slaves who are afraid of him. Instead, we become his children and call him our Father. God’s Spirit makes us sure that we are his children. His Spirit lets us know that together with Christ we will be given what God has promised. We will also share in the glory of Christ, because we have suffered with him. (Romans 8:14-17 CEV).
No matter where we go, no matter whether we’ve been there before or not, no matter if it is a place of joy or a place of suffering, be assured of this: God is with us.
Even Jesus walked an uncharted path at least once… on the via Dolorosa… The Painful Way… the walk from the palace of Pontus Pilate to the Hill of the Skull. It was a walk He had not ever taken before. He knew the destination; He knew His Father in heaven was with Him. He knew it was part of His inheritance… but He had never been there. It was a place of suffering for His glory and our inheritance.
Open up your hands and receive His inheritance today!
I am known as a tempter, a deceiver and schemer. My goal is to take anything good and wreck it. I have had many, many successes. Eve is the earliest. I was able to confuse her. Oh she had it so good there in the garden… By manipulating the truth just a bit I totally wrecked her life, her relationship with Adam and with God.
I also messed with Abraham, Moses, Saul, David, Solomon, even Peter. The list is endless. And, I’m sure I’ve messed with you.
So the day Jesus entered the wilderness I was poised for another great victory. I watched as he spent 40 long days in solitude. I waited until he was at his weakest… he was lonely, hungry, and he was likely preparing for his next move. At just the right moment, I pounced!
The Israeli desert is rocky, dry and dirty. Loose stones the size of fists cover the landscape. Just walking can be a chore. And finding a spot to kneel and pray is impossible. With just the right amount of prompting, and the early morning light just so, I knew that Jesus was famished, I figured I may be able to convince him to see small loaves of bread where the path was covered with rocks. This was going to be easier than Eve. He hadn’t eaten in 40 days. Appealing to his flesh and his position, I said: “If you really are the Son of God, and since you are hungry, why not turn these stones into bread… satisfy your hunger. Can’t you taste a fresh baked loaf, Jesus? Mmmmm.”
Even though he was famished and his body weak, his mind was sharp. He quoted Torah and said: “No one can live on bread alone. People need every word that God has spoken. The word is life. The word is my sustenance, Satan.”
He was stronger than I thought he’d be after 40 days without food.
We walked along for awhile together. I took him to the City. The air was hot, not a cloud in the sky. Although no one could see us, we went to the top of Solomon’s great temple. We looked down from the height above and saw people going about their day… the women to the markets and the men to their work. Bright colored awnings peppered the walkway below. I pretended to push him off and challenged his ego. If this is about words supporting him, how about these words from Scripture: “God will give his angels orders about you, Jesus. They will catch you in their arms. Jump, Jesus, Jump!”
He replied by quoting other words from God: “Don’t try to test the Lord!”
I schemed again how I might tempt him… I knew that God has given me the power over this earth, so I used that authority as a bargaining chip… I would gladly give that up if I could get Jesus to merely bow to me! I’m still angry at God… It was supposed to be me on that throne in heaven! So we went north to Mt. Hermon, the highest elevation in all of the Promised Land. He was still physically weak. Surely I could get him to yield. “Look to the mountains in the east and the great sea to the west. This can all be yours, Jesus… all you have to do is bow before me. Think of it… you can bring your people your kind of peace, for all time… think of the wealth of this land, the bounty and riches of the fertile crescent, the many palaces of King Herod… I’ll see to it that it is all yours to do with as you wish… merely worship me.”
This time, he didn’t bow, he bellowed: “Go away, Satan!” Again he quoted the Word of God: “Worship the Lord, the One True God and serve only Him.”
Others were so much easier to cripple… I will continue to press on this one, the Son of God… but for now, I will leave him. I will leave him. But I will be back!
The words, actions and thoughts, perhaps, of Satan during temptation of Jesus in Matthew, Chapter 4.
Do you know you have the power to defeat the enemy? Use the words of God and the truth of the scriptures. Use the authority Jesus gives to all of us. Most important, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.” James 4:7 (NIV).