You May Have Failed, but You Are Not a Failure.

Sunrise. Breakfast with Jesus.

 

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.

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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).

It’s the same for you and me.

 

(c) 2018. Rich Ronald.

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Who Do You Say That I Am?

“Who do you say that I am?”

The question cut through the nighttime air with certainty. I remember thinking in that moment, it all comes down to this, doesn’t it?

The Master had taken the twelve of us to Caesarea Philippi. It was a field trip like none other we had ever ventured. Three years we had walked where He walked. Three years we had followed. And now, He brought us here?

This place was unlike any we had ever been before. I had heard of this worship center to the Greek fertility gods, but always with the admonition “you don’t ever want to go there… the sin is as vile as Sodom and Gomorrah.” And in the first few minutes of our arrival we understood why. We tried, in vain, to hide our eyes from the immorality that was on public display for all to see. The beat of the music was rhythmic. The chanting and cheering, deafening. The bonfires illuminated moving shadows on the rocky walls of the cliffs. There were people and animals everywhere.  And nothing was considered taboo.

Most of us were young men, just beginning to get a handle on life… and what it might mean to live worthy of being called His disciple.  And this sure didn’t look like anything Almighty God would be pleased about.  We saw the cave from where the Jordan River began. And we knew that this was the place where the Greeks said was the opening to death, to Hades, itself.

He called us together and against this backdrop He asked: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” John said, “Elijah.” Andrew replied: “John the Baptist.” I looked at Matthew as he said: “Some say Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

Jesus then looked my direction. A fire behind me flickered in His eyes. “What about you, Simon? Who do you say that I am?”

Three years I had watched Him heal the brokenhearted. Three years I had witnessed chains falling off of people. Three years of seeing miracle after miracle. I honestly don’t know if I had truly made up my mind until that very second, but I knew it to be true. “You are Yeshua Hamashiach. Jesus, the Messiah.” I looked at the people all around us worshipping these false Greek gods and added. “You are the Son of the Living God.”

He smiled for the first time since we had arrived and said: “Blessed are you Simon. You didn’t come to this conclusion by seeing what is all around you… but your Father, my Father in Heaven, spoke this to you… Spirit to Spirit.”

And then He said: “From now on, I will call you Peter, the Rock.” And with one hand on my shoulder and another pointing at the stone cliff behind us, He said, “And on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Truly, my life changed in that instant. I felt this great mantle being placed on me… this spiritual anointing. I knew it was up to me, and to all of the disciples… we were being commissioned for a monumental assignment… to go into all the world.

My life has been a major up and down ever since… I challenged Him the next day or so and He replied by calling me Satan. A week later, we had a sweet and tender Passover together… He was arrested…  I denied I knew Him… He was crucified… and rose again… Days later, we saw Him on the seashore… had breakfast with Him. And three times He asked me if I loved Him… oh, how I love Him…

It’s been years since that Spring night in Caesarea Philippi. I try, but I still fail at life so much, I’m not much of a rock…

He’s the Rock, really. He’s my Rock.

 

Some of the words, actions and thoughts, perhaps, of Peter and Jesus and the disciples, found in Matthew 16.

Many will say the confession at Caesarea Philippi, is truly the turning point in Peter’s faith journey.  He comes face to face with a query every single one of us have faced, or will face. Maybe today is your time to answer this key question: Who is Jesus? Who do you say that He is?

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9 (NIV)

 

(C) 2017. Rich Ronald.

Jesus taught gentleness. Peter caught it.

GentlenessI’m the rabble rouser.  I have enough grit and mettle for all of the Twelve. I wear my emotions on my sleeve. It doesn’t take much to really tick me off or to make me happy. And right now, as I reflect on the events of the past couple of months, I’m so amazed and full of great joy because of my Lord and my friend, Jesus.

My name is Peter. He called me “the Rock.” We would laugh because sometimes that meant that I was strong, like a building’s foundation. Sometimes that would mean that I was dangerous and hurtful, like when someone was being stoned. Sometimes that meant that I was just plain dumb as a rock. Funny, huh?

The thing that sticks out the most to me, ever since the Passover, is His gentleness. It started that night. It was my job to wash everyone’s feet when they entered the room. But the week had been crazy. The people shouted along a great parade for Him as he entered town a few days earlier. He had sent some of us ahead to prepare for the Feast. When we all sat down we were exhausted and distracted as the Romans were not too pleased with procession and the recent activities of His followers. Anyway, as the servant for the evening, I was supposed to wash everyone’s feet… but He did it. Our Lord the King! Stooping with humility and gentleness.  I arrogantly protested that He’d never wash MY feet. And then with His one sentence reply, I flip-flopped faster than Herod or any other politician and insisted that He wash all of me! I proclaimed that I was all-in! No one or nothing could cause me to ever leave His side, vowing “I’d lay down my life for you!”

He shook His head, furrowed His brow and predicted my betrayal. “Why, I’ll show Him!” I stubbornly said to myself. Just an hour later, in the Garden, I had my chance. When they came to arrest Jesus, and only Jesus, I drew my sword and attacked one of those with the soldiers! The Master’s gentleness towards our Roman enemy, and His admonishment of my actions, greatly perplexed me.

Three times that very night I had the opportunity to stand up for Jesus… to show the world that I would, indeed, follow Him to the ends of the earth, or to death… And all three times, I bailed on Him… I denied I even knew Him.

Oh, how He knew me better than I knew myself.

The agony continued into the night and as the sun rose on the new day… The trials, the long march to Golgotha, the pain of His crucifixion and death. And through it all, Jesus was like this gentle giant, letting it all play out as He had predicted. He was calm and temperate, yet exuded this amazing strength. Soldiers mocked Him. People spat on Him. Rulers belittled Him. Executioners killed Him.

For two days we were all dejected and hope was hard to find. Then, at dawn on the first day of the week, the women went to the tomb after the Sabbath, and His body was not there! Could it be? Was He alive? The joy we felt – and the fear we were experiencing – was this emotional fisticuffs in each of our hearts.

Jesus did appear to all of us on multiple occasions… each time with the gentle greeting: “Peace be to you!” Then, He was gone again.

Days past. We wondered what was next. Would He return? Feeling lost and aimless, I decided to go back to doing what I knew best… fishing. Although, my heart wasn’t in it. Where did He go? What were we supposed to do? All night my mind was racing as I merely went through the motions of throwing the nets overboard, and pulling them back in… empty. We caught nothing. Not even a single minnow.

At day break, we saw Jesus on the shore. Although we didn’t know it was Him at first. He called out to us and told us to once more throw our nets out, this time on the other side of the boat. I thought, “What difference does it make? Right side? Left side? We’re in a boat!” Hesitantly, we followed His friendly advice. And, believe it or not, we caught the most fish in a single net ever! At that moment, we recognized it was the Master!

When we landed on shore and sorted it all out, our hearts were overfilled with great joy! We laughed and cried together as we ate a breakfast that He had kindly prepared for us. And we shared stories of the past week or so. Here was our Lord, our friend, Jesus, just as we knew Him to be.

He took me aside, away from the warm campfire. With much more gentleness than I deserved, He asked me if I loved Him. “Of course I do,” I said. A second time He queried. “Lord, you know that I love you.”  A third time he gently pressed: “Peter, do you love me?”  I was hurt because I felt like I had to defend myself. But He wasn’t angry with me. His eyes expressed great love and deep compassion. And then it hit me and I fell to my knees. Three times He asked… three times I had denied I knew Him. He had to make sure! And I said: “Yes! Yes, Lord! You know me. You know all things! You know that I love you!” And one more time He said, “Follow me.”

I’m pleased to tell you that I have been following Him ever since. We celebrated Pentecost last week. Wow! The Holy Spirit, which Jesus promised would come, showed up in power. We baptized 3,000 people after I spoke that day! Jesus, even after He has gone up to heaven, is so gentle. He loves these people so very much; He has moved in their hearts, as He moved in mine.

So, my friends, I will always be ready to share the hope I have in Jesus. And I will endeavor to do so with the gentleness and respect that our Lord modeled for each one of us. And if I must suffer, I will suffer for doing good, not evil. And I am confident that I will receive a rich welcome into His eternal kingdom.

Some of the words, actions and, perhaps, thoughts of the Apostle Peter, as recorded in the Gospel of John, in Acts Chapter 2 and in 1st Peter.

This is the opening to a sermon from Oak Hills Church, North Central Campus. The video of the entire message is here: http://vimeo.com/161831718

(c) 2016. Rich Ronald.