Learning from humble fishermen…

Peter, Peter, …

Lectionary Readings:

  • Acts 5:27-32

Childhood memories, especially childhood memories from beach-houses and idyllic holidays, are usually the best moments etched in our minds. Well, not all of them…

Our school year was the US one, not the Panamanian one – at odds with all my friends.   One of the benefits, was that whenever we’d spend our holiday at the beach, we’d have the beach completely to ourselves.  Us and the fishermen.

Our beach was fabulous, except for the occasional jellyfish  It was very unusual for us to get them still alive, but their dead bodies wash up on the shore regularly.  A little scientific research, and I found the following:

even detached tentacles from the jellyfish itself can still sting and cause you pain, irritation, allergic reaction etc. It’s important to understand that the nematocysts (stinging structures found in the tentacles) can remain very active long after the jellyfish is dead, as long as two weeks.[1]

I didn’t get a live one – I got a tentacle wound around a leg.  Initially it was just pain in my calf, then on the thigh where it had stung some more, then the realisation that the leg was going numb… By this stage, my beach holiday was miserable… The pain and the fear.

What do you do? Grab your child, stick them in the car, and run off to the ER – about a 20 to 30 minute drive away.  One problem: Mum & Dad didn’t HAVE a car.  We’d been dropped off at the beach, and were to be picked up at the end of the holiday.  No cell-phone.  No phone lines. No electricity. No taxis… Just us, the beach, and a few fishermen.

So off to the fisherman’s house we go!  He was home.  He had them sit me on a stool in his dining room, and then rubbed my leg down with some oil that he had sitting in a bottle on the shelf.   Apparently, though, that wasn’t enough – the poison had been in my leg for too long already and he was worried it was going to my heart.  So he pours a glass of this oil, for me to drink.  Cod Liver Oil. All of it.  Down.  Now.

Please God, NEVER AGAIN.

One day of rest, and it’s all back to normal!

Today, I’d like to talk to you about a Fisherman you’ve probably heard about a lot:  Peter.

We find him today before the Sanhedrin, questioned by the high priest:

28 We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” … “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.

29 Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! 30 The God [that…] raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31 … that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.

The Peter that Jesus asked to follow him, this isn’t the same Peter we find standing before the Sanhedrin.

I can only imagine that Peter grew up in a home quite like that of the fisherman I visited.  No school. No cool electronics and gadgets. Nets mended and repaired over and over again.

And then Jesus shows up.  Peter had a choice. He left the world’s security behind him and chose to walk with Christ. … it’s a walk of faith. He left that boat, the net, the bankroll of fish and began a new fishing enterprise:   Peter and Co. Fishers of Men. “we catch ’em, God cleans ’em”

The Peter we know from the Bible was brash, bold, opinionated, emotional, volatile, quick to talk, and he made a ton of mistakes. We love him because there’s a lot of Peter in each of us. We know this Peter: he’s proud – so proud that he couldn’t possibly let Jesus wash his feet, he tells everyone what to do, he speaks and acts before he thinks, he chopped off the, and he even walked on water for a moment in true faith.   But inside, a fearful man.

And yet, Peter was to be the Rock on which the church was to be built.

We may envy the closeness he had with God: That special relationship with God; that constant communication with Him.  Like many of the other “heros” we find in the Bible:  I envy what they could accomplish for God. It was amazing how God can take these weak and imperfect individuals and do such amazing things through them that they could so greatly impact people. Unswerving faith. They trusted God when it didn’t make sense, when it wasn’t popular and when things were not going their way. They are legends that we are talking about thousands of years later because of the kind of faith that they had: “That’s the type of person that I want to be” or “that is the type of faith that I would like to have.”

Peter, this is the man:

  • When Jesus was on the mountain and was transfigured with Moses and Elijah it was Peter who wanted to stay and build shelters for all three of them.
  • When Jesus asks: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”, and then followed by the questions: “But what about you, Who do you say I am?” Peter is the only one to respond: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
  • When Jesus told Peter he was going to be killed it was Peter who said he would die with him. It was Peter who assured Jesus that even if everyone else denied him he wouldn’t.
  • It was Peter who drew his sword and cut off Malchus’ ear as the soldiers came to arrest Jesus.

Peter’s greatest desire was to be with Jesus – we see this when he walks on water:

  • The disciples are out to sea and there is a great storm around them. These experienced fishermen, they were afraid. Jesus walks out on the water towards them. Peter speaks up and says, “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Peter wanted to get to Jesus. And yet, even when Peter stepped out of the boat, and he became afraid because of the wind, taking his eyes off of Jesus and sinking. He cried out some of the most amazing words in the entire Bible: “Lord, save me”. Three simple words so packed with meaning.

When Jesus asks if the disciples will turn their backs on him, it’s Peter that responds:   “to whom shall we go, you alone have the words of eternal life, we believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Then we see Peter, at the height of Jesus’ popularity and triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  Celebrating and happy that HE is on the side of the Messiah.

I can just imagine him:  “Yeah, I’m one of his disciples.  You know, I’ve known him probably the longest out of all of us.  And I’ve got an inside track with him, ‘cos I’m important, you know.  I was picked to be one of the elite, of this special force that’s with him.”  Chest puffed out.

And so, imagine Peter’s complete confusion when Jesus, somehow, before his eyes, changes.  Jesus starts to talk about death.  And how salvation isn’t going to be war or rebellion.  There’s not going to be any glory in battle.   He’s going to go to the cross.

The same Peter that sworn that he would never turn his back on Jesus and that he would follow him to the death – suddenly he doesn’t recognise Jesus any more.  This isn’t what I signed up for – we’ve supposed to triumph – we’ll be famous.  What on EARTH are you talking about?   How is your death supposed to help our cause?

And so we find Peter, doing exactly as Jesus told him that he would: denying him three times. After Jesus was handed over to the Pharisees and the Romans, Peter stuck around to watch. Three times he was recognized as one of Jesus’ disciples, and three times Peter denied it, even cursing the name of Jesus.

And then Jesus looked into his eyes.  I can’t imagine the pain of the moment: because I’m sure that in Christ’s look there was no accusation.  Not even pity.  It would have been a look of love “it’s okay, I understand, and I forgive you”.  Not I told you so.

All his bravado and declarations, gone.  On the most important night of his life—on the most important night in history—Peter, “the Rock,” sat alone in a dark corner weeping. This wasn’t common place for him. He was a strong self-reliant fisherman. He was bold! He was courageous! And now, he was completely undone. The Rock had been shattered.

And it’s only upon that shattered Rock that Jesus can build the church.  Peter needed to stop trusting in the physical, in his strength, in his motivation, in his way of seeing the world, and accept that there was another way.  Peter had human courage, but he lacked spiritual courage.  He was brave, but only as far as he had control of the situation.

Every single day we make choices that show whether we are courageous or cowardly. We choose between the right thing and the convenient thing, sticking to a conviction or caving in for the sake of comfort, greed or approval. We choose to believe in God and trust him, even when we do not always understand his ways, or to second-guess him and try to do it on human strength.

When we’ve been broken and then revived by the Holy Spirit, we will follow in spite of the masses; we’ll be faithful in spite of public opinion; powerful in spite of the lukewarm standards.

That’s the Peter we find standing before the Sanhedrin.  The one that has been purified by the fire of trials and knows what he really looks like on the inside – has thrown “himself” away and allowed himself to be filled by the Holy Spirit.

Most of us are like the Buddhist scholar that comes to see the Zen Master.  An expert: we talk about our extensive doctrinal backgrounds and how much we’ve studied and learned.  And the master listens patiently and makes tea. When it’s ready, he pours it into the scholar’s cup, until it’s overflowing and runs over the floor. 

The scholar jumps up, crying “Stop, stop! The cup is full: you can’t get any more in.” 

And the master replied: “You are like this cup: you are full of your own ideas of the way.  You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is already full.  I can’t put anything in it. Before I can teach you, you have to empty your cup.” 

If we want to be filled with the Spirit of God, and let like Peter, we need to allow Jesus to shatter the rock of our own illusions of grandeur.

the Lord is my Shepherd, sheep, lambs, shepherds, ewes, sheep are weak, defenseless, foolish, fearful, timid, stupid, flock, follow a leader, wandering aimlessly, valuable, prized possessions, provider, preserver, director, loving them, close to His heart, Jehovah Raah, Creator, Universe, Jehovah Jireh, contentment, provender and peace, rest and refreshment, serenity, satisfaction, goal-oriented, the Peace of God, path to perfection, Holy Spirit

The Lord is my Shepherd

Sunday – May 15, 2011 – Balboa Union Church

Readings:  Psalms 23; John 10:1-10; Acts 2: 42-47; and 1 Peter 2: 19-25.

Did you realise that there are over 600 references to sheep, lamb, shepherds and ewes in the Bible?

David compares us to sheep, as does Jesus:

  • Sheep are weak, defenceless, foolish, fearful, timid, stupid, and stubborn. A sheet of paper blown by the wind can  frighten them.  A thunderstorm can throw them into a panic.  They depend entirely on their Shepherd for protection.
  • Sheep live in flocks (they aren’t individuals or used to living on their own), they follow a leader, but  unfortunately this also means that they may even follow another “leader” even when that leader is lost and is wandering aimlessly without direction or purpose.

How are you feeling about this comparison right now?

  • On the other hand: sheep are among the most valuable of all domestic animals:  they are property, often bought with a great price.  They provide us with meat, wool, lamb pelts or leather, milk and cheese.  Although their nature may be weak and defenceless, they are prized  possessions.
  • They graze over wide areas of pasture; they are naturally hill animals, liking places that are high and dry.  They don’t live in swampy wet areas, because it makes their wool rot.

So, what should we look for in a shepherd?

  • The sheep know the voice of their shepherd, because he lives with them 24 hours a day, speaking to them calmly, making sure that they know the sound of his voice – in Israel you might pen 3 different flocks together overnight, but in the morning when the shepherd comes and calls them, ONLY those sheep from HIS flock will respond to his voice and follow him.  The rest will stay in the safety of the pen until their
    shepherd arrives.
  • A good shepherd is the Provider, Preserver, Director, and, indeed, everything to his sheep.
  • A shepherd OWNS his sheep – he isn’t hired help.  He won’t run away in the face of danger.  He loves them, shields them, and would go so far as to lay down his life for them.

Biblical references to sheep & shepherds:

As I mentioned, in the Bible we find about 600 references to sheep & shepherds.  Here are a few that I think can provide us with a little more insight into what it means to be a good shepherd:

  • Proverbs 27: 23 “Be sure you know the condition of your flocks and give careful attention to your herds”
  • Isaiah 40: 11:  “God tends His flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young.”
  • Ezekiel 34: 11-16 “… I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.  As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when He is with them, so will I look after my sheep.  I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness… I will tend them in a good pasture… there they will lie down in good grazing land… I will search for the lost and bring back the strays.  I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak…”
  • In Luke 15:4, Jesus says:  “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?

The Lord is MY Shepherd:

Jehovah Raah – “the Lord is my Shepherd”

“is” – refers to a continual state of being. Not past, present or future. Always.

I want you to also note that it says “the Lord is MY Shepherd” – it doesn’t say, “The Lord is the shepherd of the  world at large, and I’m just one more member of his gigantic flock.”  In John 10:3 we read “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out”.

I’m a priority for my Creator – He takes time out of His busy schedule to care for me.  He has the whole Universe to run, but he knows MY name.  David said: “From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.[1]

I shall not want:

Jehovah Jireh is my Provider: I shall not want.

I may not possess all that I wish for, but “I shall not want.” Those wealthier and wiser than I may want, but not me!  My Shepherd is able to supply my needs, and He has promised to do so.

In Matthew 6: 25-31 Jesus tells us:

25… do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or  store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them…

28And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.  31  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’…

If I follow my shepherd, seeking eternal transformation, I will not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures

I don’t know about you, but this phrase makes me think of wonderful summer days, with long grass and a little shade, and resting peacefully after a fantastic picnic.  It sounds like contentment.  No anxiety.  Not looking for something better: we have found both provender and peace, rest and refreshment, serenity and satisfaction.

How often have we known that there are green pastures, but been too busy, too worried, too goal-oriented to lie down in them?  And so, He makes me lie down.  Shiloh, the Peace of God, does it – not me.  It’s not “I lie down in green pastures” – it says “He makes me lie down”. My Creator not only takes care of my basic needs –He blesses all areas of my life: physically and spiritually so that I can rest.

Psalms 127: 1-2 remind us:

Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.  In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat – for He grants sleep to those He loves.”

He leads me beside the still waters

Our good shepherd ensures that He leads us along in peace.  He keeps us on the path to perfection and always moving forward, but beside still waters.  Not a rushing current where we can get swept away.

My shepherd is not a sheep drover, driving me forward.  He leads from the front; I don’t have to wonder if I’m heading in the right direction. This reminds me of how Jesus said to more than one disciple: “follow me”?

Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.”

But how many times do WE try to tell Jesus where we are going?  I make MY plans and then say to God “Please bless what I am going to do”.

The still waters represent life with the Holy Spirit: they cleanse, refresh, and revitalise us.  The Holy Spirit loves working peacefully, flowing into our souls, letting us perceive His Divine presence in silence and rest.  The Holy Spirit is represented by a dove, not an eagle; by the dew of the morning, not a tropical thunderstorm.

“To the waters of repose He gently leads me, there He revives my soul.”

He restores my soul

He lets me catch my breath.  He gives new strength to my soul.

When the soul grows sorrowful our Creator revives it; when it is sinful our Saviour sanctifies it; when it is weak His Spirit strengthens it.  Elohim does it.

Are you feeling low on grace?  Is your spirituality at its lowest ebb?

Maybe it’s time to let the Prince of Peace restore your soul.

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake

Our Creator is a personal God, actively involved in our lives 24 hours a day.  I’m not expected to be righteous or find my way alone.  Jehovah Tsidkenu guides me in paths of righteousness, the same way that Jehovah Shalom leads me beside the still waters.  These “paths of righteousness” change and develop as I grow.

Jehovah Tsidkenu “The Lord is our righteousness” does this “for His name’s sake.”  He is true to His Word, guiding us in paths of righteousness, with pure, free grace.

Jehovah Tsidkenu wants us to deal with those issues, bad attitudes, and in our life holding us back, so that we can be those “dazzling, radiant, immortal creatures” that honour His name.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.

There is SO much to talk about here!

I guess the first thing that jumps out at me is the we walk through the “valley of the SHADOW of death”.  It’s not the “valley of death”, it’s only a shadow.  The shadow of a dog doesn’t bite, the shadow of a sword won’t hurt you, and the shadow of death won’t kill me.  So, who’s afraid of shadows?

Obviously death casts a shadow, but our Shepherd only asks us to face the shadow – not death itself.

Charles Spurgeon makes an interesting comment about this verse:

“Yea, though I walk,” (don’t) quicken (your) pace when (it’s time) to die, but calmly walk with God. “To walk” indicates the steady advance of a soul which knows its road, knows its end, resolves to follow the path, feels quite safe, and is therefore perfectly calm and composed. The dying saint is not in a flurry, he does not run as though he were alarmed, nor stand still as though he would go no further, he is not confounded nor ashamed…

I also see that we are walking through the valley.  We’re not walking “into” the valley – this is not our final destination.  We will come out the other side, into the light.  We are passing through, on our way to somewhere better.

Though I face death or uncertainty I am without fear, “For Thou art with me.”  Jehovah Shammah (The Lord is in this place)

When did it change from “the Lord” to “you”? Suddenly we’ve transitioned to 2nd person, rather than 3rd
person.  “The Lord is my Shepherd”… has now moved to “you are with me”.

Your Rod and your Staff comfort me:

The rod was a weapon used against predators (wolves and lions), and the staff – with its crook at the end is to  pull us back from the edge of a cliff or falling into a gully.   These 2 (rod and staff) keep me safe from predators and from my own wrong-headedness when I heedlessly bowl my way into dangerous situations.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (my Shepherd)[1]

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies:

A good man will have his enemies – those that disagree with him, those that feel ashamed by his good deeds and their lacking.  Jesus had his enemies:  Why, otherwise, would he have told us to LOVE our enemies and pray for those that persecute us?   He also tells us in Matthew chapter 5 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed re you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”

“You prepare a table before me I the presence of my enemies”:  our Shepherd SERVES us.  He’s not hurried: He takes the time to set and lay out a table before us.  Even if the enemy is watching, we can take our time.  There is no confusion, no disturbance; I can sit down and eat in perfect peace.

As sheep, He owns me, He bought me; and yet, my relationship with this Master is so beautiful that He serves me!  Like Jesus washing the feet of His disciples.

Thou anointest my head with oil;

The origin of anointing was a practice of shepherds: lice and other small insects would get into the sheep’s wool, and if they burrowed into the sheep’s ear, it would kill the sheep.  The solution was simple: anoint the sheep’s  head with oil, and any insects would slide off.  Anointing thus became the symbol of blessing, protection and empowerment.   And then later referred to being full of the Holy Spirit.

David was anointed by Samuel and with the anointing came the Holy Spirit.  Being anointed usually means “you are the Chosen One” – you are honoured before all. We all need to be anointed.  Each day as I wake up “Good morning Holy Spirit. I’m going to need strength for this day. I need that extra grace from “on high”: Divinely designated for my purpose in life.” And I can be sure that I have been anointed.

My cup runneth over.

When was the last time you counted your blessings?

I have counted my blessings – and am truly content.  My cup isn’t full – my cup runneth over.   Can you recognise it when you are blessed?

Paul says in Philippians 4: 12-13

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can to everything through him who gives me strength.

If Heaven is where God is, and I KNOW that my Shepherd is with me each moment of each day, then I am already in heaven and my cup runneth over…

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:

Have you wondered about this order? The shepherd  leads from the front, I follow, and goodness and mercy follow me, watching my  back!  So in front I have my Shepherd and  watching my back are goodness and mercy.

God’s mercy, sweeps along behind me, forgiving my  mistakes, weaknesses and sins.  His  goodness carries away all baggage and regret, because I am following the good Shepherd. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

I am not just a guest.  I belong.  A child of the everlasting and Almighty Creator.

Jesus calls us to follow His voice – this is the voice we are to know. To be able to hear, irrespective of what noises and voices are drowning out His words.  We are to listen to His voice, rather than the voice of pleasure, self-pride,  materialism, rewards of worldly success, my own goals, family pressures, and keeping up with the Jones’.  We are not to allow all those others that try to climb in over the protective fence that shelters us draw us away.

One of the conclusions drawn by Biblical scholars about our sense of loss and lack of self-worth is that we
often don’t know where to go, what to do, or that we even have anywhere else we need to go.  We are SHEEP WITHOUT A SHEPHERD. When we try to run our own lives without having a basic set of principles and values, when we try to create our own religion (rather than having simple faith), when we maintain our own comfortable way: We become our own shepherd (I will do it my way). But, sheep weren’t made to lead, it’s their nature to be led.

Jesus did three primary things as a shepherd:

1-    He looked after the spiritual needs of the people – teaching, preaching and sharing the gospel

2-  He looked after the physical needs – healing every disease, sickness, feeding the hungry

3-    He taught his disciples to go out and to do the same.

If we are truly His followers, then we are to follow His example and the same way that we are following Him, bring others to that place where they will receive the same peace, protection and blessings.

[1] Philippians 4: 6-7

Psalms 61:2