John 21:1-19 – Breakfast in the Liminal Space

Miraculous Draught of Fishes by John Reilly, 1978

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So, they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So, Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

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!” (New International Version)

The Miraculous Catch of Fish by Belgian artist Erik Tanghe

Sometimes, maybe oftentimes, it takes a bit of time to wrap both our heads and our hearts around a new reality. After all, if you’ve been used to operating a particular way for a long time, it can be hard to come around to embracing something different – even if that change is really good.

Good ol’ Peter, bless his heart, you’ve got to love him. The Lord Jesus is risen from death and he, along with some of the other disciple fishermen, are not quite up to speed on resurrection. Christ is alive, the disciples have already seen him on two separate occasions, yet they seem like a dog who has chased a rabbit and now don’t know what to do with it once they’ve surprisingly gotten it cornered.

So, Peter goes fishing. Yep, when all else seems upside-down and topsy-turvy, just go fishing. The problem is: Peter and the boys are going back to a life that doesn’t exist anymore. And that’s pretty much what we all tend to do when we are stuck in a liminal space (to be at the threshold of something new, but not quite there yet) caught in a situation of uncertainty without much of a clue what to do. We simply go back to what we’ve always done and hope we catch some fish.

But we can’t catch fish. It isn’t the same anymore. There’s a new reality. The resurrection of Jesus has completely upended the world. There is no going back to any sort of pre-resurrection days. All has changed. I’m not sure if the disciples believed they were going to catch any fish, or not. Seems they just had to go do something familiar.

Unbeknown to them, the rules changed. The old way of fishing won’t work, anymore. While they’re off trying to live from the familiar confines of the old life, Jesus shows up on shore. The disciples don’t realize its him. So, they don’t anticipate that when Jesus calls out and encourages them that they’ll end up with a nice haul of fish.

While the old life yields nothing, the new life with Christ brings abundance, blessing, and fellowship. After the big catch of fish, here are the disciples now eating breakfast with the King of Kings, yet they’re still scratching their heads. What’s going on? Who is it? Well, of course, it’s Jesus, but is it? What’s the plan? I’m so confused.

In the passage and through the journey from one reality to another – the place of familiarity to a place of a future we’ve never seen – there is both the shadow of doubt which makes everything feel so uncertain and the confidence of faith which keeps us going forward.

In this middle passage, this liminal space, there is a continual vacillating between doubt and faith. Rarely is there ever a black-and-white existence. Instead, it’s wise to become friends with the gray because most lessons we learn come while inhabiting this weird in-between space.

When the disciples encountered Christ in today’s Gospel story, it was an experience of Jesus in the middle – a six-week time between resurrection and ascension. It was also an experience of the disciples in the middle. There was no going back to a pre-resurrection time of walking and talking with Jesus as they had done before. And there is also no future where they can live in the past or pick up the fishing business just like before.

Although we have the advantage of knowing how the story shakes-out with Christ’s ascension, the giving of the Spirit, and a robustly bold group of disciples going out to change the world – the disciples cannot picture that future in their present liminal space on the beach.

This is why Jesus helps and coaxes Peter along with three consecutive questions – enabling this Rock of a disciple to move through his own liminal space to a new place of the bold and confident apostle that we find in the book of Acts.

We, too, inhabit a middle space. We are in-between the two advents of Christ. This truly is an awkward time in which we, along with disciples, experience a mix of belief and doubt because we are not yet at the end of the story.

So, a strange combination of worship and wondering exists in the here-and-now. Jesus did not chide the disciples for sometimes believing and sometimes not. And, what’s more, our Lord isn’t exasperated with us. That’s because one of the certainties for the Christian is that grace overcomes and overwhelms literally everything. Sitting down with Word and Meal creates a new space where we can begin to make sense of our sometimes very nonsensical lives.

Great God of Resurrection, help me to embrace both the meaning and the mystery of faith as I negotiate and interpret every situation in my life through the light of Jesus Christ, your Son, my Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Luke 24:36-40 – Peace Be with You

Jesus Shows Himself to Thomas by Rowan and Irene LeCompte, National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. (New International Version)

Christ’s disciples were abuzz. Two dudes showed up and told eleven of the original disciples that they had seen and talked to Jesus himself! This was a lot to wrap both their heads and their hearts around. Maybe they dared to hope it was true.

Peter and John encountered an empty tomb. Now these guys from Emmaus are giving this wild testimony of a risen Savior. Into the weird mix of doubt, curiosity, grief, hope, wondering, and outright confusion, Jesus materializes out of the blue and says, “Peace be with you.”

Already feeling unsettled and uncertain, the disciples had anything but a peaceful response to the presence of their Lord. Startled, troubled, and frightened they were, as if somebody had just dropped a skunk into the room.

Why the fear? Why not be overjoyed or overcome with sheer delight at seeing Jesus?

The disciples were caught off guard, as if they had zero expectation of seeing Jesus. Believing him to be dead, they immediately went to thinking this was some ghost. After all, the door was locked. Nobody could have gotten into the room without the disciples knowing it. (John 20:19)

As it turns out, faith and belief are not uniform static terms. There are layers to faith. Yes, the disciples really did believe, and their faith developed over time with Jesus. However, their belief had not yet come to full bloom. So, in this sense, they still possessed a lack of faith and were rebuked by Jesus for it. (Mark 16:14)

A full-orbed belief in the Lord Jesus Christ is more than words, more than making professions, and more than signing-off on a doctrinal statement of faith. Faith is shown for what it is through our actions. (James 1:19- 2:26)

Faith comes to fruition when the head, the heart, and the hands all align together and conspire to proclaim the gospel in thought, word, and deed. If they are misaligned or incongruent with each other, then that faith is inadequate. There is yet another level to the belief which needs to emerge.

Perhaps this is instructive for people today. While maintaining beliefs about the person and work of Jesus, and acknowledging Christ’s death and resurrection, some Christians live as though he had never risen from the grave. If Jesus were to suddenly show up and say, “Peace be with you,” like a startled puppy, they’d likely have an accident on the floor.

As Jesus had done so many times before in his earthly ministry, he invited the disciples to experience him in a real, tangible, visceral way. This is no ghost. This is a Christ who has physical flesh and bones. You can eat with this Jesus, real food and drink. Look at his hands and feet. Touch and feel them if you must. But, by all means, believe!

Jesus came to give them, and us, peace. Peace is more than a greeting, more than the absence of conflict or anxiety. It is to enjoy harmony with self, others, and God. Peace is wholeness and integrity of being, even when all is going to hell around us.

A child is born to us, a son is given to us,
    and authority will be on his shoulders.
    He will be named
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be vast authority and endless peace
    for David’s throne and for his kingdom,
    establishing and sustaining it
    with justice and righteousness
    now and forever. (Isaiah 9:6-7, CEB)

The peace of God is closely associated with the presence of God. And so, conversely, the lack of peace is to experience a sense of divine absence. God’s peace and presence are inseparable. It is, therefore, no surprise that Jesus demonstrated his actual physical presence and spoke to the disciples about peace.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked in fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again, Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:19-23, NIV)

Chronic spiritual anxiety usually arises from the inability to perceive a generous and hospitable God having our backs and working on our behalf. Knowing God, who is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, leads to peace and settled rest. 

May the Lord bless you
    and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you
    and be gracious to you.
May the Lord show you his favor
    and give you his peace. Amen. (Numbers 6:24-26, NLT)

Exodus 6:1-13 – Our Own Worst Enemy

Moses and the Burning Bush by Marc Chagall

Then the Lord told Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh. When he feels the force of my strong hand, he will let the people go. In fact, he will force them to leave his land!”

And God said to Moses, “I am Yahweh— ‘the Lord.’I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty’—but I did not reveal my name, Yahweh, to them. And I reaffirmed my covenant with them. Under its terms, I promised to give them the land of Canaan, where they were living as foreigners. You can be sure that I have heard the groans of the people of Israel, who are now slaves to the Egyptians. And I am well aware of my covenant with them.

“Therefore, say to the people of Israel: ‘I am the Lord. I will free you from your oppression and will rescue you from your slavery in Egypt. I will redeem you with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment.I will claim you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God who has freed you from your oppression in Egypt. I will bring you into the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I will give it to you as your very own possession. I am the Lord!’”

So, Moses told the people of Israel what the Lord had said, but they refused to listen anymore. They had become too discouraged by the brutality of their slavery.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go back to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, and tell him to let the people of Israel leave his country.”

“But Lord!” Moses objected. “My own people won’t listen to me anymore. How can I expect Pharaoh to listen? I’m such a clumsy speaker!”

But the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron and gave them orders for the Israelites and for Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. The Lord commanded Moses and Aaron to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. (New Living Translation)

We can become our own worst enemy.

In Lodi, California, in March of 2006, a city dump truck backed into a car belonging to a man named Curtis Gokey. The car was damaged badly. So, Gokey sued the city of Lodi for $3,600. There is, however, a catch to the story: Curtis Gokey was driving the city dump truck that crunched his personal car. And he admitted it was his fault. The city dropped the lawsuit, stating that Gokey could not sue himself. 

Like Curtis Gokey, we are often our own worst enemies. We might get down on ourselves or on God. There are times when it’s easy for us to either justify ourselves or blame ourselves, while wondering why God and/or others keep doing things we don’t like. 

When life is not going so well, it’s possible to slide into a private belief system that thinks God is not good for his promises (James 1:16-17). At worst, one can start to think that God is the problem and the source of the trouble. 

To be self-deceived is to go astray and slowly drift from the truth…. It can happen to anybody. The first step is having expectations that go unmet. An expected answer to prayer goes unanswered. Somebody lashes out and there seems to be no protection from it. Some anticipated blessing does not come to pass….

Moses was downright confused. He was confident and convinced God had called him to free the Israelites from their cruel bondage in Egypt. But nothing was going right. And the people were upset with Moses for making things worse, not better.

Trusting God and not becoming discouraged when we don’t understand everything that’s happening can be a big challenge. We might wonder if we really have what it takes to do anything well. We may wonder if God is even listening, or if God is paying any attention, at all, to our terrible plight….

  • “Why, God, did you let my son or daughter die? How in the hell am I supposed to keep going!?” 
  • “Why, God, did you give me a gaslighting boss to deal with? I get tongue-tied around her. How is she ever going to listen to me?”
  • “Why won’t people get vaccinated for COVID-19? How am I supposed to talk to the anti-vaxers?”
  • “Why, God, is everything changing? How am I going to speak up?”

Questioning can help us make sense of our situations. However, questioning may also cause us to doubt that God is there and will act on our behalf. In such times, it might be tempting to blame God for a broken relationship, a terrible event, a dysfunctional family, or an adverse situation. 

Yet, God has chosen to give us birth through the word of truth (not a word of deception and lies) so that we might have new life with fresh eyes of faith to see our situations as God sees them (James 1:18).  That is what wisdom is – the ability to see all of life from God’s perspective. 

If any of us lacks wisdom, we should ask God, who gives generously without finding fault, and it will be given to us (James 1:5).  This is a promise from a good God who knows how to give good gifts.

None of us are above falling into misinterpretations that lead to the self-deceptions of questioning God’s goodness and our own God-given personhood. We need to be vigilant in watching for the false stories we might tell ourselves such as: 

  • “This wouldn’t have happened, if I just would’ve been better.”
  • “There’s nothing I can do about it.”
  • “I’m just a big screw-up. I can’t do anything right.”
  • “God messed-up when he made me.” 
  • “I don’t know what to say. I’m not good with words.”

We are all to take charge of our lives through having a robust theology of God that discerns the Lord is always good, all the time, without exception; and that we are called by a good God to do good work.

The good news is that a good God has taken care of the sin issue once for all through the cross of Christ. The Lord has brought us the good gifts of forgiveness and grace. God has given us the Holy Spirit to help us and guide us into all truth so that we will have wisdom and humility to live the Christian life as it is meant to be lived. 

For the Christian, the key to it all is faith – genuine authentic faith that places head, heart, and hands completely in Jesus Christ so that we have right belief, right motives, and right actions all rightly working together in a full-orbed Christianity that glorifies the triune God, encourages Christ’s church, and blesses God’s big world. 

Don’t be your own worst enemy by sabotaging your thoughts with the double-mindedness of wondering about the true nature of God. 

Explore the depths of God in Christ and discover the goodness that can result even in life’s most difficult experiences.

Lord God almighty, Creator of heaven and earth:

When evil darkens our world, give us light.

When despair numbs our souls, give us hope.

When we stumble and fall, lift us up.

When doubts assail us, give us faith.

When nothing seems sure, give us trust.

When ideals fade, give us vision.

When we lose our way, be our guide!

That we may find serenity in Your presence, and purpose in doing Your will.

Through Jesus Christ, our Savior, Lord, Brother, and Friend. Amen.

Psalm 4 – Rhythms of Trust

God, you are my righteousness, my Champion Defender.
    Answer me when I cry for help!
    Whenever I was in distress, you enlarged me.
    I’m being squeezed again—I need your kindness right away!
    Grant me your grace, hear my prayer, and set me free!
Listen to me, you elite among men:
    How long will you defame my honor
    and drag it down into shame?
    Will you ever stop insulting me?
    How long will you set your heart on shadows,
    chasing your lies and delusions?
May we never forget that Yahweh works wonders
    for every one of his devoted lovers.
    And this is how I know that he will answer my every prayer.
Tremble in awe before the Lord, and do not sin against him.
    Be still upon your bed and search your heart before him.
Bring to Yahweh the sacrifice of righteousness and put your trust in him.
Lord, prove them wrong when they say, “God can’t help you!”
    Let the light of your radiant face
    break through and shine upon us!

The intense pleasure you give me
    surpasses the gladness of harvest time,
    even more than when the harvesters
    gaze upon their ripened grain
    and when their new wine overflows.
Now, because of you, Lord, I will lie down in peace and sleep comes at once,
    for no matter what happens, I will live unafraid! (TPT)

This is a psalm of David. It is a heartfelt and confident plea for deliverance.

David had a track record with God. For most of his life, David had a spiritual and relational rhythm of looking to God, trusting God, and resting secure in God.

Small Faith

I’m not sure where the idea popped up amongst some Christians that faith and trust in God means everything in life is going to be hunky-dory and a bowl of cherries. That was not true of any godly character in the Bible. In fact, it seems the more integrity one has in Scripture, the more they faced trouble and suffering.

It is the pea-brained, small-hearted, and gutless who have the time and privilege of leveling criticism and defamation on the ones sincerely trying to make a difference in this world. On the one hand, it is unfortunate that the spiritually devoted must put up with the petulance of puny people. Yet, on the other hand, the faithful recognize God controls all things and uses anything and anyone to shape them as persons who have grown expansive spiritual faculties, enlarged hearts, and gut-feeling compassion. The wise truly learn from all things.

“Trust the Lord completely, and don’t depend on your own knowledge. With every step you take, think about what he wants, and he will help you go the right way.”

Proverbs 3:5-6, ERV

Big Faith

The godly have become so because they have learned over-and-over again to let God champion their cause and defend their personhood. The faithful reflexively cry out to the Lord with all their troubles. The devoted aren’t shy in boldly telling God exactly what they want and need. They find joy in their spirituality, and they let it support them in stressful times.

God has shown them steadfast love. And they are supremely secure in the settled conviction that God has their backs. They believe it so much that followers of God can lay their heads on their pillows at night and fall asleep – despite the reality there are those who would take their life, if given half the chance.

No Sleep

Insomnia happens for a lot of reasons. Many, like me, have sleep apnea and restless leg disorder, both diagnosed medical conditions. Others can’t get a good night’s rest because of poor sleep hygiene by not planning for adequate sleep, drinking too much caffeine during the day, inattention to a healthy diet, or a host of other habits. Some, like my dear wife, have issues of chronic pain which can make it difficult to sleep well.

And then there are yet others who suffer from racing thoughts, anxiety, and depression. The stress of their waking life is so significant that several hours of deep sleep seems only like some pipe dream. It’s impossible to sleep when the weight of the day is pressing on you. Finding a sense of calm before bed isn’t easy—especially when you can’t unplug from the demands of your day.

I am wondering if many of us will even allow ourselves to unplug and establish some quiet wind-down time. Reading a real book – not one on a backlit tablet device – or talking with a friend or family member are simple ways of easing our anxiety and letting rest come.

Sleep ZZzz

The psalmist, David, had a regular practice of meditating on Scripture, recalling the events of God, and expressing gratitude and praise for answered prayer. Each of us has a built-in spiritual rhythm just like we have a circadian rhythm. Always trying to buck those God-given rhythms will inevitably result in being “off,” at the least, and experiencing debilitating depression, at worst.

Yet, when we learn to move with the unforced rhythms of grace, there is a groove we slip into which serves us well. In other words, allowing ourselves to be human brings health.

David had neither delusions nor illusions about his enemies, friends, others, and himself. He didn’t try to be somebody he was not. Instead, David had firm and confident convictions about God and the place of prayer. A steady diet of David’s psalms teaches us to hold together both faith and doubt, confidence and confusion, perseverance and perplexity in ways which strengthens belief.

Christ be with you: Christ within you;
Christ before you: Christ behind you;
Christ on your right: Christ on your left;
Christ above you: Christ beneath you;
Christ around you: now and ever. Amen.