Luke 5:1-11 – Surprised by Generosity

The Miraculous Catch of Fish by Patrick J. Murphy

One day Jesus was standing beside Lake Gennesaret when the crowd pressed in around him to hear God’s word. Jesus saw two boats sitting by the lake. The fishermen had gone ashore and were washing their nets. Jesus boarded one of the boats, the one that belonged to Simon, then asked him to row out a little distance from the shore. Jesus sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he finished speaking to the crowds, he said to Simon, “Row out farther, into the deep water, and drop your nets for a catch.”

Simon replied, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing. But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.”

So, they dropped the nets, and their catch was so huge that their nets were splitting. They signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They filled both boats so full that they were about to sink. When Simon Peter saw the catch, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!” Peter and those with him were overcome with amazement because of the number of fish they caught. James and John, Zebedee’s sons, were Simon’s partners and they were amazed too.

Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.” As soon as they brought the boats to the shore, they left everything and followed Jesus. (Common English Bible)

One of the most fundamental characteristics of God is generosity. God’s benevolent nature defines the divine stance toward humanity. This may not seem overly remarkable. Yet, when the infinite holiness of God intersects with the prideful arrogance of sinful people, gracious generosity is the unpredictable and amazing result.

Many people on planet earth have been raised with a god who is aloof and something of an old cranky curmudgeon. Such a god gets easily angry and zaps people with lightning or some natural disaster. It is no wonder so many persons have fled from belief in God.

Can we, however, entertain the notion that the Creator God of the universe is quite the opposite of the perpetually upset deity?

In Jesus, we have displayed for us what the basic disposition of the Divine truly is.

On one occasion, Peter (a guy who could raise the ire of most gods) was going about his business, fishing in the Sea of Galilee. Having not yet encountered Jesus, yet stopping to listen to his words, Peter ended up having this uninvited stranger literally get in the boat with him.

There was something remarkably different and compelling about Jesus since Peter did not immediately toss him out. Such a calm, confident, and gracious nature – nothing like Peter had expected. So, here is this ordinary fisherman face-to-face with the Christ of God. 

Jesus told Peter to put the boat out and cast the nets. Peter, an experienced fisherman and knowledgeable about the water, knew for certain that he would not catch anything. But, out of deference to Jesus, he did so, anyway. The result was such a large catch of fish that the nets nearly broke from the weight.

The Great Catch by John August Swanson (1938-2021)

Peter’s response is instructive. He fell at the feet of Jesus in a profound sense of his own smallness and sinfulness. Next to Jesus. Peter saw how little faith he really had. He rightly discerned that he did not deserve such generosity from Jesus, an overflowing abundance given to him despite his unbelief. 

In the face of such grace, in the vortex of an incredible mercy, having seen the generosity of God directed squarely at him, Peter left it all behind to follow Jesus.

So, here we have the nature and character of God before us. No perturbed deity. No exasperated god ready to raise a storm and toss the boat over with Peter in it. No, Jesus, the Son of God, does not operate that way. There is no strong-arming people into faith. God’s tactics steer clear of base manipulation through guilt, or mind-twisting others through shaming them. 

Instead, God is beautifully and simply present with people – showing grace and generosity in places where one would least expect to find it. 

If confronted with such love, what would you do?

Early in my life, I viewed God as some eternally bored deity who would occasionally get out his divine BB gun and shoot people in the rear, just for something to do. God, in my understanding, cared nothing for the real lived experiences of people on earth.

But much like Peter of old, Jesus showed up unannounced in my life. And what I found was like Peter – a kind, benevolent Being who showered such generous love on me that my heart was immediately captured. I have never looked back since.

We intuitively know, down deep in our gut, in the very marrow of our bones, when genuine Love is among us. Generously true Love immediately connects with the deepest needs of our lives. No evangelist must convince us with offering free gold crosses or promised blessings. None of that matters when Love incarnate is present, when the great God of all is among us.

Peace, hope, and faith are the results of the divine loving presence. They cannot be conjured or ginned up through excessive asceticism or extreme discipline. Love is a gift. Love is a person. And it is given generously and graciously from the One whose very nature is charitable and hospitable.

Praise be to God!

Gracious God, you sent your Son to me even though I was neither looking for him nor expecting anything from him. Thank you for breaking-in to my life so that I could break-out for you with glory, honor, and praise.  Amen

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.

Ezekiel 1:1-2:1 – A Vision of Glory

In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the river Chebar, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. On the fifth day of the month (it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin), the word of the Lord came to the priest Ezekiel son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was on him there.

As I looked, a stormy wind came out of the north: a great cloud with brightness around it and fire flashing forth continually, and in the middle of the fire, something like gleaming amber. In the middle of it was something like four living creatures. This was their appearance: they were of human form. Each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot; and they sparkled like burnished bronze. Under their wings, on their four sides, they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: their wings touched one another; each of them moved straight ahead, without turning as they moved. As for the appearance of their faces: the four had the face of a human being, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle;such were their faces. Their wings were spread out above; each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies. Each moved straight ahead; wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went. In the middle of the living creatures there was something that looked like burning coals of fire, like torches moving to and fro among the living creatures; the fire was bright, and lightning issued from the fire. The living creatures darted to and fro, like a flash of lightning.

As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl; and the four had the same form, their construction being something like a wheel within a wheel.When they moved, they moved in any of the four directions without veering as they moved. Their rims were tall and awesome, for the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. When the living creatures moved, the wheels moved beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. Wherever the spirit would go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. When they moved, the others moved; when they stopped, the others stopped; and when they rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.

Over the heads of the living creatures there was something like a dome, shining like crystal, spread out above their heads. Under the dome their wings were stretched out straight, one toward another; and each of the creatures had two wings covering its body. When they moved, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of mighty waters, like the thunder of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army; when they stopped, they let down their wings. And there came a voice from above the dome over their heads; when they stopped, they let down their wings.

And above the dome over their heads there was something like a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was something that seemed like a human form. Upward from what appeared like the loins I saw something like gleaming amber, something that looked like fire enclosed all around; and downward from what looked like the loins I saw something that looked like fire, and there was a splendor all around. Like the bow in a cloud on a rainy day, such was the appearance of the splendor all around. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.

When I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of someone speaking.

He said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you. (New Revised Standard Version)

Stained glass window of Ezekiel’s vision, c.1246–48, Sainte-Chapelle, Paris (Bridgeman Images)

If anyone ever spouted these words on the behavioral health unit on which I work, they’d likely get diagnosed with psychosis. But the prophet Ezekiel was far from psychotic. Patients experiencing a psychotic break rarely talk about visions resembling Ezekiel’s. They’re more inclined to speak about their past trauma in very detached ways, or say things like, “Please pass the ketchup. I’d like to fly a kite and catch some of those butterflies.”

Ezekiel’s vision is also not some contrived experience due to imbibing hallucinogenic substances. The entire prophecy of Ezekiel, spanning a hefty forty-eight chapters, certainly evidences a unique person – yet one that is in control of his full faculties and has keen self-awareness.

If anyone ever tells you they are certain about everything in the book of Ezekiel, don’t believe them. Today’s Old Testament lesson of Ezekiel’s vision of God is an incredible view. It almost defies description. In fact, it does. It’s as if Ezekiel was trying to somehow to communicate with the limitation of words of what he saw. 

Even though we might not understand or comprehend everything in this vision, does not mean we can lose sight of the big picture of what was happening. 

Ezekiel got a glimpse of God’s glory. That, in and of itself, would explain why it is such a mysterious and incredible vision. 

Slowly reading Ezekiel’s vision, one gains the sense of immensity, hugeness, grandeur, and awesome glory. The Hebrew word “glory” literally means “heavy.”  In other words, God is large, bright, holy, carrying a great deal of weight. As we used to say back in the ‘70’s, “Heavy, man, heavy!”

This was much more than a unique experience for Ezekiel. It completely had him undone. Ezekiel fell on his face because that is about all one can do when encountering such an incredible appearance.  Sneaking a peek of God in glorious heavenly splendor is an awesome sight. So, when God speaks from the place of such awsome glory, there is nothing to do but listen and obey.

Meeting God, this same God whom Ezekiel encountered, is no small thing. Whenever we truly catch a glimpse of this holy God, it will forever change us – and this is a good thing, even if it seems to others that we must be smoking something. 

If we want to hear the call of God upon our lives, we need to see God’s glory. Otherwise, we can too quickly forget and neglect the Lord. 

May God be gracious in allowing you a glimpse into the Divine throne room – and may you never be the same again because of it.

Glorious God, you carry such great weight that all creation bows to your every word and each move. I, too, bow before you, and I will stand up so that I might hear what you have to say to me. Speak, Lord, for I am listening to you. Amen.

Psalm 145 – Some Solid Robust Theology

Psalm 145:14 by Jen Norton

I will praise you,
my God and King,
    and always honor your name.
I will praise you each day
    and always honor your name.
You are wonderful, Lord,
    and you deserve all praise,
because you are much greater
    than anyone can understand.

Each generation will announce
to the next
    your wonderful
    and powerful deeds.
I will keep thinking about
your marvelous glory
    and your mighty miracles.
Everyone will talk about
    your fearsome deeds,
    and I will tell all nations
    how great you are.
They will celebrate and sing
    about your matchless mercy
    and your power to save.

You are merciful, Lord!
    You are kind and patient
    and always loving.
You are good to everyone,
    and you take care
    of all your creation.

All creation will thank you,
    and your loyal people
    will praise you.
They will tell about
    your marvelous kingdom
    and your power.
Then everyone will know about
    the mighty things you do
    and your glorious kingdom.
Your kingdom will never end,
    and you will rule forever.

Our Lord, you keep your word
    and do everything you say.
When someone stumbles or falls,
    you give a helping hand.
Everyone depends on you,
and when the time is right,
    you provide them with food.
By your own hand
    you satisfy
    the desires of all who live.

Our Lord, everything you do
    is kind and thoughtful,
    and you are near to everyone
    whose prayers are sincere.
You satisfy the desires
    of all your worshipers,
    and you come to save them
    when they ask for help.
You take care of everyone
who loves you,
    but you destroy the wicked.

I will praise you, Lord,
    and everyone will respect
    your holy name forever. (Contemporary English Version)

These days, everywhere I go there is high anxiety, even downright fear. In my city, the highest murder rate in its history marked the past year. In the hospital for which I am the chaplain, the coronavirus with all its deathly strains is bringing grief and bereavement to many families. Within many churches, their future viability is in question, and parishioners wonder about the future.

When there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel, with apprehension and stress as the very air we breathe, there is an angle to the whole situation the psalmist wants us to consider. We are to give weight and consideration to some solid robust theology.

Everyone has a theology. All persons have some sort of understanding of a god, G-d, or no god at all. In the hard circumstances of life, it might seem as if our theology isn’t serving us well. We may feel as if G-d is aloof, distant, or just plain disinterested. So, let’s pay attention to the psalmist. Notice his theology….

The Lord saves… is merciful… powerful… kind… patient… loving… and good. G-d keeps divine promises… helps… gives… provides… protects… and is near to those who humbly seek the divine. In short, the Lord cares for all creation and all creatures, including you and me, and tackles injustice like a hefty linebacker on a string-bean running back.

Yes, G-d deserves all praise, glory, and honor because standing behind all the anxiety of the age is a very large deity who acts with good purpose.

Let this psalm (and the entire psalter) buoy you up with good solid theology because the Lord is righteous in all dealings and is present to all who call for help. G-d hears. G-d responds. Perhaps neither according to our idea of timeliness nor to our expectation. Yet, deliverance is at hand, even if it comes in a form different than we were anticipating.

I am taking time to read today’s psalm several times over, to let it awash my soul with significant doses of truth and mercy. There are simply times when all of us need to remember and be reminded that there is a G-d in heaven who is willing and able, as well as a friend close at hand. 

True human satisfaction does not come through personal ingenuity or accumulation of more knowledge or more stuff.  Rather, our deepest desires and needs are fulfilled in the G-d who cares.

Anxiety, stress, fear, and apprehension don’t simply melt away. We, like the psalmist, need to practice the active verbs within the text: I will praise you… I will always honor your name… I will keep thinking about your marvelous glory and miracles… I will tell all nations how great you are… because the Lord saves and satisfies.

May that be your experience today, and every day.

Mighty G-d, you are both far and near, totally above us, yet close at hand.  Preserve me with your mighty power so that I might not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity. But in all I do direct me to the fulfilling of your purposes through Jesus Christ, my Lord.  Amen.