Tag Archives: failure

Going Fishing!

In the Aldersgate 2013 pre-conference worship service, the Rev. Ric  Wright shared the biblical story of the resurrected Jesus and his encounter with his disciples in John 21:1-14. It starts off in verse two with Peter, who is so wounded by his failure during Holy Week he decides he’s going back to what he knew before he met Christ: “I am going fishing.”

Some of the other disciples have even less idea what to do next, and in an unconscious nod to Peter’s leadership, they decide to go with him fishing. After all, it sure beats the pain and disappointment of their failed venture in the ‘Christian’ life.

But Jesus shows up to thwart their plan to leave this ministry stuff behind them and start over in a different life. Like the hound of heaven, he goes after them before they give it all up. He wants to restore them and renew them in their true calling.

In some divine way, he ensures that they fail at the fishing gig. All night long and they catch nothing. But then, divinely, he helps them remember some of the miracles they had witnessed and participated in while following Him. He tells them to throw their nets over onto the other side of the boat and they are overwhelmed by the catch. Peter catches on right there and eagerly jumps into the water and heads for the shore. Jesus reenacts the multiplication of the fish and the bread (he’s cooking fish before they get there with their newly caught fish). He reenacts the breaking of the bread, the very thing that they had seen Him do on the night in which He was betrayed. In the midst of their confusion about what is next for each of these men, Jesus is restoring their memories as His disciples. He is restoring them as His disciples for the next part of their lives as Christians.

Between Peter jumping into the water and yet before he gets to Jesus, Peter apparently remembered how he had betrayed Jesus. His shame and remorse is overwhelming. He goes back to the boat and starts hauling in the fish and, literally, counting the fish. (There were 153 fish in that net, by the way.) Anything to keep busy enough to not have to face Jesus face-to-face again after failing Him so miserably.

In Wilson’s challenge to each of us, he commented that many of us, like Peter, have memories that still are filled with our pain, our shame, our failures, our hurts, our fears, our jealousies, and our unforgiveness. Those things become barriers that keep us from Jesus, and keep us from stepping into what God wants for our lives.

Jesus directly calls on Peter, and Peter comes, pain and shame and all. Then Jesus, with the fire, the smells, the reenacted miracles, and the three questions about Peter loving Him, takes Peter back to that night of failure and redeems it. He gives Peter another opportunity to face that night, and Peter gets it right this time. Peter is restored as the past is released. He can’t carry his past with him anymore.

So many of us, when we’ve been hurt in the church, opt to retreat back to the ‘easier’ days before we started following Jesus just like Peter here.

If we are hurt in the church, and we successfully avoid the temptation to return to our earlier ‘before-Christ’ activities, many of us still fall by following someone into their escape from the pain of Christian life, like the other disciples in John 21 did.

How many of us carry hurts and pain and shame that keep us from Jesus? And keep Jesus from being able to work in us and through us? He wants to heal us and restore us… but we have to go to Him with our pain and face Jesus as we really are. We have to let go of the things that have separated us from the pain of facing God with our past. Confess it to Him. Ask Him to forgive you. And allow Him to heal, redeem, and restore you in the process.

Aldersgate 2013

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Lexington Convention Center, Lexington, KY

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Filed under Bible, Church Leadership, Devotional

The Missing Door

In the introduction of Michael Card’s book The Hidden Face of God, there is a revealing story of Vincent van Gogh, the famous artist of the 19th Century.
Van Gogh had once felt called to the ministry, but had never been able to pass the theological entrance exams. Instead, van Gogh opted for a more incarnational ministry… among the coal miners in a small town in Belgium.
Bit by bit, over a three-month period, Card writes, van Gogh served God by reaching out to these poorest of the poor. In fact, he followed Jesus’ admonition to the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor. Paycheck by paycheck, as van Gogh saw more and more need, he gave away just about everything.
Card then writes “So completely did he reflect the sacrificial simplicity of Jesus that he became known as ‘the Christ of the coal mines.’”
“But those in the church who had authority over him did not feel this extravagance was appropriate, and he was eventually dismissed. It was a failure that hounded him for the rest of his life,” Card writes.
Throughout the rest of his life, even as he discovered a ‘ministry’ of expressing himself through art, van Gogh struggled with a sense of failure… even though we now recognize he was a genius! He felt like a reject… and felt the church was the one who had rejected him. He no longer felt he could turn to the church for strength or support… and became estranged from the Lord of the Church as well… Jesus Himself becomes a stranger to this one who had once emulated him so completely.
Card then draws attention to the last church painting van Gogh ever made, not long before his death: the Church at Auvers. Card writes:

“What many art critics have commented on is not the swimming colors but the ominous lack of a doorway leading into the church. Vincent painted a church that no one could get into. Having tried all his life to work hard enough to ‘get in,’ it appears that he could not imagine, in this last image of the church, a door that might allow him, with his enormous load of pain, to enter in…. Together with the scarcity of references to Jesus in his last letters, the absence of the door in the painting reveals his most fundamental fear: that there is no way into the church and, even more agonizing, that there is no One waiting on the other side of the missing door.” (pp. 12-13)

Vincent van Gogh died on July 27, 1890, as a result of self-inflicted gunshot wounds from a suicide attempt two days earlier. His brother, Theo, was with him when he died, and reported Vincent’s last words were, translated: “the sadness will last forever.”

How many times do we, today’s church, share our opinions and our thoughts about the way someone else is doing their job in serving Christ? How many of those times are we alienating those very ones who love Christ and are trying to serve him? How many end up like Vincent van Gogh… carrying an overwhelming load of pain and feeling abandoned by Christ and the Church?
No small wonder that the author of Hebrews writes: “…encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:13, NIV)
Not everyone will agree with the way everyone else does stuff… not even in the church. But we can make sure that constantly show God’s love and compassion by encouraging one another… so that no one ever sees us as a church without a door.
Who can you encourage today?
(This was my pastor’s letter for the August 2008 edition of our church’s newsletter: The Sound of the Trumpet)

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Filed under Church Leadership, Death, Grief, Mental Health, Newsletter, Reflection