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John 21:13–19 NRSV
13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Acts 1:6–14 NRSV
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” 12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
Acts 2:17 NRSV
17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

Oops: The Disciples Stumble

It was the day of Pentecost and Peter stood up before a bewildered crowd. Among that crowd were leaders who had put Jesus to death. Among that crowd were leading Jews from all over the world. The cream of the crop of God’s chosen people. A humble fisherman stood forward to preach one of the all time great sermons. In the midst of loud noises and potential confusion, Peter made clear the gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ crucified, buried and raised to new life! Everyone was convicted by this message. 3,000 people were saved that day! “But hold on! Wait a minute. Isn’t this the same guy who, just two months before just about gave up on everything? Let’s jump over to John 21...
John 21:2–3 NRSV
2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
This wasn’t a nice trip with some buddies for the weekend. Unfortunately, when people, even believers, get stressed or afraid or confused they fall back on old patterns. Peter returning to fishing was the moment Peter hit the default button. There is a tension for many of us between what we believe God has for us and what we feel capable of. In that tension are our defaults. Each of us has deeply embedded assumptions, attitudes, beliefs, and actions that can, if we aren’t spiritually aware, show up and subvert the work God wants to do through us.
When I was a teenager a neighbor across the street dove into the shallow end of a swimming pool. This very strong and athletic young man was became completely paralyzed. I was very sincere in my faith and wanted to offer encouragement to the family. But I was very young. I visited him and in his room was amazing technology. This was back in the 1980’s. But he had a computer and a camera and a monitor setup. By blinking his eyes he could activate the screen and communicate with his family. It was all very sad and overwhelming to my young eyes, yet somehow miraculous. Famous actor Christopher Reeves had been injured in a similar way and his doctors had just developed the technology. My neighbor was one of the first to benefit from it.
That summer I visited some family and attended a prayer meeting. Some very kind and earnest people who truly believed in God and in the power of prayer. But some in their midst were very extreme in their views on healing and prayer. They believed that all illness and tragedy could be overcome if people had enough faith. I had requested prayer for my neighbor and for my father who did not attend church. To this day I believe the man had the best of intentions but he prayed for me a prayer that hung over me like a cloud. He said God was revealing to him that if I was faithful I would lay hands on that neighbor and he would rise up healed and that I would be the one to lead my father to faith if I remained true to God. At the moment it was exciting to think about. But it was too much to lay on the shoulders of a 14-15 year old boy.
But I didn’t know how to put it into words. And the words of this man hung over me. I was embarrassed to talk to anyone about it. I let the devil beat me down that I was worthless and had no faith and when my father’s lack of faith continued that was upon me as well. I decided that this life wasn’t for me.
I stopped praying. I stopped reading my Bible. I only attended church because my mother made me go. For a year and a half, I was running hard away from God. My version of saying, “I’m going fishing...”

Ugh: What’s wrong?

Let’s go back to John 21. After enduring the agony of his betrayal of Jesus, the despair of the crucifixion, and the inexplicable reality of the resurrection, Peter has apparently had enough! He goes fishing in John 21, and he takes others with him.
For me it was not being able to resolve this dilemma and what my role in God’s plan was… It felt too big and unfair. Fishing is Peter’s default, his comfort zone, his backup plan, his reset button. I was too young to have a default but there were cracks developing in my journey. Fishing is Peter saying, “I’ve had enough, I don’t know what to do, so I’m going to go back to what I know how to do, and that’s fish.” So how on earth do we go from the man tossing nets from the boat in John to the man boldly proclaiming the gospel of Jesus to a massive crowd outside in Acts?

Aha: What’s Really Going On?

The answer lies in what happens on that fishing trip. What happens is, Jesus shows up. Jesus makes a promise and then puts the disciples in timeout. After pulling Peter from the fishing boat—yet again—Jesus starts to reveal his plans. These plans are more than the disciples are capable of. They’ve proved that already. Jesus also understands that their inability won’t hinder them from trying. They need the promise of the Spirit of God. They need the work of God in their lives to make possible what would be impossible otherwise.
Back to my story: I realized that I had already been in that boy’s room. I knew hundreds if not thousands of people were praying for that boy. I had already seen God at work through many loving hands providing for him. I knew that irreversible damage had been done to his spinal chord. I knew that God could do anything and completely restore it if he wanted to. But I knew deep down inside that he would not put this burden on a young teenager. That MY level of faith could not determine whether this young man would be healed. Peter ran into the risen Jesus on the shores of Galilee, called Lake Tiberius. I ran into my dear wife, the most beautiful girl I had ever talked to. She had been raised in church and her family always served. But recent changes in church had brought some bumps in the road. She was asking sincere questions of faith. She was enjoying the experience of attending church with me. It was convicting me like crazy.
Jesus asked Peter a clarifying question over and over on that beach in front of a charcoal fire, in front of the same kind of fire before which he had denied Jesus. Do you love me more than these fish? Peter had been in fog of grief and fear and doubt. These questions cleared the air and reminded him how much he did love Jesus. And all that Jesus had done to change his life.
For me it was the sincere questions of my girlfriend who is now my wife that reminded me what it was really all about. I could see that God was working healing wonders in the life of my neighbor even if it was in ways others could not appreciate fully. I realized that the life of faith wasn’t about fulfilling others expectations, it was about being in love with Jesus who had saved me and wanted to renew that relationship. It was about not hiding it under a bushel just because I didn’t have all the answers. It was about letting it flow through my life and into the lives of others.
I realized God wasn’t making me choose between a happy life and an impossible life. But this life was going to involve change. I was trying to make my life about how special I felt when I was around my best girl. But now I realized again that both of us needed more than our love for each other. We needed a divine love guiding us deep within.
Sure, there were going to be confusing moments like my dilemma with my neighbor and with my father. I needed to surrender all of these moments to God. The exciting moments, the boring moments, the confusing ones and the burdensome ones. There were so many things I couldn’t control, but this choice I could control.
Jesus asked Peter if he had caught anything. And in perhaps the only honest moment in the history of fishermen, they immediately admitted, no. LOL. Put your nets down on the right side of the boat. And you know Peter was like, sure yeah that’s it. We never thought of that, the right side…oh boy. Just what we need a beachside professional fisherman. But maybe that’s what he’d always done—been too sure he knew the answers. So he put the nets down and they could barely pull them up.
I turned to Ellen and I said, I think God has more for us. I could lead us in a prayer and we could open ourselves to all that God has for us. I think it would bring very good things into our lives. Maybe the best things. But our lives will change forever.
You might find yourself married to me and 36 years from now living in Indiana teaching full time and singing in front of people during a pandemic. You’re gonna have to bury your mom too young and then my mom and then my dad and then your dad. After we both somehow make it through college and grad school, it’s gonna cost us everything to put our kids through college and God will somehow provide for our needs every step of the way even through health scares and being abandoned by friends we love and knowing the faithful love of friends we didn’t expect. But through it all we will somehow have each other and so much more we will have the prevenient, saving, sanctifying and sustaining grace of God making it all more blessed than it would ever be apart from his love...
No, of course I didn’t say all of that back in 1985. But it was all hanging in the balance that day as we sat on the couch in the house she grew up in. Understand I wasn’t asking her to marry me, we were far too young for that. But that day by very different paths and through very different circumstances God brought two people together who needed his grace and could finally see it more clearly than ever before.
Jesus said to Peter: feed my lambs and take care of my sheep.
It’s like Jesus was saying to me that day, to us that day, don’t get hung up on the questions that are too big to answer. If you love me, I’m enough.
Tears were forming in Ellen’s beautiful green eyes and she said this is what she wanted more than anything else. And so we prayed. And God accepted our prayer. Our lives began to change. Our salvation was made new in a moment. Saving grace saved the day. Sanctifying grace made a fresh run at changing our lives. It would take a lifetime. We aren’t perfect yet by any means, but God’s sanctifying grace has worked on us as we have lived and worked alongside all of you. All the stuff I mentioned above did come to pass because God is amazing and grace has kept us on the journey. Since that moment we have wanted to bless others with the hope we have known.

We need sanctifying grace

It’s what takes us from where we are to where we can be with God’s help. It doesn’t change our genetics or our basic personality. But it helps us to be more like Jesus. It makes us the best us that we can be. God loves you just the way you are, but he loves you so he’s not going to leave you that way! :)
We all need to heal. We all need to get more in sync with God’s love. We all have a calling to fulfill: to reflect the love of Jesus. Sanctifying grace is the power of God working through the ministry of the Holy Spirit to restore us and remake us into his best version of ourselves.
But this is not some makeover show. It’s not about appearances and it’s not about the earthly opinions of others. It’s an authentic journey lived out among everyday people leading us through real life, just as it is.
Part of it begins in some key moments: when we are first saved, some things change right away. But there is more yet to come and we can’t force it...

Whee: Waiting for Power

But don’t rush off. Remember, the disciples are in timeout. This timeout is the gap between “going fishing” and “bold proclamation.” What we do in the gap matters. For the disciples, that gap is the upper room. In the gap, we wrestle with our past, present, and future, which sets the stage for the work of God in our lives.
We got up from that couch. We had to figure out what was next for us. There were so many questions left to be answered. But we knew he had to wait for God to make things clear each step of the way. In that moment our purpose was to keep saying yes to God and to remain open to all God had for us.

Coming to Terms with the Past

The past has often left a mark. From the past we amass baggage, residue, wounds, and default settings. An honest movement toward sanctifying grace means recognizing and consecrating (turning over to God) where we’ve been and what got us there so we don’t remain stuck there. One fruit of sanctification is evident when a person no longer blames everyone and everything else for their own sin. It’s not that they aren’t aware of the conditions that might have contributed; it’s simply that they recognize their responsibility to own their own role.
And sometimes it’s not even sin that holds us back. It’s just pain we don’t know how to let go of or process.
We had both been through some confusing experiences and as I mentioned above we had to give these things to God to move forward.
Let me just say this: be careful what you say to and about young people. (Repeat) Don’t put it on them to do the things you weren’t able to do. Don’t hold over them past mistakes they made or the ways they disappointed you. Don’t say thus saith the Lord about other peoples’ lives unless you really truly know for sure.
Young people have their whole lives yet in front of them. You can’t know all that will come for them. Encourage them more than you think you should. Pray for them as often as you can. Try not to give up on them. Believe in them. Follow up with them in grace. Speak the truth in love, but don’t convince yourself you are doing that when you are just being mean. Never doubt what God can do with a young person who fully surrenders their life to God.

Coming to Terms with the Present

This is a loaded part of self-reflection that means looking at our shame, guilt, ego, and arrogance. It’s reckoning with our preferences and demands, our prejudices and biases. It’s owning our fears and self-deceit. Coming to terms with our present means identifying our reluctance to embrace the fullness of God’s work in our lives and surrendering that reluctance. It means renouncing our allegiances to ideologies, political platforms, and idolatries that run counter to God’s kingdom at work in our lives.
It means realizing that following Jesus will mean surrender. It will mean devotion. It will cost us at times. It will be oh, so inconvenient. We have to make sure we aren’t just trying to please others. We can invent every reason not to do God’s will. But if sanctifying grace is to have its way, everything is required. We have to realize our own limitations and realize only God can transform us. And our cooperation is crucial to let God lead.
And we come to terms with our relationships. The family of God is here to love us. By getting connected to others in the church family we find more grace for the journey. If we want to keep growing we need the community of faith.

Coming to Terms with our Future

For many of us, when we became Jesus followers, we sought to hand over our stories to Jesus for the sake of redemption. Unfortunately, we kept the pen—you know, just in case we wanted to write a few of our own chapters. The work in the gap means we hand over the pen to Jesus, and he scripts our story and every line that follows. Coming to terms with the future means we are willing to enter the kind of relationship with God where we take our cues from him. It’s a posture of being willingly formed and transformed in an ongoing manner. Jesus becomes not only Redeemer of our story but also Lord of what comes next.

Yeah: Anticipating God’s better future

The disciples waited in Jerusalem for God’s next move. They were waiting for power beyond their own. It was a space of radical consecration (a surrendering of themselves, a period of self-reflection, a moment of discovery). The costly work of sacrifice and self-denial is done in the in-between when we realize God wants to transform us but we haven’t yet experienced change. However, this gap-time sets the stage for some of the deepest work of the Spirit in our lives. Some of you could testify to the difference the Spirit makes when God works deeply in our lives. For some of us, we have yet to step into that deeper part of the journey. Today is your day to begin seeking more of God.
For others, it’s been awhile. It’s been too long. We fully surrendered at one point but over time we’ve taken some of that back and we are trying to run the show and not making it better for all the effort.
The Chicago Cubs decided the only way forward was to deny themselves the old ways that weren’t producing new life. They traded away some talented players who had grown stale. This paved the way for a new and hungry group to move in...
But forget the Cubs this is about you. Are sinful patterns limiting your growth? Are you trying to make human relationships or your own security your ultimate concern? Have you gone fishing instead of pressing in and letting God transform your life?
Jesus is here today. He is present to you wherever you are if your heart is open. Don’t think you need to protect your life from God’s will. Whatever God is bringing to pass will be so much better than what seems right in our eyes at the beginning. Trust me.
If you need a fresh filling today is your day. You know what to do. If this is all new to you, the journey begins with confessing your sins, believing that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the grave and committing to following Jesus. If you’re following Jesus but you’re still in control, it’s time to enter the gap and start seeking more of God. It’s time to start seeking sanctifying grace. Pray and wait and take stock of past, present and future to let him heal where it’s needed, to give him control where you’ve held on, and to trust him to help you imagine an even better future in his faithful love.
Let’s pray...
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