110: Good Word: 5 things to learn from Jesus and the Miraculous Catch of Fish with Rev. Eugene Cho
Could you use a good word from the Good Word?
In this episode, Reverend Eugene Cho is bringing us the Word from John 21:1-14.
Eugene is the President and CEO of Bread for the World, a non-partisan, Christian advocacy organization based in the U.S. that advocates for policy changes to end hunger. He preached here at a gathering of Salvation Army youth leaders from all across the West.
And he says this is one of those stories from Scripture that he returns to often.
In the passage, a group of seven disciples are together when Simon Peter says, “I’m going fishing.” And so they do and they encounter Jesus. But it’s not just a fishing story, Eugene says. If you peel off the layers, it’s a vulnerable story of doubt, confusion and grace.
And Eugene shares five things we can learn from this story.
Here’s a good word from the Good Word with Eugene Cho.
Listen and subscribe to the Do Gooders Podcast now. Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for readability. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post.
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Reverend Eugene Cho: Thank you so much. And thank you again for allowing me to join you on the final session of your Base Camp. You are so committed to this theme that you even changed the weather; it’s pretty intense. I can just imagine the leaders praying for Base Camp weather for the retreat. And I was also just sharing, it’s all so relative because for me coming from Seattle where it snowed this morning, this is so warm, I love it. It’s amazing. I know earlier there was a bio, I thought I would just share a little bit more so that you’re not listening to an absolute stranger. In some ways, I’m so grateful to be back because I was here about five or six years ago at a hotel setting, very different, very boujee. This is real authentic organic Base Camp.
And that was an amazing experience, I walked away personally really, really encouraged and was also really grateful for the Holy Spirit because several of you sent emails afterward about what the Holy Spirit was doing in your life. And it is good to see some of you here. It’s good because my hope and prayer is that along the way, especially for you as a community you can regularly see one another in the marathon of discipleship and faith. You got to realize this is a marathon. And we’re in different stages of the marathon, but there’s something incredibly encouraging. Along the way when you meet people, cross paths with people, you run with people and you realize they are still serving Jesus.
And I say that because we know that the marathon is not always easy. There are a lot of sprinters, but we need people that are running the marathon, a faithfulness and discipleship.
I was born in Seoul, Korea, immigrated to the United States when I was six years old. I’m the youngest of three sons. My wife and I Minhee, we have been married for, it’s good news, 25 years. It’s amazing, we have three adult children. Both my wife and I are in our 50s now. Praise God, good news for Asian genes. How do you respond to that? You just politely clap.
And so yeah, we have three kids. My wife is this family and marriage therapist. And I don’t know if you know any therapist in your life. Some of you may be married to therapists, maybe you see a therapist or a counselor. It is tough being married to a therapist, let me just tell you right now because whenever my wife and I get into an argument, therapists have a very intense, robust book called the DSM. It’s a Diagnosis Statistics Manual; it is massive.
And it happens to be that whenever my wife and I get into an argument, a kind discussion, no, an argument, she grabs her DSM book like out of the blue. And then she’ll say, “Hold on for a second, Eugene, it says here that you’re wrong.” And she wins the argument again. And about a couple years ago after pastoring and starting a church in Seattle, about two years ago, we felt like God was calling me into a different season of leadership. And so right now I serve as the president of an organization in Washington D.C. called Bread for the World. I was actually sharing with some of your officers that … I’m regularly on a few calls, at least a monthly call with some other officers from The Salvation Army.
And one of the things that we do, our vision is to help end hunger in our nation and around the world. And there’s numerous ways that we do this. But the work that we’re called to is to urge our elected leaders to help change and shape policies that are more dignifying and humanizing. And so if you’re interested in ever learning more about Bread for the World, when you have an occasion, check out bread.org/eugene. And it’ll show you some ways that you can partner with us. But I am really excited today as the final speaker to help land the plane around your theme around self-care, about wellness, about mission, about loving your neighbors, all of these things.
If you have your Bibles with you, I want to ask you to turn to John 21:1-14. It’s a longer section of the Bible. So if you have your Bibles open, if you have your app, you can go ahead and open this. Some of you who like to write down notes, just write down today’s date, write down Base Camp retreat, and just hopefully you’ll come back to this passage. Here’s John 21:1-14, listen for God’s Word.
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 [21:1-2].
Just pause for a second. If you’re counting, there’s seven disciples present. Verse three:
“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. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.[c] 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 [21:3-14].
Father, thank you again so much for allowing us to gather together, for this community for the first time since the pandemic, collectively. We ask for the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to be with us. God may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing in your sight and all God’s people said, amen. Amen.
I’m not sure if you have certain passages or maybe stories that you go to again and again in the Scriptures as a source of encouragement. I suspect that if you’re like me, we all have maybe our list, a handful of favorite verses, favorite stories. This is probably one of my all-time favorites, if that’s an appropriate word. It’s a story that I keep coming back to in different seasons or circumstances of my life.
And I want to share with you a couple reasons why this story really, really resonates with me. The first one’s a little selfish. The first one is I love the outdoors. So this whole Base Camp theme, I love it. I love the outdoors, I love hiking, I love being outdoors. I love water. I also love fishing. So every time there’s a fishing story in the Bible, I’m totally imagining myself in the scene. Just a show of hands here, how many of you here enjoy fishing? Raise your hands if you enjoy fishing. Just a handful of you, it’s great. How many of you here enjoy eating fish? Raise your hand. A lot of lazy people here, that’s interesting, really interesting.
So I thought I would share with you a recent fish that I caught because I love bass fishing, especially. So I’m a big bass fisherman. Now some of you might be looking at this photo and saying, well, what’s the purpose of this photo in the sermon? There is no purpose, I’m just showing off because that’s what fishermen do. I can guarantee, you can take it off now, but I can tell you every time I preach on this passage and I mention fishing, it’s amazing the number of people, men and women, that come up and say, here’s my fish. There’s something about just reveling in your catch. So that’s the first reason why I love this story.
I can just imagine these seven disciples, several of them who were professional fishermen, they did this for a living before they encountered Jesus. They were out in the sea that they fished not hundreds, I suspect thousands of times over their lifetime. They knew all the spots, the methods, the times, all of those things. I’m imagining those circumstances. But the second reason why I love this story is that it’s not just a fishing story, it’s not just an outdoors Base Camp story. It’s not just a the disciples have nothing else to do, so they’re going to go out and hang out and do a bromance thing out on the lake story. That if you kind of peel off the layers of the story, what you actually see is that it is an incredibly raw, an incredibly vulnerable story of doubt, confusion, and grace.
And the reason why I love that is that if we were to peel off the layers of how we typically sometimes, myself included, we go to church on Sundays composed, that if we peel off the layers of our lives even as leaders in youth groups or young adults or college group or officers, if we’re honest, there is doubt, there is confusion, there is hurt, there is pain, there is trauma. But the good news as we read here is that that’s not the end or the totality of your story.
Now, let me just explain a little bit of the context of the story. For the sake of time, I’m going to share with you five things that I’m hoping you can learn and glean from the story. As you know, Peter the disciple, he’s the vocal person. He’s the alpha male, he’s really loud. He’s like the leader of leaders here.
Now, there’s different ways to embody leadership; Peter was just loud. And so as the vocal leader, he says three words, what is it? I’m going fishing. Now, as I shared earlier, this isn’t just Peter wanting to go fishing. As much as I love those three words, if you peel off the layers, what scholars believe that he was really saying, what he was intending to say underneath the layers, what Peter is saying, listen, he’s saying, “I’m done, I’m going back to what I was doing before I met Jesus. I’m tired, I’m exhausted. I’m unsure, I’m weary. I’m heavy laden, I’m burdened.” There was chaos and conflict and challenge. They thought, or Peter must have thought, this is way too complicated, this is way too messy. Have you ever in your life, maybe even recently, maybe even this week, maybe in the past month, certainly in the last two years, have you ever thought to yourself and sometimes even vocalized it, this is not what I signed up for?
I can’t tell you how many times as a pastor and a leader tempted to remain composed in my mind or in my prayer, I said, “God, this is not what I signed up for.” And in many ways, this phrase, “I’m going fishing,” while articulated with different words in the Old Testament, you’ve got the Israelites who’ve been free from the bondage of Pharaoh. And as they’re going on this journey to the Promised Land, it’s amazing because they experience unexpected challenges or their expectation was it’s going to be amazing, rosy, it’s going to be Disneyland. And what happens? These people who were living under oppression and bondage and tyranny, some of them say what? We want to go back. So here’s Peter, this is Peter who’s journeyed with Jesus for three years, who’s seen Jesus with his own eyes, who’s hung out with Jesus, eaten with Jesus, done ministry in the flesh with Jesus.
This is Peter who has already seen the resurrected Jesus twice already. Sometimes I hear a lot of Christians of all ages say, “You know what, Pastor Eugene, if only I had a real experience with Jesus my life would change.” And I sometimes go, “I don’t know.” Because one, I believe that we’ve all encountered God in some way. But two, there’s something about our human spirit that wants to go back.
So here’s Peter the rock, the cornerstone of the church, “I’m going fishing, I’m done.” And I wanted to share this message because if we have, as you’ve done this week, not just gather together and smile and laugh and sing some songs, I’m praying that the Holy Spirit has also begun to uncover some layers to our lives. And in doing so, there’s personal pain, there’s relational pain, maybe there’s pain with institutions. There’s certainly things going on all around us, chaos, conflict, challenges, craziness.
And let me just give you a litany. I know it might sound a little depressing and it might be the antithesis of the good news thing that you did earlier. But let me just give you a little bit of a glimpse of what we have collectively experienced the last two years. We’re in a crazy pandemic, a global pandemic, an unprecedented pandemic. Millions of people, illnesses, and yes, even millions of deaths. Just a show of hands if this is not too vulnerable, how many of you know someone, you know someone whose life was lost as a result of COVID the past two years? Just look around for a second, this is stunning. Put your hands down. My hand was up; my uncle passed away unexpectedly because of COVID.
The economic impact and joblessness and businesses lost. We’ve experienced the most contentious election in modern American history. We witnessed the insurrection of January 6th. My office is a half-mile away from the building. We’ve seen social unrest and protests. We’ve seen our Black and brown sisters and brothers experience pain and trauma. We’ve seen just a sweeping vilification of all law enforcement. We’ve seen the rise of anti-Asian rhetoric and actual violence. We’ve seen strained relationships among families and churches and friendships and even marriages. We woke up this morning in the year 2022 seeing a nation invade another neighboring nation. Hey guys, thanks for coming, we’ll see you next year.
I can kind of understand why Peter might say, I’m done, I’m going fishing. I want to go back to when things were just a lot more simpler in life where I didn’t have the responsibility of caring for others. I can imagine that the disciples and Peter, they’ve gone through a roller coaster, if you will, a rollercoaster in these three years. Can you imagine the emotional, spiritual rollercoaster to be fishermen that were not necessarily nobodies, but their purpose was really about the next thing, the next meal, just simply going day-to-day. And then they encounter Jesus, and the next thing you know, Jesus begins to attract tens, hundreds, thousands of people. Can you imagine the emotional-spiritual high the disciples must have been when they’re at that scene where Jesus is feeding thousands upon thousands of people? Wow.
Can you imagine the kind of spiritual high they must have been on when they witnessed Jesus looking at a 12-year-old girl who had died, “Talitha koum, little girl I say to you, get up.” And the power of God raises this girl from the dead. Now, can you imagine them being there and Jesus says, “Lazarus, Lazarus come on out.” And Lazarus comes on out. I mean, can you imagine then just the utter devastation when Jesus is captured, when they begin to flee for their lives and here is Peter when asked, do you know this Jesus, he denies Christ three times just as Jesus said. Can you imagine how just the depression that they must have felt when Jesus, their rabbi, their savior died, he’s crucified?
And then Jesus, just as he said, the power of God raises him from the dead on the third day. And then Jesus comes back, here’s my interpretation. I think Jesus is back and it’s an amazing emotional-spiritual high again. Jesus says, “I want you to go to Jerusalem, to Samaria, to Judea, to the ends of the earth and to baptize everyone in the name of the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit.” And there’s that scene that I can picture all the disciples having like, “Yes, yes, yes, yes.” They’re jumping up and down, they’re doing this. They’re doing all of these crazy things, and then Jesus disappears.
If I’m losing you, have you ever received a vision or a prompting or a word from the Holy Spirit and you are so excited but actually after a while it leads you into confusion like was that real or was that just me? At that Case Camp, was that the Holy Spirit or was that something else? Was that the Holy Spirit or was I just freezing? I’m serious, haven’t there been moments in your life? And so I’m just picturing Peter and the disciples having these moments. Jesus appears and they’re so energized. And Jesus gives them instructions, they say amen. And when Jesus disappears, they then asked the question, how do we do this?
Listen, some of you want Jesus to give you not just vision, you want Jesus to give you every single detail, and it doesn’t work that way. Now, we’ll come back to it. And so this is the reason why the story matters. So what can we learn from the story? I want to share with you as I shared earlier five things that we can learn from this story that I hope the Holy Spirit embeds into your mind and into your heart. Maybe not all five, but my prayer is that for the rest of your life one of these five points is lodged in your heart.
Here’s number one. Number one, if you’re writing down notes, you’re welcome to write these down. Here’s number one, wait for it. Don’t show it yet. Number one, the three most important words as far as I’m concerned, these are the three most important words, and I’m praying that you keep coming back to these three words again and again, and again. Pause for dramatic effect. Three words, here it is: Jesus is alive.
See, when you read the story, it’s interesting because it’s so tempting to think about the details about Peter, the disciples, talking, the breakfast, the food, the number of fish. And all of these details are really important. But what might get lost in the story is that this man named Jesus who was a real historical person, either a lunatic or he is who he says he is, crucified, and this Jesus is now walking around. The most important thing is that this Jesus is alive, meaning that Jesus is who he says he is, and he will accomplish what he said he will accomplish. And that one day Jesus will return to restore all things on this broken earth back onto himself. You see the Apostle Paul was really, really insightful when he said that our preaching is in vain if the resurrection is simply not true.
In other words, if Jesus did not truly rise, if Jesus did not by the power of God was raised again, I want you to know that what we’re doing right now, just to be really blunt, this is all a show, it’s a sham, you’ve been duped. This tent, this tent, that tent, all of these things, it’s just a show. This is the reason why if there’s one thing that I would hope that you cling onto in this story, the fact that this is now the third time Jesus appears to this group of disciples. That when you study the Scriptures, there are 12 instances, different instances in which Jesus appears to people.
I am reflective during this day, during these times about the challenges that we all have but even the challenges that I think our global sisters and brothers have. I sometimes get really, really uneasy when Western Christians and American Christians talk about being persecuted. I think we’ve got to really be careful with our words because we’re living during a time when it is true that on a global level there are more sisters and brothers in Christ who are being persecuted because of their faith in Jesus. I was thinking this past week about one particular Nigerian brother, a pastor by the name of Pastor Andimi. And some of you who follow this sort of news, a few years ago, you may have heard his name and you may have forgotten. But Pastor Andimi, a pastor from Nigeria was kidnapped by the Boko Haram. And not only was he kidnapped, but they basically executed him on video.
And they forced him to basically read some sort of a monologue. But in his monologue, which I still remember, and it’s probably one of the most powerful things that I’ve ever heard. Pastor Andimi in his humanity, yes fear, yes anxiety also said, “I want you to know that my faith is secure because I know that Jesus is alive.” I don’t want to be here this night and tell you, and sell you that your life after this camp is going to be perfect. No one is saying that to you. If your Bible says that, let’s switch Bibles. Jesus himself in John 16:33 says what? In this world, you will have hardships. Not may, not possibly, kind of, you will have hardships. But what? Take heart for I [Jesus] have overcome the world. Jesus is alive.
Here’s the second thing that we can learn, and it’s this, it’s clarity. And what do I mean by clarity? You see Peter and the disciples, they have a human obsession with clarity. And it’s not just Peter. If you and I are honest, we all want to have clarity. Here’s a different way to phrase it. Many of us might not use the word clarity, here’s another way, we like to be in control. I don’t care what your personality is, I don’t care what your Enneagram is, don’t tell me. Tired of the Enneagram. All of us want to be in control. And yes, I do imagine Peter and the disciples receiving a revelation, receiving a vision, receiving a charge. And when Jesus dissipates and disappears, they’re not quite sure what to do. Our human world moves toward wanting control.
Remember some of you who are older and you don’t have to raise your hands, but remember some time ago when you went on a road trip, you had to pick up something called a map, like a paper map. I still remember. I have done by myself seven cross-country trips coast to coast. As an introvert, I love these trips. And I still recall having these maps. And you had to literally pull over, open the map, take off your glasses and try to look at where the next rest stop, the next hotel, the next place, the next food. And there was something about understanding it’s okay to get lost. It was part of your understanding.
Now, with our GPSs, if we get lost, it’s amazing how frustrated we become, how angry we become, how upset we become. Why? It’s because we have this human obsession with clarity. I want you to realize God who calls you, and you don’t have to question this, God who calls you doesn’t always reveal the specifics of your future because that’s not the Good News. The Good News is not Jesus saying ta-da, I now will reveal every single step of your life. The Good News is that while you lived in sin and rebellion, I pursued you. And when you trust in my name, you received salvation and reconciliation with God, the Father. And the Good News is I am with you always. That’s the Good News.
When I became a Christian at the age of 18, sometime ago, I’m 51 now. At the age of 18, I remember praying to Jesus three times a day because that’s what my mentor told me to do. Good things and probably not some good things there, but I prayed regularly, especially before every meal. And when I prayed the most pervasive prayer that I lifted up to Jesus, by far the most pervasive prayer was, God, would you reveal the details of my future? That’s for me, I don’t know about you. But for me, I was obsessed in wanting to know what my future was going to be like so I can make necessary decisions. Now, I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing to ask God to guide you, I wanted the details. “God, would you tell me what my major will be? God, would you tell me who I’ll marry? God, will you tell me in Jesus name by the power of the Holy Ghost who my wife will be? God, what will my job be? God, would you tell me where my residence would be?”
I would pray these specific things. And right now at the age of 51 as I look back at 18-year-old Eugene, I am so grateful that God did not answer my prayers in the manner in which I wanted them to be answered. Because if God told 18-year-old Eugene that rather than being a doctor as my parents had so pushed me, I’m the [foreign language] in my family for some of you who are Koreans. And my parents said [foreign language], which means they ordained my life ever since I was a child. Why? My parents born in North Korea or what is now known as North Korea, hunger, poverty. They weren’t able to go to school, they were obsessed with school.
If God had told 18-year-old Eugene that I would in my third year at college call my parents. Some of you, this is the phone FYI. I don’t know if you guys know what I’m doing here. She’s like, “What is this Boomer doing with those?” This is the phone. I still remember as a third-year college student calling my parents and saying, I’ve decided what I want to become. And I still recall my mom who’s on the phone, she says, “Doctor?” No. She’s like, “Engineer, lawyer? What do you want to do?” And I still remember shaking because I knew how disappointed they would be. And I said, “I want to be a pastor.” Four, five minutes of silence, all I heard was this. [breathing sounds] I said, “Darth Vader?”
They severed our relationship for two years; it was hard. Had God told 18-year-old Eugene that I would meet my wife when I was a pastor in Korea and we would have three amazing children and one of them would have a lifelong chronic illness? And not just visits here and there, not just monthly visits or weekly visits, but we’re talking regular visits to see doctor after doctor, after doctor. Nights of tears and anger and frustration. I wish I could tell you that I’ve never punched holes in the walls, but I have out of just so much. Had God told 18-year-old Eugene that as a 31-year-old pastor in a desire to plant a new church in Seattle things didn’t quite turn out the way that we thought. And for a season of our life, we would be unemployed, I would be unemployed. And the next thing you know, we’d be on food stamps. And the next thing you know, I would finally land the job as a janitor at a Barnes & Noble store cleaning the restrooms of men, and wow, those women’s restrooms. I’m just telling you right now, it shocked me.
Had God told 18-year-old Eugene all of these things, and there’s so much more that I can go into. You know what I would do, I would’ve ran the other way. I’m not saying that God made a mistake because that sounds almost heretical for me to say God made a mistake. But there are times I’ll read the story of Jonah, and I’ll say, “God, why did you reveal so much?”
Because Jonah in a spiritual immaturity is unable to handle that information and he literally goes the other way. Do you know why God doesn’t reveal all the details of your life? It’s because God loves you. I’m being very serious here, it’s because God loves you.
So when God, the Bible, Scripture says, I will be with you always, don’t interpret this as I will give you step by step, turn by turn direction and clarity for the remainder of your life. Because that’s not what Jesus is saying. In many ways, that’s what faith is. This is what develops our faith and our maturity. I love how Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr how he articulates this particular truth. He says, “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” Some of you need to take the first step tonight, some of you need to take the next step tonight. Some of you need to take an ongoing step in the marathon of discipleship. Scripture is pervasive about the faithfulness of Jesus.
Matthew 28:20, he promises that he will be with you always. Romans 8:38-39, nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Hebrews 13:5, I will never leave you nor forsake you. Thanks be to God.
Here’s third thing that we can learn, and it’s these two words: God’s voice. Now, what do I mean by God’s voice in this story? You see, we’ve got to learn to hear the voice of God. In this story, while yes, it’s clear that Peter and others were basically having an existential moment where they want to quit. If there’s something good that they learn, that we can learn from them is that even as they’re fishing, even if it’s faint, even initially if they’re not quite sure who it is, they begin to hear the early signs of the voice of Jesus.
Jesus says, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” Now, first of all, it’s the absolute worst question to ask a fisherman. Do you know why this is a horrible question? Because when Jesus asks the question, it’s not because he doesn’t know the answer. Does that make sense? If Jesus came right now and he asked you a question, how do I get there? Jesus knows. Jesus is all-knowing. So when Jesus asks a question, there’s always a purpose to the question that he’s asking. In this case, these fishermen, including Peter, they’re experts. They may not have been wealthy, but did you know that they were actually owners of their own small business? They sustained a living. He and some of the other disciples as I shared earlier, they fished the Sea of Galilee thousands upon thousands of times. They knew the best times, they knew the best spots, they knew the best methods. They knew how to catch fish. And yet, friends, have you caught any fish?
Listen, I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging here, but man, I’m a pretty good fisherman. So as a fisherman, for example, I’ve got my freshwater rod, I’ve got my saltwater rods. I’ve got a 5’6″, I’ve got a 6 foot, I’ve got a 6’7″, I’ve got a 7’, I’ve also got an 8-foot rod. I use baitcasters and spincasters. I use lots of different lures depending on the occasion, season, water clarity, water temperature. I like to do either on surface or I like to use different kinds of plastic worms. There’s Texas rigs, Carolina rigs, drop shots, wacky rigs, Ned rigs. There’s lots of crankbaits, I can go 2 feet, 4 feet, 6 feet, even as deep as 18 feet.
Now, if you’re confused, my point is I’m a better fisherman than you. And I want you to know that these disciples knew what they were doing. That’s the point that I’m trying to make is that Peter knew what they were doing. So what is Jesus trying to teach Peter and the disciples? Friends, haven’t you caught any fish? And here’s the lesson. The lesson for Peter and the lesson for you and I is that even as, and this is not a bad thing, as we increase our expertise, our skills, our experience, our methodologies, our best practices, all of these things are good, I’m not knocking these things. We should increase all of these things, and Jesus is saying, apart from Jesus, you can do nothing.
So in this room, if we were to count all of the skills and experience and expertise, we can probably have a long evening. It’s good; we celebrate these things. But here it is, if we increase in our hubris our self-reliance, our personal confidence, these are kind words for saying arrogance. Ultimately, it might not happen tomorrow, but I’m telling you in the long run you cannot do apart from our Lord Jesus Christ. So what does it mean when I say God’s voice? We’ve got to listen to God’s voice in what I would contend to be the noisiest time in human history right now. The noisiest time in human history is right now, whether it’s ever advertisements. According to this one particular research, the average American over the age of two consumes about 5 hours and 30 minutes of media every single day—TV, tablets, smartphones. And I’m not even including all the subliminal messages that we receive.
That means that the average American over the age of two if they were to live to a 65-year lifespan would spend about 9 years, 108 months, about 3,300 days—approximately 5 million minutes consuming. If you’ve ever taken marketing 101, and this is another sermon, but there are five key things that marketing 101 drills into the human heart and soul of every single person. And after a while, our identity becomes interlocked into these five things rather than our identity in Jesus. So here’s my question to you, if Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, fully God, fully human chose to regularly rhythmically retreat for silence, prayer, and time with God, the Father, how much more do we need this in our lives?
Here’s number four—emotions. This is really interesting, emotions. And what I mean by this friends, and hear me out because some of you might disagree with me; our emotions matter but we don’t worship our emotions. Now, why do I bring up emotions? It’s because Peter was emotional. It’s not a bad thing. Emotions are not a bad thing, feelings are not a bad thing. You don’t have to be a therapist like my wife to know and to say that, hey, feelings and emotions, we should be sensitive and aware to our feelings and emotions. We should be about these things, especially as we’re talking about wellness and mental health and thriving and flourishing. But there’s a difference between being sensitive and aware, being attentive and the next thing you know being completely subservient to our emotions that go up and down, and there are people trying to even manipulate our emotions.
One of the most challenging books, if you have time to read, it’s a really challenging book, was the unauthorized autobiography of Mother Teresa. And I say unauthorized because after she passed away, there were people who were deciding whether or not they should publish her diaries. I had a moral conundrum, do I read this or not? She didn’t give anyone permission. Obviously, I read it, and I kind of wish I didn’t. Do you know why? Because in my mind, prior to reading her diaries, I would say if there was a person who I would’ve assumed was really close to Jesus, in tune, intimacy, waking up to like basking in the presence of Jesus. For me, it would be Mother Teresa. You read this book, wow, it was raw. And in it, she shares not just about days, not just about weeks, but she actually shares about long periods of time where she didn’t necessarily feel the presence of Jesus. And that rocked my world. But you know what she says? Jesus is alive.
May we be sensitive and attentive, but may we not worship our emotions. The reason why I bring this up, not just among young believers or young Christians, not just among Gen Z or Millennials but people of all ages. As a pastor in the last 20 years, increasingly I’m hearing people say things like, “Well, Pastor Eugene, I don’t feel like it. I don’t feel God, I don’t feel like working. I don’t feel like staying in this marriage. I don’t feel like serving, I don’t feel like giving. I don’t feel like forgiving, I don’t feel,” and the list goes on. And I’m telling you, there’s room for you to bring your raw feelings to God and to Jesus. Wrestle with God and Jesus, but we don’t worship our feelings and emotions. Ultimately, may our obedience be to Jesus and not necessarily to our feelings and emotions.
Here’s the last one, and I know I’m running past time, but it’s the last night and let’s just go for it. Here’s the last one, hear these words: come and have breakfast. Now, what do I mean by come and have breakfast? I’m just reading Scripture. Jesus, they eventually realize that this voice is Jesus, and they’re thrilled, and they’re excited. And as they come to shore, Jesus does what? Jesus who knows everything could have easily responded in a very different way. Now, listen, this is Jesus who knows that Peter when he was going fishing was having a moment of quitting again. So I’m imagining the scene could have played out very differently. Can you imagine as Peter is coming to shore, what if Jesus responded not with the words come and have breakfast. What if Jesus said something like this? The silent treatment, the huffing and the puffing, the shaking of the head that pierces. He could have, right? I think he could have. To our knowledge, Jesus never responded to, prior to this, the three times that Peter denied him. What if Jesus responded with the classic one-word bombs? “Really?” “Again?” “Seriously?” Bro.
What if it got more serious? I just imagine that intensity of the scene had Jesus said, “Peter, you are undependable, you are unreliable. I cannot use you.” What if Jesus said, “My word that was once over your life as the cornerstone, the rock, it’s moved on.” I mean, can you imagine how difficult and dark it would’ve been had Jesus said something like that? What if Jesus said, “Oh man, these words hurt, you’re useless.” The reason why it bites is because I think if we’re honest, we’ve heard some of these variations maybe in our own lives. Sometimes if we’re honest, maybe we’ve said them over others. But what does Jesus do? This is great. When somebody asks me, “Pastor Eugene, can you give me an example of grace because it sounds so nebulous?” For me, it’s this story.
Here’s Peter and the disciples all coming in—153 fish. Why? There are long thesis papers about 153 because back at that time were 153 known species of fish. Here’s Jesus saying, go baptize the nations, baptize all people groups. Share the gospel there, here, and everywhere. And as they come, I can just imagine Jesus all he does is this, he goes. And then he points to the food, he points to the food and then he says, “Come, come and have breakfast.” What does this mean? Jesus doesn’t just care about what you do. See, one of the reasons why I respect The Salvation Army is it’s not about the transactional element of, are you doing your work plans?
You can do those work plans, but if you’re not being fed, if you’re not experiencing the life and vitality of Jesus the Holy Spirit, you’re not going to be around for the marathon.
But here’s the thing, you can’t always rely on others to feed you; you’ve got to experience this intimacy with Jesus, however imperfectly. I’m raising my hands because there are moments we go through difficult stretches, come and have breakfast.
May you be nourished, may you be strengthened and encouraged. And here’s the thing, I want you to realize that this story is not just a feel-good, fuzzy breakfast story. It’s that where Jesus nourishes you, he nourishes us for a purpose. Sometimes when we’re talking about mental health or wellness, if it’s just about health and mental wellness for the sake of these things without a purpose or a mission, you know what ends up happening, we end up becoming all about me, myself and I.
So here’s Jesus, he feeds them breakfast, he nourishes them. And then in the way that Peter denies Christ three times, Jesus restores him. Jesus reminds him, Jesus commissions him to do what? Go and feed my lambs, go and feed my sheep, go and feed my people. So after this, my prayer again is that for all of us in our spaces and places wherever God has you, as God encourages us and nourishes us, don’t forget that part of the story—God has work for us, God has a mission for us. God has women and men and youth and teenagers and college students and young adults. God desires people to come to know who he is.
So as we close this camp, I want to ask you and invite you, just a simple thing. We’re going to close our time in song. And I know we’re past, and I think we’re going to be okay. But as we’re singing, I want to invite our leaders to be available in the front because I just think we want to leave a time for you. I’m not sure how the Holy Spirit is speaking to you. It might just be to feed you, it might be to remind you. It might be to reconvict you, it might be to recommission you. But I want to give you an opportunity even if it’s at your seats, if you feel comfortable, I want to encourage you to come to the altar. If you want to wear your mask, obviously wear your mask. But let’s use this time, come and have breakfast. Come and feed in the goodness of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Just bow your heads for a moment.
Father, thank yous so much for this opportunity to gather together as I’ve learned earlier for the first time in two years, collectively. Thank you for watching over us and keeping us safe. Thank you, God, that you’re using this time to recharge us for the marathon. Thank you that you have my sisters and brothers in the spaces and places that you want us to be, in different states and different cities and different schools and different churches. Thank you that you’ve called them to be on mission together, to do life together, to serve you together. On this night, God, we need to have a taste once more of your goodness, of your grace, of your mercy. Holy Spirit, we believe that only you can speak into the depths of our life. So during this moment as we pray whether in our seats or as we come to the altar, Holy Spirit, would you come and would you convict us? God, we love you. We love you. In Jesus’ name, we pray, amen. Amen.
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