As I was spending time this past week with our Scripture for this morning, the Lord brought an experience to mind. It was truly a pivotal experience in my life that happened about 35 years ago. Connie and I loaded up the U-Haul and our first baby and headed to Ft. Worth, Texas to go to seminary at Brite Divinity School on the campus of Texas Christian University. It didn’t take too long for me to figure out I was a stranger in a strange land. My classmates seemed so at home talking about Soren Kierkegaard, Paul Tillich, Rudolf Bultmann, Augustine, and others while I was much more at home talking about Vince Lombardi, Walter Payton, Barry Switzer and the Sooners, and Tom Landry and the Cowboys. I should have seen the handwriting on the wall, but I was young and naive.
I wrote my first paper. The professor graded the papers and handed them out in class the next week to everyone except me. When he walked by my desk he said, “Mr. Hays I need to see you in my office after class.” My heart raced. What had I done? I walked in his office and sat down after class. He said, “Mr. Hays, I can’t allow you to continue in my class until you take an undergraduate English course. You can write a complete sentence.” Then, he pushed my paper in front of me and it looked like he had slit his wrist and bled all over it. I went back to our apartment and told Connie. I was down, discouraged like I can’t even describe to you. I couldn’t take another class. Connie and I had three jobs between us and I was carrying a full load of classes. Connie said, “Let’s go talk to him.”
We arrived for our appointment. I explained our situation to my professor and I told him that Connie had never made a “B” in her life and was willing to help me, but I couldn’t take another class. Connie said, “I can teach Mike to write if you will give me the opportunity.” He agreed to give us the chance.
Classes didn’t get any easier. My grades that first semester weren’t good and I felt like a total failure. I told Connie that I could coach football and share Christ with kids, but I didn’t think I could do seminary any more. I felt like I owed it to the pastor who worked so hard to get me in to let him know what was going on so I called him. He literally got in his car and drove from Duncan, Oklahoma to Ft. Worth that moment. He took me to Plano, Texas to meet Dr. David Darnell. David was very encouraging. As a matter of fact, he said he would hire me as his Youth Pastor if I would stay in seminary. I left the meeting encouraged, but still not sure seminary was for me.
I was struggling, wrestling with what to do. If I quit seminary then I would have failed, but if I stayed in seminary I knew I was sure to fail. In my mind I was going to be a failure no matter what. I didn’t want to call Dr. Darnell until I knew for sure, but I wasn’t sure. Then one night after Connie had gone to bed, I was reading God’s Word when I read,
13 …”Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:13-15 NIVO)
It was like those words were written for me. I knew that even though there was no evidence that I was going to make it, God was calling me to stay put and finish. I called Dr. Smith and told him. I called Dr. Darnell and told him I’d take the job. I stayed put and it didn’t get any easier, but the Lord sustained me. He provided for me what I needed. He gave me a brilliant wife who could write a complete sentence and was willing to teach me how to do the same. He gave me a wonderful mentor in Dr. Darnell who encouraged me and taught me things I never learned in seminary.
I learned a great lesson I will never forget no matter how long I live. God does not abandon us in our failures. No, He uses our failures to draw us to Himself, to teach us to rely on Him and not ourselves. Let’s read our Scripture for this morning and we’ll meet another man who learned the same lesson long before I did.
1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “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. 4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. 5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. 6 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. 7 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. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. (John 21:1-14 NIVO)
“This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.” The first time He appeared was to all of the disciples except for Thomas. The second time Thomas was with the disciples and Jesus came specifically for Thomas. This third appearance was in a different location, the Sea of Galilee, and there were seven of Jesus’ followers present. I want us to focus our time on Simon Peter. Thomas may have refused to believe the disciples when they told him Jesus was alive, but Simon Peter had failed Jesus miserably. He had denied that he even knew Jesus when Jesus needed him most. What made matters even worse was the way Peter had arrogantly proclaimed that even if all of the other disciples disowned Jesus, he never would. Turn to Matthew 26:31-33 and I’ll show you what I’m talking about.
31 Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ” ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” 33 Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” (Matthew 26:31-33 NIVO)
Can you imagine the looks on the faces of the other disciples? Peter’s friends? John tells us that Peter told Jesus, “I’ll lay down my life for you.” Turn to John 13:36-38 and let’s read it together.
36 Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” 37 Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times! (John 13:36-38 NIVO)
Denying that he even knew Jesus would have been hard enough to deal with, but when you couple that with all of the things Peter had said, literally in front of God and everyone, it was just too much to bear. Let’s go back to our Scripture for this morning.
The disciples had moved from Jerusalem to the Galilee. Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, and two other nameless disciples went down to the Sea of Galilee or the Sea of Tiberias as John says. Peter said, “I’m going out to fish.” Some Bible teachers say Peter was going fishing to kill time until Jesus arrived, but I find that hard to believe when you read the entire chapter. John MacArthur writes,
Peter was an impulsive man of action, not given to standing idly by for very long. He was not suggesting that they do some recreational fishing to pass the time, but rather was declaring that he was returning to his former livelihood. (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: John 12-21. pg. 390)
Dr. MacArthur points out something really interesting that I want to share with you. In John 16:32, Jesus told His disciples,
32 “But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. (John 16:32 NIVO)
The word, “home,” has been added by most of the translators, but literally it reads, “his own.” The Greek word, “?????” (idios) means “pertaining to one’s self,” or “one’s own.” The word appears 48 times in the Greek New Testament, it appears twice in 1 Thessalonians 4:11. Read along with me.
11 Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 NIVO)
The English Standard Version translates it, “mind your own affairs.” Jesus predicted His disciples would be scattered and they would go back to what they were familiar with, Peter was familiar with fishing, it was what he knew. When times get rough and uncertainty seems to be the only certainty we know, we are tempted to turn back to what with which we are most familiar. Peter’s story is nothing new. Do you remember the Hebrews slaves who were freed by God, led by God out into the Wilderness, and then wanted to go back? Turn with me to Numbers 14:1-3 and let me refresh your memory.
1 That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. 2 All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! 3 Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” (Numbers 14:1-3 NIVO)
I’m so glad the Lord didn’t allow them to go back. I’m so glad the Lord prevented me from going back to what I was most familiar with, most comfortable with during an uncomfortable period of my life. I’m so glad the Lord intervened in Peter’s life as well. Let me set the scene for you. Peter, a professional fisherman, a man who knew the Sea of Galilee like the back of his hand decided to go back to what he knew best. The other disciples, some of whom were also fishermen, decided to join him. John tells us they fished all night and didn’t catch a thing. John tells us,
4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. 5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. (John 21:4-5 NIVO)
First of all, do you really think Jesus needed the guys to tell them they hadn’t caught anything? I don’t think so. After they answered Jesus, He told them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat. John tells us,
6 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. (John 21:6-7 NIVO)
It’s a powerful story with so many lessons for you and me. Peter was a fisherman. He knew what he was doing, yet he didn’t catch a thing. Jesus wasn’t a fisherman, but He told Peter where to fish and instantly the net was loaded with fish. Peter instantly learned…listen to Jesus about anything and everything, even if you think you know more than He does about the subject.
There’s an even greater lesson, but to understand it you must remember an earlier incident that happened in Peter’s life. If you will turn with me to Luke 5, I want to take you back to when Peter first made the decision to follow Jesus. Let’s read together beginning in Luke 5:1.
1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, 2 he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:1-11 NIVO)
One of the lessons I’ve learned this week is this: God made you for a purpose. He has gifted you with certain abilities. He crafted you with precision, propensities, peculiarities, proficiencies, and promise. You can take all that He has created within you and you can do any number of things with what He has given you, but make no mistake that He has created you for a purpose. I’m certain Peter was a great fisherman although you won’t come to that conclusion from reading the Gospels. It seems like every time he’s in a boat he doesn’t catch a thing. He was created to fish, but for people.
Over and over again in Scripture we find God gifting people to do what they were created to do. Whenever we talk about God “gifting” people and “calling” people we automatically think about “church work.” No doubt, those who teach and serve within the ministry of the church are both gifted and called. Paul wrote to the Ephesians and said,
11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13 NIVO)
We fall so far short of understanding God’s ways if we limit His gifting and calling to what goes on in the church. Paul wrote to the people of Corinth and assured them…
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. (1 Corinthians 12:4-6 NIVO)
You are a gifted bunch of folks. There are so many things you can do, but what has God called you to do? We have so many young people going back to college. Some who are entering their senior year of high school and trying to figure out what they want to do with the rest of their life. Studies show that many young people decide on a course of study that will pay them the most money. Young people, there’s no doubt in my mind that you can do those jobs that will bring you the most money, maybe that is the ministry He has called you to, but I want to encourage you to seek out what God has called you to do regardless of the pay. Whatever path He is leading you to follow, know that it is He who has gifted and called you. Don’t quit when it gets tough. Don’t quit when you fail. Use your gifts to honor Him and bless His people.
Peter failed. He had followed Jesus for three years and still he denied he even knew Jesus when things got tense. He went back to the Sea of Galilee, to what he knew he could do, but he failed. He had fished all night and didn’t catch a thing…until Jesus directed him as to where he should fish. There’s no doubt in my mind that Jesus could have stepped in before Peter spent the night without a bite, but then Peter would have missed the greatest lesson of all. When we do things, when we live life however we want to live it, doing what we want to do instead of living out God’s purpose for our life, our efforts will be fruitless, our nets will be empty.
Failure is a common experience for all people, but for those of us who follow Jesus, our failures can serve as a reminder, a training opportunity, to teach and remind us again and again that we must remain in Jesus, trust in Jesus, and be led by Jesus every step of the way. Jesus told His disciples,
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5 NIVO)
How about you? Has failure derailed you, caused you to see yourself as a failure? I want to encourage you this morning that the Lord knows all about the many ways you have failed. More than that, He wants to take your failure and use it to teach you that you are not capable in and of yourself. We just don’t have what it takes my friend, but He does. Isn’t that good news? He does and He wants to invite you this very morning to follow Him? Won’t you do that right now?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
August 13, 2017