Meditating on the Commands of Christ (7): “Fear Not”

Have you ever known a fisherman who told you about the time he caught too many fish? I haven’t. I don’t have very many fishing tales, although my two favorites involve fishing with my older brother Wolle. The biggest fish we ever caught was a three-foot sun shark that had gotten caught in a tide pool on Cape Cod; he afforded  us a bony but excellent diner! The most fish we ever caught were 43 flounder off the coast of Long Island. That day the fish were biting anything that was dangling off the side of the boat (even without bait!), and we were so busy pulling them in that we didn’t realize one was actually an electric eel until we’d hauled it aboard! Yikes! Have a fishing tale to share with us? Please do!!

. . . Now that I think of it, Alan and I caught too many smelt in April, 1973, when the slippery little fish were running thick and furious down Pendills Creek in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula one cold spring night. However, it’s only with 45 years of hindsight that I can say we caught “too many,” recollecting the endless hours of processing them, freezing them, frying them ad nauseam, and finally using them as fertilizer when we planted corn in our garden the next summer. Too many fish! But, on the night we caught them, we were ecstatic!  Such memories left me baffled for a long time as I reflected on the story from Luke 5 about the miraculous draught of fish and the seventh command of Christ: “Fear not!” We learn in Luke 5 that Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John had been fishing all night without catching a single fish. Jesus later told them to “let down your nets for a draught” (his sixth command), and Peter somewhat begrudgingly let down one net. The result was nearly a fiasco: A huge school of fish all decided they wanted to be first in their class to jump into Peter’s net! As the net was breaking, Simon Peter signaled for his partners to help him, but the fish flood overfilled both boats until they started to sink. I think this is possibly the only time in history that anybody clearly caught “too many fish.”

Fish tales and tall tales are synonymous; both share as fact stories that are fiction, and the way most people decide whether or not to believe an account is by hearing the story and judging whether or not the details sound believable. If this story of the miraculous draught of fish had ended with Peter and his buddies selling the fish for a huge profit and becoming legendary in their trade (with a 15-foot statue of them in the town square), it might be tempting to include Peter in the history books alongside Paul Bunyan and his mountain-sized blue ox.  However, Peter’s response–while the total opposite of what I would  have expected—makes the account seem frighteningly true. Why? Because suddenly Peter realized he was in the presence of someone who wasn’t just another itinerant religious guru, like Gautama Buddha. Peter was up for following a wise philosopher type, but he had no clue that this humble-looking carpenter had enough power to ruin Peter’s fishing industry by overloading him with exactly what Peter wanted but couldn’t get.

Peter suddenly realized he wasn’t looking at a man, he was looking at a deity. Peter was looking in amazement at the very face of God Almighty, who alone could do such a miracle. In fact, there had never been such a miracle in recorded history, nor has there been such a spectacularly devastating fishing success since.  The result? Three of the fishermen were dumbfounded, but Peter never seemed to be at a loss for words. He fell down at Jesus’ knees and said, “Lord! I believe! Now I understand that you are really God incarnate—Immanuel, God with us, as the angels told the shepherds when you were born, and I want to follow you forever.” Right? Well, no, actually he said just the opposite! He was afraid of Jesus and said, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”  Jesus didn’t say, “Okay, I’m outta here! You are sinful; I am perfect, and I’m not going to hang around with you.” He reassured Peter and reaffirmed his calling: “Fear not, from henceforth thou shalt catch men” (Luke 5:10). All four men had been called; they had accepted the call; they had apparently gone back to business as usual (fishing all night), had questioned Jesus’ wisdom and totally failed to recognize his authority. They were not “good enough” for Him, and they knew it. But, Jesus reached out in love; he wanted them just the way they were!  Do you ever feel like you believe in Jesus and want to follow him but you just aren’t “good enough?” Are there things in your life that are keeping you from following him completely? Like Peter, Andrew, James, and John, do you admire Jesus without appreciating his miraculous wisdom and power? Jesus Christ is not just a wise man; He is Wisdom. He’s not just loving; He is love. He’s not just enlightening; He is light. He is everything any of us needs. And, best of all, he doesn’t expect us to become perfect in order to follow him! He reaches out to us and asks us to come just the way we are! Unsure, doubting, and sinful.

After seeing Jesus’ power to provide for them and experiencing his reassuring love for them, all four disciples brought their ships back to land, forsook everything, and followed him (Luke 5:11). What are we afraid of? Let’s “Fear not!” and allow Jesus to make us into exactly whatever He wants us to be!

Just As I Am
(—Charlotte Elliot, 1835, Public Domain)

Just as I am – without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee—
O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot—
O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – though toss’d about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without—
O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need, in Thee to find—
O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe—
O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – Thy love unknown
Has broken every barrier down;
Now to be Thine, yea, Thine alone—
O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – of that free love
The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
Here for a season, then above—
O Lamb of God, I come!

Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).

And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret,And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship. Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: 10 And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. 11 And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him (Luke 5:6-11).

Goulash

December already! Again already! How was your Thanksgiving? We had such a lovely time, and the older I get, the more I savor every opportunity to be together! It occurs to me that the holiday season (at least around my home) is heavy on the treats, so I thought maybe a recipe for a good main dish would be in order to start off the month right! Here’s another old family favorite from my childhood. I never see it on restaurant menus anymore, but that’s all the more reason to serve it at home!

Old Fashioned (American-Style) Goulash
(Makes about 12 cups)

1. In a large pot or frying pan, sauté together:
1 pound ground beef
1 chopped onion (How big? How much do you like onion?)
1 chopped red pepper (green, or whatever color you prefer)
8 oz. chopped mushrooms
1 tablespoon fresh, pressed garlic (or crushed garlic flakes)
1 teaspoon steak seasoning (I like Montreal, but suit yourself)
1 teaspoon seasoning salt (I use Lawry’s, but your favorite is fine)
1 teaspoon crushed oregano
1 teaspoon crushed basil (or some fresh, chopped leaves)
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 bay leaf  2. When the meat is thoroughly cooked, add:
2 cups macaroni (I used cavatappi, but any type works fine)
1  28-oz can diced tomatoes
1 cup tomato paste or sauce (I used Prego 3-cheese spaghetti sauce)
1 can small, pitted black olives (6 oz. dry weight)
2 cups water  3. Press down the macaroni to make sure it’s immersed in the juice, cover the pan, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes on medium/low  heat until the pasta has softened and absorbed the juice. 4. Serve with grated cheese (your favorite; I used “Italian 5-cheese”)  5. A tossed salad and some fresh fruit make for a healthy, satisfying supper on a cold winter’s night . . . or a warm summer night!

He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered: the Lord is gracious and full of compassion. He hath given meat unto them that fear him: he will ever be mindful of his covenant” (Psalm 111:4-5).

Have You Launched Out into the Deep? Are You Okay, or Are You Adrift?

Sometimes we “launch out into the deep,” not because we’ve been called by Jesus to go with him, but simply because we’re passionate about something.  This was true for Richard Sharp and Tami Ashcraft, who decided to sail more than 4,000 miles from Tahiti to San Diego in September of 1983.  In this terrifying true adventure, memorialized in 2018 as the movie Adrift, we learn what happened to the young couple. I don’t want to entirely ruin the story by telling you everything about the ending (so skip this if you don’t want to know whether or not they survived), but the movie is super impacting! Just three weeks into their voyage, they were caught in Hurricane Raymond, a monstrous storm that churned across the ocean with winds up to 140 mph, creating 40-foot waves. On October 12, Richard (who was ten years older and a more experienced sailor), told Tami to go below deck and take a break, but while she was below deck, the yacht capsized, and Tami was knocked unconscious. The remainder of the movie describes the horrendous 41-day saga of being adrift at sea, trying to get back to land and civilization, hoping for rescue . . . being bypassed . . . feeling utterly lost and abandoned . . .                                      and finally being found and rescued! There’s something profoundly effective in vicariously suffering through harrowing life experiences via films. Do you know what I mean? We can gain wisdom and compassion simply by empathizing with the victories and defeats of fellow human beings. I could almost feel my face sunburning and imagined savoring the indescribable succulence of an apple after almost 6 weeks of surviving on tiny rations of canned food and peanut butter. Experiences (even vicarious ones) like being Adrift in the vast Pacific, thousands of miles from home, cause me to search my soul. Am I sitting placidly on shore avoiding work (and responsibility), or have I launched out into the deep with my Savior? What about you? Have you launched out into the deep with Jesus . . . or have you headed out into deep waters due to some passion and now find yourself adrift, feeling lost, abandoned, and afraid for your life?Whether we’re called to go or driven by our personal passions, surviving a life-threatening trauma changes us forever. But, thankfully, as the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Rather than ending her sailing career, Tami became a wiser, better sailor, and she’s still sailing today. Tami  likens her tragic boating experience to being in a car crash: Most people keep riding in cars even after they’ve been in a serious accident. If you fall off a horse, get up and keep riding, right? Her example is most inspiring!   Tami did not sense it was the Holy Spirit leading her on her painful journey back to land, but she definitely felt an inner voice guiding her. Personally, based on Matthew 5:44-46, I believe the Lord was intervening in her life to draw her to himself, but you can come to your own conclusions. Regardless of her situation, I know the Lord will guide us if we ask him, whether or not we’ve launched out into the deep in response to his prompting or we’ve headed out on our own and are now adrift. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or adrift, please reach out to God for help because,The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him . . .We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! (Daniel 9:9,18b-19a, NIV). If you ask him for help, I know he will!

Don’t Discount Discount

For the past twenty-five years, we’ve always used Discount Tire to keep our cars rolling smoothly. If Discount sells you tires, they take care of your tires, repair your tires, air your tires, balance and rotate your tires, and let you know when you need new tires. We’ve always been very satisfied with their service and appreciate their help.  Also, it’s traditionally not been hard to get service there, so I was caught totally off guard (or should I say off balance?) when they failed to let me know my new tires had arrived. The tires were supposed to come within a week, so after about 10 days, I started calling  . . . and calling . . . and calling!  No answer. After a week of no answer, I decided to pay them a visit. There was a long line, but I waited patiently for my turn. “Yes, the tires are here, but we just haven’t had any time to call, and now appointments are running more than a month out. However, if you’ll come in at 8:00 am tomorrow (or maybe even a few minutes before), we’ll try to get your tires on while you wait…shouldn’t take more than a half an hour.”  That sounded good, so I arrived at 7:50 am, thinking I’d be first in line. In fact, I was already fifth in line, and by 8:00 am, there were nine plus more people getting into line behind me, some reluctantly emerging from their warm cars. The line zigzagged back and forth through the little waiting area, as it was below freezing outside.  They had my car done in not much more than an hour . . . just long enough for me to have a new appreciation for what a good tire company does for its customers, and the importance of having good tread on our tires so we don’t slide off the road in icy weather.  The wait also got me to thinking about how often I take my church for granted, expecting it to “be there” for me. It’s usually easy to access, and a good church (which mine is)—like a good tire company—helps keep me in tune so I don’t crash when the rubber meets the road of difficulties in my life. If you don’t have a church family, please, please, please seek one out . . . a place where the teaching is true to the Bible and the people are sincerely seeking to follow Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  And, for those of us who are already part of a good fellowship, let’s not discount “Discount!” Let’s appreciate what a fantastic “deal” it is to have a church home who takes good care of us . . . and when the church is struggling under an overwhelming burden (like Discount Tire Company is in this icy weather), let’s bend over backwards to be patient, help out, and appreciate all the hard work and good service that’s happening every day!

So the churches were strengthened in the faith,
and they increased in numbers daily
” (Acts 16:5).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (6): Launch Out Into the Deep . . . For What??

Have you ever felt like God was asking you to climb out onto a limb . . . but you’re not sure if it’s really God or just your imagination? The quandary is: If it’s really God, then you’re willing to do something that seems futile by human wisdom, but if it’s just your imagination, then you know you’ll end up getting hurt one way or the other and probably feeling very humiliated and stupid. Yes? You know that feeling? I certainly have at various junctures in my life.

In Luke 5:4, where Jesus asked Peter to “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught,” I wonder if Peter had the same thought. Peter (aka/Simon) and his brother Andrew had been fishing all night without catching anything. I’m sure they were very tired and ready to go home to sleep. On top of that, Peter had already extended himself by letting Jesus use his boat as a pulpit from which to address the crowds who had gathered to hear his wisdom. Wise teacher? Yes! Knowledgeable about fishing? I suspect Peter had  his doubts.

Nevertheless, Peter and Andrew had already committed to following Jesus, and following requires obedience, so Peter reluctantly obeyed (at least partially; notice Jesus’ “nets” versus Peter’s “net,”—a small alteration that ultimately made a big difference, as we’ll see next Sunday): “And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net” (Luke 5:5).  Do you admire Peter’s willingness to obey? I do, even though it wasn’t complete. He was learning to trust, and I often identify with his doubts and fears. Peter stated his objections but proceeded to do as told . . . sort of. The essence of being a good follower is to state your opinion but obey your leader, whether it’s following Jesus, your husband (gasp!), or your boss. Furthermore, Jesus asked him to go deep! Are we willing to go deep with Jesus . . . out where— not only could we fall out of a tree— we could totally drown?!

In studying a passage for meditation, I like to consider many translations, and almost universally, the texts record Jesus telling Simon Peter to “Launch out into the deep.” However, in most of the modern versions, Jesus’ command ends something like this: “and let down your nets for a catch.” The most presumptuous is probably The Living Bible, which states it this way: “When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Now go out where it is deeper and let down your nets and you will catch a lot of fish!'”

This turns the command into a promise that is not in the King James Version (KJV), and although the vocabulary of the KJV  is sometimes archaic, I tend to trust its scholarship. In the KJV, Jesus tells Simon to “let down your nets for a draught.” Draught is an ancient word related to “drag” or “draw” and is usually used in terms of dragging or pulling liquid, as water through a net in fishing. (Or, in recent times, the idea of drawing out a “draught” or “draft” of beer into a cup.)

Although the difference may seem slight, I don’t believe Jesus is giving a promise of success to Peter, and I think the same is true for us today. When God tells us to launch out into the deep with him and put down our nets for a draught, He is asking us to obey him without promising any particular reward. Our nets may come up empty, or they may come up full, but the important thing is: Are we going to follow Christ and do what he asks or not? Period. Are we going to be okay if we fail by human standards and feel humiliated? Jesus didn’t promise us worldly fame or fortune, nor did he say that we’d be able to look with pride at what we’ve accomplished by following him. In fact, he predicts persecution, and if his life is our “perfect” example, then it looks like humiliation is in the mix too.

However, Jesus did promise us a life of spiritual abundance and fruitfulness if we follow him, and that’s worth more than any material gain. Are you willing? I am. Are we “able”? Well . . . that’s a harder question to answer!

‘”Are Ye Able,’ Said the Master”
(—Earl Marlatt, 1926)

“Are ye able,” said the Master,
“To be crucified with me?”
“Yea,” the sturdy dreamers answered,
“To the death we follow Thee.”

Refrain:
Lord, we are able. Our spirits are Thine.
Remold them, make us, like Thee, divine.
Thy guiding radiance above us shall be
a beacon to God, to love, and loyalty.

Are ye able? Still the Master
Whispers down eternity,
And heroic spirits answer,
Now as then in Galilee. [Refrain]

And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret,And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets.And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net” (Luke 5:1-5).

Pumpkin Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting

I know it would be ideal to be sharing heart-healthy, low calorie recipes with you for holiday celebrations, but we have some yummy family favorites that are at least an improvement over the standard options without being really non-fat or low cal. Last week’s date bar recipe—with dates and oats—is a big step up from candy, and today’s recipe, pumpkin bars—with pureed pumpkin—is healthier than traditional cakes or brownies. Besides, they taste great and are always a hit at potlucks and parties!

Pumpkin Bars
(makes 24 medium  or 48 small bars)

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine:
1 15-oz can pumpkin
4 eggs
1 and 2/3 cups granulated white sugar
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup canola (or other cooking) oil
1/2 cup softened butter
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

3. Beat until smooth and then pour batter into a well greased, large cookie sheet and bake for 25 minutes or until done. My pan is 17″ by 11″ and the pumpkin batter fits perfectly. A large jelly roll pan also works. If you use a smaller cookie sheet, it won’t all fit without overflowing and burning as it bakes. It can also be baked in a 9″ by 13″ pan, but this makes the bars very thick, and they’d have to be baked longer. (Not to mention, you’d also have super thick frosting with less surface area.) Test it for done-ness just like any cake: It’s done when the top is golden brown, the edges start to pull away from the sides of the pan, and the top springs back when touched gently (or a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out not wet).

4. When cooled (but it can be still warm) frost with:

Cream Cheese Frosting

Combine in mixer:
5 cups confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
1/2 cup softened butter
8 oz. softened creamed cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons milk or cream

Whip in mixer until fluffy, and then spread. The frosting will be quite soft, so use just 1 tablespoon milk if you want it to be thick. (I like it soft because it spreads easier). After frosting, sprinkle a little more cinnamon on the top.

Serve whenever. Warm with ice cream is amazing, but it doesn’t really need ice cream to be great because it’s so moist on its own. If you have a lot left over, refrigerate after the first day or so to retain freshness and consistency.

Psalm 95

O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.In his hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is his also.The sea is his, and he made it: and his hands formed the dry land.O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker.For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To day if ye will hear his voice,Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness:When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work.10 Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways:11 Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.” May we come before God’s presence with thanksgiving this holiday season and find our rest in Him!

 

Thanksgiving Through Time

Although we think of Thanksgiving as a day to thank God for life and abundant sustenance, the abundance is only true for some of us, and  what we think of as the first “Thanksgiving,” celebrated by the Pilgrims back in 1621, was actually a very stressful occasion when 90 Indians showed up uninvited to attend the festivities of the 53 surviving Puritans who had managed to last through the first year of life in the new world. The festivities lasted three days and had a frightening impact on the precious stores of corn and staples that the Pilgrims were depending on to help them survive the upcoming winter. Nevertheless, as an act of goodwill and faith, the Pilgrims shared what they had, played games with the Indians, accepted the 5 deer that the Indians brought to add to the feasts, and stopped worrying about survival long enough to embrace the Indians and rejoice together in God’s care. Such was the faith and hospitality of our forefathers, and such was the forbearance and goodwill of the Native Americans, who could easily have killed all the  Pilgrims that day had they wanted to!  My earnest prayer is that every person who reads this has enough to eat today, although I read frightening statistics on those who suffer. In Grand Rapids, anybody can get a good, hot Thanksgiving dinner at Mel Trotter Rescue Mission or Guiding Light Mission down town. I remember about fifteen years ago (when our kids were younger and we had a family band) providing music for Mel Trotter’s free dinner. Over 2,000 turkey dinners were served at the DeVos Convention Center. I’m not sure how many cities are that organized and charitable, but I pray that today people will reach out in faith and hope to embrace those around them who are spiritually and physically needy. God will  provide if we faithfully follow his leading, even during scary times, like the very first Thanksgiving!  By the way, I recently finished listening to a fascinating book by Nathaniel Philbrick called Mayflower, which was among the finalists for a Pulitzer Prize. If you’re interested in American history, this carefully documented account traces the journey of the Puritans, detailing the perils and conflicts that began before their cramped crossing of the Atlantic crammed into the 4-foot-high middle deck of the Mayflower . . . and all the way through the terribly destructive King Philip’s War (1675-1678). Although studying history dispels any illusions of universal peace and goodwill among any nation or tribe, it does have the effect of making me even more appreciative of the relative peace and security in America and around the world today. Despite the terrible accounts of persecution, murder, and war, the entire world is slowly becoming statistically less aggressive and murderous, with fewer violent deaths per capita than earlier times in history (according to the studies of psychologist Steven Pinker). In reflecting on the “why” of this, it occurred to me that it may be the result of the Kingdom of God coming to earth in the person of Christ, who is the Prince of Peace, and the calming effect of true believers (not all those who pose as Christians but are really wolves in sheep’s clothing and destructive) who are “salt and light” in the world. Just one thought, but a happy one! Well, throughout American history—and world history—we have innumerable reasons to be thankful, so I just want to say, “Thank you, Father!”

This is My Father’s World
(—Maltbie Babcock, 1901)

This is my father’s world
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres…
This is my father’s world
Oh, let me never forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong
God is the ruler yet.
This is my father’s world
Why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is king, let the heavens ring
God reigns, let the earth be glad.

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.’ 16 And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying,’We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign'” (Revelation 11:15-17).