God’s Abundance – May 15, 2011
Joel 2:21-27, John 21:1:14
May 15, 2011
We’re looking today at another of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. And this time, he meets the disciples by the lake. Why? Because they were fishing! And for them, that wasn’t just “recreation!” A number of them were fishermen by trade. For them, this was returning to “life as it was before.” This experience with Jesus had come to an end. And yes it was an amazing end! But that was over, and now it was time to return to life “as it was before.”
But then, they see this vision! Jesus appears to them! And notice this is not in a room. This is not “the house” where they were hiding “for fear of the Jews.” They were back in their home town near the Sea of Galilee. They were back in their “element.” And I want you to see how Jesus shows them that it’s him? He does so by getting into “the business” of their lives. He isn’t in a teaching situation. He’s not in the synagogue or even the market place. They’re on the lake doing their “thing,” and he meets them there!
He calls out to them, “How’s the fishing?” “It stinks!” they say. “Well,” he says, “try fishing on the other side of the boat.” Now, you can just imagine what they thought of that! Here’s this person, they don’t even know, and he’s telling them their trade! On top of that, they were tired, and probably irritated that they had worked all night and caught nothing. They could easily have yelled back, “Hey buddy, mind your own business!” But it was even more than that! Because Jesus didn’t even say, “Row over to that place, way over there.” “That’s where the fish are.” Think about it. He just said, “Cast your nets on the other side of the boat.” Can we even imagine how ridiculous that sounded? I think it was meant to sound ridiculous!
Well, for some reason, they do it anyway! They took this stranger’s advice and they threw their nets out the other direction – which I’ll bet was no easy task! But they caught fish. And two things happened. Not only did they go from catching nothing, to apparently catching everything, but they also realized this was Jesus. And what I want you to see here, is that this was his amazing way of breaking back into their lives – with his abundance! That was his way of calling them!
I think he does the same with us. We want to say, “God, I’m just fine with ‘life as it usually is.’” And Jesus says, “No. Cast your nets on the other side.” “I don’t want you to have life ‘just as it usually is.’” I want you to have the life I have for you!” “And, I want you to have abundance!” How many times do we fight against what God wants us to do and to be, only to “settle” for mediocre, when what he wants for us is so much more?!
A few minutes ago, we read of God’s abundance in the prophecy of Joel. “Be glad, O Zion, and rejoice in the Lord, your God… For he has poured down for you abundant rain… The threshing floors shall be filled with grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil… You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied. And you shall praise the name of the Lord, your God, who has dealt wondrously with you.” That’s the life of faith God wants for us!
Jesus tried to tell the people that. He said, “I have come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly! In Luke’s gospel, he said, “Give, and it shall be given unto you, in good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.” (Luke 6:38) There’s that image of God’s blessing – his abundance – overflowing in our lives. And in this story, they had that. And by the way, don’t miss the other miracle here! The other miracle in this story is that their nets didn’t break! The implication is that they should have! But Jesus didn’t want them to miss the abundance of this great miracle. And that’s what he wants for us!
Now, don’t get me wrong here! This is not the “Prosperity Gospel” you sometimes hear about. This is not saying, “God wants you to be wealthy.” This is not what you see on late night TV, where someone comes on the screen saying “Give to this ministry, because I gave $10 and ‘out of the blue’ I got a check for $100.” I get anxious when I hear that kind of thing. It sounds an awful lot like people are “really” wanting to “get”, so they “take a chance” on giving.
That’s not what I’m talking about here. We can’t confuse wealth and abundance. Because we’re living in tough times. And there are a lot of people today thinking, “I don’t see a lot of abundance in my life!” The sacrifices we make are hard these days. And the rewards that come to us are not always seen in terms of actual wealth. But it isn’t necessarily wealth that God is interested in. He wants for us abundance. And that’s not the same thing as wealth.
Actually, when I think of it, I’m not sure God is all that interested in wealth. I think it’s just not all that impressive to him who created all things! I think God’s much more interested in what we do with what we have. And he’s interested in how “what we have” affects “what we do.” If you think about it, wealth is really a “human-made” thing, anyway. It’s a medium of exchange. It was created so people could buy what they needed at the market place without having to bring with them things to exchange, like animals farm produce. The problem is that wealth is also a “divider of people.” It separates those who have it and those who don’t. Sometimes I wonder if God would prefer it didn’t exist.
As it is, I’ve known many people who are quite wealthy, and who are wonderful, Christ-like people. They don’t let their wealth get in the way of their faith. On the other hand, I’ve also known people who had very little, but who were anything but Christ-like about it. They were focused all the time on their level of wealth, and God didn’t have a chance of getting through to them and sharing their life!
But this isn’t about wealth – necessarily! This is about abundance! This is about the amazing fullness of life and joy that God wants for us. That’s a big part of the story of the Prodigal Son. Remember the elder brother. He didn’t object to his brother returning. He objected to what? He objected to the party his father threw him. Listen what he said. “Lo these many years I’ve served you, and I never disobeyed your command. Yet you never gave me a goat that I might make merry with my friends!” But the father said, “All that I have is yours!!”
How many of God’s people have a faith that’s only about service and obedience? How many are only concerned about “doing the right thing?” Not that those things are bad! But I don’t think that alone is what God wants for us. Listen to the words of the prophet Micah. “With what shall I come before the Lord? …Shall I come before him with burnt offerings? …Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first born to atone for my sin? …He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:6-8)
God wants for us that relationship, that humble walk with him. And in that, he wants for us the abundance of life, and his joy. And notice here, I didn’t say “happiness.” That’s not the same as Joy. We can have sorrow in our lives, but still have joy. Just like we can have abundance, even in times when we don’t have a lot of “earthly riches.” It’s a matter of how we are oriented in our lives. Are we focused on deficit or on abundance. Are we concerned with life “as it usually is?” Or are we searching to discover the life God wants for us?
One of my favorite stories ever is Jonathon Livingston Seagull. Did you ever read that story? Jonathan was the young, maverick gull who was ostracized by his seagull community because he learned to fly for the sheer joy of flying, rather than flying for the soul purpose of scrounging for food – like all the other gulls! While the other gulls were circling the fishing boats and harassing the humans on the beaches, Jonathan was high up in the air learning barrel rolls, investigating stall speeds, and braving power dives. And the others looked on him with disdain because he wasn’t being “responsible.” Jonathan was flying for the sheer joy of flying! Sometimes I think about that when I look up at the hawks and vultures. (Which I always do!) Sometimes I say to myself, “they’re not searching for food. They’re just having fun!”
I think sometimes we forget that. We think of service and obedience, and we forget the joy. That’s why I’ve always loved the world of young people. They still get it. But sometimes in churches people downplay that joy of childhood. They think that’s not really “responsible” somehow. They think kids have “got a lot to learn” before they can be like us adults. And yet, we follow a savior who said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14) He said, “unless you become like a little child, you will not enter that kingdom.” (Matthew 18:3) Does that describe you? Or have you lost that child-like fervor and joy in your life? Are you content with “life as it always was?” Or do you seek the life God wants for you?
While you’re thinking about that, remember the story told by Soren Kierkegaard about the ducks. He told about this little community of ducks who all walked to their ducky church. And when they got there, they listened to their ducky minister preach to them. And he said, “You can fly! You have wings! Look at yourselves!” And pretty soon he had them shouting, “We can fly! Look, we have wings!” But then, when the service ended, they all walked home!
The ducks didn’t get it. They heard, but they didn’t take it in. We hear about the abundance and joy of God’s kingdom, but do we take it in? By the way, this took years, and the writings of John Eldredge, for me to take in! I thought that the faith had a lot to do with obedience and service. But I didn’t realize the part about joy and abundance. So what about you? You hear this stuff, but will you take it in? Will you seek God’s abundance. Or will you care only about service and obedience? Will you be content with “life as it always is?” Or will you be willing to cast your nets on the other side of the boat? By his abundance, Jesus will show you it is he!
Eternal God, we need to see your joy and abundance in our lives. Help us to become like little children, as Jesus said. Help us to know the abundant life you came so that we might have. This we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.