Saturday, August 9, 2014

What's in a Name?

Nothing beats a good campfire.  The warmth and light coming from the burning embers immediately melts all stress and anxiety.  I wish I could bottle the feeling of gathering around the campfire after a day of outdoor activities to share stories and laughter with friends and family.  Even mere acquaintances seem to be transformed into trusted friends in the campfire's glow.

It was this quality of the campfire that led The Rend Collective to record an album, entitled Campfire, around, well, a campfire.  One of the band members articulates their motivation in this video.

If you haven't heard The Rend Collective yet, I highly recommend turning it up while doing household chores and letting the lively music add a pep to your step.

When I told Becky that I was titling my blog "Tales from Around the the Campfire" she replied, "That's perfect!"  She was likely thinking about my love of nature and summer nights spent around the campfire, as previously described.  That affinity no doubt factored into the name, but there is a deeper spiritual meaning as well.  When I explained this to Becky she said, "Oh, does it have to do with the passage you like from John?"

At the end of the gospel of John, Jesus has risen from the dead and appeared to his disciples a couple of times.  Nonetheless, his disciples still appear to be unsure of the next step in their lives and are out for an afternoon of fishing.  John describes what happens next.

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. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.  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. (John 21:4-14)

I love the image of Jesus standing on the beach as Peter scrambles to shore, a broad smile on his face, ready to throw some fresh fish over the hot coals.  In the current age of relativism, I think it is important to explain that I don't gravitate towards this passage because it presents Jesus in the way that I like to see him.  I'm not trying to say, "You can have your sweet baby Jesus, others may like to see Jesus as a good moral teacher, yet others as the justice seeking Jesus, but I'll take my campy, outdoorsy Jesus."  We can't just picture Jesus in the way that we want to view him.  He has revealed that he is the Good Shepherd, the Living Water, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Way and the Truth and the Life, the Bread of Life, the Alpha and Omega.  He said, "Very truly I tell you, before Abraham was born, I am!" (John 8:58).  

Who Jesus is stands outside of how we would like to picture him in our minds.  It is true that due to my personal preferences, I would love to gather with Jesus around a campfire.  However, beyond this enthusiasm for burning logs, I cherish this passage for three elements of the gospel that it reveals: God takes initiative in showing his grace, invites us into a relationship with him and others, and calls us to follow him in showing his love to others.

1) God takes initiative in showing us his grace

Before this meeting, the disciples, especially Peter, may still have been questioning their standing with Christ.  They deserted Jesus in the hour of his suffering and Peter openly denied the Lord three times.  Yet, Jesus calls to his disciples while they are still far from shore, inviting the restoration of their relationship.  After sharing a meal, Jesus asks Peter three times, "Do you love me?"  His question implies that he still loves Peter despite his lack of faith in the court of the high priest and symbolically forgives Peter of his three acts of denial.  In the same way, Christ graciously forgives the times when we have denied him by our words, thoughts and actions and asks us, "Do you love me?"  His love is free to all who accept him.

2) God invites us into a relationship with him and others

Becky enjoys reading a series on the blog A Cup of Jo that chronicles the experiences of American mothers in different countries around the world.  I admit that I enjoy reading that series too, just like I used to like browsing through the recipes in Real Simple when Becky used to receive that magazine.  I am not ashamed.  All joking aside, in one entry a mother living in England describes how hard it was to get to know English mothers and that it would take double-digit interactions before you would even consider inviting someone to your house for dinner.  Dinner? Whoa! That is just too much, too fast.

Similarly, in the ancient world it was considered to be a big deal to share a meal with someone.  Throughout his ministry, the religious leaders of the time chastised Jesus for breaking bread with sinners, prostitutes,and tax collectors.  Those meals demonstrated that he was willing to enter into relationship with those who were viewed as unholy and unclean.  On the night that he would be betrayed, Jesus told his disciples that he was eager to share the Passover supper with them.  This meal, with its lasting symbols of sacrifice and forgiveness, also signified his relationship with his closest followers.

On that beach, we see Jesus once again inviting his friends to share a meal with him.  If any doubt of the status of their relationship lingers, it is not coming from his end.  We have received the same invitation.  Jesus invites us to bring our fish ashore and take a seat around the fire.

3) God calls us to follow him in showing his love to others

The passage does not end with the fish fry.  After the meal, three times Jesus asks Peter, "Do you love me?" and three times Peter confirms his love for Christ.  Jesus counters with these commands: feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep.  He follows up these commands with these words:

Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”  (John 21:18-19)

I wonder what thoughts floated through Peter's head as he left that beach.  His relationship with Jesus had just been restored and he had been entrusted with the responsibility of caring for Christ's followers, yet his martyrdom had also been prophesied.  Was he relieved to know that Jesus still considered him a friend?  Was he anxious about the responsibilities that lie ahead?  Was he fearful of his ultimate fate?

Hopefully, Jesus last words were the most resounding.  "Follow me!"  Most of us will not face a martyr's death.  We will not carry the responsibility of being tagged the rock of the early church.  However, like Peter we are called to feed and take care of Christ's flock.  I have to admit, this sometimes makes me a little bit anxious...actually more than just a little bit.  The responsibility of living a life that glorifies God by making a difference in the lives of others can sometimes seem crushing.  It seems like it would be a lot easier to just focus on myself and building my personal kingdom.  These moments come when I forget Jesus last words to Peter..."Follow me!"

Peter didn't have it all figured out when he left that campfire.  He would go on and make mistakes as the leader of the early church (See Galatians 2:11-14).  We will similarly sometimes stumble as we try to care for others and demonstrate the love of Christ.  Yet, we must remember that God has already taken the initiative in showing us his grace and inviting us into a relationship with him.  He who has already done all of that will certainly give us all that we need to follow him and to share his love with others.  When the darkness looks overwhelming and we begin to fear, let's remind ourselves exactly who it is who has called us to join him at the campfire.

Hopefully this entry sheds a little more light, emanating from the campfire of course, on the thoughts that went into naming my blog.  Hopefully the stories and reflections that I share will be seasoned with God's grace, deepen our relationship with Christ, and provide exhortations to love others and follow Jesus.  Now, someone throw another log on the fire!

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