By Paula Rinehart
One scene in John’s Gospel account is a window into how God makes us able to live boldly the life He has for us. It’s a picture of what it means to experience Christ with each other so that our lives are actually transformed. John devotes more space to this story than any other. In fact, the details in John 21 are so specific you can practically taste the fish being cooked by the Sea of Galilee.
The central character is Peter (who often managed to be the central character). The storyline is his failure — his huge, honking, glaring denial that he ever knew this man, Jesus, who was his Savior. Peter has returned to his day job as a fisherman. He failed as a follower of Jesus — but at least, perhaps, he can still catch a few fish. That much he can do, surely.
The resurrected Christ appears by the Sea of Galilee after Peter has, once again, fished all night and caught nothing. Jesus steps right into the middle of all Peter’s failure and shame. But this scene takes place with Peter among his closest friends. They know what Peter’s done. They listen in on this conversation between Jesus and Peter, missing not a word.
Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him. Three times Peter insists that he does. And each time, Christ invites Peter to take that love and “shepherd his sheep.” Peter, who has denied Christ when He most needed him, is going to be a shepherd of the early church? Who would believe that Christ would be so generous, so utterly gracious as to offer Peter his original place in the scheme of things? You would wonder if Peter’s friends choked on their fish as they watched.
When I consider the man that Peter became and his role in the early church, I suspect that his power and boldness are directly connected to this scene. Peter does become the rock Christ always said he would. He is utterly fearless — grateful, even, that his witness is bold enough to mark him by the authorities as a threat. Walking more than 3,000 miles in his lifetime to share the gospel, Peter’s influence transformed Asia Minor into the Christian corner of the Roman Empire.
Something life-changing happened here for Peter, among his friends. Perhaps his boldness is at least partially the result of having little else to hide. Peter experienced grace not unlike the way you and I must—as our failure and shame become known in some small way, in the company of others who name His name and believe Christ is actually present in our midst.
The expression of transforming fellowship I know personally takes place, not by the sea of Galilee, but under a North Carolina canopy of pine trees on various Sunday evenings. It’s a collection of six couples who came together innocently enough in the beginning — when we still thought we had life by the tail. There were no glaring problems, no debilitating illnesses. We just met to share a portion of Scripture — to share our lives. What could be more simple?
Fifteen years have come and gone now. A lot has changed. We’ve weathered cancer treatments and ministries that struggled along, business reversals and children determined to sow their oats. Some evenings you show up hoping no one will ask what’s happening in your life because even though they know, you’d rather not elaborate. It’s better to simply pray about the obvious. Slowly, through the years, this fellowship has become its own kind of womb, nurturing this Christ-life within us — this Christ-life being poured out on many others.
There is a great gift in being known too well to successfully hide your flaws. Surely Peter experienced this. The polish wears off rather quickly when Jesus is present. This group under the pine trees has been together a long time — long enough to disappoint each other occasionally. Yet we have chosen to hang together, and let grace work its magic.
In the oddest sort of way, the failure of our humanness makes the fellowship richer.
Perhaps nowhere in our journey of following Christ, past the rubble of broken dreams, do we stumble on any better gift — the sweet grace of being on that path with other folks. It’s true — we are not what we will one day be. Yet God is generous. We taste His mercy even now through the forgiveness and encouragement we experience together. He gives us a few hands to hold along the way.
Paula Rinehart has been reaching out to women for over 25 years. Her message is clear and well-received: a life grounded in the love of Christ will touch the world, beginning with a woman’s own heart and her relationships. Her book, “Strong Women, Soft Hearts” (Thomas Nelson) has been enjoyed by over 100,000 women. She is also the author of the widely acclaimed “Sex and the Soul of a Woman” (Zondervan) and “Better Than My Dreams” (Thomas Nelson). This article is taken from “Better Than My Dreams” (pages 86-88). Paula and her husband, Stacy, live in Raleigh, NC. They are the parents of a son and a daughter and the grandparents of four much-celebrated grandchildren. Check out Paula’s website at www.paularinehart.com.