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The Other Side of the Boat

Twice in his ministry, Jesus told his disciples to fish on the other side of the boat. Both times they hauled up huge catches. Is there a lesson there for us? How can we fish on the other side of the boat today? 

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When we talk about the common phrase, “Think outside the box,” what does that mean? I heard a story once that makes it clear. You’ve probably heard it too. It’s very common. It was even used in a movie. But it’s such an excellent example of thinking outside the box that even people who don’t know how to think outside the box understand what it means…

There was a huge traffic backup on a busy interstate in a large city. I think it took place in Boston originally. It seems a gigantic truck – an eighteen-wheeler – had come to a complete panic stop just before going under an overpass. The truck had jack-knifed, blocking two of the three lanes. The police arrived and started diverting to the one lane still open, but cars began to pile up behind it. The interstate truck police arrived, as did the state police. It seemed that the trailer on the truck was about two inches too tall to go under the overpass. Just to prove it, the driver slowly moved his truck under the overpass so that everyone could see that the tall trailer would just not fit under the overpass there. So, so close and yet so very far away. What to do? No way to get in the other lane going the other way and no way to go back with traffic backed up over a mile and growing longer by the minute. All these men were standing around looking at that two inches that was impeding everything, shaking their heads. As the event wore on, a man who was stuck in traffic went up to the front to see what was going on. He took his eight-year-old daughter with him. When the little girl heard the men talking about the problem, and saw them pointing at the trailer and the overpass, she looked at them and said, “Why don’t you let some of the air out of the trailer tires?” 

Thinking outside of the box means to look to the situation and think about it from a different perspective than we’re used to. There’s an example in the Bible about thinking outside of the box in Christian life. And it’s one of my favorite stories in the Bible. 

If we read the Gospels, we know that Jesus’ disciples suffered a terrible setback when Jesus died. They thought the Master was going to lead them into the Kingdom. He had promised them that each one of them was going to rule one of the tribes of Israel. And they thought He meant right now. But then, he was suddenly swept away by an angry crew, accused unjustly, and beyond any understanding, crucified like a common criminal – a death so hideous, it’s, to this day, hard to imagine the horror of it. And they, in the face of this horror, all skulked away in fear of their own lives. 

One of the things I’ve learned over the years, working with people who have PTSD, is that the emotional part of their memory of the event, often gets stuck. I had a client once – a forty-seven-year-old woman – who was, when she was thirteen, beaten by two boys until she was unconscious – past that actually. She had suffered traumatic brain injury from the beating. She had to learn how to swallow and walk all over again. At forty-five or so, happily married with three kids, she still could not think about the event without extreme emotional distress. And she hadn’t been able to get past it. She had never been able to process it and desensitize herself to the event. It was stuck in her memory. 

We can all understand how this could happen to her. Most of know people who are stuck this way about past traumas. And it doesn’t have to be dramatic either. I met a man once who was alienating his friends and family because he could not let go of being laid off twenty-some years previously from the college he worked for. Somehow that would always come up in his conversations, along with his anger about it. We can see the disciples stuck in their fear and grief after the crucifixion in that same way. They were devastated and stuck.

So here’s the situation Jesus finds Himself in once He is resurrected. He knows these men need to be afraid of nothing – to be unstoppable, to spread the word, to be witnesses of His resurrection and Godhead, to start a movement of believers who would pass the truth down through the ages until He returns a second time. How to do that after what they’d seen, as depressed, fearful and stuck as they were. They were so traumatized by what they’d seen, just telling them He was now alive again wasn’t going to do it. They were in hiding. He and the Father had to concoct a careful plan. Don’t think that I’m saying that Jesus had to think outside the box. I’m not. To begin with, God  has never been in the box at all! He is not restricted in His thinking by current or past events or experience. Paul said that the plan of salvation was a mystery. And that plan had never, at any time, entered into the mind of any human being, except that God has revealed it to them. 

So God’s thinks differently than we do. God is always thinking outside of our boxes to move us forward in His plan – to get us think differently. We’re the ones that get stuck in the box. So this presentation is to help us think about doing just that when we have difficult situations or issues. 

So, on with the story. You recall that Jesus called Mary Magdalene, after He rose from the dead, to tell the disciples to go to Galilee. Once they were in Galilee, they were a bit lost. They were waiting as they had been told, but probably agitated. Peter finally said, “I’m going fishing.” You can read that in John 21. And after fishing all night, they had struck out – not a single fish. Now they were fishing in a boat out in the middle of a lake with a net – you know, a net is quite a bit more efficient at fishing than a rod and a reel – but still, not a single fish. And, as they approached the shore, they saw a man standing there – early morning. And he called out, “Boys, do you have any fish?” And they said, “No.” And he said, “Why don’t you cast your net on the other side of the boat?” Now this had happened before to some of these guys. And when they were first being called, a stranger told them to cast on the other side of the boat, and they caught so many fish they had trouble hauling them all to shore. That’s how some of them met Jesus. There’s an excellent portrayal of this event in the video series, called The Chosen. So they did what he said and they immediately caught 153 large fish – that’s recorded. It must have left quite an impression on John, since he recorded the number.

Now notice this: When they finally got to shore with their catch, they saw that the man had already built a fire that had gone down to coals and some nice fish were laid on it cooking. He didn’t need their fish. He invited them to breakfast. So this was the third time Jesus had visited them after His resurrection. And as they ate, they all began, finally, to believe. It started to sink in. “He is risen. He’s alive. He’s from God and He is God. And we know that Jesus told His disciples, when He first met them, that they needed to stop fishing and follow Him. He was going to make them fishers of men. And I don’t know if they put it together right then, but I’m sure they did later. 

After this breakfast, quite a few things happened. And Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him, and three times Peter told Him he did, and the Jesus said, after the third time, “If you love Me, feed My sheep.” So, it was through this process of repeated, what we might call, spiritual shock and awe that Jesus, by forcing them to think outside the box with Him, that somehow, within the fifty days between Passover and Pentecost they metamorphosed into bold, courageous, committed, unstoppable witnesses for Jesus Christ – so much so, that eventually all of them, except one, were executed for their faith. 

By Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came, Peter, who could think of nothing better than to go fishing, was able to speak out extemporaneously in such a powerful way that three thousand people committed to baptism right then. 

But I left out the beginning of the story. After Jesus rose from the dead, He deliberately hid the reality of it all from His disciples. We’re told He walked seven miles that morning to Emmaus with a few of them, quoting the Bible along the way, and they still didn’t recognize Him. So there was a lot of subtility to it all – a lot of dancing around with them at first – by plan. But Jesus knew exactly what to do to help these traumatized people put it all together. 

Do you recall the first time you ever read the account? I remembered that I do. I wondered why He did it like that. It seemed so weird to me. Well, that’s an example of me thinking in the box and God thinking outside of it. I would have been one of the ones that never would have thought to cast the net on the other side of the boat. So I have to tell you why this is one of my favorite Bible stories now – why it resonates with me.

I’ve had two experiences that feel like pulling up a big load of fish on the other side of the boat must have felt for the disciples. Here’s the first one:

All my adult life I have pastored congregations for churches – up until about 2004. I have shepherded many people into the church after they have been called, but I never really had much to do with evangelizing people, being the instrument that God used to call them into the church. I know the person that God used to evangelize me, but I never saw myself as being able to do that with others. I’ve always thought of myself as the pastoral type of minister. There has to be that kind, too. 

When I resigned from the most recent church roll and retired from pastoring, Elaine and I started a ministry that was also pastoral. The idea was to help Church of God people be better Christians, better parents, better mates. So it was a Christian living ministry, in other words – caretaking, resource providing. We put up a Website and started producing material on all sorts of topics – about marriage, and family, and holy days, Sabbath, etc. While working on my Website, I was talking to my Web artist about the possibility of reaching outside the boundaries of the Church of God. And she reflected that desire back to me with the words, “You want to fish on the other side of the boat.” And that, for me, was like hearing the little kid say, “Let some air out of the truck’s tires,” or “Put the net on the right side now.” But I didn’t know how to do that. You know, our ministry has never gotten really large. It’s just Elaine and me and Connie, our transcriptionist, that do everything. I’m not complaining about that. We get a lot of positive feedback from those who have strengthened by what we produce – thanks to God’s efforts. And we know we are allowed to help Him in His work.

But then something happened. I think it was about three, maybe three and a half years ago, we decided to redo our Website. We wanted to make it easier to navigate, more accessible on smartphones. I wanted the print to be bigger. What I’m thinking about is, our church is aging, and we do have some young people, but I wanted to make it easier to read on smartphones and I wanted the print to be bigger and easier to navigate so that older people could use the Website efficiently. I also asked that a capacity to do a blog could be put in there, but that hasn’t materialized yet. They have the capability, but I haven’t had the time. 

So I was talking to my Web designer about the huge size of our site – over 250 audio presentations at that time, and of course, bigger now – and she suggested we put the audio files on another site and link to them. That would reduce the size of the main site and make searching faster. I asked her if she had any ideas about where to put it, and she said that there was an inexpensive podcasting site that would also keep track of how many hits we were getting on each audio, as well as storing all of our audio files for a very inexpensive price. She aske me, while we were talking about this over email, if I wanted to podcast everything, since it was already on a podcasting site. And I hadn’t thought about it – again, me not thinking – but when she mentioned it, and since it would be free, and would take very little extra effort, I agreed. So we did that. So we’re now up on Apple’s podcasting site. And we were soon shocked by how many hits we were getting. We couldn’t count them before, but lately we’ve been able to. 

Almost immediately, the content of our mailing list started to change. When we first started, we knew most of the people that were on our list – our friends, and family and church people we knew. But, as I look at that list today, now I don’t. They are mostly new people. So, without realizing it at first, we are now fishing on the other side of the boat. People who would never have found out Website are finding our podcast, and some of them are listening. 

Here is what didn’t fit my small-minded thinking. These new folks are being evangelized by pastoral care material. I was thinking about all that, and why that’s happening, and I clearly wasn’t thinking out of the box on this. And I’m still not sure, but I know that as time passes, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to be a Christian in the United States. Some may think I’m talking about politics now, but I’m not. Most of the difficulty comes from cultural changes in the last thirty years. Statistics show, if you live in a big city, the chances you will go on anxiety or depression medication has increased dramatically in the last thirty years. Somebody said, “New York City – half the people there are on anti-depressants.” Childhood depression and suicide are skyrocketing. The advent of computers has put more stress on people than could ever have been imagined. 

I was reading a book some time back called, The Art of Getting Things Done. The premise underlying the book was that people are bombarded by way more incoming of every sort than ever before. The author talked about busy executives who would get 300 emails before lunch, and each one of them asking that he would send them something, do something, read something, make a decision about something. So all this incoming noise hinders work, and family life, and spiritual life and physical health, and creates a lot of anxiety. And it decreases our ability to focus on what’s important. Clients in my counseling practice have much more to do than they can get done in any given day that they just don’t know where to start. So I think that’s called analysis paralysis. So anxiety is running high in this country and a lot of it has to do with the effects of social media, and email, and electronics – computer stuff. This used to be true in our own church, but it obviously it applies to everyone. And I used to say that this is a problem in Western culture, but now the rest of the world is catching up with us in technology, and so they’re also catching up with us in anxiety and depression. The art of relating to other people successfully is diminishing, because we think social media involvement constitutes human interaction. And it just doesn’t. So people that communicate primarily that way are losing the ability to relate to other live human beings face to face. 

And we find ourselves talking about how to be a Christian in the face of these challenges. So what we have to say has become relevant to more people than ever. I mean, that’s how I’m thinking about it now. And that’s a complete change in my thinking about pastoral as opposed to evangelical ministry. But, by one simple change, which happened to us almost by accident – the podcasting thing – we’re now fishing on the other side of the boat. We’re reaching a whole new audience. Pastoral ministry has become evangelical because people need spiritual care more than ever. This awareness is, for us, thinking outside of our Church of God box. We can’t take any credit for it any more than the disciples could when they moved the net to the other side of the boat. That is one issue where God has forced us to think outside the box. 

Here’s another one – totally different. And I’m mentioning these things just to give you an idea of what I’m thinking about here. We moved recently. We used to live in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where we had no family. And as we were getting older, we realized we needed to be closer to more of our family, so we moved to Gardnerville, Nevada – a small town about an hour south of Reno. Housing here is way more expensive than where we previously lived. Everybody wants to live in Gardnerville all of sudden. When we arrived, we talked to a realtor, telling her how much we had to work with, and she started making a list of houses to show us. We also started looking on Zillow and saw how serious the situation was. Everything we wanted to live in was too expensive. So we started praying even more fervently about it. We also started driving around, looking in some of the less expensive neighborhoods to see what might be available. 

One place we went to was a small subdivision about six miles out of town. Many of the houses there were pre-fab construction. The neighborhood looked nice, but it wasn’t an expensive, well-established community. Everything was on very tiny lots. We drove into that neighborhood looking for houses that might be on sale while we were there. One house we looked at just looked huge – so much so that it looked out of place in that neighborhood – and yet there was a “For Sale” sign. So I told Elaine we could put it on the list to look at and tell the realtor about it, but only for experience sake. There was no way we could afford that house. It was just too big. 

So, we told our realtor about and, as it turned out, when the realtor was ready to start showing us houses, this big one was the first place we looked at. It was very well-built and it had luxury features we had never been able to afford. There was a sauna, hot tub, a garden tub, a whole house air purifier, a whole house generator – that kind of stuff. But because the previous owner was eccentric, it was an odd house, to say the least. All the doors, closets, molding and trim had been painted with black bedliner – if you can imagine such a thing – you know, the stuff they spray in truck beds. It’s all bumpy. It looked hideous. And the carpet they had installed in the master bedroom, the closet and the living area was bright red, and it had big burns in it. This, to me, is the weirdest part of the house – the front door is at the back, if you can imagine such a thing. You know, in some of these new houses, the front door is on the side…no, this is in the back! Also, there had been some problems with plumbing in the front. There was a huge hole dug in the front yard that had never been filled. And with all that, like everything else we saw, it was priced way out of our range. So you get the picture.

We left that house and looked at two others that day that were about half the size and really poor quality construction on lots that had nothing but weeds on them – both of them, still, way too expensive for us. Very discouraging. 

So we talked to the realtor and learned that a sale on that big house had been pending, but it had just fallen through, even though the negotiated price was way down from the original asking price. Now the owners of this house no longer lived in town. The house had been on the market for well over two hundred days and hadn’t sold because it was such a strange place. They were discouraged – maybe even more than we were. But not being able to afford anything we had looked at – large or small – I asked the realtor to submit an offer that was about 45% less than the original price. And before we heard back, I was talking to relatives about it, and one of them said to me, “We heard you looked at a really weird house.” And I replied that I never, in my wildest dreams, would have ever designed a house that way. But when I looked at the list Elaine and I had made up of things we needed in a house to last us to our old age, to my surprise, this house had everything single one of those things. So, although I didn’t like the house, it would have been sufficient. 

Elaine and I have seen God’s hand in our lives financially several times over the years – usually when we needed it the most. We had prayed that He would help us find a miracle house that would meet our needs, because we just couldn’t afford anything that would meet our needs, it seemed like. So we submitted that offer and the acceptance came back two hours later. They had accepted our offer. So we had a miracle house in a nice neighborhood, out of town a bit, with a beautiful view of the Sierra Nevada mountains from our family room windows, with room to do our two home businesses, have company, no stairs to climb, no yard work to do in a safe quiet neighborhood away from traffic. God showed us that house and I didn’t even recognize what it was. I was too restricted in my thinking. I was in the box and He was out of it. 

So to recognize this as the house God had prepared for us, we had to think outside the box. I think Elaine got out of the box faster than I did. I still was doubting it. So, we’re slowly fixing it up to meet our needs. We still wish the front door was at the front of the house, but hey, we have a Ring doorbell that we can put out by the two garage doors in front, so people can still talk to us and find their way. And once we replace the doors and the molding, it might actually look somewhat normal. So, we’re very thankful that we have a house that we could live in that we could afford to buy – barely – and God gave us something that was way bigger and way more than we actually needed. That’s the kind of God He is. Why does He do that? Well, because He can. And that’s what He did. 

The reason I mention these two “other side of the boat” experiences was to demonstrate what I want to bring forward to you today. Have you ever had any of these kinds of experiences? What helps us recognize them when they come? Peter went to the tomb, look in, saw Jesus was gone, heard the woman say the same, saw Jesus at least three times before he went to Galilee, was told by Jesus he would be over one of the twelve tribes of Israel and was to be a fisher of men. But when he got back home to Galilee, he thinks the only thing he can do is go back fishing. He definitely was not thinking out of the box.  

Now, since he was a fisherman, he knew that fish would be on both sides of the boat, if there were any fish there at all, and that it really didn’t matter, when fishing with a net, what side to put it down. So God showed him something was going on that he wasn’t seeing. This is the second time He’d showed him the same lesson. 

So what mindset do we need when God shows up in our lives? How do we recognize it? Well, I think about two things. One, by asking God to provide what we need. You know, there’s no record that the disciples prayed after Jesus died. And I know when we prayed for houses, it didn’t seem to help me any, but at least I knew I had been asking Him, and then, after a bit, I was able to recognize what had been given. And then, after asking for what we need, then we need to open our minds and open our eyes to receive it in the way He chooses to dispense it to us. God knows more about what we need, and when we need it, and how we need it than we do. 

I didn’t think we needed a 3,000 square foot home, but apparently, we do. And I didn’t we needed to do an evangelistic work in our old age, but apparently, we are – though I still don’t know why. And, if I had seen that earlier on, I would have seen podcasting when we first started our ministry, but I didn’t. I had to wait thirteen more years. 

So, look at some of the things Jesus said to His disciples while He was on the earth. This is all instruction about thinking out of the box. Matthew 6:25 – He said:

Matthew 6:25-34Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life – what you will eat or what you will drink – nor about your body – what you will put on. Is not life more than food – that’s what He wants us to understand. Outside the box is understanding that life is more than food or clothing – and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. So that’s pure undiluted thinking outside the box! But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things…. Now what does He mean by that – the Gentiles? Well, to the audience He’s speaking to – not to Him – this is God talking Jewish talk, so they can understand what He means. The unconverted people seek after all these things. The Gentiles were considered not spiritual people. They were the ones that were the pagans and they worshipped false gods and all that. Of course, they didn’t like to remember that God said He loved all those people too. …the Gentiles seek after all these things – people who don’t know God think this way – and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then, all these things will be added to you. Therefore, do not be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. So, more out of the box thinking. Just take it one day at a time – not that you don’t plan long-range. But when the day gets there, only worry about what you’ve got to get done today. 

So He’s saying, “You think about Me, follow Me, trust Me, and I’ll take care of you and everybody else.” That’s out of the box thinking for human beings. And then He says, in Matthew 7:7:

Matthew 7:7-11 – “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. This stuff, most of time, doesn’t just come to us. We have to ask for it. We have to go look for it. And we have to knock on the door. And, if we do, then the door is going to be opened, and we’re going to find what we’re looking for, and we’re going to be given what we asked for. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil – you who are like the Gentiles, who worry about physical stuff – know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! 

You know, when I was asking God to give us a house we could afford to live in – I mean, I did that. I asked, and I knocked on some doors, and I went out looking…. So you could say, “Well, okay, so your mind was open…” Well, I thought it was. But when I was given the gift, I didn’t recognize it, because it wasn’t what I was thinking about. (So I just had someone whisper in my ear, “I did.”) So He’s saying, “I want to give you what you need and more, so let me know what you need and want, and, if it fits the plan, I’ll give it to you. But, if it doesn’t, I’ll still give you good things – just different ones.” 

God has given us many good things when we asked for them, but the part I was missing was recognizing what I had been given. I looked at that house without even going in it, and said, “It’s too big. We can’t afford it.” So, I had an idea of what it was supposed to look like, and it wasn’t what I was looking for. So, it turned out the fish were on the other side of the boat. I just never thought to look there. 

Isaiah 55:9 – For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Did you know that while in Galilee and Jesus was asking Peter to feed His sheep, did you know that Jesus told Peter that his commitment to Christ would eventually lead to his own crucifixion? It is. It’s in John 21. You can read it. Now why would He do that? Well, I’ve thought a lot about that. Wouldn’t that be discouraging? Well, yeah, maybe, but maybe not, too. I don’t know about how it affected Peter, but I can think of one good reason. It doesn’t have anything to do with Peter, really. Today, the atheists tell us that the testimony of the disciples in the New Testament was a conspiracy they all entered into in order to perpetuate the story of Jesus rising from the dead. They probably got that idea from the New Testament itself, because the New Testament tells us that the Jews were suspicious that His disciples would steal His body and then claim that He was resurrected. So they suspected there was a conspiracy. But let me ask you this: If you were one who was in on such a lie, would you be willing to be crucified for it? I don’t think so. I personally think it was for us that Peter had to be crucified along with the ten other disciples. 

What that means is, the idea of a conspiracy about that in the face of death – that kind of death – doesn’t hold water logically. Most people who enter into a conspiracy are expecting to get something out of it, but all these men had been told they were going to die if they entered into a relationship with Christ. 

Now here’s something else to think about: Would you, in your wildest dreams, ever craft a plan of salvation like that? God the Father and Jesus Christ are a couple of brilliant, ingenious, wildly dynamic creators and planners. We can’t touch them in our thinking. We can never figure out what they’re going to do next. But one comforting thing we can know for sure, God knows best. So we don’t have to be afraid to fish on the other side of the boat. You never know what might come up.

Don’t forget to check out our Webpage, LifeResource Ministries. 

Until next time, this is Bill Jacobs for LifeResource Ministries, serving children, families and the Church of God.