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August 8, 2013

MAY: Back from the beach

John stood on the shore and gazed across the shallow waters to the fishing boat tied to the dock. In just a matter of moments, the boat would set to sea and John would be back to work.

It’s always difficult to go back, isn’t it? The drive home seems longer, yet takes less time. The time away energizes and revitalizes us. But work, well, it’s work.

John was a fisherman, came from a family of fisherman. His grandfather had moved to the area years ago searching for better fishing, more demand for the catch, and more opportunities for  the family. John’s brother is already on the boat, barking out commands, preparing to cast away from the dock before the sun breaks the horizon. Life was about to return to normal — the routine would be routine.

John had been away a little longer than expected. You really couldn’t call it a vacation — it was more an adventure. John had seen the poorest of the poor — people who were unsure of what their next meal would be and when. He had challenged those who were at the top of business ladders, who commanded soldiers and government agencies. He walked alongside those whose pillow was a stone and others whose sleep number bed said “38.”

The leader of the group, a teacher by trade, had taken them places they couldn’t have dreamed or imagined when they signed up. They had not traveled all that far from home — never farther than Chicago is from Louisville — but in some ways they had journeyed further than the east is from the west. Their leader had challenged them to look at people differently — to examine the inside rather than the outside. He enlivened them, inspired them, even sometimes provoked them to see everything in relationship to a bigger picture.

Indeed, they learned to look at business and education differently — not as an end to themselves, but as a means to touching people. They learned to look at the family differently — not as a place of competition and turmoil, but a haven of safety and rest. They learned that everyone faced the same struggles in living.

How will I provide for my family? How do I get along with troublesome people? Is there more to it than just this life? How should I handle tough times? What happens to me when I die?

Peter, one of the brashest in the group of John’s newfound friends, was always learning lessons from the teacher. Pete was not afraid of the spotlight, to be the spokesman, but often uttered words before contemplating their importance. He learned to pause for thought, to ponder before proceeding. Pete was always wanting to move mountains, to feed thousands, to walk on water. But it was the teacher who challenged him to get out of the boat.

So there John sat with his friends for one last time. Breakfast by the sea. A final opportunity to say “goodbyes,” to retell old stories before heading back to work and the daily grind. The teacher had appropriately prepared roasted fish. Voices and stirring quickly settled as the teacher began to speak.

Your adventure doesn’t have to end here. You know how to set sail and cast nets for a daily catch. Fish instead for men, which of course is of greater value. To put it another way, consider yourselves shepherds.

Take care of others. Watch over them. Protect them. Lead them along paths that are productive. Take them to still waters. Help them find pastures in which to graze. Be in the business of restoring souls. Be a part of something bigger than yourself. Come — feed my sheep.

John’s walk back to the boat was brisker — there was more energy in each step, more anticipation of the future. Maybe the lessons learned on the beach could actually be taken back to real life. This teacher from Nazareth had said, “Come.” And with reckless abandon, John came.

— Tom May is the Minister of Discipleship at Eastside Christian Church in Jeffersonville. He is an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Indiana University Southeast.

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