by Al Maxey

Issue #189 ------- May 12, 2005
Faith and doubt go hand in hand,
they are complementaries. One who
never doubts will never truly believe.

Hermann Hesse (1877-1962)

Breakfast on the Beach
Dramatic Dialogue at a Fish Fry
Analysis of John 21:15-17

There is a most dramatic post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to seven members of The Twelve that is recorded only in the gospel account of John. It is never mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). One of the most profound aspects of this encounter is the dialogue between Peter and Jesus which occurred after they had finished having breakfast together on the beach. Biblical scholars have long debated the spiritual significance of this conversation, and Bible translators have also often failed to perceive the subtle aspects of our Lord's interaction with this disciple who had just days before betrayed his Lord, denying Him three times. In this current Reflections we will seek to better understand the dynamics of the dialogue which occurred that day on the shoreline of the Sea of Tiberias. It was an exchange that would awaken the apostle Peter to the realities of his own relationship with Jesus, and which would also shape the course of his future walk with the Lord. It is without question one of the most significant dialogues recorded in Scripture, and is a source of tremendous insight into the psyche of a man who would become one of the great leaders of Christ's One Body.

The Catch

As John 21 opens, we are transported via the inspired narrative to the Sea of Tiberias (vs. 1), which is perhaps better known to us from the New Covenant writings as the Sea of Galilee (John 6:1). Although this body of water was located in the area known as Galilee, and was known by most Jews by that name, yet in 25 A.D. a city was built on the western shore by Herod Antipas to serve as the capital of the tetrarchy of Galilee and Peraea, and that city was given the name Tiberias (in honor of Tiberius Caesar). Some then naturally transferred the name of the city to the body of water as well, although many of the Jews refused to refer to it as such in protest against Roman occupation. The region "is almost seven hundred feet below sea level and the summer heat is almost unbearable" (The Wycliffe Historical Geography of Bible Lands, p. 134). It was located about 75 miles north of Jerusalem, so these seven disciples had traveled quite some distance since the death, burial, and subsequent resurrection of Jesus.

The seven present on this occasion were "Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples" (John 21:2). The two sons of Zebedee would be James and John (Matthew 4:21). As for the "two others," we can only speculate as to who they might have been. "The identity of the last two is uncertain, for no names are given ... but they could have been Philip and Andrew" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 199). Most scholars agree that these two are the most probable candidates for the "two other disciples." The reality, of course, is that there is simply no way to be certain on this point, nor is the identity of these two in any way significant to the dialogue between Jesus and Peter, which is truly the major focus of the narrative.

In John 21:3-8 we find the account of a very frustrating night of fishing -- they caught nothing. As day was breaking, however, they spotted a man standing on the beach, "yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus" (vs. 4). He asked them if they had caught any fish, and, of course, they answered that they had not. He then instructed them, "Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you will find a catch" (vs. 6). They followed this instruction and their nets became so filled with fish that they couldn't even haul them aboard. Instead, the disciples had to drag the fish-laden nets the 100 yards to shore (vs. 8). As soon as the fish had been caught, however, "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (which was John) said, "It is the Lord" (vs. 7).

Interestingly, we are informed as to the number of fish in the net. John 21:11 tells us the net was "full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn." The latter statement is significant due to the fact that in the previous miracle, which had caused John to recognize the figure on the beach as Jesus, the catch was so large that "their nets began to break" (Luke 5:6). Indeed, when they loaded the fish into their boats, even the boats began to sink (vs. 7). John, in the current situation, observes that even though the catch was large, yet the nets remained intact. Quite a contrast to the previous event on the same body of water. "Numerous attempts have been made to establish a symbolic meaning for the number of fish, but no solid results have been achieved. All attempts are too fanciful to be credible" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 200).

There was yet another very significant "memory marker" that would likely have triggered an earlier event in the mind of at least one of the disciples on the beach that day -- specifically: Peter. "And when they got out upon the land, they saw a charcoal fire already laid, and fish placed on it, and bread" (John 21:9). Around this charcoal fire they would share a breakfast on the beach with the risen Jesus (vs. 12-13). It was "when they had finished breakfast" (vs. 15), and also most likely still seated around this fire, that the dramatic dialogue would occur between Peter and Jesus. So, what is so significant about this charcoal fire? What possible event would this scene likely trigger in the mind of Peter? Well, it had not been that many days prior to this breakfast on the beach that Peter had been sitting with a group of people around a fire kindled in the courtyard of the house of the high priest. It was around this fire that he had denied Jesus three times!

One simply can't help but wonder, as Peter, just days later, sat around this fire on the beach of the Sea of Tiberias, if his mind was taken back to those previous burning embers and was reminded of the fact that he had denied this same Jesus with whom he now sat having breakfast. I believe he probably did, which made the upcoming dialogue with Jesus all the more emotionally and spiritually moving for Peter. It is also significant that the last meal he had shared with Jesus was the Passover meal on the night of His betrayal by Judas and arrest, a meal during which Jesus had informed Peter that he would deny Him; something that Peter vehemently asserted would never happen -- "Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!" (Luke 22:33). All of these memories must have flooded into the heart and mind of Peter as he shared this meal with His Lord around this fire. He was thus primed for the upcoming dialogue with Jesus that would be one of the most dramatic of his life, and also determinative of his upcoming walk with the Lord.

The Conversation

The critical conversation begins thusly -- "So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?'" (John 21:15). This would be the first of three questions addressed to Peter, with a divine commission following each of Peter's responses. Some see the three questions as being very much intentional on the part of Jesus, and standing in direct contrast to the three denials of Peter around a previous fire. It is regarded by some commentators as constituting Peter's golden opportunity to recant each of his three previous denials by means of three affirmations, with the subsequent commissioning serving to restore Peter to his "rightful place as leader" over the other disciples. Or, so goes the theory of several major interpretive works, and especially of Roman Catholic scholars who needed some passage to show Peter to be specially forgiven and specially commissioned by Christ as THE shepherd over the church. They tend to believe they find that "restoration to primacy" here in this passage.

In the first question addressed to Peter there are several points of special interest that need to be examined. First, and certainly not without significance, is the fact that Jesus addresses Peter as "Simon, son of John." Indeed, this is how Jesus addresses him throughout this dialogue. Typically, throughout the gospel records, this disciple had been addressed by the Lord as PETER. Indeed, that name had been given to him by Jesus Himself (John 1:42). Following his affirmation, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt. 16:16), Jesus said, "Thou art PETER, and upon this rock I will build My church ... And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven" (vs. 18-19). Again, the Roman Catholics interpret this to signify the church is built upon Peter, and to him is to be entrusted the "keys to the kingdom." Since he forfeited that right by his threefold denial, Jesus gave him the chance to regain the primacy over the church by a threefold confession. Again ... so goes the theory!

We won't attempt to go into detailed refutation of such a premise; it is beyond the scope of this current article. However, we simply observe that most scholars, myself included, believe it was upon the solid rock-like confession of this man as to who Christ Jesus was that the church would be established. Simon's faith and affirmation were firm as a rock. Thus, in the eyes of Christ, he was PETER (from a Greek word -- petros -- which simply meant "a rock or stone"). However, several days prior to this breakfast on the beach, Peter had NOT shown a rock-solid faith; indeed, he had denied Jesus Christ, not affirmed Him. Thus, I don't believe the significance would have been lost on this disciple when Jesus did NOT call him by the name "Peter," but rather returned to his prior name of "Simon, son of John." How this must have hurt like a dagger to the heart NOT to hear his Lord address him as "Peter." In a very real sense, it was a pointed challenge to his faith and devotion.

"Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?" (John 21:15). Second, there has been tremendous debate down through the centuries among biblical scholars as to the antecedent of the word "these." "Grammatically, the comparative adverb 'more' is followed by the ablative of comparison 'these'" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 201). In other words, Peter is clearly being challenged to make a comparison, and, subsequently, a decision. Our challenge, therefore, is to determine who or what Jesus had in mind when He asked Peter if he loved Him "more than these." Although there are a great many theories, some of which are rather bizarre, only two stand out as probable solutions:

  1. Fish, boats, fishing, friends. What did Peter love more? The things of this life, or his relationship with Jesus? Some see Jesus pointing toward the fish, and then the boats, and then his friends sitting there alongside him as He asked the question: "Who or what is FIRST in your heart, Simon? All of this you see around you ... or ME?!" David Lipscomb wrote, "We are sure ... it refers to the fishes and things of like character. 'Peter, do you love Me more than you love these things of the flesh?' We think fishes stand as the antecedent of 'these'" (A Commentary on the Gospel According to John, p. 322). The Expositor's Bible Commentary declares that this solution "seems least probable" (vol. 9, p. 201). I would concur. "It is scarcely worth while to notice the miserable translation that some few commentators have suggested: 'Lovest thou Me more than thou lovest these fishing-smacks and this thriving business on the lake?'" (The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 17).

  2. The other apostles of Christ Jesus. According to this view, which I believe to be the correct one, Jesus is asking Peter -- "Simon, do you really love me MORE than these other men sitting here love Me? Is your love for Me truly greater than theirs?" Part of the justification for this view may be found in a previous declaration of Peter himself just after the last Passover meal. While in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus predicted all these close disciples would "fall away." Peter spoke up and said, "Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away" (Matt. 26:33; Mark 14:29). In a sense, Peter had declared his devotion to Christ to be greater than that of the other disciples. Jesus now, in light of Peter's denial, seems to be asking, "Is it really greater than theirs?" "In view of Peter's boastful promise that whatever the others did he would not fail, this alternative seems more likely" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 201). This is also the view taken by most other biblical scholars and commentators.

In response to this first question by the Lord Jesus, the apostle Peter declared, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You" (John 21:15). In the vast majority of our English translations we find both Jesus and Peter using the word "love." This is somewhat misleading, however, for Jesus uses the Greek word agapao, whereas Peter responds with the Greek word phileo. Although a few commentators insist that there is no significance to this fact, and that the two words should be regarded as completely synonymous in this context, nevertheless the vast majority of biblical and Greek scholars differ with that view, and they see something of significance here. W.E. Vine, for example, points out that there is a clear distinction between the two words, "and they are never used indiscriminately in the same passage" (Expository Dictionary of OT and NT Words). To perceive this spiritual significance in the passage before us, we need to perceive the distinction between the two Greek words.

  1. AGAPAO --- This is a verb, the noun form of which may be more familiar to many readers -- Agape. "Agapao is the same word 'love' that appears in John 3:16. It is used of divine love and usually carries the connotation of will or purpose as well as that of affection" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 201). Adam Clarke, in his commentary, says this word "signifies to love affectionately, ardently, supremely, perfectly" (vol. 5, p. 662). "It is the strongest word for love that we have in the Bible. It is the word for a love that is absolutely unselfish" (Dr. H.A. Ironside, Addresses on the Gospel of John, p. 888). W.E. Vine regards this word as "the characteristic word of Christianity." The Pulpit Commentary regards this word as "the higher love of veneration which is the spring of the Christian life, not the feeling of mere natural affection or simple personal attachment, which would be phileo."

  2. PHILEO --- This also is a verb, and it "implies affinity, friendship, and fondness" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 201). Dr. H.A. Ironside writes, "It means affection such as exists between good friends. It is used for the love of one friend to another and for family affection. It suggests a lower quality of love than agapao" (Addresses on the Gospel of John, p. 888). "Phileo is to be distinguished from agapao in this, that the former more nearly represents tender affection" (W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of OT and NT Words).

In John 21:15 Jesus asks Peter if he truly loves (agapao) Him more than the other disciples do. Peter, humbled and humiliated by his recent denial of Jesus, was unwilling to assume for himself that higher love, perhaps even questioning in his own mind if he really could love that selflessly and sacrificially. However, he was willing to confidently express a deep affection (phileo) for Jesus. He certainly felt that, and does not hesitate to acknowledge it. Peter, obviously, has done some very intense soul-searching since his denial, and he has come to a more realistic appraisal of his spiritual condition and level of devotion ... and he finds himself somewhat lacking. "There was less doubt concerning Peter's attachment to Jesus than there was concerning his will to love at all costs" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 202). "He does not adopt the higher term that is used in the question, but contents himself with the mere term of simple and friendly relationship" (The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 17). Adam Clarke, in his commentary, suggests Peter's response implies, "Lord, I feel an affection for Thee -- I do esteem Thee -- but dare, at present, say no more" (vol. 5, p. 662).

Jesus "said to him again a second time, 'Simon, son of John, do you love Me?' He said to Him, 'Yes, Lord; You know that I love You'" (John 21:16, NASB). This exchange is identical to the first question and response, with a significant difference in one respect -- Jesus drops the phrase "more than these." No longer is the Lord asking Peter if his love is greater than the love of his fellow disciples, which he had earlier professed. Peter obviously was no longer willing to acknowledge such, especially in light of his recent denial. Thus, Jesus drops the comparative. Now, He simply asks if indeed Peter possesses agapao at all. Once again, Peter is unwilling to confess to a higher love than his self-assessment recognizes within his heart. He only admits to an "affection" (phileo) for the Lord. Some suggest, to the credit of Peter, that he is at least seeking to be personally honest at this time, rather than professing something he isn't sure within his own heart he can produce. This would certainly seem to show a much more reflective Peter. Furthermore, Jesus does not even hint that such a lesser profession from Peter is something for which he needs to be rebuked at this time. Jesus accepts and commissions Peter in spite of his unwillingness to acknowledge agapao. Indeed, some suggest he may even have been commissioned at this time because of his evident change from his former aggressive assertiveness (even arrogance, some suggest) to a more humble reflectiveness. Such a demeanor would serve this devoted disciple far better in the coming years as he served his Savior.

Jesus "said to him the third time, 'Simon, son of John, do you love Me?' Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, 'Do you love Me?' And he said to Him, 'Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You'" (John 21:17). In this third question to Peter, although it sounds the same as the other two in most English translations, Jesus has made a very significant change in His wording. Jesus no longer uses the word agapao, but switches to the word Peter had been using: phileo. Thus, Jesus, in effect, asks, "Simon, do you even have affection for Me?" In the first two questions Jesus had wanted to determine if (1) Peter's love was truly greater than the love of the other disciples, and (2) if he even felt this higher love at all. However, in the third question Jesus now challenges the love that Peter was willing to profess. It is for this reason that we are told Peter was "grieved," not that Jesus had simply repeated a question three times (as a few commentators have incorrectly suggested). "A wrong turn is given when Peter is thought to grieve because Jesus asked him about his love for the third time. If this was correct, his grieving should have begun when he was asked the second question" (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of John, p. 1425).

Again, Peter affirms his affection for Jesus, and appeals to the Lord's omniscience to validate those feelings! "Lord, You know all things; thus, You KNOW that I have affection for You!" Indeed, Peter did; and in time he would also come to that deeper, self-sacrificial love, willingly laying down his life rather than deny his Lord. Jesus even informs Peter of this as they sat around that campfire on the beach that day --- "'Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself, and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.' Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, 'Follow Me!'" (John 21:18-19). Yes, Peter did follow Jesus all the rest of his days, even following him to the cross (if the tradition of Peter's death by crucifixion is correct). Years after this breakfast on the beach, Peter's faith had grown; his knowledge had increased; his affection had grown into genuine love, a love for Jesus that was so powerful it enabled him to affirm his faith in Jesus, even unto death!

"The questioning was painful, Peter was grieved, but the grief was wholesome and Peter's whole subsequent life bore proof of the discipline. His rashness was forever gone" (David Lipscomb, A Commentary on the Gospel According to John, p. 323). "He could not be spared this pain. In his denials even all common affection and regard for Jesus had been thrown to the winds. He claimed that he did not even know the man! Peter must drink the cup of full and complete confession. ... His humility stands the test of this third question" (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of John, p. 1426).

The Commission

One of the truly marvelous and moving aspects of this entire dialogue between Peter and Jesus is the manifestation of grace by the latter. Even though Peter in some ways came up lacking in this reflective encounter, yet the love and grace of our Lord was limitless. Jesus knew Peter better than Peter did! He knew his heart, and the Lord saw his boundless potential for service in the kingdom. Indeed, He always had! Just before His arrest, and after informing Peter that he would deny him three times, Jesus told Peter, "Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you shall follow later" (John 13:36). Jesus was speaking of His death, and of the fact that one day Peter himself would face that same fate. We see Him speaking of this again in His dialogue with Peter on the beach (John 21:18-19). On that same earlier occasion following the last Passover meal with His disciples, Jesus told Peter, "Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith many not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers" (Luke 22:31-32). Peter's faith faltered, but it never failed. He did indeed "turn again," and spent the remainder of his life strengthening the brethren in the most holy Faith. Jesus never doubted that Peter would fulfill his mission, and thus our Lord, following the breakfast on the beach, commissioned Peter yet again.

The commissioning occurred in three stages, each of which followed immediately after Jesus' question and Peter's response. In the first, Jesus says to Peter, "Feed My lambs" (John 21:15). In the second, He says, "Shepherd My sheep" (vs. 16). In the third, our Lord says, "Feed My sheep" (vs. 17). There are two different Greek words being used by Jesus for those to whom Peter is to render service, and there are two different Greek words employed by Jesus for the nature of that service. The Lord spoke of lambs (arnion -- used in vs. 15) and sheep (probaton -- used in vs. 16 & 17). David Lipscomb wrote, "If there was special significance in changing from lambs to sheep, I do not know what it is" (Commentary on the Gospel According to John, p. 322). At least he was honest about it!

Arnion was the term used to signify a very young lamb; a lambkin. It was an affectionate term and often was used by the ancient peoples of the area as a term of endearment for little children. Probaton was the word for a sheep, usually referring to those who were grown. It is used many times in both OT and NT to refer to the people of God. Most scholars believe the use of both words signify that Peter's shepherding responsibilities would be inclusive of all within the flock of Jesus Christ -- young and old, children and aged saints; mature disciples as well as new converts. Too many shepherds in the church spend most of their time, if not all, ministering to the adults of the congregation. Jesus seems to be saying, "Don't you forget the lambkins; the children ... they must be ministered to as well." Indeed, in the commissioning of Peter, the lambkins come FIRST. Elders, we dare not lose our young people, and spiritual neglect by the pastors will do just that! Jesus had a special place in His heart for children ... so should the shepherds of His flock. The same holds true for new converts and those immature in the faith. Both of these groups of lambkins need special care and attention. "This consideration of the next generation, and gracious care for the children and the child-like of every successive age, is one of the sacred signs of divine revelation" (The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 17).

With regard to both young lambs (vs. 15) and older sheep (vs. 17 -- the older and more mature disciples), Jesus commissions Peter to "feed" them. This is the Greek word bosko, which means "to feed, nourish, to let graze." It appears grammatically as a Present Active Imperative, thus signifying a command to be continuously acted upon. Shepherds must never stop feeding the flock; they must always be about the business of leading the sheep to nourishing grasslands where they may graze in peace. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters" (Psalm 23:1-2). He nourishes His sheep, seeing that both young and old receive the proper diet and care. Lambkins, for example, may need milk for a time, rather than the green pasture. The good shepherd provides according to the need; both for young and old, mature and immature. Not all shepherds are good shepherds, however -- "Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves. Should not the shepherds feed the flock?" (Ezekiel 34:2).

In John 21:16, Jesus uses a different word. He says, "shepherd My sheep." This is the Greek word poimaino, which means "to shepherd; to look after, tend to." It also appears grammatically as a Present Active Imperative, thus once again signifying a command to be continuously acted upon. Shepherds never cease shepherding! They don't punch a time-clock after eight hours and leave the sheep in the wilderness; they are constantly among them. Peter definitely understood the commission of his Lord here, for he would later write to his fellow elders in the church -- "Shepherd (poimaino) the flock of God among you, exercising oversight" (1 Peter 5:2). "The shepherding of the sheep is an essentially necessary and integral portion of every pastor's care. When assailed by the wolf of heresy, by the hostile marauder, by special danger, unless he can in self-forgetting love pilot and protect his flock, he is no true shepherd" (The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 17). I think the advice of the great reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546) would be appropriate at this juncture -- "Do not, my brother, exchange the shepherd's staff of the gospel for the driver's stick of the law." Sheep must be led, not driven, and there is no better way for a shepherd to lead his sheep than through a Christ-like example, and no better way to nourish them than on the good news of Jesus Christ.

The Conclusion

I don't know about you, but I find great comfort and hope in the timeless example of Simon Peter. Here was a man who, though frail and flawed in some respects, nevertheless devoted his life to selfless service to the Lord. Did he make mistakes? Yes, he did. Did he weep bitterly over his moments of failure? Yes, he did. Did he, at times, question his own level of devotion and commitment? Again, the answer is in the affirmative. Peter and Al Maxey have much in common in that respect, and I suspect that he and you are quite similar too. We can relate to Peter, because Peter, like each of us, at times demonstrated his humanity.

Peter often struggled with Peter ... just as Al Maxey often struggles with Al Maxey. We know ourselves only too well, and what we perceive within our hearts is not always comforting. Yet, thanks be unto God, Jesus sees us for what we can be, rather than for what we too often are. He doesn't excuse us, but He encourages us; He doesn't condemn us, but rather challenges our level of faith and devotion, and then commissions us to go forth and excel in His service. Jesus takes common, earthen vessels and lifts them up for holy service to Almighty God. We are inadequate in ourselves, but we are empowered in Him! Praise God for His grace!

Simon Peter walked away from that charcoal fire that morning on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias a new man. He sat there in the sand unable to declare a self-sacrificial love for Jesus, and yet he walked away from that breakfast commissioned by Christ. In the years to come his love grew, and some three decades later, when his faith was put to the ultimate test, he affirmed his love for His Lord and suffered martyrdom rather than deny his faith or his Master. When Peter looked into his own heart, he saw only phileo; when Jesus looked into his heart, He saw agapao. Dear Lord and Father, when You look into my heart, may You see the same potential as you saw in his ... and if not, transform me by Your Spirit!! Like Peter, too often I see only affection. Father, help me achieve that depth of love that is willing to sacrifice self in Your service.

Reflections from Readers

From a Minister in Ukraine:

Dear brother Al, Greetings in the name of our precious Lord Jesus! I am writing to tell you that your article on Fanny Crosby was great! I had read about her before, but still your article made me cry! We sing her hymns translated into Russian. They are great! God bless you, brother, for the marvelous work you are doing.

From a Reader in Louisiana:

Bro. Al, Thanks for the article on Fanny J. Crosby. My husband is blind, and he has been collecting many of her works for a museum that is being started at the National Federation of the Blind. I am blessed that you wrote this article. Believe it or not, there are some people who have determined that because she did not go to a Church of Christ, she is going to hell. I know this shouldn't appall me after all these years, but it hurt my heart and sent my head into a spin. They are more than happy to sing her words, but those words (in their minds) when sung by her were just vain worship. I am not sure I understand the reasoning, but, nonetheless, these folks really seem to believe it. I read and enjoy your Reflections, and often even forward them to the appropriate parties. It is a blessing to read something by someone who has intellectual integrity, and who does not just parrot a party line. Thanks for that! By the way, I have been accepted for doctoral work, which starts for me June 7th. Please pray for me!

From a Reader in Florida:

I thoroughly enjoyed this article on Fanny Crosby. She was really an amazing woman and a wonderful Christian. Then I think about the fact that there are a lot of people that probably think she was doomed to go to hell. How really sad for them.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Brother Al, I wept when I read your Reflections article on Fanny J. Crosby. For many of us, learning about the grace of God has come from these powerful songs. Imagine that! We learned of God's love and grace from someone who would not even be considered a Christian in our fellowship. While visiting a non-cooperative congregation recently, we sang the great song: "My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less." I especially wanted to observe the minister as we got to the phrase, "dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne." He was singing his heart out, even though he doesn't believe in the imputed righteousness of Christ! Al, please let us know if/when you are going to be in Atlanta, we would like to meet you in person!

From a Reader in California:

What a story! What a story! The tears would not stop flowing from my eyes as I read the words you wrote about this great woman. She may never have seen a flower, or read a single word from the Bible with her eyes, but she certainly saw more with her heart than most people could ever imagine! What a woman, and what a believer!

From a Reader in Alabama:

What a wonderful piece, brother Al. She wrote the hymns the whole world sings. In fact, that's how I titled it when I forwarded this article of yours on to others.

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Without a doubt, some of my favorite hymns were written by this remarkable woman. Sister Crosby is just another example of God's Spirit working through women to edify His church! I can't wait to sit beside her in heaven and sing praises to the great I AM! Fantastic article, Al. God bless you!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Bro. Al, Great article on Fannie J. Crosby! While reading through the readers' comments section of your Reflections, I have recently begun to realize that more and more of our brethren are beginning to think and study, and thus reject the negative and depressing legalism of many of our congregations. It is encouraging to see this movement away from that grow -- and you, brother, are greatly responsible!! I stumbled onto your web site quite some time ago by "accident." I was reading one of the legalistic and negative web sites, and they were talking about you. So, I pulled up your web site and have been greatly blessed ever since. You know, I think God had a hand in that. As for that other web site, I don't even remember what it was!!

You may remember that my wife and I passed through Honolulu, Hawaii in 1993 on our way home from Saudi Arabia. We attended Sunday services where you were preaching. We got up and walked out after your Bible study because, as I told my wife, "You could have taught that in a Baptist church!" I now have to chuckle when I remember this, because ... Boy! Have I come a long way since then!! You know, I just happened to think, maybe God sent me there to hear you for a reason, but I was just not ready to listen at that time. May God richly bless you in the great work you are doing.

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, Greetings from the heart of Texas. It's been a while since my last email to you. I just finished reading your article on Fanny J. Crosby. What a great way to spend a few minutes. It brought back some memories I thought you might enjoy hearing. In August of 1999, my wife and I parted ways with a congregation we had been members of for 19 years, and where I had been the main song leader for 17 of those 19 years. The congregation we moved to, in a neighboring town, had a membership of about 140. They soon found out I was a song leader and put me to work. One Sunday evening I decided to lead all Fanny J. Crosby songs. I put together a much briefer history than yours, but adequate for the evening, and presented it. During the talk, I made the comment that in her songs she taught some of the greatest messages about Jesus that can be found anywhere. I also made the comment that she was a life-long Christian and identified with the Methodist church most of her life. After the service was dismissed, and I started down the aisle, several of the members greeted me and thanked me for the history on Fanny, and told me how much they appreciated my brief talk.

That attitude changed as I left the auditorium and was greeted by the minister, who said, "I need to talk to you in my office!" We got in there and the first question out of his mouth was: "Do you really believe that Fanny J. Crosby, a Methodist, was a Christian?" I answered, "Yes!" He asked, "Do you believe that a woman can teach?" I answered, "Yes!" He asked, "Do you believe that musical instruments can be used in the worship?" I answered, "Yes!" We were definitely on the opposite ends of the spectrum! But, surprisingly, that meeting initiated a very deep respect for each other, based on an awareness of the fact that we didn't arrive at our views without deep personal study. The outcome of that meeting was that three months later he and another man in the congregation were appointed elders, and they asked me and two others to be deacons. We were totally different in our views, and yet, through the life and songs of Fanny J. Crosby, a door of was opened to understanding and respect for each other's views. Who said women can't teach and preach? She was doing it in a way that was open to her in her lifetime, and her messages are still being preached today every time we sing one of her timeless songs!

From a Reader in Nebraska:

Just a note to say that I greatly appreciated your exposition entitled, "Evangelizing the Enslaved." As a former Seventh-Day Adventist minister, this article was very relevant to me. I have emailed the link to several friends. You can read my testimony online at the following web site -- -- Simply click on the "Stories" button and then scroll down to my article, which is titled, "Beyond Adventism: The 'Truth' Re-examined." Interestingly, I have an older brother who lives in Alamogordo, NM. Sadly, he has never accepted Jesus as his personal Savior and Substitute. Thank you for your able and important ministry.

From a New Reader in Wisconsin:

Al, Please add me to the email list for your Reflections. I read "Evangelizing the Enslaved" today and I was truly blessed. I come from the Seventh-Day Adventist church, and I can tell you your message hits home in our denomination! Thanks.

From a Reader in Florida:

Al, The profile on Fanny J. Crosby was so heartwarming, and was a most interesting bio of her dedicated life to God. I congratulate you on such a well-written article, and want to thank you for your dedication, too. Please add our friend and minister's name to your e-mail list for Reflections.

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