IF YOU’RE NOT FISHING,
YOU’RE NOT FOLLOWING
January 2, 2005
Well, Happy New Year! We have a new year, and a new chance to evaluate our priorities. Notice I didn’t say make New Year’s Resolutions, which I personally thing is a waste of time, and 99% of the time, doomed to failure. Let me tell you why. A change of behavior always arises from a change of priorities. I have found that if we become convinced that something is important, then we change our lives in such a way to meet that priority. If we don’t think something’s important, then we never make time for it. It starts with what we think.
And more than that: we have to come to a place were an idea, a priority, slides from our heads to our hearts. How many times have some you know (and maybe it was you) only quit smoking after someone they knew developed lung cancer or had a stroke? It wasn’t as if their friend’s cancer gave them new information: everybody knows that smoking cigarettes is about as the craziest thing you can do if you care about your health. But when it’s Ben from work or your cousin Carlos, then it changes. It’s personal. It hits home.
This week and next week, at the outset of the year, I want to focus like a laser beam and bring into your world the reality that God uses people like you and me to tell others about God’s incredible wonderful love, and that there’s no higher privilege than to be used by God to introduce people to Jesus Christ. Not only that, Jesus told us that looking for ways to share His love with people is inseparable from our identity as followers of Him. Or, to put it in the words I hope to just stamp on your brain and your hearts,
IF YOU’RE NOT FISHING, YOU’RE NOT FOLLOWING!
That’s based on this passage, from Mark’s Gospel, 1:16-20:
16As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." 18At once they left their nets and followed him.
19When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
Mark’s account of the story of Jesus tends to tell stories like the ra-ta-tat of a machine gun. He must have had a teacher who said to him, “Mark, get to the point!” because he always does. Earlier in this chapter, Mark tells about John the Baptist, and how he baptized Jesus, and the fact that Jesus went out into the desert. Then in just a few words, he tells us that after John went to prison, Jesus came telling people that “NOW IS THE TIME” and it’s time to “repent and believe the good news!”
Now we see Him at the shore of the Sea of Galilee. What Mark leaves out—John fills us in on this—is that this wasn’t first time Jesus had met these guys. But it was the time to make a decision. They’d gotten some idea of who Jesus is, and what His message is, and now, Jesus shows up and says. “OK guys, what will it be? You in or you out?”
And He says it in a way that both builds on what they were familiar with and tells them that what He was doing was what they’ll be doing:
17"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men."
What Jesus does here is put an equal sign between “following” Him and “fishing for people.” (It is “people,” not just “men”: Mark uses the “generic” word for “human beings” here, anthropos.)
If you Jesus seriously, then you’ll realize that when He calls you to follow Him, He’s calling you to follow in the pattern of His ministry. And He communicated that to these guys, who knew just about everything there is to know about fishing, at least at the Sea of Galilee.
When we were there in ’99, our first night in Galilee, we stayed at a hotel in Tiberius that was right on the shore. The “sea” of Galilee is only about nines miles long, north to south, and maybe five miles wide at the widest point. You can see the whole thing at any given point on the shore. And one thing that I’ll never forget is the sound of fish jumping out of the water then splashing back in that I could hear in the dark of our first night there. The place teems with fish. No wonder so many made their living on fishing it.
These guys lived to fish. Most of them had probably had generations of fishermen in their families. They knew the right time of day to go to the right spots; the right bait for the species they wanted to catch. They knew the right places to use a drag net to catch fish, and the right places to use a casting net.
They knew all about the accessories of fishing as well. They knew all about boats and nets and hooks and tackle. And they knew what to do with a fish once you’ve caught it. They knew how to scale it, how to preserve it and how to market it.
Verses 19-20 tell of Jesus calling the sons of Zebedee to follow Him—James and John. Zebedee and Sons was wealthy enough that they had “hired hands” and there’s some evidence that the Zebedee family has enough wealth for a second home—in Jerusalem! These guys weren’t “subsistence” fishermen: they were real experts with a profit to show for it.
What Jesus wants these guys to do is take them same sense of passion for catching fish and put it toward catching people. He’s saying in a sense, “I want you to think: where’s the best place to ‘catch’ people? What’s the right equipment to use? What’s the right bait? What are the different kinds of people you encounter and how do you adjust to their differences to effectively catch as many of them as possible?”
Paul was an outstanding “fisher of men” and he understood this principle thoroughly. He writes in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:
19Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.
(In other words, to catch Jewish fish—lox? Kippers? Geflite fish?—he went to Jewish ponds! He hung around Jewish people, talked Jewish talk, dressed as a Jew, and so forth.)
21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law.
(Among non-Jewish fish, Paul swam a bit differently! He knew the lingo and customs of Greeks and Romans, so, without compromise, he could fit in there and ‘fish’ there with a little intentional effort.)
22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
My friend Jon Karn says every church should have a Gumby Award it gives out annually. That’s for the most flexible person in the church! Paul was a “Gumby” for Jesus in his flexible approach to sharing what it means to follow Jesus.
To fish, you have to be flexible. If you say, “I only fish Tuesday evenings from 7-9 PM,” guess what? You’re going to miss a lot of fish. If you say, “I only fish exactly 100 yards off the shore due south of the big pine tree,” guess what? You’re going to miss a lot of fish.
The key thing is, you have to go where the fish are. You have to go where the people are. You have to go where the spiritually responsive people are. You have to go with the right frame of mind, the right equipment, the right attitude, and the right plan. Let me take those one at a time.
The right frame of mind: for the glory of God.
To fish for people is not a competition. It’s no for my glory. It’s not to make my church stronger or bigger. It’s not even just for compassion on the fish. It’s so God gets the glory.
John Piper wrote a powerful book on the theology of Christian missions entitled Let the Nations Be Glad! In it, he points out that missions (and missions is just fishing in a pond far from home!) is for the sake of God’s glory. It’s so God will be worshipped now and forever. It is for the purpose gathering more worshippers to God.
The problem is, we don’t really get how glorious God is, and how awesome a role He’s given us—to gather worshippers for Almighty God. God is so glorious that He deserves all the praise His creation can give Him. He is the center of all, not us. That’s God’s own perspective as well. God created us for His glory. Isaiah 43:6b-7 says,
Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth--7everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made."
That’s why we evangelize: to maximize the glory God receives. God is worthy of all glory!
You also have to have…
The right equipment: the word of God.
To fish, you need a boat, the right nets, the right lures and so on. The main piece of equipment you need for fish for people is the word of God.
God’s word is not just black marks on white paper. Hebrew 4:12 reminds us
12For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
God’s word—either the written word direct from the pages of the Bible, or the shared word that comes from our lips—is powerful!
Listen: I believe in relational evangelism. I believe that the most effective evangelism takes place in the context of people growing in the mutual knowledge of one another, and in that relationship the reality of the greatness of Jesus is shared naturally. But don’t give me this nonsense about, “I don’t share my faith with my words; I share it with my life.” That’s nonsense. I mean, really, when was the last time someone said to you, “Goodness gracious, you have such a wonderful, happy, fulfilled life; would you kindly share your secret?” I guess it happens sometimes, but I don’t think it happens very often. No, eventually words are needed. The good news about Jesus is conveyed, at the point of decision, but words that make sense of God’s love and plan and our need to respond to that plan.
Next you need…
The right attitude: the patience that comes from the Holy Spirit.
According to Galatians 5:22, patience is part of the fruit of the Spirit. That’s exactly why I’m a lousy fisherman. (And I have to admit that it’s been years since I tried.) The idea of just waiting (plus the fact that I’m a deadly hazard with I’ve tried to cast a line).
But when it comes to fishing for people, patient is more that a virtue: it’s an essential attitude. People want—the need—and they deserve the time needed make a fully informed decision to follow Jesus Christ. In our new member’s class, we talk about the fact that people need time, they need answers, and they need community. I don’t know about you, but whenever a salesman tells me, “You can only get this price if you buy today,” I know it’s time to leave. If he’s trying to rush me into a decision, maybe it’s because there’s something wrong with his product, and he doesn’t want me to have time to figure out what’s wrong.
The attitude we’re to take with people and their relationship to God is clear: tell them that God’s door is open now, but that that door is going to stay open for as long as they need to make an informed, mature decision. We need to stay in the boat with the nets down long enough to make it possible.
Finally, there’s also…
The right plan: to make, mature and mobilize disciples for Jesus Christ.
You not a successful fisherman if you can haul ‘em and then let ‘em rot. In the case of real fish, you have to get them to market, time is off the essence, and you’ve got to sell them.
In the case of the metaphorical fish that Jesus talks about, catching isn’t enough either. There is timely follow-up and long-term discipleship.
You see, Jesus’ intention is to really change people—to transform people. His intention isn’t to have people “make a decision”; it to be transformed, and then make a lifetime of Godward decisions.
My friend Steve Robbins tells the story of being at a Christian concert at Magic Mountain when he was in his late teens. In the middle of the set, they paused and said, “How many of you want to receive Jesus?” Hundreds of hands went up. “Just ask him in,” they said. “Say, come in me, Lord Jesus.” He paused and said, “Did that hurt?” And hundreds of teens said, “NO!” Later he and his friend said, “Did they really become like Jesus? Did they really become followers of Jesus? NO!”
But did those fish get “caught”? Maybe it was more like they grazed the net or at best were left to rot on the deck of the boat. Real evangelism means that the good news is clearly presented, and people make a commitment to follow Christ knowing that that will mean very real changes in the way they live.
To make that happen, you need timely follow-up and long-term discipleship. A caught fish will start to go bad in no time flat. In the spiritual realm, that means that you have to move quickly to make sure that a “decision” is also a commitment.
That means that someone just in the door the Kingdom of God needs some loving guidance to get started well and to move in the right direction. In the near future, I’m going to be challenging all of our study groups to make sure that each one has someone equipped to do one-to-one discipleship tailored for new believers.
Then comes the commitment to long-term discipleship. (Think of that as getting the fish to market, selling it and getting to the consumer’s table.) To “fish for people” means to get them the whole way, into the place God wants them to be, not just to make a one-time, superficial decision.
Our church’s mission statement puts discipleship at the center of what God’s called us to do. The mission statement says—and let’s say together—it’s there on the screen and in your message outline:
As a Spirit-blessed community of worshippers, we have been called by God to MAKE disciples (growing in numbers), MATURE disciples (growing in depth) and MOBILIZE disciples (growing in ministry), who love the Lord our God above all others, and touch people with the greatness of Jesus Christ.
Now next week, we’re going to focus on the word “make” (Mark 1:17):
"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men.”
How does Jesus “make” us “fishers of men”? How did He do that with His first disciples? And then, we’ll get really specific about the “fish” God’s called you to catch. That’s next week.
But for now, let’s prayer…
© Glenn Layne 2005