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Fishing with a Blackberry

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Mark 1:14-20

Would you rather be paid cash or a compliment? An article in Wednesday’s news says that each activates the same reward center in the brain. In other words, you feel as good when people same something nice about you as when they give something nice to you. Just for the record, our finance committee would rather you put money in the plate than compliment the ushers.

But that’s not all we want you to do. We want you to give of your time and talents to the cause of the Kingdom as well. For weeks now you’ve been hearing about the “gospel,” the good news that God loves us and has sent his Son to redeem us. We’ve talked about the gospel and us, the gospel and relationships, the gospel and the church, and now taking the gospel to our community.

The trouble is, most of us are uncomfortable talking to other people about our faith. We’re afraid they’ll ask a question we can’t answer and we’ll be embarrassed, or that we’ll offend them. We would like our friends and colleagues and neighbors to know Christ, to understand and believe the gospel, but we feel inadequate to the task. We’d rather trust the professionals, the same way we don’t practice medicine unless we’re a doctor or try to fly a plane unless we’re a pilot. Someone could get hurt.

We know that Jesus called us to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) starting in our “Jerusalem” (Acts 1:8), our community. Some people don’t care about winning the lost, but most of us do. We’re just not sure we can do much to help.

If you want your life to count for God’s Kingdom but aren’t sure how to go about it, you’re the person I’ve been sent to help this morning. I need to answer two questions.

Why does God need you?

Jesus called his disciples to be “fishers of men.” Why? Why do we need to give other people the gospel? Why tell them about Jesus? There are several very honest questions wrapped up in this issue.

First, aren’t the fish fine where they are?

Why do they need our boat? Our lake? Our religion?

Our postmodern society believes that the individual is the sole arbiter of truth, the only one with the right to say what is right and wrong. There are no absolutes. We have no right to impose our reality, our values on others. Religion is a private, personal, subjective thing. Except that people make these claims as absolute truths. And to deny absolute truth is to make an absolute truth claim.

But do we really believe that the good people we know who don’t happen to be born-again Christians are going to hell? Your neighbor down the street who works hard, loves his kids, and lives a moral life needs to accept your religion to go to heaven? Your friend at work who believes in God and lives a good life needs more than that?

God says they do. Jesus was clear: “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14.6a). Acts 4:12 says that there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. John 3:18 says that whoever does not believe in Jesus is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

And there is a heaven and a hell. Jesus claimed, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6b). This is the only way into the “Lamb’s Book of Life.” And Revelation 20:15 warns us, “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Just because someone doesn’t believe in hell makes it no less real. I can decide to ignore terrorists, but that doesn’t make them go away.

People need us to find them. You are not imposing your own subjective values on them. Their eternal souls are at stake.

Second, isn’t this a job for professionals?

Many of us enjoy fishing, but we’d never survive if it were our living. That’s why God calls professional “ministers,” right?

Actually, he doesn’t. If this were true Jesus would have called rabbis and scholars to be fishermen, but he didn’t. He called Galileans to reach Galileans, tax collectors to reach tax collectors, fishermen to catch fish.

The idea that “clergy” would do the ministry while “laity” pay their salaries and watch is a third-century invention, not a biblical concept. Ephesians 4:12 says that the job of religious leaders is to equip God’s people for works of service. We’re the coaches–you’re the players.

Third, don’t we have all the fish we need?

Our boat has plenty of fish on board, doesn’t it? We have a bigger boat than nearly anyone else, and the fishermen seem happy. Don’t we have all we need?

The fact is, 85% of church growth today is transfer from church to church, swapping fish from boat to boat. Less than 1% of today’s churches are growing primarily by conversions.

When we last checked, we discovered that there are 114,000 unchurched people within three miles of this “boat.” Not until every person has a realistic opportunity to be saved, churched, and discipled, can we quit fishing.

What does God ask of you?

So God needs you. To do what? To go to the fish, where they are, because most of them won’t come to us. That’s what the men in our text were doing: “casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen” (v. 16).

Fishermen in Jesus’ day used two kinds of nets. The sagene was a trawling net, dragged behind the boat.

The more common was the amphiblestron, a circular net weighted on the perimeter with a rope attached at the middle. As it sank down into the water and closed, it trapped the fish, which were then hauled into the boat by hand. This was the kind of fishing Peter and Andrew were doing. These were the nets being “prepared” and repaired by James and John after their fishing was done.

This was hard, skilled work. When our tour groups were in Israel recently, we took a brief boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. The captain had a net like the amphiblestron, which he cast over the side while we watched. It tangles very easily, and is hard to cast. When it sinks into the water, it is very heavy to haul back. It is not large, so the chances of catching fish on a single cast are small. It would take many casts, throwing and retrieving all day or night, to catch enough fish for a man to support his family.

It would have been far easier for them to fish from the bank, waiting for the fish to come to them. But fishing doesn’t work that way. Neither does fishing for men.

Most non-Christians feel about our faith like we feel about Mormonism or Islam or Buddhism. You probably didn’t decide between coming to Park Cities today or going to a Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall. You’re not really concerned with what Rabbi Stern talked about in his sermon last night at Temple Emmanuel, or what Imam Zia discussed in his sermon at the Irving Mosque on Friday. You’re not going to go to them.

Your non-Christian friends feel the same way about us. How many non-Christians do you suppose are in worship today? Of those who are here, how many do you suppose decided this morning to visit our worship service? They would all be welcome, but not many would come. That’s why we must go to them.

God wants us to go fishing, using whatever technique will catch fish.

These men would rather have sat on the shore with a fishing pole in their hand, but that wasn’t the way to catch fish. If you’ve been fishing, you know that you have to go where the fish are and use whatever bait they’re biting. You may rather use artificial lures, since they’re clean and tidy, rather than minnows or worms or shrimp eggs. But what you want to use doesn’t matter–what the fish want to bite is what counts.

We must meet the felt needs of our friends and neighbors if we want to meet their spiritual needs. We must earn the right to tell them about our Lord. Otherwise they’ll feel that we’re imposing our faith and values, intruding in their private lives, being judgmental and intolerant. They must know that we care about them first. As Ken Medema puts it, don’t tell me I have a friend in Jesus until you show me I have a friend in you.

Who needs an encouraging note or email from you? A phone call of support? An offer of help? What can you do to earn the right to tell your neighbor about your Lord?

God wants us to fish with the equipment he has given us for the job.

These men learned to be courageous, tough, strong, resilient in their work, all characteristics they would need in fishing for men. They would face ridicule, slander, torture, prison, and martyrdom for their faith. What they learned in risking their lives on the water they would use in risking their lives for the gospel.

In the same way, God has gifted and prepared you to serve him today. You have experience and expertise he wants to use in his service. That’s why every believer absolutely should know his or her spiritual gifts. We’ve made it easy for you–go to www.pcbc.org and click on “ministries” and then “ministry discovery.” You’ll find forms which will help you identify your spiritual gifts and calling for ministry. They’ll take you less than 30 minutes to complete. Then contact the ministry discovery team so they can help you connect your gifts with a place of service.

I am convinced that every Christian in this room should do this, this week.

And God wants us to define success as a church by the fish we catch for Christ. Not by the size of our boat or number of our fishermen but by the fish we catch. By souls saved and lives changed. By the number of people we help to follow Jesus, the people we reach and disciples we make.

The church is the only organization on earth which exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not yet its members. We can make fishermen happy rather than catch fish, but we will fail our Lord and his purpose for our lives. Or we can make catching fish our purpose, and find the power, joy, and reward of God in our souls and church. The decision is ours.

Conclusion

Now this conversation becomes intensely personal. The church cannot reach the community, any more than a boat can catch fish. You’re the fishermen. You will talk to more lost people tomorrow than I’ll see all week. You’re the one called to go to them, meeting their needs with God’s love, using your gifts and abilities to fish for men. Your equipment may be a BlackBerry or a laptop or a law office or a classroom, but the principle and call are precisely the same.

What kind of fishing is your Father asking you to do? If you had to fill in the blank, “My ministry is ______________,” what would you say? We’ll never reach our community with the gospel until you fill in that blank. And you’ll never be fulfilled and joyous in your Christian faith until you do.

I can attest to that fact personally. I have long believed that every Christian has a call from God, a purpose, a north on the compass, his or her “one thing” to do in the Kingdom of God. Mine was clarified for me back in college during my days in youth ministry.

When I left my first staff job to return to my home church as youth minister, the congregation gave me a set of Barclay commentaries as a going-away present. On my way to my car in the church parking lot that night I opened the first one and found Barclay’s self-description as a “theological middleman.” Lights flashed and bells clanged. I knew then and know today that this is my call–to relate academics to life, study to practice, using the world of scholarship to help the Church reach the world.

On my good days I focus on this call. On my bad days I don’t. Those are the days when I let other people’s need determine my call, when I put people pleasing ahead of God serving.

On my good days I define success by fishing for men, doing what God wants at all costs. And I have found great joy and release and freedom in fulfilling that call. Do you know what I mean?