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One fish can change the world

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: Matthew 4:18-22

Edward Kimball was determined to win his Sunday school class to Jesus. A teenager named Dwight Moody tended to fall asleep on Sundays, but Kimball, undeterred, went to see him at his shoe store. Kimball tried to lead Moody to Christ, but thought he failed. He did not. And in time Moody became the most famous evangelist in America.

In 1873 Moody went to Liverpool, England for a series of crusades. His preaching greatly affected F. B. Meyer, a scholarly Baptist pastor there. Meyer in turn toured America with Moody. At Northfield Bible Conference, he challenged the crowds, saying, “If you are not willing to give up everything for Christ, are you willing to be made willing?” This remark changed the life of a struggling young minister named J. Wilber Chapman.

Chapman became a powerful traveling evangelist in the early 1900s, and he recruited a newly converted baseball player named Billy Sunday. Sunday became one of the most spectacular evangelists in American history. His campaign in Charlotte, North Carolina produced a large number of converts. These converts continued praying for revival to come to their city, and in 1934 they invited Mordecai Ham to preach there. Ham left discouraged with the results. Just one convert, a Central High School student named Billy Graham. As you know, Billy Graham has preached the gospel to more people than anyone in human history.

One person can change the world. And Edward Kimball thought he had failed.

We have established these facts: our life’s purpose is to help people follow Jesus, thus fulfilling the Great Commission for every Christian and every Christian church. We must be equipped for the job through personal discipleship and spiritual growth. Now we must be engaged in ministry. Every member a minister.

I have only two questions today: why? And how?

Why fish for men?

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. We have no right to impose our reality, our values on others, we’re told.

Besides, do we really believe that the good people we know, who don’t happen to be born-again Christians, are going to hell? That 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? That 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). There is absolute truth. To deny this is to make an absolute statement. As C. S. Lewis put it, the man who denies the sunrise doesn’t insult the sun, just himself.

And there is a heaven and a hell. Jesus continued, “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.”

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. We’ve established the fact that every Christian is to help people follow Jesus. You can reach people who would never talk to me. There are no “professionals” in fishing for men. We’re all called to this work.

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 fish seem happy. Don’t we have all we need?

The fact is, 85% of church growth today is from transfers from church to church, swapping fish from boat to boat. Less than 1% of today’s churches are growing primarily by conversions. This is why there are 100,000 lost 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.

So Jesus is walking beside our “sea” today. Most of us already believe in him, as these four did (cf. John 1:35-42). Now he calls us to follow him, to be his disciples. We can only give what we possess. And to help others follow him—to be fishers of men. He will “make” us fishers, equipping us and helping us. His will never leads where his grace does not sustain. But he expects us to do what they did: “At once they left their nets and followed him.”

How?

How do we catch them?

A few weeks ago I went with some friends up to Lake Texoma to go striper fishing. Two of them brought their daughters. Three boats of fishermen set out that day. The two girls caught more than the rest of their boats combined. Clearly we men had something to learn about fishing. See if these lessons are relevant to us and our church.

Go where the fish are. Our guide used extremely expensive sonar to find the fish. In fact, this was the most expensive piece of equipment on his boat. He talked on his cell phone to the other guides constantly, as they looked for fish. And he went to the fish. He would never think of dropping anchor where he wanted to be and waiting for the fish to come find him. He knew the lake and their feeding patterns, depending on the weather and time of day. He went to the fish, always.

Our text continues: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people” (Matthew 4:23). He was an excellent fisherman.

Use bait which works. In Jesus’ day, fishermen used three methods: they fished by line, as we did; they used a drag net, lowered from a boat or two boats and pulled through the water to catch the fish; and they used a casting net, a circular net as much as nine feet across weighted on the edges. It was thrown into the water, then drawn up. This is the kind of net Jesus’ disciples were using in our text. The point is that they used the method, the “bait” which would work.

So with our fishing guide. He went out the night before to catch the small fish which were our bait. This took hours. He told me it is usually the hardest part of the job. And he was very careful with it. He didn’t use bait which was too large or too small. And as soon as it stopped working, he changed it.

Paul said, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). He would have made an excellent fisherman.

Pay the price of success. A fisherman must have patience. If he is restless and quick to move he will never catch many fish. He must have perseverance. If he quits, he never catches fish. He must have courage. As the old Greek said when praying for protection, “My boat is so small and the sea is so large.” The fisherman must be ready to risk the storms and waves of his life. There is always a danger in telling people the truth.

He must have humility.

The fisherman must keep himself out of sight. If the fish see him, he will never see them. With John the Baptist we say, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” He must be willing to sacrifice. When he is fishing he can do little else. This must be his whole passion. So with the disciples, who sacrificed family businesses built over a lifetime, and eventually their lives as well.

Cooperate with other fishermen. They told each other where the fish were, and even their exact depth. They gave each other bait. They tied their boats together so they could stay where the fish were. There was no competition between them—they knew there was plenty of fish for every boat and more.

Define success by the fish caught. The boats we used were dirty and utilitarian. They were essentially fishing poles with motors. The guide’s clothes were not very attractive, either. Dirty tennis shoes and jeans. His sole purpose was to catch as many fish as possible. He gave no thought to impressing the other fishermen, but only the fish. His boat wasn’t built for the fishermen, but for the fish.

Our guide had a passion for catching fish. If we let a fish bite without setting the hook and reeling it in, he would fuss at us, jump over to the pole, and set the hook for us. He couldn’t stand to see us miss a fish. He defined success by fish, nothing less.

Does any of this apply to us?

Conclusion

Our church has stated that we will engage the servants in ministry which is:

Kingdom-centered, cooperating with believers to make disciples of all nations.

Relational, taking the gospel to our community through personal interaction.

Need-based, discovering and responding to ministry opportunities.

Compelling, enabling believers to utilize their gifts and ministry calling as the Spirit leads.

But just because we’ve said it doesn’t make it so. Ultimately the question is personal. Are you in the boat? Using bait which works? Paying the price of success? Working with other fishermen? Passionate about catching fish?

Just one can change the world.

Mr. Fleming was but a poor Scottish farmer. One day while working in the fields he heard a cry for help from a nearby bog. There he found a terrified boy, waist deep in black muck, screaming and trying to free himself. Farmer Fleming saved the boy from what could have been a slow and terrifying death.

The next day a fancy carriage pulled up to the Scotsman’s sparse house. An elegantly dressed nobleman stepped out and introduced himself as the father of the boy Fleming had saved. “I want to repay you,” he said. “You saved my son’s life.” But Fleming refused.

At that moment the farmer’s own son came to the door of their house. “Is that your son?” the nobleman asked. “Yes,” Fleming said. “I’ll make you a deal. Let me take him and give him a good education. If the lad is anything like his father, he’ll grow to be a man you can be proud of.” And indeed he did.

Farmer Fleming’s son graduated from St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London, and became known throughout the world as Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin. Years later, the nobleman’s son was stricken with pneumonia. What saved him? Penicillin. The name of the nobleman? Lord Randolph Churchill. His son’s name? Sir Winston Churchill.

What happens when you care about someone? You change the world forever.