Reading Time: 12 minutes

What you see is what you get

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.

facebook twitter instagram

Topical Scripture: Matthew 4.20-22 / Luke 5.1-11

William Barclay said, “Many people saw steam raise the lid of a kettle; only James Watt went on to think of a steam engine. Many people saw an apple fall; only Isaac Newton went on to think out the law of gravity. The earth is full of miracles for the eye that sees” (Barclay, Luke 57).

Others saw fishermen; Jesus saw apostles. A preacher for Pentecost; a writer for his Gospel, his letters, his Revelation. Others saw a Galilean itinerant rabbi, a small-town carpenter; these fishermen saw God.

The Bible says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18, KJV). Some years ago I learned this fact: I am not what I think I am. I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am. Almost always that’s true for me, and for you.

But there’s a better way. The Bible shows us today what God thinks you are. When you become what God thinks you are … well, let me show you.

Fishing with God (Luke 5:1-11)

Have you ever been fishing with God? Peter did, and so did his brother Andrew. So did their business partners and friends, James and John. So should we today.

In Luke 5 we find Jesus with Peter. Remember, they’ve spent a year together. Now they go fishing together.

Peter and his partners have caught nothing all night, the best time to fish. But when Jesus tells him to let down the nets, he agrees. “Master,” he calls Jesus (v. 5), their word for teacher; this fact will be important in a moment.

Almost instantly, they catch so many fish that Peter and Andrew must call James and John for help. Still the massive catch threatens to capsize their boats.

Now Peter knows he’s not just in the presence of a great teacher and healer, but God himself.

“Go away from me, Lord,” he cries (v. 8). Now he calls Jesus not Master but Lord—kurios, their word for Emperor, God.

Why? “I am a sinful man!” (v. 8b). Remember Isaiah’s cry in the presence of the holy God: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5). When we see God as he is, in that light we see ourselves as we are. Sins, stains, dirt, and all.

Now comes the good news.

Jesus replies, “Don’t be afraid” (v. 10). Be assured of God’s grace and forgiveness. The Bible says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

In fact, Jesus loves Peter so much that he invites him to join Jesus in his divine work on earth: “From now on you will catch men” (v. 10b). As you caught fish—more than you could imagine, now you’ll catch men. Billions, in fact.

They’ve been fishing with God. Now they are called to fish for God.

Their response? “They pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him” (v. 11).

Matthew’s gospel gives us more details. Peter and Andrew left their nets; James and John left their father Zebedee, and their boat. “Immediately,” v. 22 says.

To go fish for men. To help people follow Jesus. They moved from the Sea of Galilee to the sea of souls, from lake to lives. To use their gifts and abilities, their resources and relationships, to help everyone they could to know God as King and live forever in his Kingdom. To change eternity. And they did.

Fishing for God (Matthew 4:20-22)

See the boldness of their vision: “immediately” they made Jesus’ call their lives. No ambivalence, waffling, questioning. Instant obedience.

See the sacrifice of their vision: examine what they gave up to make Jesus’ vision theirs. They sacrificed their profession and their prosperity. They left behind their family and friends. In fact, Peter would later say to Jesus, “We have left everything to follow you!” (Matthew 19.27).

See the courage of their vision. They followed Jesus’ vision with no idea where it would lead them, no five-year plan for their future. They “went out not knowing” (Hebrews 11:8), with nothing but their courageous faith.

See the results of their vision.

Peter would preach the first sermon in church history. Later the Galilean fisherman would pastor the church in Rome herself.

John would write the Gospel and letters which bear his name, and the Revelation of Jesus Christ. 20 centuries of pilgrims would journey to his exiled cave on Patmos, and would worship his best friend and Lord.

Today we name churches for these fishermen, and place their pictures in places of worship. We read the books of the Bible they wrote, and meet God in their words and lives. Imagine God using you to do this, and you sense the surprise they must feel this morning in heaven.

Jim Elliott, the missionary martyred by the Auca Indians he tried to reach, wrote in his journal this now-famous life motto: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose.” These men wrote that motto across their lives. And they were not the last.

Fishermen before us

We began this year with Jesus’ Kingdom vision, and learned last week that he calls us to the same Kingdom work. Now, how can we be as bold, as sacrificial, as courageous in our vision for our lives and church as these disciples were?

There’s a way, and our leadership has asked me to announce it to you.

First, let’s gain some historical perspective. Jesus commissioned his church to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). He told us to begin with our Jerusalem, and work until we have reached the “ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

He showed us how: meet needs in his name, earning the right to meet spiritual needs with his love. As he fed the crowds so he could feed them spiritually, opened blind eyes so he could open blind hearts, so he calls us to meet the needs of our community, so we can meet their soul’s need for god.

So it was in 1939 that 70 brave souls gathered in the University Park Elementary School to begin the Park Cities Baptist Church. No church sponsored them. They simply believed that “there ought to be a church” in the Park Cities, and pledged their lives to reaching this community with the gospel.

Their first pastor matched their bold, sacrificial, and courageous vision. Dr. Alton Reed left a thriving congregation of more than 1,500 for a congregation of 142 meeting in an elementary school. But God led him and his family to join his vision for this church and this city.

They purchased the home at 4201 Lovers Lane, now the administration building of the Highland Park Independent School District. They planned a massive capital campaign and building project for that land, to commence in June of 1944. Remember what was happening in America in 1944? But part of the land was unavailable to the church.

So they bought 7½ acres of land for $15,000 on Northwest Highway—as far north as you could go on a paved highway in Dallas. And they built this campus. A sanctuary large enough for all who would come; the first church gymnasium in Dallas; outstanding facilities for preschoolers and children.

Over time, Park Cities would give more money to missions than any other Baptist church in Texas, some say in the country. And God would extend her global reach literally around the world.

All of this began with some spiritual fishermen and women who left their boats and nets and church families to come here. To start a church where there was no church, in an elementary school, without a pastor. Would we be that visionary today? My friends, we must be.

Fishing today

You see, the world has changed. Southern Baptist Sunday schools grew by 27% in the 1930s, 31% in the 1940s, and 57% in the 1950s. But they grew by 2% in the 1960s, minus 1% in the 1970s, and minus 8% in the 1980s. A recent demographics study indicates that our church is now located in that part of Dallas with the highest percentage of people who say they have “no faith involvement,” as much as 46% of the population. 130,000 people live within three miles of our church; total average worship attendance for the churches in this radius is 14,576; so at least 100,000 living right around us are not in church today.

And so we must find new ways to fish for this generation. New ways to meet the needs of our community effectively, thus meeting their spiritual needs.

Our immediate community has no recreational facility.

There is no senior adult center in our community, yet the senior adult population is exploding around us.

There is no community center or public library in this immediate community.

Our church has a very significant parking and traffic impact on our neighbors, and this issue must be addressed.

Meanwhile, we are experiencing enormous growth and space needs with our congregation. Our preschool and nurseries are completely out of space. Our children’s space is at capacity in the second hour on Sunday morning. Our youth are up as much at 50% from last year; 375 are enrolled in next week’s DiscipleNow, the largest number in our history; and they meet in six locations on Sunday morning. Areas of our adult and senior adult ministries have significant space needs.

And so I am privileged to announce to you a strategic initiative our leaders have titled, “Continuing the Vision.” A capital project which will meet each of these needs and build bridges to our community for the gospel. An initiative which will enable us to reach lost people more effectively than ever before.

The project would create a three-story facility on our existing east parking lot. The first floor will be dedicated to preschool and youth. The second and third floors will be a double gym with a jogging track, and aerobics and recreational facilities. Our library would move to the first floor of this building and be available to the community. The Howard Center would move to this facility, with new and larger classrooms for its curriculum.

Beneath the new building would be a three-floor underground parking lot which will give us a net increase of 575 parking spaces, greatly minimizing our traffic impact in the community.

Our existing gymnasium would be extended 40 feet to the north and become a Great Hall, seating 600 for dinner and 1,200 for conferences. The area below would be fully excavated and become a new Senior Adult center.

Colonnades would be added to the exterior of the Sanctuary for inclement weather traffic flow, and offices would be congregated in the north tower to return current offices to Sunday school space.

Now, let’s measure this initiative by the vision of those who founded our church.

Is it bold? Yes, but they began a church with no history, no facility, no pastor, no support. They were ready to initiate at least as great a capital project in 1944.

Is it sacrificial? Yes, it will cost approximately $35 million, though $2.5 million has already been given without any solicitation whatsoever. But those who founded our church sacrificed their church homes, their faith families, and sacrificed greatly their finances to build the campus we appreciate so much today.

Is it courageous? We’re stepping out by faith, but so did they.

And so did the first spiritual fishermen Jesus called. We must be as bold, sacrificial, and courageous as they were. If we are, God will use us to reach our world, as he used them to reach theirs.

Conclusion

Today’s announcement is about building the Kingdom of God. This is not about our will, but his. This is not our church, but his. We will seek his face, his will, together. And we will be the spiritual fishermen he has called us to be.

Over the next two weeks every Sunday school department will be given detailed presentations and explanations of this project. Open forums will enable every member of our church to know the project and ask any questions you like. Community groups have already been organized in fourteen homes to present the project to our neighbors; a large such gathering will take place this Tuesday on our campus as well.

We hope to be in position to vote as a congregation on this initiative during the weekend of February 16-17, to apply for needed zoning and permits immediately thereafter, and to begin the fund-raising dimension of the work after Easter.

Meanwhile, let us pray. Let us seek God’s face, his will. For our church and for each of our lives personally. Let us seek God’s vision, for it is far greater than any we can achieve ourselves.

These fishermen could not see how their faith would change their world. 70 people meeting in an elementary school could not see how their faith would change our lives. We cannot see how our faith in 2002 will change the generations to come. But it will.

My friend and mentor Dr. John Haggai once spoke words, which challenge me to this day: “Let us attempt something so great that it is doomed to fail unless God be in it.”

Amen?