making disciples

Fish Out of Water



Fish Out of Water
Sunday, September 1, 2019
Luke 5:1-11

When he finished speaking to the crowds, he said to Simon, “Row out farther, into the deep water, and drop your nets for a catch.”

Luke 5:4

Imagine this: You grew up going to church. Your best friends were in youth group. Then you went to a Christian college where you met your Christian spouse. The bridesmaids and groomsmen in your wedding were Christian friends.

You moved to a new city to start a family. You made your first friends at church and put your kids in a Christian preschool. You now work 50+ hours a week and don’t have much free time. When you do, you’re volunteering at church.

The reason that your church is only reaching Christians could be as simple as this: You don’t know anyone who isn’t already a Christian.

- Fresh Expressions US

In all of our well-intended attempts to make “church” a priority in our lives, is it possible that we have so isolated ourselves from the world that we no longer have any redemptive influence among those beyond our walls? Is our light washed out by the Sunday morning glow of stained glass? Has our salt lost its value because we spend all our time in the “Dead Sea” of Christendom where the supply of salt never runs out while the world sits at our banks dying of thirst for just a sip of fresh living water?

If Jesus wanted to create a new religion, or even reform a dying religious institution, he would have started with religious people. Instead, we find early on in Jesus’ ministry a radical shift from “religious leaders” to ordinary people.

Jesus knew the “fish” were not waiting around in synagogue and the temple to be caught. That’s why he went where the fish were. That’s why he called people who were already there, living and working among the ordinary people who needed to know that they were immensely valuable to God. The church may teach us how to fish, but as a fishing hole, the church is tapped out. Jesus tells us to go out into deeper waters. If you want to fish, you have to go where the fish are.

Jesus has come into the world to reveal God and to redeem the cosmos. But he is known to us only through the witness of his apostles. The call of the first disciples marks the beginning of a movement that culminates in the founding of the church. The church did not come into existence through a group of persons who wanted to start a good, even benevolent, organization.

Arland J. Hultgren

If the disciples did church the way we do today, would the world still know about Jesus?

Jesus is about to ask them to re-imagine what it means for them to be fishers - and to re-imagine who "fish" might be. So the moral of this story is NOT, "Let's keep doing what we have always done before and trust that one day God will fill our nets." If anything, the moral is, "Let's stop fishing the way we have always done it. Let's re-imagine who we are and how we are and what we are called to do now. Let's be fish out of water!"

Rev. Dr. George Hermanson

Come and See



Come and See
Sunday, August 25, 2019
John 1:35-51

Nathaniel responded, “Can anything from Nazareth be good?”

Philip said, “Come and see.”

John 1:46

In her most recent book, “Inspired”, Rachel Held Evans describes her earliest memories of Jesus. She, like many of us, learned to pray around the dinner table. “Thank you Jesus for my mommy and daddy, my sister and my food.” “The first thing I knew about Jesus,” she says, “ is that he was responsible for the existence of my parents, my sister, me, and my food. That seemed like good enough news for me.”

When asked as a teenager to share how she “came to Jesus,” she responded with confusion. There had never been a time in her life when she did not know Jesus, but she never “came to him.” Rather, Jesus had always come to her. Jesus had simply “always been there.”

We spend a lot of time and energy in churches trying to figure out the latest and greatest strategies to get more members and more money in the offering plate. On the whole, the church has become quite proficient at mass producing Vacation Bible Schools, Community Meals, polished worship services, and countless other programs and events in hopes to “draw people in.” We try hard to be “seeker sensitive.” There’s only one problem. There are fewer and fewer “seekers” to be sensitive too. People are not looking for a church. They have no need for church, no matter how impressive it’s programs and ministries, or at least that’s the general perception for so many valid reasons.

Somewhere along the way, in our desperation to “get back to the good old days” when church stood at the center of our community, we have lost our ability to introduce people to what they really need… the Good News of Jesus. Yes, people may meet Jesus in church, but more often than not, Jesus did not meet people in the synagogues or at the temple. He met them in the marketplace, at their jobs, in their homes, on the streets, in the leper colony, among the sick, at funerals, at weddings and parties and feasts.

What if the church itself has become our idol? Just like the golden calf, church has come to function like a mediator between us and God so we don’t have to climb the mountain in the cloud of thunder and lightning where God’s Holy Presence may consume us. Instead, we are content to sit at the base of the mountain saying, “This church is the god who brought you out of Egypt.” So long as we are in the church, we feel comfortable and safe. We have “come to Jesus” by building walls between us and the rest of the world. We want to leave each Sunday morning feeling good about ourselves, having been encouraged and inspired in worship, but not challenged or convicted. We want just enough of “Jesus” to fill up our Spiritual gas tank for the week, but we are not overly comfortable with the thought that he might just walk out the door with us. Like the imaginary ghosts in Disney’s Haunted Mansion, Jesus may just follow you home, or to the restaurant or the bar, or to work, or anywhere else you may go.

In John 1:46, Nathaniel wonders, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” In truth, there are many people in our world to day who might ask us, “Can anything good come from the church?”

Philip did not reply by inviting Nathaniel to Nazareth. He didn’t talk about how great the town was, about all the hidden gems there that nobody noticed. He didn’t tell him about all the great meals and fellowship opportunities or the amazing entertainment that was available. Nazareth was not the point. Philip didn’t need to defend the goodness of Nazareth. He wanted Nathaniel to meet Jesus.

What would it look like if we stopped trying to defend and promote our churches and instead just invited people to meet Jesus? They may come to your church or they may not, but in the end, attending a service or an event at church is not the point. The Good News is not that the church came into the world. The Good News is that God came into the world, wrapped in flesh, to dwell among us.

When we invite people to “Come and see,”, what exactly are we inviting them to? Do we want them to come see our beautiful sanctuary, our inspiring choir, our brilliant Sunday school teacher, our new preacher, or our fall-off-the-bone BBQ? Or might we simply invite them to Jesus.

“Can anything good come out of church?”

I don’t know. God can make beautiful things out of the dust, so surely he can bring something good out of Nazareth or the church. But that’s not the point. It’s not about Nazareth. It’s not about the church.

It’s about Jesus. Come and see him for yourself. Come and see the God who has stepped out of heaven to find you.

Come and see.

The Time is Now



The Time is Now
Sunday, August 18, 2019
Mark 1:14-20, Matthew 4:18-22, Matthew 28:19-20

“Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.”

Mark 1:17

Whose job is it to make disciples? The prophets? The preachers? The Sunday School Teachers?

We are quick to read between the lines in Mark 1 and Matthew 4 as Simon, Andrew, James and John leave their nets and follow Jesus like a group of children who have nothing better to do than join in a playground game of follow-the-leader. We struggle to find ways to excuse ourselves from such unreasonable demands. We have jobs and mortgages and kids and aging parents and pets. We have responsibilities that in our minds, are far more crucial than the lowly fishing business these early disciples walked out on. What exactly does it look like to “Come and follow Jesus,” in our day? The story is so brief it hardly does justice to the level of sacrifice these “ordinary fishermen” truly made. If we’re truly honest, most of us tend to think it was a much easier decision for them than for us.

There are much larger implications, however, when we consider the timing of this call. “After John was arrested…” (Mark 1:14, Matthew 4:12).

John was the prophet of the day. John was the mouthpiece of God. John was the first person in nearly 400 years to hold such a crucial religious position. No one alive at the time had ever heard the voice of God so directly and neither had their parents, grandparents or even great-grandparents. “Prepare the way of the Lord,” he declared, and then he is arrested.

In steps Jesus, picking up right where John leaves off, except he is not just another prophet. He is something much more. He is the very presence of God in the flesh. And what’s more, God is not hanging out in the synagogues or even with the prophet’s followers in the wilderness. He is hanging out in the marketplace around the Sea of Galilee. He is eating and drinking and laughing with the tax collectors, the occupying Roman soldiers, the sick and the lame, the women and the children, and yes, even the lowly hard working fishermen.

“I’ll show you how to fish for people,” he says (Mark 1:17).

The nature of following Jesus and “fishing for people” looks different for everyone. Some may leave everything behind and others are needed to proclaim the Good News right where they are. Regardless of what shape our call takes or where Jesus leads, the point is that Jesus is leading “us”. He’s not training people for the office of “prophet” to replace John. He’s not offering a continuing education course or a doctoral program for Pharisees and Sadducee's so they they can update their methods and theology to fit the changing times. He is not saying everyone has to quit their jobs and go into full-time ministry, though that may be true for some.

Jesus calls you and me, ordinary people, to “fish for people,” to take up the mantle of the prophet and proclaim the Word of God not only in the wilderness, but in the marketplace, at our jobs, in our schools, at the restaurant, in the public square, with our friends and neighbors, in our homes and our families, and yes, even in our churches.

The more we try to plan out exactly how we will follow Jesus, the more we will find Jesus changing our plans. We are not Jesus’ GPS to make sure everything he calls us to do just happens to be on our route. If we stop to think about it too much, we will likely be overcome with anticipation and anxiety about the unknown. We might remember that John was just arrested and wonder if the same might happen to us. Our fear may get the better of us. We will surely come up with a million other things we have to do “first.”

Where our culture says, “trust yourself, trust your instincts, your intelligence, your abilities, your wealth, your plans, etc.” Jesus simply says, “Trust me. Step out of the boat. Drop your nets. Let’s go.”

The time is now!