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Disciples Are

In parenting, in gardening, in planning a vacation…in a majority of the everyday tasks we do, beginning with the end in mind is the smart thing to do. It just makes sense. It doesn’t mean you’ll be able to accomplish the envisioned end, but it means you’ll have a clear idea of when you’re not getting there. It doesn’t mean you’ll know how to get there, but it guides you into the kinds of learning you’ll need to do to get there.

Beginning with the end in mind when it comes to the local church’s mission to make disciples is a noble goal. It’s wise. Prudent. Better than a shotgun approach. And yet it’s insanely difficult for one local church to, together, narrow in on what Scripture says a disciple looks like.

Richard Foster’s helpful book, Streams of Living Water, characterizes six “streams” of Christianity. Gary Thomas’ book, Sacred Pathways, details nine ways that you and I connect to God. And local churches, regardless of denomination, are no longer homogenous in regards what people expect of discipleship. Individual members of churches may have great sway in shaping what that particular congregation envisions a disciple to be. Whether through decisions on programming or a leader’s own spiritual formation, a local church begins to hammer out what it means to be a disciple. And these are just a few of the factors that go into the discussion.

One other factor might be this: Is it practical to think this way? Prudent? Yes. But practical? No. It is far more practical to “do church” and hope that what we produce is men and women who look and act like Jesus.

In this next series of posts, I’m attempting to buck practicality and lay out a vision for who a disciple is and what kinds of fruit he or she produces. The ontological (being) and teleological (doing) aspects of discipleship.

The first ontological aspect:

Jesus’ disciples become disciples because He calls them. They are called. They answer his call to follow by dropping everything even though they do not understand fully the ramifications of following Him. They find their worth in the calling Jesus has placed on their lives, not in how others have turned them down in the past (Matt. 4:18-22).

Jesus tells His disciples just before His death that He chose them; they did not choose Him. While I think those words are limited to the original twelve, Christ continues to call us to Himself. We do not decide to become disciples out of the blue; we do not sign up for taking up a cross and dying to self because that sounds nice. We answer the call because it is Christ who calls us, and we have chosen to trust Him, even if it is with faith the size of a mustard seed.

Christ calls everyone on the planet to discipleship. His call is not limited to a few, His grace is not limited to a few. There may be few who answer, but all are called.

Ordo Salutis 3: Prevenient Grace, Denial or Confession

All of this conviction is part of what John Wesley called “prevenient grace.” It is a grace that goes before that enables us to respond to God wooing us back to Him. Without God’s grace, we would still be dead in sin and helpless to respond; God makes a way for us to return to Him by first giving us grace and then by the conviction of the Holy Spirit. 

Prevenient grace operates in us before we even know anything is happening. It leads us to a place of repentance by creating in us our first sensitivity to God, by producing conviction that we have transgressed the will of God, and by causing our first wish to be to please God. 

The opposite of coming to grips with God’s conviction is denial. This is where we tend to go as we rationalize our thoughts and actions. If we choose denial, as God continues to convict and make us aware of new areas of sin in our lives, then we short-circuit our Christian spiritual formation. Denial is a harsh reality for many Christians who find their own behavior to be out of line with their theology. All of a sudden it is easier to switch beliefs than to switch behavior, and so they gradually turn away from God instead of confessing to Him what they also know deep down to be true. 

As we deny God and his truth, we cut ourselves off from grace and our mind (thoughts and emotions) becomes darkened to the truth. Ephesians 4:17-19 says,So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.” 

The Gentiles are those who do not know God. Notice how they are first ignorant and darkened in understanding; their hearts are hard. Because of this, they turn to something else to fill the void: sensuality and greed. It is a result of the choice to ignore God that humans turn to perverse forms of sin. 

There are times when it is tempting to believe the condemning lie of Satan that says there is no hope to change, that God cannot release us from this sin, or that God really doesn’t love us because of our sin. We might think these words, “For God was so mad at the world that he sent his Son to come down and tell them to shape up, that whosoever would shape up would have eternal life. Indeed, God did send his Son into the world to condemn it, in order that the world might be saved through good works” (Smith, The Good and Beautiful God, 99)

But if we choose to acknowledge our sin, to call it what it is just as God already knows anyway, then we enter into confession. 

Perhaps this sounds weird, but I believe that God, somewhere around this point in the process, waits. Not with a hard hand ready to hit us when we’re down, but with a gentle, grace-filled hand ready to accept us, like the prodigal father in Luke 15. Up to this point, God has been convicting us of sin. He has also been giving the prevenient grace we need to be able to respond to his gift of forgiveness. But now he waits for us to respond to grace by acknowledging and confessing our sin. At this point, our response is to pray about our sin and acknowledge that it really is the Holy Spirit convicting us about real sin. 

What is confession? 1 John 1:5-10 gives us a good picture. 
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

Madame Jeanne Guyon says, “There is a higher experience of repentance, and there is a deeper experience of confession of sin than the feeling of regret. In fact, you will find those feelings of regret replaced by something else–replaced by a love and a tranquility” (in Foster, Celebrating the Disciplines Workbook, p. 49). 

Ordo Salutis 1: Original Sin

The bottom section of the ordo salutis begins with humanity made in the image of God. I probably should edit the diagram to include a break in the line where the Fall took place. Adam and Eve’s sin not only resulted in the curses of Genesis 3, but also the passing on of this ability and tendency to sin, to rebel against God, to think we know better than He.

God loves every human being as the supreme object of His creation. We were created in original righteousness. God’s love is a love that is not simply expressed as a hope to get back the creation that was lost to Him in sin, but a love that was tangibly shown in the midst of our rebellion. 

Original sin is a doctrine that says that every human has inherited the sinfulness of Adam. Not only do we commit acts of sin, but we are sinners, bent toward sin. If left to ourselves, we could not and would not choose to reconcile the broken relationship with God. To say that this sin “separates us” from God is not as simple as “God hates sin and cannot be in the presence of sinners.”

Sin can best be understood in terms of relationships. Wesley said sin is “every voluntary breach of the law of love” (Harper, p. 23). Sin is a broken relationship, made consciously or willingly. We broke the relationship with God, not the other way around.

Sin does not sneak up on us but arises out of us. Sin has become a very part of our nature; we sin because we are sinners; the image of God has been corrupted in us. We do not know how we have all been infected with sin because of Adam; we cannot explain how original sin has been passed down to us, but only that it has. 

Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” 

Sin ultimately must be dealt with on a heart level. If God is to break the power of original sin in us, He must get to our hearts. This is why the normal ways we first attempt to deal with it don’t work: trying harder not to sin, obeying rules, conforming to standards, executing justice and judgment–none of them on its own gets to the heart of the matter. What Jeremiah is saying is that the heart is beyond cure in our own efforts. Our efforts betray that we’ve forgotten who we were made for; our sin blinds us to the brokenness of the relationship with God! Wesleyans believe that only God gets to the heart. 

In Romans 3:10-18 Paul is quoting lots of Old Testament Scripture (specifically Psalm 14:1-3; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Psalm 5:9; Psalm 140:3; Psalm 10:7; Isaiah 59:7-8; and Psalm 36:1). 
“There is no one righteous, not even one;
11there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
12All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”
13“Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit.”
“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”
14“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
15“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16ruin and misery mark their ways,
17and the way of peace they do not know.”
18“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

In verse 9 he said that Jews and Gentiles alike are under the power of sin. Sin is the equalizer. 

If sin were a “thing,” we could cut it out of us somehow. But because sin is a sickness, our only option is transformation. Because sin is a broken relationship, our only option is God sending His Son to restore that relationship. And because sin is corruption of the image of God in us, we cannot do it on our own. Sin makes us dead toward God, stuck in self-captivity (making ourselves into gods), and helpless to change. It is Jesus Christ, both fully God and fully human, who accomplishes the work of redemption and righteousness in us. And the great hope we have goes beyond mere forgiveness to holiness. 

An Overview of the Process: A Wesleyan Ordo Salutis

Now that we’ve unpacked the process of spiritual formation, it’s time to explore how God does all of this. This diagram is based off of one done to explain Wesley’s ordo salutis, or order of salvation (even though Wesley never systematically wrote about theology). The point is, if we have a basic understanding of the way God has and does generally work in our lives, then we can see how we ought to respond to His grace.

I will dedicate future posts to writing about each of the steps on this staircase of grace, looking at relevant Scripture and theology, as well as implications for the church.
Does God work in these ways all the time? No. Is spiritual formation tailored to fit each person? Probably not as much as we’d like. The church has recognized the need for conversion, for ongoing repentance and growth in grace, and in the holiness movement, a second work of grace in a crisis moment of entire sanctification. The church has found several catalysts to be trustworthy means of God pushing us more toward Christlikeness.
Implications for the Church
1. The church can strategically pray about and become a catalyst for spiritual formation. We all know that church attendance does not equal Christian maturity. The lack of a direct correlation does not then lead us to reject church attendance, but forces us to pray about the ways we’re leading the church into Christian community, how we’re preaching with compassion through suffering, which spiritual disciplines (even beyond Scripture reading and prayer) that we practice together, what kinds of personal ministry we call people to, etc.
2. Putting off and putting on is not all there is. The Christian life is more than a Romans 7 struggle with doing and being. Just as we challenge believers to grow in Christ, we can also challenge them to recognize God’s grace leading them to a time of full surrender. God enables a singleness of intention, a heart that desires what God desires and loves as God loves.

Jesus at the Center

In an earlier post, I defined Christian spiritual formation as the lifelong process of being conformed into the image of Jesus Christ for the sake of the world. I also distinguished between spiritual formation as what God does in us during our discipleship, or apprenticeship and following of Jesus.

The above diagram is an attempt to visualize what it looks like to take part in either discipleship or non-discipleship. While I fully recognize the political-incorrectness of trying to label categories of people, by very definition, if there are those who are disciples of Jesus, then there are also those who are not. And while the lines may be much more blurry than this, I hope this helps.

Here’s a brief explanation:

Jesus is the center of all things. This is the message of Colossians 1:15-20, where the Son created all things, is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He has the supremacy over everything because of His resurrection from the dead.

Relationships are dynamic, never static. A person is either moving closer to Christ, the center, or further away from him.

Some are, for lack of a better term, non-Christian seekers. They are people who earnestly want to know more about Christ, may have deep respect for Him, may like Jesus but not the church, or may have a spouse or family member who is a Christian who is pushing them to become one. They are curious about Jesus and His teaching. But they have not had a conversion experience or told Christ to be the center of their lives.

Whether one’s conversion happens instantaneously or progressively (or a little of both) is debatable; the New Testament does describe conversion as encompassing repentance, faith, reception of the Holy Spirit, and a natural next step of baptism. More on conversion in a later post.

A second group can be called Christian disciples. Post-conversion, these people actively pursue Jesus, now given more grace and aided by the Holy Spirit in new ways. They are actively participating in their own spiritual formation.

A third group are those who we might awkwardly call Christian non-disciples. These are they who self-identify as Christians, attend church, who at one point had a genuine conversion experience, but who now are not actively participating in discipleship. They may even be staying at home on Sundays because of a rift with the church, or may simply be waiting for the day when “God takes them to heaven.”

Finally, there are non-Christian pagans. They are far from Christ, want nothing to do with Him, or are ambivalent or agnostic about God. Christian discipleship is not on their radar screen for whatever reason.

The point of identifying where people might be on a continuum of discipleship toward or away from Christ is not to neatly label buckets and then figure out who goes where. No. It is to stress the utmost importance of being a person who engages in discipleship.

The unanswered questions thus far are, “How does God change us? Does God work the same way with each person? Are there reliable patterns of God’s activity that we can count on? What is our role? Are we passive, letting God do all the work? How do we work out our salvation with fear and trembling?”

Defining Discipleship: Involving the Church

We’ve been on vacation. Back now, and ready to continue writing. Traveling in the van, I thought about the ways we, as pastors and church leaders, attempt to help our churches define discipleship and what a disciple looks like. In my own setting, I led a small group of people through the New Testament…. Actually, I did a lot of legwork and brought my findings to this group and allowed them to edit them. We made two lists: characteristics of a disciple and actions of a disciple.

Looking back, I wonder how we could have done this differently. People need to process, from Scripture at minimum (and ideally from tradition as well), how the Bible describes a person who is undergoing Christian spiritual formation in Christ. Having a pastor tell them what he or she has found isn’t good enough. I look back at my own experience with mixed emotions. On one hand, I feel like our team came up with some great work. On the other, I feel like I put too much time into the effort behind the scenes, alone, and left others out of much of the process. In retrospect, spending more time together in Scripture would have been more beneficial.

What would it look like for a church going through a revisioning process to, corporately, define discipleship and begin to plot out how the various ministries work together to make disciples? I wonder if it could look something like this:

A. The church and pastor commit to taking a full year to go through Scripture together.

B. The pastor spends time listing 40 or so passages (2-3 chapters of Scripture, even) that he or she feels are the most important ones for a church to look at. OT and NT. These passages become the basis for a church-wide conversation/Bible study one night a week. Perhaps the church would even cancel other Bible studies for the year in order to make sure as many as possible could attend this one. This group is not a decision-making group, but is vital to the process.

C. Each week, the pastor leads the study group through the passage for the week. While the pastor may have some exegesis prepared in advance, the goal is not to download information, but to let people see insights in the text together. They seek to answer these questions exegetically:

  • What does this passage say about the characteristics of a disciple? A disciple is _________.
  • What does this passage say about the actions of a disciple? A disciple does ____________.
  • What is God’s role in the spiritual formation of a disciple?
  • What is a disciple’s role?
  • What is the church’s role?

D. From these studies, the pastor then distills the most important parts and preaches from them the following Sunday. The whole church gets to hear and pray about the process, and it communicates that this affects everyone, whether they attend a weekly study or not. No one is off the hook or has an excuse about not hearing about the pulse of the conversations. No one can claim they weren’t included. And Sundays then become chances to create excitement about the process.

E. Monthly, the pastor meets with a select group of leaders (the board? a task force?) to review how the congregation has responded and answered the above questions from Scripture. The goal of this group is to begin connecting dots where Scripture emphasizes the same things over and over, to synthesize things into a manageable list.

F. Only after this year of Scripture soaking does the pastor and leadership group begin to figure out how their local church needs to contextualize discipleship.

What do you think? What is missing? Could this work? Have churches done this type of thing too many times that many leaders are tired of it?

Defining Discipleship

Exercises in defining discipleship are en vogue in the Christian circles I run in. Our local church and our district of Wesleyan pastors have both been working on this. While I don’t have empirical data to back this up, I’d guess that there are about as many definitions of being a disciple of Jesus as there are Christian denominations. The end goal of this, with which I agree, is that if we can clearly identify the attributes and actions of such a person, then we can begin to work on what it is the church does to help people be one.

Definitions do not, however, define strategies. They can only give an idea of the destination, clarify boundaries, and show us when we’re taking steps in the right direction. That said, I believe they are a necessary aspect of a local church’s ministry of spiritual formation (as are strategies).


Differences Between Discipleship and Spiritual Formation

While the terms are often used synonymously, “discipleship” and “spiritual formation” speak to related aspects of life in Christ. A simple definition of a disciple is someone who is being apprenticed, trained in the life of the kingdom of God. I would go so far as to say that one does not have to experience conversion before being a disciple, though conversion is a necessary step for one who would follow Jesus as an apprentice. Spiritual formation is what is happening to and in disciples. It is something that happens by the grace and power of the Spirit (thus, “spiritual” formation).

I found that Robert Mulholland does a good job in Invitation to a Journey of defining the latter term. Editing his definition, I’ve said,

“Christian spiritual formation is the lifelong process of being conformed into the image of Jesus Christ for the sake of the world.” 

The next several posts will be devoted to explaining more fully this definition. 

He also writes, “Spiritual formation is not an option…. We are being shaped either toward wholeness in Christ or toward a horribly destructive caricature of that image” (25-26). This view of spiritual formation sees three possible ends: 1) being conformed to the image of Christ; 2) being conformed to the image of a Christ we have created; or 3) being conformed into the image of the world. 


Implications for the Church

1. Just because you have a definition does not mean you have agreement as to how best spend your time, money, and people on making disciples. Coming up with concise definitions is tough enough; finding unity on what we’ll do next is even tougher. The hardest part for modern American Christians about this kind of exercise, I believe, is that definitions by definition exclude. They exclude ways of thinking and being and doing, where we wish we could look around like God did at creation and say to it all, “It was good.” We can’t. Just like Adam and Eve were charged with giving names to the animals (i.e., ruling over them), we too are charged with giving names to the mission of making disciples. We cannot use the possibility of exclusion as a reason for avoiding this. 

2. Conversely, a shared definition provides a framework for shared mission. Exercises on putting words on paper, prayer together, interpreting Scripture together, and time in silence allowing the Spirit to speak are exercises in discipleship. The ways we interact with one another in creating these statements speak just as much about what we believe about discipleship as any sort of formal programming we do. 


3. One temptation is to create an image of Jesus that looks much more palatable than that of Scripture. Each local church will naturally read Scripture with the presuppositions of its cultural context, and these will influence what kinds of things it hears and believes about Jesus. The goal is not to read absent of these cultural influences, but to acknowledge them as we read. Does our North American propensity to acquire more possessions cause us to talk about discipleship in terms of stewardship while ignoring underlying greed? 


4. If spiritual formation is not optional, then part of a distinctly Christian spiritual formation of disciples is turning from the various other ways of being formed. This is a tough one–some have opted for separation from the world (i.e., the Amish), while others have neglected this principle and forgotten to guard their hearts and minds. Recognizing that proximity and exposure does not mean spiritual formation (either positive or negative) is key here. 


5. If the Spirit is the one doing the forming, we trust the Spirit to form our minds and hearts corporately as we craft definitions. I’m glad that any exercises we undertake are empowered by God’s Spirit, who desires the church to be faithful in making disciples even more than we do. 

Catching Men, Preserving Life: Part 2

Here’s part 2 to the Luke 5 sermon. This one focuses on what Peter did as Jesus called Him. I preached it on June 17. On June 24 we had Master’s Praise, a southern gospel quartet from IWU, sing. They gave a great concert and we timed it perfectly (just after District Conference). Anyway, here’s the sermon.

Text: Luke 5:1-11

Last week we looked at the story of Jesus calling Simon to be a disciple. We saw Jesus go where people would listen. And when those crowds only listened, he approached Peter. He met Peter where he was, as a fisherman. And he called a man who he knew could lead, who had men under him. He called a man who was persistent and wouldn’t give up when things got tough. He called a man whom he had met before. Jesus did something miraculous and he calls us to share these stories. And lastly, Jesus called Peter to do something, not to simply sit on a pew or watch Him do everything.

Today we’re going to look at what Peter did in response to Jesus. Peter’s response is just as important as Jesus’ call. For those of us who have responded to Jesus, hopefully today’s sermon serves as a reminder of what we first signed up for. And for those of us who haven’t, hopefully it will give you an idea of what being a disciple of Jesus is all about.

As a Christian, you and I are called to live out both what Jesus does and what Peter does. We are both disciples of Christ and calling others to join us in discipleship. So to say you identify with one or the other in this passage is a little lopsided. You have only half of the picture of Christianity if you are only being a disciple without calling others, or if you’re only calling others but could care less about obeying Jesus yourself.

Turn to Luke 5:1-11.

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

1. Peter questions Jesus. He says, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.” There has to be at least a little bit of doubt going through Peter’s mind when Jesus wants to go fishing. At this point they’re only in shallow water. It would have been easy for Peter to say, “Sorry, I’m tired. I’m pulling the boat ashore. Come back tonight when I go out again.” We read the story and know the ending. Peter doesn’t know what’s about to happen. Even though Jesus had healed his mother-in-law, that probably wasn’t the first time something like that had happened. And in order for Jesus to “show up” here like He did earlier, He would have to have control over nature. It’s one thing to heal another person; it’s quite another to guarantee a bunch of fish to a man who just covered the entire area just hours before.

So Peter questions. So often we don’t feel comfortable questioning God. We worry about how God might think of us. He might think we don’t have much faith in Him. Or even worse, other Christians might think we don’t have much faith.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve questioned God in the last nine months. Time after time, “Lord, do you really want me here? I don’t feel capable.” Or, “God, are you sure this is the direction you have for Parkway?” Questioning God is part of discipleship. Look at the other Biblical characters who questioned God. Mary asked the angel Gabriel, “How can I have a child? I’m a virgin.” Abraham questioned God when he was told his wife Sarah would have a child at age 90.

Questioning God is part of following Him. And it’s okay.

2. Peter obeys Jesus. Notice how Peter first addresses Him in verse 5: “Master.” Peter uses a word that isn’t normally used in the NT. This word means something along the lines of commander or leader. Just as we see Peter in command of a crew, we see Jesus in command of Peter. In calling Jesus, “master or commander,” Peter shows utmost respect for Him. Peter acknowledges Jesus’ authority as commander and replies, “Because you say so, I will let the nets down.”

I’m assuming most of you have worked at some point in time. Whether you’ve worked in a factory or in an office, you had someone labeled “the boss.” And what “the boss” says goes, at least if you want to keep your job. What happens to employees who don’t do what the boss says? They get fired.

Over time, as you work at one place for years, you get to know your boss. At least in some jobs you do. And that person becomes more than just the guy you obey for fear of losing a job. That guy becomes a friend. He becomes someone who speaks your language, who understands your strengths and weaknesses and who allows you to use your strengths on the job. Your relationship changes.

Peter and Jesus are in this boat for a couple hours together, depending on how deep they went out. They didn’t have a motor boat to propel them in no time. I wonder what they talked about as the crew rowed. I wonder if Peter kept giving Jesus that look that said, “I’m still not so sure about this.” Jesus probably looked back with that look that said, “I know something you don’t know. Na, na, na, na, na.”

Whatever the case, they eventually got to the spot they were headed to, caught the fish, and the relationship had changed. Again Peter addresses Jesus, but this time as Lord. He is kurios, Jesus the Lord. So now when Peter obeys Jesus, it’s not out of a sense of duty to a superior, but out of worship to his Master.

Has that happened to you? Have you stopped viewing God as simply a commander who shouts out orders and started knowing Him as the One who knows what’s best for you? I’m convinced that too many Christians never move from obedience out of fear or duty to obedience out of worship. We’ve grown up hearing that we’re no good because we sinned one too many times. We believe the lie that Christianity is all about the rules and not about the God who made them. God desperately wants you to believe Him when He says, “From now on you’ll catch men.” And He wants that belief to sprout into joyful obedience as an act of worship.

3. Peter acknowledges his sinfulness. The boats are sinking. Jesus is sitting down in the boat and Peter drops to Jesus’ knees. He says, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” You can see the light bulbs going off in his mind. Jesus is Lord; I’m a man. I’m a sinful man.

This is the crew chief, the man who should be overjoyed right about now over the amount of fish he has to sell. His fortunes have changed; he has money to make and food to put on the table at home. He has a happy crew. The only bad thing about this situation is the boat is sinking. Peter should be at his feet helping balance out the weight on the boat so it doesn’t sink. He should be telling his crew what to do with the fish. He should be high-fiving James and John.

But instead he’s on his hands and knees, eye to eye with Jesus on the floor of the boat. What a crazy place to be. That’s like sitting in the middle of an aisle at Wal-Mart on a Saturday afternoon. Everyone’s busy buying their food, and you’re there as if nothing else is going on.

That’s Peter. And Luke is making a point here and throughout his gospel with his use of the word “sinful” or “sinner.” If you’re not a sinner, Jesus doesn’t want to be with you. The Pharisees constantly question Jesus: “Why do you spend time with the sinners?” And Jesus’ reply is He is calling them to repentance. The sick need a doctor, not the healthy.

If Peter wouldn’t have acknowledged his sin, would Jesus have called him as a disciple? I can’t say for sure, but my guess is He wouldn’t have. Does Jesus want anyone following Him who doesn’t own up to their sin? No. An integral part of being a disciple is understanding our sinful nature.

4. Peter is astonished and afraid. Verse 9 says, “For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken.” I don’t think Peter is worrying about the fish at this point. He’s thinking more about how he acquired all the fish. Jesus has just done a miracle, a miracle that in Peter’s mind proves that this guy is more than your ordinary rabbi. His astonishment and fear are a testimony to who Jesus is. Jesus is God, and these emotions are the only proper ones in the midst of a miracle.

Look at how many times the word fear is used in Luke. In Luke. 1:13, Zechariah is afraid of the angel in the temple. In Luke 1:30, Mary is afraid of the angel telling her she’s pregnant. In Luke 2:10, the shepherds are afraid of their angels with good news. In Luke 8:25, the disciples are afraid AFTER Jesus calms the storm, not before. In Luke 8:35, the town is afraid AFTER Jesus heals the man named Legion.

Fear and amazement imply that we don’t have Jesus figured out. We know just enough about Him to know there’s something special going on, to know He’s God, but we don’t know everything. These emotions must be our natural response to the supernatural.

What are you afraid of? Spiders? Mice? Snakes? Heights? Jesus?

5. Peter left everything and followed Jesus. He left the success of that day, he left the routine and certainties of life, he left his possessions, his power, his family…everything…and followed Jesus. Why do we tend to look at this story, read verse 11, and get the warm feeling inside but leave it at that? Why do we say, “Good job Peter!” but forget that Luke was writing to an audience that now includes us? Do we think Jesus only asked the 12 disciples to do this?

There’s a saying that goes, “If you follow Jesus you don’t go where you want to go. You go where He wants you.”

What would you do if you heard God saying, “I want you to start a ministry to the homeless, but in order to do it, you need to be homeless.” Or if He said, “There are people in countries you’ve never been to who need to know about my Son. I’ve chosen you to tell them.”

This story leaves no room for excuses. Can we question God? Yes. But can we hide behind excuses? No. Luke 9:57-62 say, “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’ He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’ But the man replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.’ Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’”

We’re going to sing a song called “The Savior is Waiting.” It speaks to those who’ve never taken the step of faith like Peter did and said, “I’ll follow you, Lord.” But I think it can also speak to those who’ve said they’ll follow but haven’t left everything yet. Or to those who are obeying God out of duty rather than worship. Please come to the front if the Holy Spirit has spoken to you.

Catching Men, Preserving Life

Last Sunday and this Sunday we’re looking at Luke 5:1-11, Jesus’ calling of Simon Peter. Last Sunday we saw what Jesus did, next Sunday we’ll look at Simon’s actions. I recognize there are no easy-made disciples. Cookie-cutter evangelism is a hoax. This sermon is not meant to say, “Here’s what Jesus did when He called Peter, so here’s what we must do.” My hope is that it spurs us on to be passionate about evangelism.

Text: Luke 5:1-11

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

Luke 9:51 says, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Luke’s gospel records at least six times of Jesus going toward Jerusalem. While Matthew and Mark only mention Jerusalem once each, and John doesn’t mention it at all, Luke mentions Jerusalem 27 times. Jerusalem is an important place to Luke because this is where Jesus is killed. Statements like those of Luke 9:51 give us a look into the mind of Christ. He resolutely set out for Jerusalem, knowing He would die there.

Jesus knew He would die. But He didn’t come to die as a martyr for a cause. He wasn’t fixated on death. This wasn’t a suicide mission. His was a mission to transform the world with the kingdom of God. But He knew that the kingdom of God would die just as quickly as He did if there was no one that believed in Him.

So He begins to call disciples. But He doesn’t call just anyone. He calls a fisherman named Simon. And He makes it look so easy, doesn’t He? Just put out into deep water and voilà, oodles of fish in the nets. Come with me!

If only evangelism and discipleship were that easy. One of our Wesleyan missionaries, John Connor, works with the Jesus Film. He and teams of people go to locations around the world and show the Jesus Film in the language of the people. I heard him testify of the overwhelming amount of people who asked Christ to be Savior or who were interested in knowing more about Jesus after seeing the film. And I thought to myself, “I sure wish that’s all it took for Parkway to grow.”

But it’s not that easy. Now those places with numerous converts must disciple them, get them involved in a local body of believers, and show them how to worship Christ with their lives. It’s not that easy. And while it looks like what Jesus did was “so easy” with Peter, this isn’t the only way to call disciples.

Lots of books talk about five easy steps to winning people for Christ. They claim to be fool-proof how-tos on growing the church. I’m going to make ten observations—six this Sunday and four next Sunday—about what happens in this passage, but I’m not going to claim that this is the only way to make disciples. If we look at Jesus’ calling of Matthew the tax collector, we see him go to his house. Peter in Acts preaches a sermon and a couple thousand people follow Christ. There is no one set way to make disciples. If there were we’d know it by now, have it down and be practicing it every day. As it is, we know God calls us to make disciples. And we know that’s easier said than done, especially for those of us who are shy and who feel like we won’t know what to say.

So here’s what I’m asking. Listen to the ten observations and try to put a few into practice this week.

1. Jesus goes to a place where people will listen. In Luke 4, Jesus is in the Nazareth synagogue. He makes a claim to be the Messiah and the people drive him out of town, take him to the edge of a hill and try to throw him down the cliff. They don’t sound too receptive to him. Contrast that scene with the one in verse one: Jesus stands by the Sea of Galilee with people crowding around him listening to the word of God. They are literally pressing on him like he’s a celebrity.

And all the crowd does is listen. They press in and listen. No obedience, no following.

Luke tells us Jesus is teaching the word of God. In Luke 8 Jesus tells the parable of the sower, and the seed is the word of God. In Luke 8:21 Jesus says, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” In Luke 11:28, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Acts 6:7: “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” Every time the word of God is mentioned the emphasis is on obedience to it. Obedience to the word of God for Luke implies becoming a disciple and vice versa; becoming a disciple implies obedience to the word of God.

So since the crowd only wants to hear the word, Jesus moves on to Simon.

2. Jesus calls a man he met before. First, Jesus had met Simon before. Simon knew firsthand the power of God in Jesus. Luke 4:38-39 tells how Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law. “Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.” You get the sense that Jesus has “earned” Simon’s respect. He’s not just approaching a man off the street. It’s not a random meeting; it’s not a surprise that Jesus chooses to call a man he’s met before.

You may have heard the term “friendship evangelism.” It refers to building a relationship with a lost person, and slowly showing them what it means to be a Christ-follower. I believe this method is effective because people tend to respect the gospel coming from a friend who genuinely cares rather than from a preacher they don’t know from Adam. But the danger in this is befriending people for the sole purpose of telling them about Jesus. Then it’s not really friendship but selfishness. Should we have friends who aren’t Christians? Yes. Should we tell them about Jesus? Yes. But what if they never accept Christ as Savior? Are we still to be their friends? You bet.

3. Jesus calls a man who can lead. Peter is a fisherman who Luke says has partners, coworkers. He uses two different words for this. In verse 7, the word is μετόχος, which means someone who shares in. These were men who shared in the work and probably shared in the pay. They worked alongside Peter and his boat to catch the fish, to steer the boat, to prepare the nets, to clean the boats, etc. The second word is κοινωνοὶ, which means to take part in, to share a common experience. James and John are the κοινωνοὶ. They are even closer to Peter than the others are. And notice the change of verb tenses in the passage. In verse 4, Jesus tells Peter to go into deep water, and in verse 6 “they had done so.” In verse 10, Jesus tells Peter he’ll be catching men and in verse 11 “they” pull the boats ashore and leave. These men really follow Peter.

Peter is the central figure, the one whose boat Jesus jumps into. Peter is a man of leadership. He’s a man who’s willing to give it another shot. Fishing isn’t a guaranteed thing. You don’t always catch what you’re after. Same thing with fishing for men. They don’t always listen to the word of God and follow. Jesus needed a man who could lead, and a man who wouldn’t give up with the first failure. Simon was his man.

This says a lot to me about how we should think of making disciples. Instead of calling random men and women to be those who lead, we need to call those who can lead. I’m not saying we restrict the gospel to the elite and the talented. Jesus certainly didn’t do that. But from the crowds he selected and mentored the ones he knew could lead. Though we call many to follow Jesus, we only call few to lead.

4. Jesus does something relevant. Just think, “What if Jesus would have only said, ‘I’m starting the kingdom of God. Do you want to be a part of it?’” How would that have gone over? We don’t know, but I’m guessing Simon wouldn’t have got out of his boat and followed. The very fact that Jesus is with Simon on his “home turf” makes this relevant. He’s not in the marketplace meeting Simon there. He doesn’t ask Simon to go with him to the fields with a bunch of shepherds. He goes to where Simon is at.

My question is this: How often are we willing to meet people in an uncomfortable place? How often are we willing to talk about our faith in a public place? New Church Specialties gives an example of pigs and cows. A storm hits a farm, so the farmer tells his cows, which are safe in the barn, to get the pigs into the barn before they die. So the cows offer the pigs some of their hay, but the pigs turn their noses and stay in the rain. The cows then offer the pigs to stick their heads in their yokes, but the pigs declined. Finally the cows offered to put their milking suction cups on the pigs…well, you know what the pigs said to that. Needless to say, the storm killed the pigs.

We all hear that and think, “Why didn’t those silly cows just go out into the rain to rescue the pigs?” And yet that’s what we do when we assume the lost will come to us on our terms. It doesn’t work that way. We must go to them.

5. Jesus does something miraculous. Simon and his partners have been out all night fishing. They worked third shift, which is prime fishing time. They’re tired. They’re ready to be done cleaning the nets so they can go home and sleep for a bit. And Jesus asks them to put out for a catch. They do it and all of a sudden there are more fish than you can shake a stick at. Luke tells us the boats were “so full that they began to sink” in verse 7. The word for “full” means they were filled to the brim. I don’t know how big these boats were. I do know they were fairly small, probably only large enough for the crew and their equipment. Nonetheless, this catch of fish is astounding. Jesus does something these men have been doing all their lives…and he’s a carpenter. In fact, He doesn’t really do anything but sit and watch.

It’s in the miraculous catch that Simon and his partners catch on that there’s something extraordinary about this teacher. And they follow him.

Most of you are thinking, “He’s given four points and talked about how they apply today. Now he’s talking about miracles. The buck stops here.” Why? Why does the buck stop here? Why do we get scared of miracles? Why do we doubt?

Maybe it’s because we’ve seen too many televangelists fake it. Maybe it’s because we’ve prayed and nothing happens. Or maybe it’s because we misunderstand the meaning of a miracle. I would say a miracle is anything that God does that we cannot do on our own. Could Peter and his crew have caught that many fish? Yes. But could they have caught them that day while their nets were on the shore being cleaned? No. This was a God-thing.

Last week we were on vacation and we traveled to Michigan with Jamie’s parents to see her grandfather. Before leaving they put Janet’s car in the shop for brake problems. And on the way up their van broke down. We had it towed and rented a truck. All in all, their costs for the day totaled $1100. That week, her dad went to work at the church and found an envelope in his mailbox with 11 one hundred dollar bills in it. If you think God doesn’t still do miracles…He just did one last week.

Here’s another miracle. Salvation. The gift God gave us in His Son to save us—something we cannot do on our own—is a miracle. You and I can testify to what God has done for us. We can tell others about how we were sinking deep in sin, far from God, only caring about ourselves, when God reached down and rescued us from our sin. That’s a miracle. You can bet Peter, James and John remembered that catch of fish. They never forgot what Jesus did that day. We too can tell our story to the world.

6. Jesus called Peter to do something—to catch men. I once heard of a preacher who said, “Too many Christians have moss growing on their butts. They don’t do anything.” Could this be because they aren’t expected to do anything? Jesus didn’t say to Peter, “Come watch me do this again.” He said, “I caught you. Now you will catch others.”

The Greek word for catch used here is different than the ones used earlier in the passage. Those words mean to hunt, to lock up or to take as prisoner. They’re the normal words for catching fish. But Jesus’ word in verse 10 is different. It’s the word ζωγρέω. It means “to capture and keep alive.” You can see where this is heading. Before, Peter caught fish to kill them and sell them as food. Now he is called to capture men in order to keep them alive. This implies that these men could die. Jesus is saying, “There are dying men and women out there. And if you and I don’t get out to where they’re at, meet them on their home turf, preach the gospel in a relevant way, they’re gonna keep on dying.” And he says this will happen from now on. This is your occupation. You’re not a fisherman but a fisher of men. And there’s no Social Security or pension plan for this job. It’s a lifetime.

I have a question. What if hell is real? What if hell is a reality? What if there literally are men and women who die each day and go there? Now I have a second question. Do you care? Do you care?

Jesus has called us just like He called Peter. You may not know it, but the moment you said, “Jesus, be my Savior,” you said, “I’m fishing for men.”

My last question is this: Will you do it?

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