One Fish Can Change the World

One Fish Can Change the World

Matthew 4:18-22

Dr. Jim Denison

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.


The Best Advice I Know

The Best Advice I Know

Revelation 7:9-17

Dr. Jim Denison

A friend recently sent me some good advice from kids:

Never trust a dog to watch your food (Patrick, age 10).

When your dad is mad and asks you, “Do I look stupid?” don’t answer him (Michael, 14).

Never tell your mom her diet’s not working (Michael, 14).

Stay away from prunes (Randy, 9).

When your mom is mad at your dad, don’t let her brush your hair (Taylia, 11).

Never allow your three-year-old brother in the same room as your school assignment (Traci, 14).

Don’t sneeze in front of mom when you’re eating crackers (Mitchell, 12).

Puppies still have bad breath even after eating a tic tac (Andrew, 9).

If you want a kitten, start out by asking for a horse (Naomi, 15). Never try to baptize a cat (Eileen, 8).

Don’t pick on your sister when she’s holding a baseball bat (Joel, 10).

Never hold a dust buster and a cat at the same time (Kyoyo, 9).

This morning I am going to give you the greatest single piece of advice I have ever received. This advice will explain why you are here, and what your life’s most fulfilling purpose is. It will tell you how to find God, every day; how to defeat your enemies and opponents in life; how to respond to discouragement and frustration, and how to experience the power of God in your life and soul.

You might be thinking that one piece of advice could never do all this. But it can. It has in my life, whenever I’ve followed it. It will for you as well.

Let me show you why it’s so, and how it works.

Why should we praise God?

When Jesus was asked, “What is the most important thing God has ever told us, in all his creation and revelation?” you remember his answer: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind, and strength” (Matthew 22:37). According to the Master of the Universe, worshiping God is the most important activity in life. This is the best advice I know.

Why? Why is it this important? Why worship God? John’s revelation of heaven answers our question. Consider these facts:

Praise thanks God for all he does for us. The people of heaven, this vast multitude beyond counting, wear “white robes” (v. 9). These refer to priestly robes like those the pope wears today, but even more to robes of victory such the Roman generals wore. What makes them white? “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (v. 14). Blood on a garment is one of the hardest stains to remove, but not this blood. Jesus’ blood bleaches out all the stains of sin in our lives. His forgiveness removes them forever.

So we all wear white robes of victory. Not Baptist robes and Presbyterian robes and Catholic robes. Not just robes for the choir, but for all of us. Robes of victory.

And we hold “palm branches” as well (v. 9). These were used by the Greeks and Romans as victory signs at the Games, like our gold medals today. We are dressed in white robes and hold palm branches of eternal victory, in Jesus.

Then look at our future with him (vs. 15-17): never again will we hunger or thirst or feel the scorching heat of the sun. Jesus himself will be our pastor, leading us to springs of eternal water; and God himself will dry our every tear.

No wonder they praise God! Has God saved your soul? Has he given you victory? Is this your future? Then how can you not thank and praise him?

Praise frames the universe. From beginning to end, all that is worships God. When God was busy creating all that is, “the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy” (Job 38:7). When time comes to its final end, the great multitude in heaven shouts “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God” (Revelations 19:1).

And between beginning and end, this is why we exist: God says that we are “the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise” (Isaiah 43:21). We exist to praise God. If we don’t, Jesus said that the rocks would cry out for us (Luke 19:40).

Praise leads to God. Where is God located? What’s his address? Psalm 22:3 declares that God inhabits the praises of his people. Psalm 100:4 teaches that we enter God’s gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Wherever people are praising God, God is there. No matter the circumstances of their lives, they have found God.

A little girl came home from church to discover that her bedridden, depressed father had written over his bed the words, GODISNOWHERE. She smiled and exclaimed, “God is now here!” When we praise him, he is.

Praise leads to the blessing and power of God. Are you afflicted by others? Listen to Psalm 149:6-9: “May the praise of God be in [his people’s] mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands, to inflict vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples, to bind their kings with fetters, their nobles with shackles of iron, to carry out the sentence written against them. This is the glory of all his saints. Praise the Lord.”

Do you have enemies? Listen to Psalm 8:2: “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.”

Are you discouraged? Listen to Isaiah 61:3: God will bestow on you “a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

Are you in the belly of a fish, physically or emotionally? Remember what Jonah did: “I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). And God’s response? “The Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land” (v. 10).


The First Statue of Liberty

The First Statue of Liberty

Matthew 28:18-20

Dr. Jim Denison

Once upon a time there was a stonecutter. He lived all alone. Though he had great skills, he was very poor. He lived in a tiny bamboo hut and wore tattered clothing.

One day as the stonecutter worked with his hammer and chisel upon a huge stone, he heard the king’s procession approaching his humble village. Joining the crowd, he stood in awe at the marvelous silk robes and regal splendor of the king. “Oh, how I wish I had the power and glory of the king,” he thought. “He has soldiers at his command. No one is more powerful.”

His cry was heard, and immediately the humble stonecutter was transformed into a powerful king, riding a great horse, waving at the crowds who flocked to see him. “This is power,” he thought.

As summer came, however, the king watched the power of the sun on his people. Men, animals, and plants withered under its powerful rays. “How I wish I were as powerful as that,” he thought. “I wish I were the sun.” And immediately his wish was granted.

The stonecutter relished his new role as the sun, and gloried in his power over the earth below. Then one day a tiny cloud moved over the land, shielding the earth from his bright rays. Seeing that here was something more powerful than himself, he thought, “I want very much to be a cloud.”

Again his wish was granted. Now he blocked the sun’s rays and felt important. He poured rain on the earth, flooding the streets and farmlands below. Everything was under his power, except the rocks. Again he had found something more powerful than he.

“There is nothing as powerful as a rock,” he thought. “How I wish I were a huge stone.” His wish was granted.

As a stone he remained motionless and powerful, unmoved by sun or wind or rain. He felt exempt from all the forces that shaped the existence of those around him.

Then one day a man approached, carrying a bag. When he stopped, he pulled out a chisel and hammer and began to chip away at the rock. Realizing that the man with the tools was more powerful than any rock, he cried out, “Oh, I want to be a stonecutter.”

Once again his cry was heard, and he became a stonecutter. Once again he lived in a bamboo hut and made his living with hammer and chisel. And he was at peace, for he had found his life’s purpose at last.

We must each find our reason for being. Abraham Maslow said it well: “An artist must paint, a poet must write, a musician must make music if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself.” What were you made to be? What is your purpose, your vision for your life? And how does that vision relate to the country whose birth we celebrate today?

Why are you here?

Where do we go for the answers we seek today? A counselor? A trusted family member or friend? How about the only person in all of human history who said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18)?

“Authority” here means power, control, sovereign lordship. “Heaven and earth” of course includes everything that exists.

He proved this authority by ordering the winds and the waves, healing the sick and raising the dead, then defeating death himself. The only person ever to do so.

So he has “all” authority. Over the way we do our businesses and work, our politics and government, our society and culture, and our personal lives. He alone has the right to tell us why we’re here, what we’re made to do. Because he made us.

What does he say?

“Therefore,” as a result of his authority, “go and make disciples of all nations.” A disciple is a “fully devoted follower.” We are to make fully devoted followers of Jesus.

In all nations—the word means all people groups, every person we know. We start by “going”—the Greek says, “as you go.” Wherever you go, with those you already know today, the people you will meet this week. As you go, help people follow Jesus. That’s why you’re here, he says.

To whom is this addressed? Simply put, this vision statement applies to every Christian. Jesus’ “Great Commission” was addressed to every believer, not just the apostles, the so-called “clergy.” He addressed this to carpenters, farmers, fishermen, pottery makers, tax collectors, soldiers, every conceivable career.

Your vocation—your calling—is to help people follow Jesus. Your career is how you do it. You help people follow Jesus by being a lawyer, or a hotel operator, or a banker, or a teacher, or a coach. Your career is a means to the end of your vocation.

If God could give us a one-question test today, “What is your life’s purpose?” the only right answer is this: to help people follow Jesus. That’s your life vision, according to your Creator and Lord.

How do we do this? Some people we need to evangelize—”baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (v. 19). We pray for the lost people we know, invite them to church or other spiritual activities, tell them what Jesus has done for us. We show them God’s love in ours.

The high school students I met when I started going to church evangelized me by their care, their love for me, and their joy in Jesus. I wanted what they had. Then my Sunday school teacher simply explained John 3:16 to me. We help some people to know Jesus.

Others we equip to follow Jesus—”teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (v. 20). We help Christians to follow Jesus more personally, more closely, more passionately.

And we do all of this out of that personal devotion to Jesus which empowers all we do—”And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (v. 20b). We do this in his power and ability.


The Misplaced Comma

The Misplaced Comma

Ephesians 4.11-16

Dr. Jim Denison

Have you heard of the Wicked Bible? This was an edition of the King James Version published in London in 1631. The word “not” was accidentally left out of the seventh commandment. As a result, Exodus 20:14 commanded, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” For this, the translation was appropriately called the “Wicked” Bible. William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, ordered the printers to pay a fine of 300 pounds.

In 1716, thousands of copies of another Bible edition were printed before someone noticed that the command of John 8, “Go and sin no more” had been printed, “Go and sin on more.” And a mix-up in gender in a 1923 version produced this command: “A man may not marry his grandmother’s wife,” a difficult task anyway.

Some translation mistakes are humorous and harmless enough. However, there is another mistake in a biblical translation which is not so funny today. For centuries it has had a devastating effect on the church, and still hurts us. It’s not a sentence or even a word, but a comma. Just one little comma. But it’s been disastrous.

This morning I need to show you why this is so, and the enormous and crucial significance this comma holds for your life and soul today, and for eternity.

The worst typo in history

The worst typo in history is found in the King James Version of the Bible. Now, I have a high regard for the KJV; it was the translation preached when I came to Christ, and is still the most popular version in English today. I don’t want you to worry if you read the KJV.

But there’s a major problem with this passage: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12).

What’s wrong here? We’ve discussed this text before, but never as a morning sermon. The issue is so important, I want us to revisit it and give it our full attention today.

Verse 11 is fine. God did indeed call some leaders to be apostles, others prophets or evangelists, still others to be pastor-teachers. The problem is with verse 12, which describes the work of these leaders. According to the KJV, my first job is the “perfecting of the saints.” This means to mature the saints, to train or “feed” God’s people. This is my first responsibility.

My second job is to do “the work of the ministry.” I am to witness, to visit, to counsel, to comfort, to serve. And my third job is “the edifying of the body of Christ.” I am to build the church. Now, isn’t this how the typical church member evaluates the pastor? Did he “feed” me? Did he do the ministry? Did he grow the church?

But as you may remember, the first comma of verse 12 was a mistake. It simply didn’t exist in the Greek original. It was inserted by Anglican translators, men who wanted to preserve the power of church officials.

And so they reinforced the greatest single mistake in church history: the “clergy.” A class of “ministers,” separate from the members. A disaster. And they gave us three jobs: equip the Christians, do the ministry, grow the church.

But take out the first comma, and what do you have? The job of the pastor or any church leader is the “perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry.” Or as the NIV puts it, “to prepare God’s people for works of service.” And that’s a completely different thing.

This comma has given birth to an entire mindset in the Christian church which is wrong. Simply put, it is the idea that effective personal ministry and witnessing, passionate commitment to Jesus, and sacrificial stewardship are wonderful, but optional. Once you’re saved, you’re fine. Everything else is extra credit, reserved for the super-Christians who are called by God for “special service.”

For the sake of our church, and our souls, I must show you how wrong that is.

Two jobs, one vocation

God’s strategy for a healthy church and soul is really very simple: leaders who are equippers, and members who are ministers. Two jobs, one vocation, to help people follow Jesus.

First, let’s look at the job of leaders. If you are a leader in this church, here’s your job description: to “prepare God’s people for works of service.” “Prepare” translates a medical term, which means to “set a bone” or heal something broken. It describes a trainer who wraps the ankle of a football player so he can send him back into the game. Someone who gets others ready to play.

This is how God will evaluate our performance one day. Not by how well we do the ministry, but by how well our people do. The coach is not judged by his own ability, but by that of his team. Pastors and leaders will not be evaluated by how many people we won to Christ, but by how many people our people won; not by how well we pray, but by how well our people pray; not by how much Scripture we know and practice, but by how much our people do.

This week I found an odd military term: “attack oilers.” The USS Savannah is one of these, for instance. She provides fuel, ammunition, missiles, and other essentials to the fighting ships. Without her, they cannot win the battle.In the same way, we in leadership are “oilers”—we exist to help you find and fulfil your ministry calling. As we will see in a moment, God will hold us accountable for this, his purpose for our lives and work.

So God needs leaders who are equippers, and members who are ministers.

Every Christian has at least one spiritual gift (v. 7). You have a calling from God, a specific ministry you are to perform to help people follow Jesus. You need to be equipped for this ministry. You need to be reading Scripture daily, praying as a lifestyle, worshiping God across the week. You need to practice the various spiritual disciplines. Scripture is clear: “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).