An Ark or an Army?

An Ark or an Army?

Mark 1:14-20

James C. Denison

It’s a tough world out there.

There was a time when new airlines seemed to start every month, promising lower fares and more flights. Now airline mergers are the wave of the future, though we’ll likely see higher fares, fewer flights, and more crowded airplanes.

JC Penney’s CEO told business analysts this week that he has “personally never seen an environment as unpredictable as this one.” The housing downturn has led to the dollar’s decline which has led to economic unrest across the country. Gas and groceries have never been as expensive as they are today. College tuition continues to rise faster than inflation.

This generation may be the first in our history to be poorer than their parents. Consignment and second-hand clothing stores are a new trend. Smaller cars are coming, as car makers respond to demand for fuel efficiency and lower prices. More and more people are downsizing as they struggle to keep up.

In a chaotic world like ours, there are two primary visions for the church in America, two ways to understand the relationship between the gospel and the church today.

One sees the church as an ark, a refuge and retreat in a storm. The church is a place where you come each week to be safe, to be helped, to get your needs met. The gospel is for believing and celebrating and holding. Come to be inspired, encouraged, taught; come for the sake of your family and friends; come to be blessed by God. Come to get inside the ark for a while.

The other sees the church as an army, a movement which assaults the gates of hell, a mighty force bent on the evangelization of all nations and the transformation of the world into the Kingdom of God. The gospel is for sharing and giving to everyone we can.

Have you come today to sit in the ark or to join the army? The answer says everything about whether or not your life will find the purpose and peace and power of God.

Live to give

Our text begins: “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God” (v. 14).

This is the northern region of the Holy Land today, a mixed population of Jews and Gentiles. Arameans, Itureans, Phoenicians and Greeks all lived in the region. Travelers and traders headed from Africa into Asia and Europe came down her roads. Some three million people lived in towns and villages all across this fertile, vibrant region.

One thing they had in common was a dislike of the authorities and legalities which consumed Jerusalem and Judea to the south. If Jesus had established his ministry around the Temple and with its rabbis, waiting for the Galileans to come to him, he would be waiting still. So he went to them.

After he began his public ministry in Capernaum and great crowds flocked to him, he had a difficult decision to make. Would he settle there, teaching in the synagogue and doing his ministry in the city, or would he go to those who would not come to him?

Mark tells us that “very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (v. 35) As a result, he could tell his disciples, “Let us go somewhere else–to the nearby villages–so I can preach there also. That is why I have come” (v. 38). Immediately “he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons” (v. 39).

This missionary impulse to breathe out, to give and share and serve, to go to people who would not come to them, quickly characterized the Christian movement Jesus began. He told them to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), and they took him at his word.

Philip soon went to the Samaritans with the gospel, Peter to Cornelius and the Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas left the confines of Palestine to take the gospel to what they called “Asia,” Turkey today. Paul eventually traveled through Europe and Spain to bring the good news wherever he could. By Acts 17:6 the first Christians had “turned the world upside down” (KJV), sparking the mightiest spiritual movement in human history.

This has always been Christianity at its best and strongest.

William Carey, taking the gospel to the shores of India; Lottie Moon giving her life for the gospel in China; frontier missionaries bringing the good news to the western reaches of American expansion.

I preach each summer at Bloys Campmeeting, a gathering started in 1890 by Presbyterian circuit-riding preacher W. B. Bloys to bring the gospel to ranchers who could not or would not leave their herds to go to church.

Park Cities Baptist Church was started by a group of laypeople who believed there ought to be a Baptist church in what was then the far-north edge of Dallas. Without financial support from anyone, they began this work. Their first act in their first worship service was to take an offering for world missions. That’s the church as an army.

But that’s not your only choice in our culture. This society says that it’s all about you. You’re the consumer, the customer, and the customer is always right.

“Give the people what they want” is the marketing mantra of our day. My job is to help you manage your money or deal with your stress or make your marriage better. Our job is to help you with your problems and meet your needs, whatever they might be. So long as you come, you’ve done your job. So long as you sit in the ark, you’re safe from the storms for a while. If you feel better when you leave, I’ve done my job.

Give to live

If you could sit in an ark, why would you want to join an army? For one simple reason: the ark doesn’t float, at least not for long. Consumer Christianity isn’t Christianity, and it doesn’t really work. It doesn’t change anyone’s life, or heal anyone’s marriage, or defeat anyone’s temptations, or give anyone the purpose and peace and power of God. The simple fact is that God empowers us only when we fulfill his purpose. And his purpose is clear: “go and make disciples.”

The church must get the gospel to the world, or it is not a church.

When David ran at Goliath, sling in hand, he won a great victory. When David stayed in the palace while his army went to battle, he fell into great sin.

Ephesians 6 describes the “spiritual armor” of the Christian: “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (vs. 14-17).

Notice this fact: the armor covers and protects only the front of the body. If the soldier retreats, he is doomed.

The typical Baptist church grows until it is five years old, then it plateaus. The reason is simple: when the church begins it must grow or die. So it knocks on doors, invites friends and neighbors, focuses on the needs of those it has not yet reached.

But after five years of doing this, it usually has achieved critical mass. Now it begins thinking about its own members and their needs. It focuses on children and youth and facilities and programs for its people. Others are always welcome to join, but the focus shifts from the community to the congregation. And most churches never grow again.

There is more to life than getting what we can and canning what we get. There is a God-shaped emptiness in every one of us, so that our hearts are restless until they rest in him. We long in our souls to be on purpose, on mission, our lives committed to a cause greater than ourselves.

We resonate with the church in Seville, Spain who put over their doorway the statement, “Let us build here a church so great that people who come after us will think us mad ever to have attempted it.” We are stirred by the call to attempt something so great it is doomed to fail unless God be in it. We are made to want more than we can own and drive and spend, to seek lives of significance and eternal impact. That’s just the way we are.

Gregg Easterbrook, author of the secular bestseller, The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse, makes this spiritual point in a profound way:

“As Alan Wolfe of Boston University has noted, a leading question of our moment in history is: ‘Why capitalism and liberal democracy, both of which justify themselves on the grounds that they produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number, leave so much dissatisfaction in their wake’….

“Perhaps Western society has lost its way, producing material goods in impressive superfluity but also generating so much stress and pressure that people cannot enjoy what they attain. Perhaps men and women must re-examine their priorities–demanding less, caring more about each other, appreciating what they have rather than grousing about what they do not have, giving more than lip service to the wisdom that money cannot buy happiness” (p. xvii).

Consumerism doesn’t really work for the consumer. It certainly doesn’t work for the Christian.


Last week we were called to follow Jesus as he fishes for men, to love Jesus first so we could love others best. Next week we’ll learn how to fish for men ourselves. But before we can learn how to catch fish, we must want to catch fish. We must want out of the boat, the ark of safety which tempts us to be consumers and customers. We must want out on the water, marching against the enemy, joining the army of God.

The decision is vital for our souls. Only when we give can we receive. When we empty our hands, we can fill them. When we live to give, we soon discover that we give to live. We must breathe out to breathe in, or we die.

This morning I am asking you to make a simple decision: will you enlist in the army of God? Will you volunteer for duty? Will you ask God to use you whatever the cost, whatever he asks, wherever he leads? Will you begin every day by surrendering it to Jesus as your Lord? Will you ask the Holy Spirit to fill and empower and control you each morning? Will you spend the day seeking to serve and glorify your Father? Will you fish wherever he sends you? Will you join his army?

One of our days in Israel, part of our tour group hiked through tunnels beneath the Western Wall of the original Temple Mount. Our guide was a young Jewish man who had spent his life in Jerusalem and was now studying for an advanced degree in archaeology. He was brilliant and scholarly, and a privilege to know.

Halfway through the tour, he motioned for us to step aside so a short, stooped-over elderly man could pass. I caught a glimpse of the man’s wrinkled, bearded face, and saw in his eyes a remarkable sense of joy and delight. At the end of the tour, our guide told us the man’s story.

His name is Ben-amin, Benjamin to us. Though he is well past 80 years old, he works every day in the tunnels. He sweeps, takes out trash, helps with tours, does whatever is needed. When he first came to the tunnel area and asked if he could sweep the floors, the custodians were surprised but wanted to honor his age and request, so they consented. Every day, six days a week, from early to late, Ben-amin swept the floors and did the most menial of tasks.

Finally one of them asked him why he gave himself so sacrificially to such demeaning work. The old man sat down and told the custodians his story. When he was a young man, he was taken by the Nazis. He never saw any of his family again. He was sent to one of the Holocaust camps where Jews by the thousands were incinerated.

Because he was young and strong, his life was spared so he could sweep and clean the camp. Every day his camp commander taunted Ben-amin by pointing to the cremation chimneys and their smoke and saying, “That’s the only way you’ll ever see your Holy Land.”

His camp was finally liberated. Many years later, Ben-amin was able to emigrate to Israel. As he had swept the floors of that Holocaust camp, so he wanted to sweep the floors in the Temple tunnels, because that was the place closest to the Jewish Temple and its sacred grounds. God had spared his life, and he had to serve him in response. He had no choice–he had to give to the One who had given everything to him.

Don’t we?

Fishing With a Blackberry

Fishing With a BlackBerry

Mark 1:14-20

James C. Denison

Would you rather be paid cash or a compliment? An article in Wednesday’s news says that each activates the same reward center in the brain. In other words, you feel as good when people same something nice about you as when they give something nice to you. Just for the record, our finance committee would rather you put money in the plate than compliment the ushers.

But that’s not all we want you to do. We want you to give of your time and talents to the cause of the Kingdom as well. For weeks now you’ve been hearing about the “gospel,” the good news that God loves us and has sent his Son to redeem us. We’ve talked about the gospel and us, the gospel and relationships, the gospel and the church, and now taking the gospel to our community.

The trouble is, most of us are uncomfortable talking to other people about our faith. We’re afraid they’ll ask a question we can’t answer and we’ll be embarrassed, or that we’ll offend them. We would like our friends and colleagues and neighbors to know Christ, to understand and believe the gospel, but we feel inadequate to the task. We’d rather trust the professionals, the same way we don’t practice medicine unless we’re a doctor or try to fly a plane unless we’re a pilot. Someone could get hurt.

We know that Jesus called us to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) starting in our “Jerusalem” (Acts 1:8), our community. Some people don’t care about winning the lost, but most of us do. We’re just not sure we can do much to help.

If you want your life to count for God’s Kingdom but aren’t sure how to go about it, you’re the person I’ve been sent to help this morning. I need to answer two questions.

Why does God need you?

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. There are no absolutes. We have no right to impose our reality, our values on others. Religion is a private, personal, subjective thing. Except that people make these claims as absolute truths. And to deny absolute truth is to make an absolute truth claim.

But do we really believe that the good people we know who don’t happen to be born-again Christians are going to hell? 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? 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). Acts 4:12 says that there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. John 3:18 says that whoever does not believe in Jesus is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

And there is a heaven and a hell. Jesus claimed, “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.” Just because someone doesn’t believe in hell makes it no less real. I can decide to ignore terrorists, but that doesn’t make them go away.

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. He called Galileans to reach Galileans, tax collectors to reach tax collectors, fishermen to catch fish.

The idea that “clergy” would do the ministry while “laity” pay their salaries and watch is a third-century invention, not a biblical concept. Ephesians 4:12 says that the job of religious leaders is to equip God’s people for works of service. We’re the coaches–you’re the players.

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

The fact is, 85% of church growth today is transfer from church to church, swapping fish from boat to boat. Less than 1% of today’s churches are growing primarily by conversions.

When we last checked, we discovered that there are 114,000 unchurched 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.

What does God ask of you?

So God needs you. To do what? To go to the fish, where they are, because most of them won’t come to us. That’s what the men in our text were doing: “casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen” (v. 16).

Fishermen in Jesus’ day used two kinds of nets. The sagene was a trawling net, dragged behind the boat.

The more common was the amphiblestron, a circular net weighted on the perimeter with a rope attached at the middle. As it sank down into the water and closed, it trapped the fish, which were then hauled into the boat by hand. This was the kind of fishing Peter and Andrew were doing. These were the nets being “prepared” and repaired by James and John after their fishing was done.

This was hard, skilled work. When our tour groups were in Israel recently, we took a brief boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. The captain had a net like the amphiblestron, which he cast over the side while we watched. It tangles very easily, and is hard to cast. When it sinks into the water, it is very heavy to haul back. It is not large, so the chances of catching fish on a single cast are small. It would take many casts, throwing and retrieving all day or night, to catch enough fish for a man to support his family.

It would have been far easier for them to fish from the bank, waiting for the fish to come to them. But fishing doesn’t work that way. Neither does fishing for men.

Most non-Christians feel about our faith like we feel about Mormonism or Islam or Buddhism. You probably didn’t decide between coming to Park Cities today or going to a Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall. You’re not really concerned with what Rabbi Stern talked about in his sermon last night at Temple Emmanuel, or what Imam Zia discussed in his sermon at the Irving Mosque on Friday. You’re not going to go to them.

Your non-Christian friends feel the same way about us. How many non-Christians do you suppose are in worship today? Of those who are here, how many do you suppose decided this morning to visit our worship service? They would all be welcome, but not many would come. That’s why we must go to them.

God wants us to go fishing, using whatever technique will catch fish.

These men would rather have sat on the shore with a fishing pole in their hand, but that wasn’t the way to catch fish. If you’ve been fishing, you know that you have to go where the fish are and use whatever bait they’re biting. You may rather use artificial lures, since they’re clean and tidy, rather than minnows or worms or shrimp eggs. But what you want to use doesn’t matter–what the fish want to bite is what counts.

We must meet the felt needs of our friends and neighbors if we want to meet their spiritual needs. We must earn the right to tell them about our Lord. Otherwise they’ll feel that we’re imposing our faith and values, intruding in their private lives, being judgmental and intolerant. They must know that we care about them first. As Ken Medema puts it, don’t tell me I have a friend in Jesus until you show me I have a friend in you.

Who needs an encouraging note or email from you? A phone call of support? An offer of help? What can you do to earn the right to tell your neighbor about your Lord?

God wants us to fish with the equipment he has given us for the job.

These men learned to be courageous, tough, strong, resilient in their work, all characteristics they would need in fishing for men. They would face ridicule, slander, torture, prison, and martyrdom for their faith. What they learned in risking their lives on the water they would use in risking their lives for the gospel.

In the same way, God has gifted and prepared you to serve him today. You have experience and expertise he wants to use in his service. That’s why every believer absolutely should know his or her spiritual gifts. We’ve made it easy for you–go to and click on “ministries” and then “ministry discovery.” You’ll find forms which will help you identify your spiritual gifts and calling for ministry. They’ll take you less than 30 minutes to complete. Then contact the ministry discovery team so they can help you connect your gifts with a place of service.

I am convinced that every Christian in this room should do this, this week.

And God wants us to define success as a church by the fish we catch for Christ. Not by the size of our boat or number of our fishermen but by the fish we catch. By souls saved and lives changed. By the number of people we help to follow Jesus, the people we reach and disciples we make.

The church is the only organization on earth which exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not yet its members. We can make fishermen happy rather than catch fish, but we will fail our Lord and his purpose for our lives. Or we can make catching fish our purpose, and find the power, joy, and reward of God in our souls and church. The decision is ours.


Now this conversation becomes intensely personal. The church cannot reach the community, any more than a boat can catch fish. You’re the fishermen. You will talk to more lost people tomorrow than I’ll see all week. You’re the one called to go to them, meeting their needs with God’s love, using your gifts and abilities to fish for men. Your equipment may be a BlackBerry or a laptop or a law office or a classroom, but the principle and call are precisely the same.

What kind of fishing is your Father asking you to do? If you had to fill in the blank, “My ministry is ______________,” what would you say? We’ll never reach our community with the gospel until you fill in that blank. And you’ll never be fulfilled and joyous in your Christian faith until you do.

I can attest to that fact personally. I have long believed that every Christian has a call from God, a purpose, a north on the compass, his or her “one thing” to do in the Kingdom of God. Mine was clarified for me back in college during my days in youth ministry.

When I left my first staff job to return to my home church as youth minister, the congregation gave me a set of Barclay commentaries as a going-away present. On my way to my car in the church parking lot that night I opened the first one and found Barclay’s self-description as a “theological middleman.” Lights flashed and bells clanged. I knew then and know today that this is my call–to relate academics to life, study to practice, using the world of scholarship to help the Church reach the world.

On my good days I focus on this call. On my bad days I don’t. Those are the days when I let other people’s need determine my call, when I put people pleasing ahead of God serving.

On my good days I define success by fishing for men, doing what God wants at all costs. And I have found great joy and release and freedom in fulfilling that call. Do you know what I mean?

The Gospel Paradox

The Gospel Paradox

Mark 1:14-20

James C. Denison

There were many ways to call people in the biblical era. Kings could send messengers to summon you to their palace. Generals could dispatch sentries to enlist you in their wars. “Trumpets,” rams’-horns called the “shofar,” were a common way of warning people of impending attack, or calling soldiers to battle.

No call in all the Bible is less intrusive, more private and personal, than those we will witness today. But none changed the course and face of human history as did these quiet conversations.

In this post-Easter season of our church year, we will explore our vision, purpose, and direction as a congregation and as followers of the risen Lord. We will assess where we are and where God is calling us to go as his people. To do that, we need to revisit these fishermen laboring alongside the Sea of Galilee. We need to hear Jesus’ words to them, for they are his words to us.

Let me lead you into this remarkable story, then we’ll see why it is so crucial to our stories today.

Knowing Jesus

Our text begins with the essence of Jesus’ proclamation: “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news” (v. 19). “Good news” translates “gospel.” The “gospel” is the good news that God loves us and has sent his Son to save us. This good news calls us to “repent,” to turn from ourselves and our sins and selfish ambitions, and to “believe” and commit ourselves to living by the “good news.”

This was the message of Jesus’ life and work, throughout his life and work. The “gospel” that God loves us and calls us to follow him is still the essential message of the church today. We have no other.

Now Jesus begins to enlist men in the work of spreading this gospel across their culture and human history: “As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen” (v. 16). Reading the text, we assume that this is their first meeting. But Mark’s original readers knew this was far from true.

In January of AD 26, Jesus of Nazareth was baptized by John the Baptizer in the river Jordan. After his temptations in the wilderness, he returned to Bethany, the place of his baptism. There he first met these fishermen (John 1:28, 35-51) and called them, along with Philip and Nathaniel, to join his ministry.

They saw him turn the water into wine, and traveled with him to Jerusalem for their first Passover together on March 21, AD 27. They met Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman.

And so Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John knew Jesus. They have believed in him and followed him for a year. But not full-time, not with their lives and their futures, their all. Not until today.

Many of us are like them. We know who Jesus is and what he can do. We have experienced his saving power in our lives personally. We have asked him to forgive our sins and make us the children of God. But we are not following him, at least not full-time, unconditionally, absolutely. We’re still fishing for fish.

We have our religion and our work, Sunday and Monday, Jesus and the rest of life. We have fish to catch, families to support, work to do. Our culture has taught us that religion is a private, personal thing, a hobby reserved for Sunday morning discretionary time during the week.

It isn’t that way for the Orthodox followers of Judaism in the Holy Land. We saw them by the hundreds, wearing their black clothes and long beards, praying fervently at the Wailing Wall, living every day by kosher dietary laws and strict legal regulations.

It isn’t that way for the Muslims we met in Israel, men and women and children who stop five times every day to pray facing Mecca. The maitre-d at one of our hotel restaurants had a permanent dark mark on his forehead from years spent praying fervently with his face to his prayer rug.

It isn’t like that for the Buddhist who live by the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Noble Path. It isn’t like that for the Hindus who live every day by their caste system and rituals. It wasn’t like that for the first Christians, more than a million of whom died rather than separate their faith from their lives.

But it’s like that for many of us. When was the last time you surrendered your time, money, life, plans, and ambitions completely and unconditionally to God? You know about him–how close are you to him? When last did you spend time listening to his voice, seeking his word, submitting to his trumpet-call to your soul?

Following Jesus

His call was and is very simple: “‘Come, follow me,'” Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men'” (v. 17). “Come” is a command: “come here.” “Follow” means “be full-time followers, pupils, disciples.”

The construction is plural, showing that this is Jesus’ will for each and all of them.

“Me” shows that they will follow Jesus personally. Their loyalty will not be to a religion, an institution, a program, but a person. The Son of God himself.

Then, “when he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him” (vs. 19-20).

For what purpose? “And I will make you fishers of men.” “Make” means to equip for a job, to give you all you need. “I will make you” shows that only Jesus can do this. And that he will–this is his promise.

“Fishers”–people who will catch something. What? “Fishers of men”–all men. Not just Jews, but Gentiles. Not just men, but women. Everyone. The entire world. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). He wants us to love the world, and win the world to Jesus.

But it was easy for them, we think. They were simple, humble fishermen–what did they have to lose? Everything we have to lose today.

James and John had hired servants. Peter and Andrew had their own permanent residence in the area. They had enough economic means to be able to leave their families and support themselves for the two years they would live full-time with Jesus in his itinerant ministry.

We visited the site which traditionally marks Peter’s house in Capernaum. Etchings in ancient Greek, Hebrew, Syriac and Latin show that pilgrims visited and venerated the spot as early as the first century. It is the largest house discovered in Capernaum, and is located nearest the beach with the best view.

These men gave up everything we have to follow Jesus. Their jobs, incomes, ability to support their families personally and be engaged in their lives on a daily basis. While their servants would continue their business, these men sacrificed their closest relationships for the sake of their relationship with Jesus.

Serving Jesus

Now comes the paradox: the best thing they could do for their families and friends was to put Jesus before them. By following Jesus fully, they would one day bring his gospel to the families they loved and friends they left. By serving him, they learned the good news which would one day serve them. Their best gift to their horizontal relationships was to put their vertical relationship first: “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

The best thing I can do for Janet is to love Jesus first. The best thing I can do for Ryan and Craig is to love Jesus first. Then I have his love for them. Then I can model his purpose for them and help them follow him. The best thing I can do for our church family is to love Jesus first. When I am right with God, I can be right with you. When I put fishing for men ahead of every other priority and relationship, I serve those priorities and relationships. So do you.

Helping people follow Jesus is the highest purpose of life, and God’s will for your life. And God’s will is “good, acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1). When we are in God’s will, he meets all our needs according to his riches in glory through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19); his peace which passes all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7), and we can do all things through Christ who sustains and strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). There is no better or safer place in all the world to be than in the will of God.

God made us, and he alone knows what most fulfills us. He can do far more with our lives than we can. When we commit ourselves to this purpose, he rewards and uses us for all eternity. But only then.


Let me close with a call to commitment which is nearly 2,000 years old.

Toward the end of our pilgrimages in the Holy Land, we visited the remarkable and emotional site of Masada. This desert fortress adjacent to the Dead Sea was built by Herod the Great. An astounding architectural achievement, the fortress became the home of Jewish rebels from AD 67-73 in their revolt against Rome.

After Titus and the Romans destroyed the Temple and ransacked Jerusalem in AD 70, they turned their attention to the Zealots at Masada. It took them three years to build a ramp which they used to batter down the defensive walls of the fortress.

Now it was the last night. The next morning the Romans would stream through that broken wall and enslave the rebels inside. Eleazer ben Yoir, the leader of the rebels, gathered the group for one last meeting.

He said: “Since we, long ago, my friends, resolved never to be servants to the Romans, or to any other than God himself, who alone is the true and just Lord of mankind, the time is now come that obliges us to make that resolution true in practice….

“We were the very first that revolted from the Romans, and we are the last to fight against them; and I cannot but esteem it as a favor that God has granted us, that it is still in our power to die bravely, and in the state of freedom which has not bee the case of others who were conquered unexpectedly.

“It is very plain that we shall be taken with a day’s time, but it is still an eligible thing to die after a glorious manner, together with our dearest friends. This is what our enemies themselves cannot by any means hinder, although they would be very desirous to take us alive. Nor can we propose ourselves any more to fight them and beat them….

“Let our wives die before they are abused, and our children before they have tasted slavery; and after we have slain them, let us bestow that glorious benefit upon one another mutually, and preserve ourselves in freedom as an excellent funeral monument for us.

“But let us first destroy our money and fortress by fire, for I am well assured that this will be a great grief to the Romans, that they shall not be able to seize upon our bodies; and shall fail of our wealth also; and let us spare nothing but our provisions; for they will be a testimonial when we are dead that we were not subdued for want of necessities, but that, according to our original resolution, we have preferred death to slavery.”

Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, records the results: “They presently lay all they had upon a heap, and set fire to it. Then they chose ten men by lot out of them to slay all the rest, every one of whom laid himself down by his wife and children on the ground, and threw his arms about them; and they offered their necks to the stroke of these who had by lot executed this melancholy office; and when these ten had, without fear, slain them all, they made the same rule for casting lots for themselves, that he whose lot it was should first kill the other nine, and after all should kill himself.

” [Then] the nine offered their necks to the executioner, and he who was the last of all took a view of all the other bodies, lest perchance some or other among so many that were slain should want his assistance to be quite dispatched; and when he perceived that they all were slain, he set fire to the palace, and with the great force of his hand ran his sword entirely through himself, and fell down near his own relations. So these people died with this intention, that they would not have so much as one soul among them all to be subject to the Romans” (Josephus, Wars 7.8.6; 7.9.1).

Two women and five children, hiding in a storeroom, heard and saw all of this and recorded it for us. 960 Jewish rebels chose death over slavery, and were set free. Now you and I have the same choice to make. We can be enslaved to that which keeps us from following Jesus fully, or we can die to ourselves and live with him in abundant joy, purpose, and peace.

The decision is ours.