One Fish Can Change the World
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 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.