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Monday, April 16, 2018

Fishers of Men

            I am always so thankful when people come to my church to worship.  I know there are other things they could do on a Sunday morning.  If it is rainy, they could stay in and stay dry and lounge around the house.  If the weather is pretty, they could go out side and enjoy it.  So I'm always thankful to those who chose to come to church.  And I know that it makes God smile too.  He appreciates it every time a person chooses to come worship.  In fact, that's why He created us.  He designed us to worship and when we worship God, we fulfill one of our basic purposes in life.
            However, you may be ask “What’s in it for me?  What do I get out of worship?"  I'll tell you.  If you want to grow closer to God, if you want the assurance of eternal life, if you want to find real peace, forgiveness, and joy, if you want true fulfillment in life, you have to worship God.  Through worship, we align our wills with God.  Jesus' disciples worship.
            Jesus originally chose 12 people to be his disciples.  He spent 3 years training them.  Then, before he returned to heaven, Jesus sent his disciples out with an important mission to recruit more people to follow Jesus Christ.  The disciples went out and got to work.  They told people about Jesus.  They invited them to worship and follow Christ' teachings.  The Church (Jesus' followers) grew exponentially--despite great persecution and opposition from powerful people.  The mission continued throughout the centuries.  The work continues through churches like mine today.  But how do we make disciples?  What are the steps? 
            The Gospel shows how Jesus made disciples.  We live in a different day and age, but the
process is very much the same.  We still make disciples the same way Jesus did.  You invite a friend to come see Jesus.  Then, you go deeper.  Then you go out and serve.
            Over the next four weeks, I'll be discussing the disciple making process based on Jesus' method we use at my church, Pleasant Grove United Methodist.  Today I’ll start at the beginning of the process.  It all starts with friends.  Making disciples starts with relationship.  Usually, people hear about Jesus and His Church from people they already know. 
            That's how it began for me.  Even though I'm a pastor now and was appointed to my church by my Bishop, I first came to church because of a friend.  As a child, I went to church because my mother took me.  As a teenager, I went to church with my friends.  My girlfriend at the time (now my wife) invited me to attend Wesley United Methodist in Macon, GA.  She was going with her friend.  I started going with her.  And that started me down the road to being a disciple of Christ.  How about you?
            Let's look at the story of how Jesus invited the first disciples to follow him. 

Luke 5:1-11 One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”

“Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.

When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. 10 His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.

Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” 11 And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.

Key Verse
            The key verse for today is Luke 5:2 – “He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets.” 
            He noticed…  Among the crowds of people pressing around Jesus, he noticed two empty boats and the fishermen who were washing their nets.  Speaking from experience, I can tell you that when you are speaking in public, it can be hard to notice every individual people.  There's only one of me speaking up on stage and there may be hundreds in the congregation.  How can you notice what's going on with every individual.  However, despite the massive crowd surrounding Jesus, he noticed two empty boats and the fishermen washing their nets and decided to be part of their lives.
            Did you know Jesus cares about you and what’s going on in your life?  He notices when you are struggling with a tough problem.  He notices when you bow your head to pray.  He notices when you come to church to worship to focus on God, despite the many other important things vying for your attention.  And despite the fact that everyone wants Jesus' attention and help and forgiveness and grace, Jesus notices and cares about you.  He's never too important or too busy or too overwhelmed to notice you.
            The Gospels are full of stories where Jesus noticed and cared.  He noticed the woman at the Well--someone everyone scorned because she had lived with five husbands and was now living with a man who wasn't her husband.  Jesus notices and cared and gave her living water (John 4). 
            Jesus noticed the demon possessed man in graveyard--someone everyone had given up on.  He couldn't be trusted to live among society, so they tried to chain him up in the graveyard, away from town so he wouldn't hurt himself or anyone else.  And he would break free of the chains.  People just wanted to forget about the man, but Jesus noticed and cast out the demon and told him to go tell his family everything the Lord had done for him (Mark 5).
            Jesus noticed the woman in the crowd who couldn’t stop bleeding.  For twelve years, she'd tried every doctor, every treatment, every medicine, everything and nothing had worked.  Finally, in desperation she tried to come to Jesus for healing.  Unfortunately, there were so many crowding around, she couldn't get to him.  So she thought, "If I can just get on my hands and knees and crawl close enough to touch the hem of his robe..."  And she did and she was healed.  And even though crowds of people were pushing and bumping into him all around, Jesus noticed power had gone out from him and he spoke to the woman (Luke 8).
            Jesus noticed a sick man lying on a mat near the pool of Bethesda--someone who’d given up hope.  It was said the first person to get in the spring when the water started bubbling would be healed, but he was too slow.  Being very sick, he was slow and others always beat him the water.  For thirty-eight years he'd been sick.  And then Jesus noticed him and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”  Instantly, the man was healed! (John 5).
            Jesus noticed the leper--who everyone thought was too disgusting to touch.  He was forced to live in quarantine because he had a contagious skin disease and everyone was afraid of him.  Jesus noticed him and toughed him and healed him (Luke 5).
            Jesus noticed Matthew the tax collector--someone everyone hated.  Jesus noticed him and said, "Follow me and be my disciple."  And Matthew did!  And he even invited Jesus and a bunch of other sinners to come eat dinner at his home.  He started inviting others to follow Jesus before he even knew what he was doing as a disciple himself!
            Jesus ministered to thousands of people, but he noticed and chose 12 people to really focus on.  They became his closest friends.  He invited them to be his disciples.  And because they were committed, Jesus poured himself into them.
            Who do you notice? Life is busy. People are pressing in all around you and everything seems so important. But in the midst of the chaos, who do you notice? Who do you notice that needs a friend? Who do you notice that needs help? Who do you notice that needs Jesus? 
            There is a guy who comes to my church named Jeremy. Jeremy struggles with a severe
anxiety disorder.  It's hard for him to be in crowds and his disorder is a troubling disability.  I first met Jeremy a few years ago when he called my church office after hours and left a message on our voicemail.  He said he was interested in talking to someone about the Methodist Church.  He'd been reading about it in a book and wanted to learn more.  My church secretary got the message and noticed something about it that made her think it might be important.  She passed his name and number on to me and said I might want to follow up.  So I called Jeremy and we started talking over the phone.  Eventually, we got together for lunch a few times.  Then, Jeremy got up the nerve to visit my church.  After a few moths of regular attendance, Jeremy rededicated his life to Christ.  He is now involved a weekly men's luncheon, serves as an acolyte, and sometimes even helps serve Holy Communion and sing in the choir.  Jeremy invites everyone he meets to Pleasant Grove.  His mother eventually joined too and his nieces come regularly to our Wednesday night youth and children's programs.  This is an amazing testament to the power of Jesus working in the life of a man disabled by an anxiety disorder.  You can watch a video of Jeremy's testimony here.
            Jeremy and I have become good friends.  I asked him, "Jeremy, why did you call Pleasant Grove?  I mean, I know you were interested in the Methodist Church, but there are several of them in the area.  Why did you call my church?"  Jeremy said, “I called a bunch of Methodist churches, but you were the only one who called back”  I'm glad we noticed Jeremy, because everyone else missed out.  The people you notice can be a huge blessing to you. We are always more blessed than the ones we try to bless.
            People often tell me they don't feel qualified to talk to people about Jesus or invite them to church.  “I feel like I don’t know enough to yet to make disciples," they say.  No one ever really does.  I don't and I've been a pastor for 18 years.  The disciples weren't qualified either, but they didn’t wait.  They started immediately “fishing” for new disciples.  Notice, they didn’t wait until they “graduated”.  They got “on the job training”, meaning they were learning as they were doing.  That's how disciples always learn--including you and me. 

            Do you want church to mean something?  Do you really want grow closer to God, have the assurance of eternal life, find true peace, forgiveness, and joy?  Do you really want fulfillment in life?  Then you’ve got to be a disciple.  Jesus said, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”  I challenge you to follow Jesus.
            Disciples find a way to come in and get plugged in with His other disciples at Church.  I challenge you to make a specific commitment to come for worship each week.  I would love to have you worship with me and Jeremy and all the disciples at Pleasant Grove UMC in Dalton.  Or, find a church near you.
            Worship.  Join a small group, Sunday School or Bible study.  Be part of a men’s or women’s group, a group of young adults.  Get involved with serving.  Join the choir or volunteer with youth or children.
            And this is absolutely critical:  Be “fishers of men”.  Inviting others to come in to see Jesus and go on this journey with you is absolutely critical.  It's not optional.  It's one of the most important ways you grow in your faith and without it, you cannot really grow the way Jesus wants you to.  I want to challenge everyone to pick 3 people to really focus on of the next 12 months.  Jesus picked Peter, James, and John (and the other disciples) and poured himself into them.  He loved them, encouraged them, nurtured and mentored them.  He developed and deployed them.  Who are 3 people you can mentor, pray for, and help?  You see, it’s not enough come sit on the sidelines and be a spectator.  Jesus wants followers, not fans.  He wants disciples who come learn to be fishers of men.


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