Some of you know that last week I started taking three classes
through Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary.
As I was getting ready to travel back to Evanston,
I remembered something that happened to me on my way home
from Garrett a few years ago.
At that point in I had been serving in ministry and walking with Christ
for over a decade, I had finished two degrees in Biblical Studies,
and was working on my M.Div.
Shortly after I left campus a blizzard hit.
I could have turned back but I was anxious to get home and
see my family so I pressed on, all-be-it very slowly and carefully.
When I finally crossed back into the proper time zone and proper state
I decided it was time to pull over for a while and get some dinner.
As I entered the restaurant, another gentleman was leaving.
I held the door for him and he stopped, cocked his head at me, and said, “Hey, aren’t you the guy that sold me my car?”
I chuckled and said no.
He said “OK, well you must have a twin out there somewhere.”
And he left.
I called Bri to check in and waited for my food to arrive.
As I began to eat the gentleman who thought I was a car salesman,
lets call him Joel, re-entered the nearly empty restaurant.
I thought nothing of it at first.
He could have forgotten his cell phone or misplaced his wallet.
There are any number of legitimate reasons would bring someone
back into a restaurant they had just left.
I knew something was up however because he walked in,
looked around, and headed straight for me.
Had he dinged my car in the parking lot?
Did I leave my headlights on?
Joel started by saying,
“I’m sorry. I know you are not the guy that sold me my car.
You see, I am a Christian, and God told me to talk to you,
and I thought that might have been a way to start a conversation.
I have been sitting in my car praying,
and God still told me to come back in and talk to you.”
At this point I knew what was up.
He was about to tell me how God loves me and has a
wonderful plan for my life.
And sure enough, that was what he said next.
“Do you know that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life?”
I answered, “Yes. Of course.”
He said, “Really? You know that?”
I replied “I’m actually on my way home from a seminary,
where I’m preparing to become a pastor”
Apparently that was not enough to convince poor Joel so he asked
about my denomination. Methodist, I said.
That was the wrong answer I guess because he went on;
he would not be detoured.
God had told him that he had to talk to me
so he had to figure out how to save my soul.
He asked, “If you were to die today,
do you know if you will be spending eternity in heaven or hell?”
Heaven, I replied.
He followed up with, “Why?”
I knew the answer he wanted,
so I decided just to end the interrogation with the words
he needed to hear,
“Because I believe Jesus paid the full price for my sins
by his suffering on the cross and rising on the third day.”
This wasn’t going according to his script at all.
In fact, Joel actually said, “This isn’t going according to my script at all!”
He said, “ I just don’t get it. God told me to talk to you.
If you are already a Christian,
why would he have told me to talk to you?”
I offered, “Well, perhaps God wants us to have a different conversation?
How are things in your life? How is it with your soul?”
The man looked at me and said, “Well, we all have our struggles.”
And he quickly excused himself.
It was a strange and surreal conversation –
but it got me thinking about how, as Christians,
we try to share our faith – with pretty mixed results.
Here was a man who had a lot of courage to approach a stranger,
and even some basic tools for sharing his faith –
but he spent his time trying to convert a man who was already
so full of faith he was entering the ministry.
It feels to me like, maybe, we might be missing the point.
I remember another time I was attending a Crusade.
Do any of you remember those? Not the kind with kings and knights,
but those big televised stadium events where Billy Graham or
another big name evangelist preaches.
At they end they always have these huge altar calls.
You don’t see that type of thing much in Methodist Churches these days. But what happens is they take some celebrities or athletes on stage
and each tells a gut retching story that ends with them coming to faith
in Jesus and everything in life just getting better from there.
Then they call everyone to come forward and to be prayed for and with,
anyone who needs to give their life to Jesus.
At this particular event the gospel that was proclaimed
was not a gospel I was familiar with.
The message runs something like,
“Come to Jesus, and be spared from hell! But wait – there’s more!”
The preacher told people to come forward and give their lives to Jesus
right now before they marry the wrong person,
or chose the wrong college, or begin the wrong career.
He was telling everyone that faith in Christ
made all of our potential bad decisions go away.
That if we came to faith in Christ the stars would align
and life would be nothing but blessings and peace from there on out.
I couldn’t believe it.
This was not a facet of the gospel that I could find anywhere in the bible. In fact the bible promises the opposite.
Jesus tells us that if the world hated him it would hate us, his followers.
That is a far cry from the gospel they were slinging that day.
Now I am not going to tell you that the boldness of Joel at the restaurant
or the preaching at a gospel crusade never bears fruit –
because I know that they have.
Many good, committed, disciples found their faith in such ways.
But I am going to tell you that this is probably not what Jesus had in
mind when he called Peter, Andrew, James, and John
to lay down their nets and fish for people.
No, the type of fishing we see in Joel the restaurant evangelist
and the Gospel of the perfect life crusader
is what my father-in-law calls “sport fishing for Jesus.”
I don’t know how familiar some of you are with fishing.
Sport fishing is about competition.
It’s about who catches the most and the biggest fish.
Sport fishers often debate the best kind of bait
and the most effective lure to reel the most fish in.
Most importantly for our purposes here,
sport fishing is catch-and-release.
You catch the fish, hold it up for a picture,
and then put it back in the water.
When you sport fish for Jesus,
you are hoping to find some attractive bait
to lure a person to a point of deciding to follow Jesus,
pray with them as they decide, and then you walk away.
Had I been in need of salvation that day in the restaurant
I would have left with a budding faith but no direction.
The masses that respond to altar calls at rallies and crusades
are the same. This is not, as we discussed two weeks ago,
This is catch and release evangelism
where you take no responsibility for the future faith development
But the call that we have is not a call to catch-and-release,
it is not a call to sport fishing for Jesus.
The call that we have, the call passed down through the centuries,
to fish for people, to make disciples, is about so much more
than simply getting peoples ticket to heaven stamped,
and it takes a whole lot more effort than simply telling
someone about Jesus and leading them in a sinners’ prayer.
In those days, they didn’t sport fish.
Fishing was life-or-death; it was a way of life.
And they didn’t use a hook and bait, like we think of fishing today;
fishing meant using a net – throwing a net out into the water,
and reeling the net in.
Some days there were a lot of fish in the net;
some days there weren’t any;
some days there were good and bad fish all mixed together. Regardless, you just keep casting the net in again and again…
and if you’re not catching any fish, you find another spot on the water,
and you throw your net in again.
Jesus didn’t use bait to catch people
and he didn’t just take a picture and let them go.
He invited people to come and follow him.
Our job is to just keep “casting the net”
and let God worry about what comes in.
Our job is to keep inviting people, sharing God’s love,
and drawing them in.
We do that by modeling faith, by investing in the lives of others,
by inviting them and including them,
no matter who or where they are in journey of faith.
We discussed last week that before we can make disciples
we must first be disciples ourselves.
We must be about the work of growing our own faith
learning from those who have gone on before us
while clearing the path and showing the way for those behind us.
Assuming that we are there,
that we are seeking to be disciples ourselves,
to make disciples there are three things we need to do.
We need to invest, to invite, and to include.
Investing our time and resources in others,
those outside our church, outside of our faith community.
This goes along with the saying that no one cares what you know until they know that you care.
As you make the time and the effort to invest yourself in other people
you let them know that you care about who they are and
how their life is going.
Those that you invest in you also have to invite.
Invite them to church, sure, but also to birthday parties,
and bar-b-que’s, and breakfast out, and game night with your friends.
And finally we need to be inclusive.
And this is one of the tough ones.
Because if I were to ask you to close your eyes
and picture in your mind the people that you want
to invest in and invite to become part of our community
I can almost guarantee most of what you picture
is going to look very similar to who is here now.
Every church says they want to grow
and have new young people in them
so long as the new young people are
simply younger versions of themselves
who will want to do things exactly the way we always have.
We need to fight against that tendency.
We need to seek out those who do not look like,
talk like, act like, think like, or even believe like ourselves
and include them, invite them, and invest in them.
We need to keep casting the net,
sharing the love that God has given us,
sharing what we believe (even if we don’t have all the answers)…
we need to be authentic and earnest about our faith,
so others might see the love of Christ, made visible, in us.