As Jesus was teaching the word of God to the multitudes, they pressed Him to the point that He had to get into a boat to avoid the crush. The vessel he adopted was Peter’s, a salty, leather-skinned Jew who knew about boats, nets, and fish. Little did Peter know that Jesus was about to provide an unforgettable object lesson for him and the first disciples.
As Jesus concluded His address, He set up Peter and his crew. They were bone tired and could have made a great case for disregarding a carpenter’s council on fishing, but at Jesus’ bidding they put out into deep water and let down their nets. We know the results: a stupendous catch and sinking boats.
This outcome is every fisherman’s dream—to catch so many fish that you and your companions are seized with amazement. Peter was so stunned that He asked Jesus to depart: it dawned on him (for some reason) that he was a sinful man. His conscience wasn’t stricken because he’d broken the fishing regs; he was shaken because he’d just been a part of a miracle, one effected by the mere words of a woodworker. But it was also beginning to dawn on him that this Jesus character was something far more than a carpenter. Peter saw that Jesus was a man of God and that (at least in his opinion) he (Peter) was not.
Jesus disregarded Peter’s stricken conscience and his request for Him to go away. Instead, he simply took the opportunity to let these first disciples know they would not be changing occupations—only the direction of their casts. He said
Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men. (Luke 5:10)
Broadly speaking, men catch fish in a couple of different ways. One method is the commercial/professional approach in which nets are used to go after large numbers of fish. The other way is to get something on a hook that will attract fish and cast it in their direction. In a sense, God uses the same methods. Historically, there have been occasions on which He has cast His net by way of revival into the multitudes and filled up the boats. In these seasons of awakening, the Spirit reveals so much of Christ to the heart that the fish practically jump into the boat of their own accord.
We are given some information about His desired catch in His Word. We are told that He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. If this is so, then why doesn’t God just cast His big net and haul-in everyone who is perishing—all who are elect? I can’t address this mystery with certainty, but it occurs to me that perhaps God is not just interested in catching fish. Perhaps He is also interested in making fisherman.
I woke up this morning at an unusually early hour thinking about fishing (in a sense). Maybe its because I’ve been fishing recently. I was with a guide who was instructing me in fly fishing. I actually made so many casts I could hardly lift my right arm without assistance from my left one. I say ‘in a sense’ because, I was thinking about how we go about fishing in the western church, the type of nets we use and the sizes of our catch. As I was surfacing from my half-sleep, this was the thought I salvaged from my dreams: “I think I know how we can catch more fish.” Here is the residue of my dream.
What if churches didn’t hire a chief fisherman who just casts his net once or twice a week to the same school of fish? What if churches chose more of a fishing guide who can cast a vision of everyone being the fisherman they were created to be? I ask these questions because I believe many of those who Jesus desired should not perish are slipping through our western church net. (I know this is contra-Calvinistic concept, but I’ll continue.) We need a net with finer mesh. We need more fishermen so that more casts can be made into different pools. My observations have led me to believe that the job of fishing was never intended as the sole responsibility of a few professional fishermen.
What if we actually caught the Master’s-vision of us as the fishers of men and the makers of disciples, who saw our relational networks and neighborhoods as the pools into which we’ve been called to cast? What if all those people who have been burned by—or have burnt out in—religion, or who have never heard, who would not feel safe in a traditional church, found safety in our company and in our homes? Or, here is a wild thought, in theirs? What if our friendship and love for Christ were so evident that it would bring healing and restoration to the geographic and relational spaces God has entrusted to us and wants us to personally take ownership of?
What if we also backed off on a gospel that is encumbered by a negative spirit that conveys primarily that, if it is rejected, it will send a person to Hell? While Hell and the fear of it are legit, how do they compare with Eternal Life and Love (i.e. Jesus)? Something has turned people off to the best news that will ever reach their ears. This makes no sense! Is that because these disinterested ones are the Esau’s, which God is on record as hating? Are these the hearts He’s hardened—the unfortunate and doomed non-elect? Have these fish really heard and seen the true gospel of Jesus Christ, that gospel that liberates men from fear of death and eternally weds their hearts to Christ and His kingdom? I often wonder how we can love God with all our hearts when the reason we asked Jesus in to begin with was our fear of Hell.
In the west many have heard the gospel’s words and phrases, but I wonder if many are not puzzled and put off by the indifference of those professing their election. Are we seen by the uncaught as anything more than a tax-exempt interest group with a moral political agenda that is waiting to be airlifted out of this hopelessly defiled planet?
I don’t mean to cast a universal blanket of condemnation over Christianity in the west, but I do see vast schools of fish evading the net. Even among the caught, I see significant numbers of fish actually leaving their schools. Is this by sovereign design by the One who desires that none should perish? I know there are pockets of life where Jesus is breaking out beyond the walls and programs of traditional church and into our culture, but I bump into something that troubles me—a heavily tainted view of God’s sovereignty that exempts us from concern for the lost around us. By default, it seems to paint a picture of God as one who only makes selective casts to elected fish, leaving the rest to perish. The reasoning (or rationalization) that may follow is that since God is doing the casting, who am I to argue with His accuracy? And anyway, I attend and support a church where the chief fisherman makes the casts.
What if the gospel we lived and preached was so hopeful and so inclusive that we could lean in expectantly toward all those in our networks with the awareness that they are beloved and treasured by God, created in His image, ones whom God is endeavoring to draw to Himself by way of us? What if, by way of our transformation, our winsomeness and joy, we portrayed that our Shepherd is indeed very good? What if, in light of God’s great heart, we adopted the childlike idea that, as far as it concerns us, people are not lost by design—they are simply not yet saved? We could presume the best about God’s heart and intentions and leave it to Him to do the sifting at the conclusion of time. Until then, we can go about our lives, loving and serving those He’s trying to attract through Christ in us, the best hope of a good catch.
What if our local fishing guides were to adopt the bold vision that we were to abandon altogether the idea of church as a place or something that we can attend and worked systematically to dismantle that notion? What if our local gatherings became the places where fishing reports were given and celebrations were held?
What if our chief fishing guides cast and nurtured a kingdom-sized vision of the Church that equipped all men to become fisherman-disciples, casting God’s love in word, power, and deed out into our existing networks? Coming into my view is a net of this type, sweeping through society, filling our boats (or homes) with so many fish that we too will be amazed.
God’s kingdom is like a fishnet cast into the sea, catching all kinds of fish. When it is full, it is hauled onto the beach. (my paraphrase of a familar kingdom parable)
This has become somewhat of a waking-dream of mine. I pray it may become our vision, that our vision becomes our reality because I believe people perish for want of a clear vision that gives God’s love the benefit of the doubt. I have a dream of overloaded nets and boats. Having a feel for the magnitude of God’s love, I am incapable of not imagining a day such as this when His Word has returned to Him having caught every fish to Whom He has cast.
Accordingly, I see Him, who will do exceeding abundantly beyond what we have asked or thought, doing even greater works through His Bride than He did while he walked the earth. In my dream, I see a large catch that breaks the nets and overflows the walls of our buildings and programs. I see them spilling over and being cared for in the relationally safe spaces created by the Church, so vibrant that, in observing it, men will be seized with amazement.
I see people so stunned by what they see that they, like Peter, are struck by their impoverished condition in light of the phenomena before them. I see a day when Jesus will be recognized as far more than a carpenter or the leader of a moral majority. I have a vision of you and I filling in the voids and coarse openings of the existing net. I see His nature being discovered afresh within us, revealing so much of Christ that He ultimately receives the attention and response due His name.
You might object, “This pipe dream would require messy, lengthy meetings to overhaul our current plans. We just worked through hours of contentious meetings discovering God’s plans for our church. What you are proposing would be massively complex at best and more likely impossible.” I disagree. It will be no more complicated than discovering Christ’s Life and loving our neighbors as ourselves.
All that is really necessary is to acknowledge God’s sovereignty. It is Him with whom we have to do, who has foreordained us to live within casting distance of specific ones whom He loves—the objects of His affection who are destined for mercy, not wrath. All we have to do is realize that (from God’s perspective) we are not really the Caster; we are that-something-on-a hook that has been called to attract God’s targeted fish. Simply being ourselves in-Christ is the designed action of the lure. This is our universal vocation—the essence of the good works He has prepared beforehand that we shall walk in.
Corporately speaking, we are that newly connected piece of the net whose mesh is becoming finer and finer so that not a single one He’s been given shall get away—not even the wounded or wild ones who are swimming apart from the institutional fish-schools. This is the waking dream that haunts me. Thank you for indulging the dreams of an older man.
Father, for Your name’s sake and for the benefit of those whom You love who do not yet know You, would you reshape Your kingdom net and cause it to be recast such that it is near to breaking. Prepare our hearts and homes for this catch. Equip us to become the connective strands which will complete your net. May the expanding territory of Your Son’s dominion in our hearts become such an effective attractant that it will draw all men to Yourself. Since we cannot be Your first disciples, may we be among the new disciples who get to go fishing with You. Thank You. Amen.