After a decade of marriage and three babies, my wife was nearly done with me. I didn’t know why at the time but I do now; she felt little love from me. What had happened to our precious love and friendship? We were both in the dark on this question and in profound pain. To this date, I believe my personal blind spots were greater than hers (if she even had any).
She carried her pain to her family (and mine) and friends who were not in my fan club. In this section of the bleachers, I was the cause of my wife’s pain, pure and simple. If she left me, they would not weep; instead there would have been applause with a few standing ovations. To say I was bitter toward this crowd would be gross understatement.
I carried my pain differently. I dreamed and I worked, believing that God was about to bring me into a place that vindicated my claim that He had been leading me – another area where my wife had her doubts. However, my vision had been strained due to setbacks that I just knew would soon work themselves out; after all, God was in control! Events were about to transpire, by God’s grace, that would put things right.
Things were also strained because of serious accidents I had recently experienced. I joked (not really) that my protective angel was either off the job or had been replaced by a bungling hit man angel. While waiting for God to show up in my vocational life (which had ties to ministry), I had three whopper accidents in the span of a year. I had even been the cause of another. “Why?” seemed like a very fair question to me. My prayer had become:
“If God is good and God is great then why am I experiencing such a cruel fate?”
I was having nightmares that would fascinate mental health experts. I would awaken in the middle of the night, haunted and harassed by a host of dark thoughts. There was so much tension in my head, my jaw eventually locked shut. But there was hope. There was the big contract with the Air Force that had come through, which would put my business on the map.
Like my ministry project, this contract had divine origins. It was in the bank. Money had been borrowed from family, friends and the ministry. The contract was being fast-tracked. Production was underway. The red carpet had been rolled out and I was being escorted to the front of the line as a sole-source vendor. All of my life had led providentially to this point. It was the only hope on my horizon. Then, the phone rang.
In about 60 seconds, the red carpet (the divinely appointed one) was jerked suddenly from beneath my feet, and the earth started spinning. The Air Force had cancelled my contract. My powers of speech left me. I got in my truck, drove into the woods, hiked for miles and lay down in a pile of leaves. I wept and then slept.
I did not know why my life had devolved into this ongoing calamity. I had been following Jesus as best I knew how (at least this is what I had told myself). Following God had become a living nightmare yet, I knew (and I hated Him for it), He was up to something. I had no place to go but to Him who would not explain Himself or apologize for the hell my life had become. Since God was sovereign, He was either the perpetrator an accomplice to this train wreck. My prayer (although less articulate) resembled Jeremiah’s (and I was yelling it);
Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. (Jeremiah 3:19-20)
No one could begin to speak into the devastation of my heart. I recall pleading with God, “Please do not let me pass through this season without getting Your point. The motive behind this prayer is that I did not believe I could live through another earthquake of this magnitude. It was impossible at that moment, but in retrospect, it is easy for me to say;
The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he should bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone and be silent since He has laid it on him. Let him put his mouth in the dust, perhaps there is hope. (Jeremiah 3:25-29)
The events that transpired as I was bearing my yoke, sitting in the dust with my mouth shut forever altered my understanding of the ways of God. It turns out, my bitterness was no small matter to him. Neither was the pain I had unintentionally inflicted on my wife. Another red carpet, of sorts, was rolled out to me, giving me an opportunity to deal with my unforgiveness and my bitter heart. God had gone to radically extreme measures (at least by my yardstick) to deal with my heart. I had given it to Him without any holdback clauses a decade earlier. As a good Father, He was simply holding me accountable to the heart-standards of a new creation in Christ.
Why would God cause (or allow) me, or anyone, to suffer like this? I am not 100% sure but I can say with great assurance that there is always hope. That is why we must persevere. In Christ, there is redemption. Our worst nightmares are the staging ground for His most profound victories. Through perseverance, our stories become His stories. Even though it is a hot mess, if we will press on in trust we will come to know the Lord and discover something invaluable about His ways;
where sin has increased, grace may abound all the more (an adaption of Romans 5:20)
Those who know me, know that a flood of blessing has overtaken my life since this season of undoing. Today, I can say with Jeremiah;
The Lord‘s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. (Jeremiah 3:22-25)
I would not want to give the impression that my perseverance was some heroic exertion of courage. It was actually very messy. Neither was my perseverance about my clinging to God. It was about coming to a point of surrendering my strength, surrendering my notion of obedience and piety as causation. (If I am obedient, then good will transpire; then, everyone will live happy Christian lives.) One of God’s points was that I was safe with Him based on His keeping power, not my clinging power. Our clinging power equates to nothing more than religion.
Having made it through this season, God did not confer a spiritual Master’s Degree in Perseverance (an M-DiP) upon me. It turns out this was just Orientation to God’s Life 101. I was privileged to take another related course in my late 50’s. For some, suffering of one kind or another, may always be a part of the curriculum. In this life, suffering is destined to remain an ongoing part of the mystery.
Father, as we live along side those who suffer, may we comfort them with the comforts with which you comfort us. In word and deed, may our lives convey that Your lovingkindness never ceases and that Your compassions never fail. May the substance of our lives prove that we are content, no matter what our circiumstances, with You as our portion. May our stories reveal the grand news of Your life, as we learn to wait and hope. May the world see Your goodness through us. Amen.
When I think of being Undone (courtesy of the Alpha and Omega) what comes to mind is a cinematic memory from Raider’s of the Lost Ark. I thought Stephen Spielberg did an admirable job of undoing a greedy Philistine who thought he might co-opt the Ark’s power to his own end. Silly boy. Turns out that made Mr. P.’s version of Yahweh very angry.
Things do need undone though don’t they? Mankind does need a super hero to deliver him from his super-problem – sin. We actually have our hero in Jesus Christ who came to undue what the world the flesh and the devil have constructed and mislabeled as civilization. Listen to the apostle John as he describes Undoer.
I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength. (Revelation 1:13-16)
John, who had once laid his head upon Jesus’s chest, appraised what he was seeing and decided to not try this again, just now anyway. Instead, he…
fell at His feet like a dead man (from 1:17)
Is John’s revelation of Jesus the same as ours? What are we to do with another’s revelation of Jesus when we must have a personal relationship with Him, requiring, preferably, a personal revelation of Him? We must live by faith. Our spirit’s can grasp what our eyes have not seen and our ears have not heard. The Spirit-filled heart will say “amen” upon hearing John’s account. It may just initially be an agreement with what another has experienced but it will not remain second hand.
Eventually God will share with us kingdom circumstances through which we must persevere. We won’t be on Patmos on the Lord’s Day; we will be wherever God has placed us, walking in the Spirit, confident that in each new day His mercies and presence are as fresh as they were to John. Undoer simply has chosen to not to frighten us out of our wits. Nevertheless, I believe we will eventually say, if we persevere;
And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. (Revelation 1:17-18)
We won’t have to reference McArthur, Piper (or whoever) for our revelation because it will have become our own, no less effectual than the apostle John’s. God doesn’t light someone up just because he’s a favored son. He simply chose John as a reference point for us who have the added benefit of living by faith in harmony with benchmarks such as himself and Paul.
Behold, God still stands at the door and knocks. Those who open this door ultimately discover the same awe and intimacy that the great men of scripture knew. Our reborn spirits have the capacity for communion with God in Christ. The Holy Spirit is central to this revelation. For those of us who have not been taken up into the third heaven, there is our hearts, where Christ lives. Our understanding of what God has done in that space, making us temples and new creations, has the potential to transform us into the lights of the world we were called to be.
It is our place to be still. If we are, we will eventually hear a voice. It will likely not come from behind but from within. It may not blair like a trumpet, it may be the softer notes of a flute. It may even be a very quiet whisper but it will come. We won’t have to necessarily report what we have heard to any churches (or we might). We will simply share our lives with those on the islands where we have been exiled (excuse me; I mean sovereignly placed), those in our households, our neighbors, our friends and co-workers.
Father, please light up our hearts with Your life. Breath upon the embers. Fan them into flames of awe and intimacy, for Your Name’s sake. Amen.
What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? (Hosea 6:4)
I am convinced that one of the greatest heartaches a human being can know is that of having wayward children. Watching the child growing obstinate and indifferent, making choices the parent knows will cost him beyond his purse is nigh unbearable. Love for the child is profound. The desire to extend grace and mercy is intense. All parenting seems to have been for naught and the slide continues. This is where God is with Ephraim and Judah. What is God (the Parent) feeling? What will Parenting look like now?
These questions are elementary for the hyper-Calvinist. He calculates, “God hated Esau and apparently hates Ephraim and Judah as well.” He confidently reasons, “Their rebellion proves they were simply not among the elect. For His own reasons, God has hardened their hearts and they will get what they deserve… Now, let me tend to my land.” I cannot think of a doctrine (or attitude) more desecrating to God’s Father-heart.
I’m betting my life that God’s heart is broken for all His wayward children; that He brings discipline to bear in the most efficient way in order to rescue us from fates unknown. I’m believing that it is painful for God to do this, but His love demands it. To withhold it is to doom the child to a tragic end. If He must discipline this child out of His jealous love, Hosea speaks;
Come, let us return to the Lord, for (even though) He has torn us,
but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, that we may live before Him. (Hosea 6:1-2, parenthesis and amendment mine)
God is the Creator and Ultimate Arbiter yet, as presumptuous as it may sound, God is also (and is primarily) our Father. When God has children whose …
loyalty is like a morning cloud and like the dew which goes away early. He may have to hew them in pieces by the prophets; He may have to slay them by the words of His mouth. If He does, His judgments on the disciplined are like the light that goes forth. (an adaptation of Hosea 6:4-5)
It is my belief that when God’s Old Testament discipline seems severe to us, it is only because we do not know the depth our sin and the horrific consequence it will yield, left undisciplined. Even behind the harshest judgements recorded in scripture, there is a Father whose heart and circumstances are far far beyond our fragile intellectual grasp. In His judgements, He wasn’t wringing His hands, delighting in the misery He had dispersed. His heart was broken because His children were broken. I believe every act of God has been driven by the idea of dispersing mercy without compromising His expectations as a Father. Hosea (a man who intimately knew unfaithfulness) gives us counsel, in light of our Father’s heart;
So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; and He will come to us like the rain, like the spring rain watering the earth.
To all of us who are trusting exclusively in Christ, God is our Father. Jesus Christ is our older brother. He is the first in a new race of beings. We are members of an eternal family and citizens of a new and never-ending kingdom, by way of His marvelous and incomprehensible grace. Therfore it is essential that we understand that God …
delights in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of Him rather than burnt offerings. (an adaption of Hosea 6:6)
Where the knowledge of God as Father is unknown, man inevitably reverts to sacrifice. It may not be burnt offerings, but he will come up with something and all of his somethings add up to religion – the things man imagines he might do to make and keep things right between God and himself. Religion is a desecration of all that is truly holy because it imagines something man can do (or give) amends the problem. Our problem is light years more complicated than anything we might imagine. Only God could deal with it. And He did so by coming in person and absorbing His wrath upon Himself. Of Hosea’s contemporaries, perhaps Isaiah was seeing the Father’s heart most clearly;
But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. (Isaiah 53:10-11)
My dear family, if there was a big bang (and I suspect their was), its core was not just unstable matter, it was the Father’s heart.
Father, that we might grasp the depth of our deformity and the targeted height of our transformation; that our hearts would be steeped in humility and yet in confidence. May our hearts be saturated in gratitude and celebration. To You Almighty, All Holy, Father and Friend. So be it.
The Lord sent Nathan to David.
Oh that we each had a Nathan – some prophetic wise man with the courage to confront. There are reasons we don’t; self image and social capital are at risk when confrontation is undertaken. “What will they think of me? I will be rejected if I tell it as I see it.” On-the-give and on-the-take, some of us have confirmed this in personal experience. We ran directly into the flesh’s amazing capacity for self-self-decepetion. Nathan-like intentions have backfired and wrecked the shallow peace of many a relationship. The security of social connection is then gone. This is usually unacceptable.
David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
It is an astonishing thing that our flesh can be totally indignant at another’s sin while being guilty in some unacknowledged yet identical way. What is it that awakens a sleepy conscience? A word from God and a bold messenger is a good place to start. Feedback this stout usually costs anywhere from $25 to $100 per hour, depending on what type of counselor you choose. How sad that we do not have the pastoral gift flourishing in the body of Christ. I’m not referring to the job: “Pastor.” In the average local church, this title operates for between $25 and $75,000 per year. Of course, if you can bring in the numbers, Pastor might be paid more. Because; numbers = cash flow.
Pastor, as a title. is not what I am referring to. I’m referring to the pastoral gift which was never meant to be thought of as merely a job description locatable on an organizational chart. I’m referring to that empathetic ear coupled with that insightful, caring heart which is always jealous for God’s best in others. Oh that we each had brothers and sisters in Christ near us with the pastoral and the prophetic gifts in play.
Professional religious workers were sparse in the New Testament account of the early church. Why is this? I believe it was because those who were called to be overseers equipped faithful men and women who in turn did the same. The Spirit operating in individuals, through varieties of gifts must have been adequate to deliver those timely and courageous words which have always been essential in the nourishment of Christ’s Body. The Spirit’s presence, interactive in early Church communities, must have been one of the reasons for there radical expansion and influence. Or, shall we credit Constantine and the Pope’s?
The inner workings of the local churches I know function far more like businesses than families. They deal with pastors just like corporations deal with CEO’s, hiring and firing them based on their performance. Even in my small circles I know churches who are quietly preparing to punt the pastor. I know other churches where the senior pastor has taken great care to avoid any hint of a coup. My family and friends must ask, why do you bother to critique the local church; it is not going to change.
I bother because of imagery planted in my heart;
that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:27)
“Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me … Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. (Revelation 21:9-11)
I bother because of the same sentiment David had after he repented. He washed his face and explained himself to those inquiring of his behavior.
Who knows? The Lord may be gracious.
Then Job answered the Lord and said, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” ‘Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me.’ “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You; therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6)
God has just driven home a point to Job, which he will never forget, which is; Job’s thinking is horribly amiss. Here is essentially how God has made his point. Since I’m not 100% certain what a Leviathan is, I’ve borrowed from my own observations of salt water monsters – the barracuda. God asks Job,
“Can you catch a barracuda with a slip sinker and a crappie hook? Given that its teeth can snag another fish half its size and with its bite, snip it effortlessly in two, can you remove the hook with your fingers, if you were to catch it?”
God’s point to Job (and us) is; “No, you can’t, but your thoughts about me have been just as ludicrous. And, I would like you to now repent.” We might ask: “But how can I, filled with the Spirit, think errantly about God? His Spirit lives in me!” The truth is, I don’t know but we seem to do it effortlessly. I believe those who are called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light still have some residue of darkness tainting their thoughts. Normal Christianity entails a process of walking in the Spirit where we are purged of these lies. To us, Job’s life seems like a case of gross-divine injustice. If this is our thought, our hand may be in the barracuda’s mouth.
My good friend Gene Griffin wrote this brief essay after a season of meditating on the book of Job. Gene was once an overseer of young, very zealous hearts for Christ. Then, when some men his age were flirting with retirement, Gene flexed his brain muscle and followed God’s leading into the practice of law. It follows that I trust his heart and his mind. I share this with his permission. If you bump into an unfamiliar word, a few definitions are provided at the end of the essay.
Evil, Justice, Goodness And The End Game (Thank you Job)
God is self-defined as good and is therefore incapable of evil. Thus, if God orders or permits intentional harm or injury to another, it must be just, assuming He has the power to prevent it.
Is God bound by the laws of cause and effect? If all that God does and permits is an effect, what then is the cause? Is God permitted or capable of an original act that does not have an antecedent cause? And if the cause is with Him, can it arise from anything but His goodness? And if He is the only cause, then He is the cause of evil and cannot be just in His judgement of it.
Is man’s all-pervasive sin nature sufficient cause for all the divine effects of harm or injury that befall him from God’s intentional or permissive hand? And if man has a pervasive sin nature, what then can man ever do that will serve as a cause for God’s beneficence?
Surely then, God’s righteousness and man’s sinfulness places them in two different and incompatible orbits: God only capable of good and man only deserving evil.
Oh that there might be a bridge between them such that an injury to man would be an injury to God, and that a blessing of goodness to man would be a blessing to God; a bridge wherein man is stripped of his unrighteousness and God’s justice is swallowed in mercy.
And while God is the first cause, and the greatest cause, He is not the only cause in the universe; other sovereigns can initiate causation, even evil causation, and the toleration within limits of them by God serves the greater good – that man may come to know that not only is God good, He is the only Good. Had it not been for the fall of man this reality is one that man could never have apprehended for there he gained the knowledge of good and evil. In this, God has made evil to praise Him, and sin to become the servant of man.
So, what is the end of the matter? God is Good, and only good. And the only good, and all that man experiences whether from God as the cause, or from the hand of another sovereign, is intended to strip away every occluding sense-based reality in order that man may know in his heart that God is good and incapable of evil, and that His goodness is driven by His passion for love and communion, not a thirst for justice. He does not seek the sadness of the night (the cause) but rather the joy that comes in the morning (the effect).
Because we know that He is good, we pray. Because we believe, we endure. We begin our prayer with, “Thy will be done:” we end our prayer by “giving thanks in all things.”
Evil: Intentional, unjust injury or harm to another. Beneficence: the doing of good; active goodness or kindness; charity. Antecedent; preceding; prior. Sovereigns include all men endowed with the power of causation (choice), along with Satan and those who do his bidding. Causation: the action of causing or producing; anything that produces an effect; cause. Occluding: to close, shut, or stop up.
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.