When God breaks in…
As we begin a new church year we do so with a sense of anticipation for the coming of Christ into our world. We look back to incarnation of our Lord in Bethlehem and we also look forward to the end of the age when Christ will return in glory. These two salvation events anchor our lives in the grace, love and faithfulness of our God who comes to us to accomplish for us what we could never accomplish for ourselves.
These two great events are also central to the mission Christ has given us as his church. On the one hand, like the Apostle Paul, we preach nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). Our proclamation is grounded in the reality that God, in Christ, entered into the human story, put on our flesh, lived among us and died for us. In Him we see the very face of God and in him we receive the gift of life. This message is the power of God unto salvation and the very thing our broken world yearns to know. We are his ambassadors who bear the treasure of this very good news.
On the other hand, our Lord’s promise to return and establish his kingdom in the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21), re-orients us to that which matters eternally. The One who graciously came to our rescue on Calvary, will again return to dwell with His people forever. The implication for us is clear: there is more to life than this present age. Our mission is shaped by this truth. C.S. Lewis observes “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this” (Mere Christianity). When we have the end in view, we live differently in the present. The necessity and urgency of sharing Christ with our neighbors and communities is brought into light.
A new church year is a great time to reflect the initiating grace of God in Christ who breaks into our world. However, Advent is not merely a time of personal reflection, it is a time to recommit ourselves to the mission of Christ in our world. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. May God the Holy Spirit empower us individually, and our churches corporately, for his mission!
Yours in Christ, Bishop David
One of the men who most influenced my young Christian life was a man named John Wimber. Wimber, as you may remember, was the founder of the Vineyard Church and he had a soft spot for us Anglicans. I did not know him but my then rector did and so I came into contact with both his preaching and his writings. The “tell” and “show” nature of his ministry was very attractive to me – and remains so.
One of Wimber’s greatest gifts was making the gospel understandable and then helping us ordinary, every-day kind of Christians (through his teachings, encouragement and model of ministry) believe that we really had a part to play in the ongoing unfolding of God’s kingdom. I have in my files any number of his stories and illustrations. One particular story he told about fishing and evangelism remains a favorite. Wimber wrote:
In 1990 Larry Shaw was trying out a new outboard propeller on Ohio’s West Branch Reservoir when he saw a huge muskie just below the surface. Shaw motored over to it, and cast toward it several times with no luck before the fish disappeared. About a half hour later Shaw returned to the cove where he had first spotted the big muskie. And wouldn’t you know, it was back! Shaw turned on the trolling motor and crept closer to the big fish. Suddenly, the muskie started swimming toward the boat.
Shaw quickly put on a leather glove and stuck his arm into the water, grabbing the monster just behind the gills. The muskie started splashing and fighting to escape but Shaw held on. It was quite a fight, but with the help of a nearby fisherman he was able to get the fish into his boat.
The muskie weighed in just a bit over 53 pounds. If Larry Shaw had caught the fish with a rod and reel, it would have broken the then record for the largest muskie ever caught in Ohio. When reporters asked him about the fish, Shaw said, “I was in the right place at the right time, and I was fool enough to grab it.”
That’s a good description of evangelism: being in the right place at the right time, and being fool enough to share the good news of salvation found in Jesus Christ.
In Matthew 4 (v.19) we read of Jesus’ call to his soon-to-be disciples; an invitation to be fishers of men and women. When Jesus used metaphors like fishing his listeners heard what he was saying in a very different way than we do in our Western world. For most of us fishing is a hobby – a recreational diversion from the business of our everyday lives. I am a casual fisherman. And so when I come home empty-handed (more often than not) I am still content for having spent a day on the water.
Jesus issued that first invitation to join his fishing expedition to Peter, Andrew, James and John. Fishing was not a pastime for these men. If they failed to catch fish they did not eat. Fishing was their livelihood. Repeated failure was not an option. As fishermen these men would have learned how to adapt their fishing technique to variety of situations. Was it sunny or overcast? Calm or windy? What was the time of year? What kind of fish were they fishing for? Some fish are very quick to respond. Some fish, especially the older, larger, ones had learned the fishermen’s tricks and were more wary and elusive. When Jesus said to them that they would be fishers of men He spoke in a language they understood.
How does this apply to you? To your church? Well, what are the trends in your community? What kinds of people are moving into your neighborhood? What are the challenges they face? What are their aspirations? We live in the South and in many of our communities there remains a strong residual of the Christian faith within our culture. But folks who live in Asheville, Raleigh and Charlotte face unique situations that those of us in the Outer Banks, midlands, lowcountry or upstate do not face (and vice-versa). Good fishermen know how to read their environment. They know what bait the fish are hitting on. They are aware of their presentation.
Friends, Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples. Are you going where the “fish” are, or are you waiting for them to come to you?
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