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More Than A Fisherman
By JIM GRASSI
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2014 Jim Grassi
All rights reserved.
THE FISH ARE BITING
IT'S TIME TO FISH
It was a late summer day when our family met some close family friends on a famous blue ribbon trout river called Hat Creek. Hat Creek is a long stream located in Northern California, and the crystal-clear water and shallowness of the stream presents a real challenge to even the most talented trout fisherman. This is a catch-and-release waterway with an abundance of bug life, so trout grow to trophy size in no time.
Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of this unique regional fishery is the giant Hexagenia (hex) mayflies that hatch from their watery cocoons every year. For some strange reason, these bugs hatch out in the evening right at dusk. These insects are almost as large as the small bats that are flying about eating them as they emerge from the water.
Fly fishermen live by a slogan of "matching the hatch." When fishing in the late evening while you can still see your tackle box, pick out a couple of large flies that look like the hatch coming off the water. If you are able to get your fly into the water before a bat captures it, you will see some of the most exciting dry-fly trout fishing action in the United States. Large trout wait for this time in the evening to gorge themselves with these meaty bugs. The fish are tenacious and aggressive, which makes them vulnerable as they slurp down these giant bugs for a prime dinner.
The main problem with this type of fishing is seeing your equipment and flies. This isn't the time to mess up a cast. One needs to be able to carefully and patiently pursue his quarry with little or no light. To turn on a flashlight in order to straighten out your leader or tie on another fly spells disaster. Once the light hits the water, the fish stop biting. Any western fly fisherman with a knowledge of this stream knows that, when the hex hatch is on, there will be great fishing. As difficult as it is, the reward is great. In a like manner, discipling others at times can certainly be difficult, but it also has tremendous rewards.
CASTING FOR THE TRUTH
When walking along the shoreline at the Sea of Galilee, Jesus offered a life-changing challenge to a group of unlettered but respected fishermen. He wanted them to consider the call—but not without counting the cost. Jesus said, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Matt. 4:19). In saying "Follow Me," Jesus was asking each fisherman to follow and believe in Him. As He spoke the words "I will make you fishers of men," He was informing them that He would give them a ministry and purpose for their lives.
Unlike a fisherman whose catch merely yields something to eat or brag about, Jesus wanted His disciples to think about catching men's hearts with a provocative and life-changing message. The goal was to empower, train, equip, and release these men for service. Jesus' words and actions affirmed a message that, unlike fishing for fish, it is never out of season to fish for souls.
The discipleship concept worked well in the first century, and it continues to work today. The disciples didn't just learn from Jesus and stop there. They went out and taught others what they learned. Despite the many similarities between fishing for fish and fishing for men, there is a key difference as well. Jesus indicated to Peter, a seasoned fisherman, that from now on he would be taking men alive (Luke 5:1–11) and releasing them to change the world. Peter Marshall, twice chaplain of the US Senate, illuminated this passage when speaking at the University of Pittsburgh in 1946: "Fishing for fish is pulling fish out of life into death. Fishing for men is pulling them out of death into life."
A good fisherman will evaluate the water he is fishing so he can select the right equipment. A pond will be fished differently than the ocean. So it is with a discipler of men, or what I call a spiritual mentor. We need to understand our culture and then we can apply what we know of God's Word. The following statistics demonstrate the extreme urgency to reach men in today's world.
* There are 69 million men who make no profession of faith in Christ.
* Fatherless children are five times as likely to live in poverty, repeat a grade, and have emotional problems.
* Only 1 out of 18 men in America is involved in active discipleship.
* As many as 70 percent of men have actively sought out pornography this year.
* Ninety-three percent of all people incarcerated are men, and 85 percent of them have no father figure.
* As many Christians will divorce as non-Christians.
* Most men only know enough about God to be disappointed with Him.
* Too many men daily fight depression, loneliness, and despair with little hope to change their perspective.
What is at stake? It has been said, "As goes the family, so goes the nation." Our government has invested billions of dollars to help shape the nation's educational system and social networks. Our liberal media believes that it is more important to be "politically correct" than to uphold the values of decency and truth. Our social, economic, and political systems seem to lack reverence and respect for the biblically based ideals our founding fathers identified in our governing documents.
Kenneth Bradwell, executive director of Fathers Incorporated, has stated that there are "millions of children in the United States who wake up each morning without a biological father in the home. Today, these children represent 24 million and the number is growing—and growing disproportionately in Black and Latino families." As I said in my book The Spiritual Mentor, when you contemplate this disturbing statistic, it is not a mystery why so many kids are prone to juvenile delinquency, teen pregnancy, sexual identity issues, school difficulties, and more. More than ever before, we need capable, strong men of God to disciple their kids and to become the spiritual leaders within their families, churches, and communities. One could say, "As goes the husband or father, so goes the family, church, or government." Again, it starts with relationships. Mentoring, discipling, and modeling cannot be replaced with governmental mandates or a social gospel.
And it all begins with men who want to grow in their faith. This book is about challenging men to dig deeper into their faith and convictions and then be courageous to act on them. Hopefully you will see some revolutionary ideas and an amplified theology on the most important challenge given to mankind by our dear Lord and Savior: Go make disciples.
Have we lost our way by listening to slick theological and socially accepted arguments? Are we attending churches that are more interested in the "show" or entertaining us rather than helping us transform our lives into the likeness of Christ? Too many churches have had their focus on the size of their congregations instead of on the spiritual depth of their members. The emphasis has been on the three "B's"—budgets, baptisms, and buildings. If there is a saving grace for the church today, it will be because people like you and me care enough about discipleship that we get out of our complacency and self-centered attitudes and join the most important battle ever fought. No longer must we look at our spiritual development as something that we "catch" or "fall into." Instead, we are to be soldiers ready for action in the battle for men's souls. A true disciple, then, will have a sincere belief and resulting action if he is going to be effective in reaching others for the kingdom.
WHAT MAKES A GREAT FISHER OF MEN?
There are various types of fishermen and disciples, and they seem to fall into one of several different camps. As you think about your responsibility of being a follower of Christ, where do you see yourself in this list of fishermen?
* Those who think about fishing: Philosophers
* Those who study about it and stay at home and never see a lake or stream: Scholars
* Those who stand on the shore and watch others fish: Observers
* Those who go through the motions but believe that their equipment isn't really good enough: Pretenders and Deceivers
* Those critical of the whole idea of fishing: Destroyers
* Those who write a check to enable others to fish: Sponsors
* Those who partake of the meal after the fish are caught: Freeloaders, Ticks, and Parasites
* Those who pursue the sport with passion and zeal: Disciples
LET'S GO FISHING
In over three decades of ministry to men, I've never seen so many men dealing with major challenges as I do today. Those challenges bring a host of opportunities to share our faith and to encourage others in their spiritual journey. Much like my experience on Hat Creek, there is an urgency connected with the opportunity. Men are seeking peace, love, joy, and real relationships. They endeavor to make some sense out of the mess we are in. Only God's Word can direct us to answers that will change our lives and stabilize our thinking about how to cope in this stress-filled world.
In order to reach others for God's kingdom, we need to consistently employ the gifts, talents, and contacts the Lord has provided us with. The twenty-first-century church must be practical and relevant to the world in which we live. Men must be willing to embrace their roles as spiritual leaders and commit themselves to the personal involvement that discipleship requires.
From the first-century disciples, we also learn that effective discipleship requires grace and patience that only God can provide. German clergyman Dietrich Bonhoeffer informed us that "when we are called to follow Christ, we are summoned to an exclusive attachment to his person.... The call goes forth, and is at once followed by the response of obedience.... Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ."
FISHING FOR MEN
Spend time reading Luke 5:1–11 together with your mentoring partner. Summarize what this passage is saying in your own words. What risks did Peter take? If you had been in Peter's place, a long-seasoned fisherman on the Sea of Galilee, how would you have responded to Jesus' command? What does this passage teach you about yourself and God?
WHY DID JESUS SELECT FISHERMEN?
THE FIRST-CENTURY FISHERMEN
Shortly after leaving His hometown of Nazareth, Jesus came down the hillside to a little settlement called Capernaum. As He strolled along the Sea of Galilee shoreline, He came upon a small group of fishermen who had been with John the Baptist. These were special men who knew the challenges life brings. Being a fisherman for a small Galilean settlement (Kibbutz) was not an easy task. With meat being scarce, fish was one of the main staples in the diet for people who lived in this community.
Peter and Andrew were brothers, as were James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Zebedee owned the fishing boat (27 feet long by 7.5 feet wide) and, since we don't hear more about him, must assume that he was not part of the fishing excursions we find in the New Testament. If you look at John 21, you will note that, besides John, we can identify seven other disciples who were most likely fishermen.
This raises the question, why did Jesus choose fishermen? Practically speaking, the fishermen-disciples had efficient transportation and the ability to provide meals for the group, but I believe Jesus saw in these men traits that set them apart as good candidates to be the first-century disciples.
A fisherman for a small community like Kibbutz would go out in his boat just before dark and set a small fire in a polished brass pan. The light from the fire attracted small fish to the boat. He would cast his net into the dark shadows of the night, only to quickly retrieve it before it sank to the bottom. Often, the cold night air would penetrate his wet clothes and cause his body temperature to fall. There was always the worry that a wind storm would come up, washing him and his equipment onto the rocky shoreline. (The Sea of Galilee is notorious for sudden, violent storms.) The stink from the previous day's catch still lingered in the old wooden boat, as he and his partners gingerly stepped over the freshly caught, slimy fish jumping about the boat. This was a job not for the faint of heart, but for men who were willing to risk it all for the sake of others. What are you willing to risk in becoming a fisher of men?
THE FIRST-CENTURY FISHERMEN
In researching and writing Promising Waters, I was struck with the numerous parallels and correlations that exist between the fishermen and fishers of men. These simple Galilean fishermen were rough and somewhat pedestrian in their thinking. Their Jewish roots, filled with passion and prejudice, often presented challenges to learning new ideas. Despite their obvious skill and success in the fishing community, these practical, hard-working men would soon give up their musty nets and smelly fish to catch the vision of Christ's ministry.
Jesus wanted to relate to men who understood the challenges of life in a unique way, men who dealt with the mysteries of nature. He could have gone to the intellectuals, the elite, or the Pharisees or Sadducees, but He picked common guys who weren't handicapped by their pride or seeking materialistic goods. He realized that many of the principles, methods, and techniques used in relating to people on a spiritual basis are very similar to those used in fishing. By learning how to apply Jesus' teachings, the disciples could then pursue the ultimate fishing challenge: becoming fishers of men. Jesus wanted to lead them on the fishing adventure of a lifetime, where the rewards have eternal consequences with net-breaking excitement.
In the first century, an apprenticeship system was used to train spiritual leaders. Those in training attached themselves to a rabbi and literally lived with him. Their goal was both to learn all their teacher knew and to imitate his way of life. When Barnabas found Paul, he became his spiritual mentor. Paul learned from Barnabas how important it was to have someone in his life who was spiritually mature. As a consequence, Paul found a young man named Timothy who needed counsel from someone a little further along in his spiritual journey. These men served as models for one another and continued to pass on the legacy of their faith (Acts 15:22–23; Gal. 2:1–10)
As I researched the word disciple, I found that two elements apply. One must have a certain attitude and resulting actions if he is to be a true disciple. The Greek word for disciple is mathetes (root word is manthano), which simply means "to learn." Therefore, a mathetes is a "learner, pupil, or student." But if the disciple did not apply what he learned, he could not be counted as a believer. The greatest honor you can give your Master is to share with others the joy of your experience and understanding.
It is curious how many comparisons there are between fishermen and fishers of men. Perhaps when Jesus was thinking about the manifested traits of fishermen he realized these were the guys to passionately carry his message.
Fishermen are a unique breed and are rarely understood by others. More often than not, they are considered a little odd or eccentric. Likewise, fishers of men don't always lend themselves toward a neat, ecclesiastical job description; however, they do have some common characteristics.
Fishermen are inquisitive people of adventure and exploration; a disciple is never content with the routine and the mundane. Fishermen keep focused on what they are doing and how that impacts their approach to the fish; a disciple fixes his eyes on men who are more advanced in their spiritual development and uses his Spirit-filled life to tackle each challenge and embrace each relationship as an opportunity to serve our Lord.
Fishermen have faith that every cast will produce a fish. They believe that just one more cast will be "the one." Fishers of men live by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). This is the same faith Peter demonstrated when he cast his bare hook into the Sea of Galilee and caught a fish with a coin in its mouth (Matt. 17:27).
Committed fishermen are passionate and persistent. They will spend countless hours preparing, analyzing, evaluating, and pursuing their beloved sport. They challenge the fish and don't give up. Similarly, a devoted disciple of Jesus attacks his mission with the same dedication and zeal.
Excerpted from More Than A Fisherman by JIM GRASSI. Copyright © 2014 Jim Grassi. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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