Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Biggest Number is One

  Life of Christ 36

          Often, our best work is done, not with crowds, but with individuals.
          We are now well into Jesus' first preaching tour of Galilee. He has done several very public miracles, and He has traveled and preached in synagogues all over the region, presenting His claim to be Israel's messiah. The response has been very good in the sense of attention and crowds. Traveling with Him, as well, is the little group of three or four disciples who transferred over to Him from John the Baptist.
          Our story today (Luke 5.1-11) finds us just outside the town that had become His main base in Galilee, Capernaum. Although He had lived in Nazareth almost all of His life Capernaum was both more receptive and better situated for His new life. It was centrally located in Galilee, and four main roads came together there. It also had the largest population in the area, and boasted a good economy. Additionally, it was a substantial port on the Sea of Galilee with some 4000 small boats and ships docking there.
          We find Him, as I said, just outside of Capernaum, walking down by the Sea of Galilee. Gradually, first one person and then another recognizes Him, and soon a small crowd forms around Him. This, in turn, draws a larger crowd. He is already known regionally, not just as a miracle worker, and as a man claiming to be the messiah, but also as an outstanding preacher, and soon several calls came from the crowd for Him to preach.
          As He is down by the shoreline, out of sheer necessity He jumps into an empty fishing boat in order not to be pushed into the water, and in order to place a little space between Himself and the crowd. He preaches a message, and then addresses the boat's owner, whom He happened to already know, Peter. (Of course, I do not believe there are any coincidences in the life of our Lord. I'm sure Jesus knew exactly what He was doing, and exactly whose boat He 'happened' to be standing by as the crowd formed.)
          Peter's brother, Andrew, had been a follower of John the Baptist, and was one of the disciples that transferred over to Jesus. Andrew had already tried to bring his brother, Peter, to Jesus, and although the two had met and talked briefly, Peter apparently wasn't very impressed in that first meeting. Now, months later, Peter certainly knew about the growing fame of Jesus and why it was growing. Suddenly, here He is, on the shore, with Peter's brother Andrew tagging along, and in urgent need of a boat. Common kindness as well as familial relation would have made Peter offer Jesus the use of his boat from which to teach.
          The Scriptures tell us nothing of the content of the message, but they do tell us that after the sermon was concluded Jesus tells Peter to take the boat back out onto the water toward the fishing grounds. Peter is initially resistant to this idea. It is morning, and Peter is tired, having just finished fishing for the entire night shift. Additionally, they hadn't caught anything at all, and the experienced fisherman inside of him didn't think there was going to be anything better to catch now that the sun was well up. But again, out of respect for Jesus or his brother Andrew, he reluctantly agrees.
      We all know this story backwards and forwards, don't we? The result is such a sudden and large and unusual haul of fish that Peter breaks his net before they are even out of sight of land. Hurriedly, he calls for his business partners, James and John, to rush their boat over and help. They eagerly comply, but the combined nets and boats are still not big enough to hold all of the fish, literally filling the boats so full they are in danger of sinking.
          Peter's response is instinctive (as so many of his response's in Scripture are) and telling. 'When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord' (Luke 5.8). I think this is the exact moment of Peter's salvation, and not only does he get saved, but he immediately yields Himself to Jesus' request to join Himself and Andrew as they fish for men with the Gospel. And, as a bit of a bonus, James and John come along too.
          Not bad for a day's work, eh? No, I don't mean all those fish. I mean Jesus' day's work. He added to Himself, in one morning, the three men who would become the core of His entire earthly ministry, both during His life and after it – Peter, James, and John. Jesus preached to the multitude but I'm convinced that all along He was aiming right at Peter. Often, our best work is done, not with crowds, but with individuals. We will see this aspect of Jesus' ministry exponentially develop. In fact, one could argue, that aside from the atonement, the most lasting thing He accomplished in His lifetime on earth, was the training of the twelve Apostles.
          I'm for preaching, and anybody that knows me knows that. I put a tremendous amount of time and effort into the preaching portion of my ministry, literally hundreds and hundreds of hours a year. But I have learned, partly from my own life experience, and partly from my study of the life of Christ, to also spend a whole bunch of time in one-on-one ministry with men.
          In my lifetime I've heard approximately 10,000 sermons. Many of them prompted me to make good and sound decisions. But if you pinned me to the wall and asked me what changed my life, from one aimed selfishly at pleasing myself to one aimed squarely at serving the Lord, I would tell you that it was a handful of men who personally and privately invested a great deal in me. Perhaps, at some later point, I shall tell you those stories in this blog, but for the moment allow me to pass over the specifics of my life, and let me just assure you that individuals, with the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, changed my life just as much, if not more, than preaching did.
          Did you ever stop to think what was the most lasting part of Paul's ministry? Was it the churches he started? No, and please don't hang me with that. I'm a tremendous believer in starting churches. I practically started one myself. But none of the churches that Paul started remain in existence today. I think, indisputably, humanly speaking, the most lasting part of Paul's ministry was his writing, but second to that was the product of his mentoring, men like Timothy and Titus. Where did Paul learn to do that? I don't think it was just cultural or instinctive. I think He learned it from Jesus.
          So many of you who read this blog have a ministry in which you serve the Lord. Often it involves a group of people, such as a pastor, staff member, youth director, Sunday School teacher, etc. Yes, you must gather a crowd if you are to have any kind of ministry at all, but I implore you to give yourself to mentor the teachable, investable person. Identify the ones that will give you a return on your investment and then pour your life into them. I mean your life outside the direct lines of your ministry. Spend time with them. Do things with them. Pour your teaching into them. Draw out their questions. Catch their tears. Attend the big events of their life. Take them to lunch. Bring them into your home. Challenge them to produce something better. Involve them in helping you with your ministry. Pray with them. Witness with them. Train them. Love them.
          Mother, you can change the world. Teacher, you can change the world. Soul winner, you can change the world – by changing the entire world for one person at a time. Jesus did on that beautiful Galilean morning, not with the message He preached to the crowds, but with time He poured into a frustrated fisherman afterward.

          Often, our best work is done, not with crowds, but with individuals.

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