We can’t be more generous than God

In a previous post I looked at the need to be generous if small churches are going to work together to plant churches. Looking at 2 Corinthians 8, we saw that we can’t be more sacrificial than God. Now in 2 Corinthians 9 we discover that we can’t be generous than God.

Look at 2 Corinthians 9:6-11. There is a danger that these verses misinterpreted as advocating some kind of prosperity gospel in which we earn blessings from God. The harvest Paul that promises here is a harvest of ‘righteousness’ (9:10).

But the prosperity gospel is not our danger! I suspect our danger is much more likely to be a functional deism in which we operate as if God is not present and active in a dynamic way in our lives and churches. So let’s take these promises seriously.

Look at verse 6: ‘Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.’ The imagery is clear: if you plant 100 bean seeds you’ll get a bigger harvest than if you plant 10. But there’s a straight-forward cause and effect between planting seeds and harvesting fruit.

It’s not so clear that the money you give to the poor in Jerusalem, the greater the harvest you will reap in Corinth. Unless, God promises to bless your giving. Unless, God is no man’s debtor. Unless, we can’t be more generous than God.

Look at how Paul goes on in verses 7-8: ‘Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.’

‘Every good work’ is literally ‘all good works’. So there are five ‘all’s in this verse: ‘all grace … all things … all times … all you need … all good works’. How would you like this to be true of your church? ‘In all things at all times, [we have] all that we need [so that we] abound in all good works.’

If you want that, then sow generously and give cheerfully. You cannot be more generous than God. When you sow generously, when you give cheerfully, God ‘makes all grace abound to you’. And what happens then? ‘You may abound in every good work.’

How do this work? I think we can identify some lines of cause and effect:

  1. Generosity encourages generosity. Generosity in one area encourages generosity elsewhere because giving loosens the grip of wealth. A generous church creates a culture of generosity in which its members are generous.
  2. People replace people. Churches often testify that, when they have sent people, others have come to replace them. But there’s a also a natural sense in which people leaving creates gaps for others to fill. It creates opportunities for people to step up.
  3. Mission inspires mission. Involvement in mission leads to involvement in mission. It changes mindsets. It makes them missional. It encourages creativity. It gives courage.

These are the natural lines of cause and effect. But there is also something supernatural going on here. God is generous to those who are generous.

Look at verse 10: ‘Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.’ If you sow generously then God will give you more seed! And what do you do with seed? You sow generously.

Verse 11 is even more explicit: ‘You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.’ If you give generously then God will give generously to you so you can continue to give generously. He entrusts us with his resources. If we’re generous then he entrusts more – so that we can be more generous.

The economy of God

There’s almost a sense in which resources move backwards and forwards. In 8:14 Paul says: ‘At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.’ There’s a constant circulation of resources. My church gives to your church. Your church gives to another church. That church gives to my church. And we end up back where we started. And you’re tempted to say, Why bother? Why is the economy of God like this? Why this circulation of resources with everyone giving to everyone else? Three reasons to close:

  • Verse 13: It evokes God’s praise: ‘Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.’
  • Verse 14: It connects God’s people: ‘And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.’
  • Verse 15: It highlights God’s generosity: ‘Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!’ All the time we are remembering God’s generosity to us in Christ.

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We can’t be more sacrificial than God

This is based on a talk I gave for Plant North Yorkshire.

How can churches in Europe, especially in rural areas, work together to plant churches in Europe when they themselves are so often few in number. In North Yorkshire most churches have fewer than 30 people in the congregation. Some are without pastors. None has what you might call a staff team. We don’t have congregations full of people with nothing to do or bank accounts full of cash with nothing to do. None of us can plant with feeling it – without a feeling of sacrifice.

So there are lots of reasons to leave the task of reaching North Yorkshire to other people. Or wait until our churches are bigger, stronger, richer. I think that’s a mistake. In fact, I think our churches won’t grow bigger, stronger, richer if we don’t own the task of reaching our country. If we turn inwards then we will become introverted and introverted churches wither and die. But if we look outwards then God will bless our endeavours.

It is, of course, easy to be generous in theory. The practice of partnering together to plant churches will involve some tough decisions. But I want to celebrate and reinforce this spirit of generosity by looking at 2 Corinthians 8-9.

Paul is raising money to relieve the poverty of the Jerusalem church. 2 Corinthians 8-9 are his fundraising appeal to the Corinthian church. We’re not raising money for the poor. But we are asking one another to give resources for mission – money, time and (perhaps hardest of all) people.

There is another point of connection. The Jerusalem Collection was controversial. So controversial that in Romans 15:30-32 Paul asks the Romans church to pray that it will be well-received: ‘I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray … that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favourably received by the Lord’s people there.’

Why might a gift to relieve poverty not be received favourably? The answer is that Paul sees it as a sign of unity between the Gentile and Jewish churches. Their welcome of the gift will be a sign that they welcome the givers as fellow brothers and sisters in the family of Christ. And that meant accepting Gentiles without them becoming Jewish. It was a sign of unity in justification by faith.

The point is that giving is not just giving. It binds us together. It creates relationship. Paul puts it beautifully in 1 Corinthians 9:14: ‘And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.’ It’s reflection of the words of Jesus: ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ (Matthew 6:21) Your hearts follows your giving. It gives you a personal investment in the partnership.

Giving fosters partnership. And partnering together is an expression of our unity in the gospel. That means we need to be willing to receive help as a sign of unity in the gospel. And it means we need to be willing to give help as a sign of unity in the gospel.

I was once phoned by someone asking for the names of our worship leaders. At that time, our worship leader was me on my guitar, but I suspected that was not what he had in mind! So asked him why he wanted the information. The answer was that he wanted to bring the worship leaders of the churches in our city together ‘for unity’. They would rehearse together and then lead an evening of worship ‘for unity’. I kept pressing him on what the point of this was and he kept saying ‘unity’. So feeling mischievous I said, ‘We don’t believe in unity.’ Paused. And then added, ‘We believe in co-operation’. My point is that co-operation implies working something together for a bigger goal. Our unity in Christ is expressed when we work together to reach the lost.

So let’s look at 2 Corinthians with this in mind. I want to focus on two sections.

We can’t be more sacrificial than God (8:1-9)

2 Corinthians 8 begins: ‘And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.’ (8:1) What is that ‘grace’? Verse 7 talks about ‘this grace of giving’ (8:7). The grace or the gift that God has give not the Macedonians is giving. Not simply, I think, the ability to gift, but also the opportunity to give. Giving itself is a gift from God.

But this is not just giving. This giving is sacrificial.

  1. Look at verse 2. The Macedonians are giving ‘in the midst of a very severe trial’ and ‘their extreme poverty’. Extreme poverty is not a good context for generosity. Except that Paul says it is! It’s the ideal context for sacrificial generosity. Notice at his formula: joy + poverty = generosity. Giving without poverty is not true generosity because it’s not sacrificial.
  2. Look at verse 3: ‘For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.’ That’s the definition of sacrificial giving: beyond our ability. Think what that means for church planting. It means giving time when there is plenty for you to do in your own church. It means giving people when there is plenty for them to do your church.
  3. Look at verses 3-4: ‘Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.’ This is willing and unconstrained. They’re not waiting to be asked. Instead they’re the ones doing the asking – asking if they can give because they count partnership a privilege.

What creates this kind of behaviour? Look at verse 5: ‘And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.’ They didn’t have to decide to be generous – it was the natural consequence of a bigger decision: they had given themselves to the Lord and to his people.

How? Why? Here we come to the central point. Look at verse 9: ‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.’

You cannot be more sacrificial than God. Sacrificial giving expresses, reinforces and reminds us of God’s sacrificial gift. This is why giving is ‘a grace’. Giving is a gift because every act of giving:

  • loosens the power of wealth over us
  • strengthens our satisfaction in God
  • reminds us God’s generosity to us

Verse 7 is ironic. Paul says: ‘But since you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us – see that you also excel in this grace of giving.’ (NIV1984) The Corinthian was not short on confidence. Paul is about to address the super-apostles who boasted in their faith, speech, knowledge and so on. They thought of themselves as super-spiritual Christians. So Paul says, ‘If you really excel then you will excel in giving.’ Their danger is that they full of their own abilities – and no doubt they were very able – but they were missing the point.

A gospel church is more than an orthodox church which reads the right books, sings the right songs and has the right kind of preaching. A true gospel church a sacrificial church because at the heart of the gospel is the sacrifice of Christ.

We’re called to be sacrificial. But we can’t be more sacrificial than God.

In a future post we’ll look at 2 Corinthians 9 and see that we can’t be more generous than God.

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The Glory of the Story Sample: Day 104 – Introducing Jacob

Over the coming year I’m going to post some extracts from The Glory of the Story, my father’s devotional introduction to biblical theology in the form of 366 daily readings which show how the Old Testament story is fulfilled in Christ. The Glory of the Story is available as a Kindle book for $2.99 from amazon.com and £1.99 from amazon.co.uk. All the extracts will be from the chaper on the story of Jacob and I’ll usually post them on the first Monday of the month.

The story of Jacob begins in Genesis 25 with the crucial, story-shaping prophecy given to Rebekah, ‘the older [Esau] will serve the younger’ [Jacob]. Jacob’s story then follows a similar pattern to that of Abraham. Both have an early encounter with the Lord, followed by struggles which call for the exercise of faith and which involve long periods of waiting. While Abraham’s story revolves around the promise of a son, Jacob’s revolves around the promise of God’s presence and protection. After his encounter with God at Bethel come twenty long years of service for Laban’s daughters (31:41). Then follows his life-changing experience at Peniel. Jacob is renamed ‘Israel’ and finally reconciled to Esau.

Another thirty years pass before the family moves to Egypt and Jacob is reunited with his favourite son, Joseph. It is a period of human frailty, evident in favouritism, sibling rivalry, hatred and murder. But it is also a time of God’s gracious providence working despite, and sometimes through, such frailties. It is, of course, God’s intention to bring the chosen family under foreign domination until Canaan is ripe for possession (Gen. 15:13-16). So this present chapter leaves us marvelling at the overarching sovereignty of God.

But what about the longer term future? In Genesis 12 God begins to forge a chain of redemption, the last link of which is Jesus (Matt. 1:1-17). According to Matthew the first three links in the chain are Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We might have expected the fourth would be Joseph, but surprisingly (to us) the covenant line continues through his brother, Judah.

Closing Thought

Take heart from the fact that when Jacob thinks everything is against him (Gen. 42:36), everything is in fact, working for his good (Rom. 8:28).

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Preaching biblical narrative

How can we turn biblical narrative into sermons and still retain a sense of the story?

This following material provides some simple techniques. It assumes a Christ-centred gospel hermeneutic. In particular, it assumes you have asked the question, Why? Why does the author say this? Why does he say it here? Why does he say it in this way? What response does he want from his readers? How does he aim to elicit this response?

This material focuses instead on creating sermon outlines and headings.

1. Creating an outline
Here are three approaches to creating an outline for sermons on biblical narratives:
1. Plot
2. Characters
3. Literary features or biblical allusions

1.1 Plot
Identify the key moments in the narrative. Plots often follow the pattern: equilibrium – tension – resolution (perhaps with a new equilibrium). But there may be other ways of breaking up the narrative. The paragraphing in our translations may offer some pointers. The movement between action and dialogue may also help highlight the key moments in the narrative. There may be a chiastic structure.

Summarise what is happening at each stage in the narrative and the overall message of the story. Use this to create an outline.

Example: Plot-based outlines for Mark 6:30-44
1. Jesus provided rest for his disciples (30-32)
2. Jesus provided bread for the crowd (33-44)
OR
1. Not enough (30-38)
2. Enough (39-42)
3. More than enough (43-44)

1.2 Characters
Identify the key characters in the narrative. Summarise the stance or contribution each character makes to the narrative. Or summarise the perspective or attitude they represent or exemplify. Use this to create an outline.

Example: A character-based outline for Mark 6:30-44
1. The people were in need
2. The disciples could not provide
3. Jesus could provide

1.3 Literary features or biblical allusions
Look for literary features or biblical allusions in the narrative. These might include:

  • repeated words or phrases
  • repeated imagery
  • repeated narrative patterns (like reversals or contrasts)
  • editorial comments or explanations
  • significant names or locations
  • inclusio (when a section is starts and finishes in a similar way)
  • sandwiches (when one narrative is contained within another so they mutually interpret one another)
  • quotes from other parts of the Bible
  • allusions to, or echoes of, previous stories in the biblical narrative
  • Identify a prominent repeated literary feature or repeated biblical allusions. summarise how each example functions within the narrative. Use this to create an outline.

Example: An allusion-based outline for Mark 6:30-44
1. Jesus is the new Moses (Exodus 16)
2. Jesus is the new Elisha (2 Kings 4:42-44)
3. Jesus is the new David (Ezekiel 34)
4. Jesus is the divine Shepherd (Psalm 23)

2. Creating headings for sermons on biblical stories
Use the section summaries you have created from plot, characters or literary features to create sermon headings. To form a bridge between the biblical narrative and your hearers create headings that are immediately descriptive of your hearers by doing the following:
1. Replace names with first person plural pronouns or generic terms
2. Replace the past tense with the present tense

2.1 Replace names with first person plural pronouns
Your summarises are likely to refer to the key characters in the narrative. Replace their names with first person plural pronouns – we, us, our.

  • E.g. God rescued Daniel -> God rescued us

You could also uses generic words and phrases like ‘the world’, ‘God’s people,’ ‘our enemies’ or ‘mediator’:

  • the crowd -> the world
  • the Israelites -> God’s people
  • the Philistines -> our enemies
  • Moses -> our mediator

2.2 Replace the past tense with the present tense
Your summarises are likely to be in the past tense because they are summaries of what happened in the past.

Both English and Greek often use what is called the ‘historic present’ in which we use the present tense to refer to past events in a lively way. E.g. We might say, ‘Paul says in Romans 8 …’ (present tense) instead of ‘Paul said in Romans 8 …’ (past tense). You can exploit the ‘historic present’ to write headings that simultaneously describe events in the narrative (in the past) and the situation of your hearers (in the present).

So create headings in the present tense, switching from the past tense if necessary.

  • E.g. God heard Daniel’s prayer -> God hears our prayers

Example: headings for Mark 6:30-44
1. We face a needy world (The people were in need)
2. We are needy people facing a needy world (The disciples could not provide)
3. We are empowered by a mighty Saviour (Jesus could provide)

Summary

1. Take a biblical story and identify sermon outlines using each of the following:

  • plot
  • character
  • literary features or biblical allusions

2. Convert your summaries into headings:

  • using first person plural pronouns or generic terms
  • in the present tense

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Review from The Church Times

I enjoyed this review of The One True Light from The Church Times:

The One True Light is by Tim Chester, who is a pastor at Grace Church, Boroughbridge, in Yorkshire. Judging by the ten commendations on the cover, he is a noted figure in the independent Evangelical movement. He is apparently “insightful” and “thoroughly biblical”. Church Times readers should not be put off. This is a splendid book, full of — yes — “insights”, theologically orthodox, but imaginative and often deeply moving. His daily reflections, a verse at a time, are followed by passages for meditation culled from a wonderfully rich spectrum — medieval Roman Catholic, traditional hymns, modern worship songs, and even the Book of Common Prayer. I have never read any of his 40 or so books, but it was a joy to encounter an author one can truthfully describe as a catholic Evangelical.

The One True Light is available here from thinkivp. It’s not yet available in the US.

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Managing expectations #3: the promise of communion

In previous posts I introduced the challenge of managing expectations within the life of a church. We saw that the story told in John 21:1-14 promises fruit from Christ. Now we see that it also promises communion with Christ.

Look at verse 9: ‘When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.’ Jesus is one step ahead of them. He’s already organised bread, fish, fire. Breakfast is cooking and Jesus is the cook. They’ve spent all night fishing and now Jesus invites them to sit and eat. Jesus is the host, inviting them to eat with him. Look at verses 12 and 13: ‘Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” … Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.’

We’ve already been alerted to the symbolic nature of this event. Jesus is going to turn these disciples into fishers of people.

Now the symbolism continues. Jesus provides for his people. As we cast our nets by proclaiming his name, he provides the harvest. As we step out in mission, Jesus meets our needs.

But more than that, he provides himself. This is the promise of communion, of relationship. A meal – then and now – is a powerful sign of welcome and friendship. Jesus is promising his presence, his comfort, himself.

The language here echoes John 6. In John 6 Jesus feeds 5,000 people with just five loaves and two fish. John 6:11 says: ‘Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.’ Now verse 13 says: ‘Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.’ ‘Took the loaves’, ‘took the bread’, ‘did the same with the fish’.

In chapter 6 the disciples learnt that Jesus provides for his people. Now he echoes that event as a reminder of that lesson. As they proclaim his name, he will meet their needs.

But it’s not just that he provides for them. Back in chapter 6 Jesus explains the sign of the bread by saying, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry.’ (6:35)

Jesus himself is the bread. He is what is provided. God himself in the person of Jesus will satisfy our hunger. He doesn’t just send an angel. He himself comes to us. In the end what he offers is himself. He offers communion. He offers his presence.

This is so important. We don’t know what this year will bring. I can’t tell you how many people will be saved in the coming year. Maybe it will be none. Maybe one. Maybe ten. Maybe more. Maybe it will be a year of great fruitfulness. Maybe it won’t. But whatever happens, we can always fall back on the communion that we have with God. Whatever happens we can be satisfied because we have Christ.

God’s favour, God’s friendship, God’s presence does not depend on our success. It depends on the kindness of the Father, the work of the Son and the presence of the Spirit. And nothing can remove or undo those things.

Even when we see no fruit, we can still be content because we have Jesus. Jesus gives us himself. He’s the bread which satisfies our souls.

And so today Jesus still invites us to a meal in the form of the bread and wine. It’s food which he has provided through his death. He invites us to the communion meal. And it is an act of communion. He is present with us by the Holy Spirit. The people that pass the bread to are just Jesus’ way of getting the bread off the table and into your hands. It’s Jesus who’s giving you the bread. He’s inviting you to eat with him.

This is what enables us to keep going when the work is hard and we see little fruit. Each week we come back to the gospel. We come back to the Father’s love, to Christ’s grace, to the Spirit’s presence.

Our identity and our status is not dependant on the numbers of people in our church or the number of baptisms we chalk up. Our identity rests on Jesus.

Remember verse 1 is literally ‘Jesus revealed himself’. He is the sign. And Jesus is the sign of God’s love and welcome. We are children of God. Whether we face times of growth or times of frustration, we can be content in Christ.

My hope and prayer is that we will keep at the task: we will proclaim Christ. And there will be many precious moment in which we enjoy Christ.

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The Ordinary Hero in Spanish

I’ve had a little batch of books come out in translation …

The Ordinary Hero is now available in Spanish as El héroe común. Also available in Spanish is Gospel-Centred Life under the title Una Vida Centrada en el Evangelio.

And Gospel-Centred Family has been translated into Italian as Famiglia Vangelocentrica.

In other news …

Yesterday I received a copy of Graham Beynon’s short book, Money Counts: How to Handel Your Money in Your Hearts and with Your Hands. Here’s the commendation I wrote for it:

Full of common sense advice on spending, saving and giving, Money Counts also offers the uncommon sense that comes from viewing life in the light of God’s generous grace and his promise of eternal glory. Read this book and learn to view giving as a liberating act of worship.

Money Counts is available from 5 January 2016 from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

 

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The One True Light – more copies now in stock

I’ve just had this message (and photo) from The Good Book Company: “After selling out the first print run in a record 3 weeks, new stock of The One True Light Advent readings are flying out of the warehouse.”

So if you’ve tried to buy a copy – don’t despair. And it’s not too late to buy a copy to read throughout in December – not that there’s a rule which says it must be read then!

IMG_1288

The One True Light is available here from thinkivp. It will be released in the US next year.

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Managing expectations #2: the promise of fruit

In a previous post I introduced the challenge of managing expectations within the life of a church. In John 21 we saw the promise that God’s word is powerful.

The disciples have just reached a point where they are seeing-and-believing. But now in chapter 21 Jesus is preparing them to lead other people to the point where they are not-seeing-and-believing. Look at 20:29: ‘Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”’

The first disciples see and believe. Future generations will not see and believe. Instead, they will hear and believe.

But will this work? Will people really hear and believe without being able to see Jesus?

The evidence in our experience is mixed. As our church gathers we are the proof that people can not-see-and-believe. But we are few in number. Most people don’t believe.

Will people in your town really hear-and-believe? This is the question which is answered by John 21:1-14.

This story is the promise of fruit. It is the promise of a harvest.

John emphases that this is an impressive catch. Verse 6 talks about a ‘large number of fish’. Verse 8 talks about a ‘net full of fish’. The story describes the transition from ‘they caught nothing’ in verse 3 to a net ‘full of large fish, 153,’ in verse 11.

And John knew what he was talking about because John was a fisherman. He knew this was extraordinary.

On its own we might think this story is just another demonstration of the power of Jesus. But coming after 20:29-31 it becomes the promise of fruitfulness in mission. As we proclaim the name of Jesus, people will believe and find life is his name.

The Acts 29 church planting network is so-called to highlight the way the story of mission in Acts does not end in chapter 28. Acts is just the beginning. We continue to write the story. We’re writing the next chapter. We have the same idea in John’s Gospel. John 20 feels like an ending. Indeed some people have concluded that it’s the real ending of the Gospel and chapter 21 is later addition. But 20:30-31 are not the end of the story. The story of Jesus on earth is over. But the story of Jesus continues and we are writing it. The story of Jesus is continued through the mission of the church. So this big catch of fish is an exposition of 20:29. It is the promise that there will be people ‘who have not seen and yet have believed.’

It’s the promise that Jesus will bless our mission. As we work, Jesus will work – sometimes without us recognising that he is at work

You see, it’s the disciples who catch these fish. They’re the ones who let down their nets. They’re the ones who drag the net ashore. But it’s Jesus who gives the bounty. They are completely depend on him. In the same way, we cast out the net as we proclaim the gospel. But it’s Jesus who gives life.

Some of the disciples were expert fishermen. But expertise is not everything. They needed Jesus. In the same way, we can be expert evangelists – nothing wrong with that. But expertise is not everything. We need Jesus. He is the Lord of the harvest.

Without Jesus, the disciples were fishing in the dark – they were in the boat at night. Apparently that’s a good time to fish. But ‘night’ for John is often symbolic of life without the light of Christ. His Gospel starts with the light shining in the darkness as Jesus comes into the world (1:5) Now in this story as morning breaks Jesus appears on the shore. And through his command the disciples catch a great number of fish.

Will people really hear-and-believe? The answer is Yes. The word of Jesus produces a harvest. In 1942 a missionary called Mary Sander wrote to Barclay Buxton, the founder of the Japan Evangelistic Band, with whom she had served in Japan:

I feel, on looking back, that the way God used me to win Japanese to Christ was in the way you taught us in the use of the Scriptures, His own Word, the weapon of the Word, and His Spirit. It did the work. I remember feeling what comfort it was that not our weak words, but His eternal Word was the weapon of our warfare. It seemed like a strong friend at hand. (Cited B. Godfrey Buxton, The Reward of Faith in the Life of Barclay F. Buxton, Japan Evangelistic Band, 1949, 263.)

Think about seeds. They typically look dead – like little bits of grit. But they produce life – even if they are trampled underfoot, sometimes because they are trampled underfoot. And the Bible often says God’s word is like a seed. It may look dead. It may be trampled underfoot. But it produces life.

This story echoes another story of a miraculous catch in Luke 5:1-11 when Jesus calls the disciples to be fishers of people (see also Mark 1:16-17). So people have wondered whether the disciples were wrong now to return to their fishing. Is this a return to their old way of life when they should have been fishing for people? I’m not persuaded they were in the wrong. After all, they had to eat while they waited for Jesus meet them again.

But this is not the action of Spirit-filled people. None of them are fishing in the book of Acts! At this point, the disciples believe in Jesus, but they’ve not yet received the Spirit because the Spirit has not yet been poured out at Pentecost.

But Pentecost has now happened. The Spirit of God has been poured out on God’s people. Every Christian is in-dwelt with the Spirit.

And so now we Christians cannot return to our old way of life – at least not in the same way. A new Christian may well continue as a fisherman, builder, shop-worker. But we’re all called to be fishers of people. We return to our old life as people with new life living with a new purpose. Our workplace becomes the context for mission.

We can proclaim the name of Jesus in the expectation that there will be fruit. There will be a catch of people. People will believe in Jesus and find life in his name.

I can’t tell you how many people will be saved in 2015. Maybe it will be none. Maybe one. Maybe ten. Maybe more. But there will be a harvest. I don’t know why Good doesn’t convert more people in the UK (though he is doing so elsewhere in the world). But there will be a harvest. Dead seed will burst into life.

Our job is to obey the command of Jesus, like the disciples, and let down the net by proclaiming his word. After that, it’s over to Jesus. He gives the harvest. He will decide whether there is one convert or ten or more. The harvest is up to him. And so:

  • We proclaim Christ with confidence – because Christ promises a harvest.
  • We proclaim Christ with prayer – because it’s Christ who gives the harvest.
  • We proclaim Christ without pressure – because the harvest doesn’t depend on us.

Our job is to proclaim his name, confident that he promises a harvest.

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