As we approach the end of July, we approach the end of another ministry year. And this has been a great year. It seems very evident to me that God has been leading us as a church, and God has been blessing our efforts over the last year. It’s not that he owes us because we are something special, but because our desire has been to find where he is working and join him there and to glorify His name and make him known.
What’s been amazing is that as we have continued to reach out, so many of you have stepped up, you have caught the vision and have been moved by the vision to give of yourselves: the 15 families who gave above and beyond to help us host outreach events like swim night, kid cafe, or movie night; the 40+ volunteers that gave of their week to serve over 100 kids in Bible school; the Kid Cafe team that worked to feed kids every Friday in June; the individual who helps us with our graphic designs; those who serve week in and week out in kids ministry, hospitality, nursery; the over 100 of you who signed up throughout the year to do things like pick frozen turkey off the bones so Hope Ministries could serve their annual Thanksgiving meal; and the faithful who showed up this past Wednesday at Faith and Grace garden to harvest vegetables and fruits to be donated to families in need. And I could go on: the 538 jars of peanut butter or over 700 cans of tuna for the food pantry, and now the 100 backpacks you are filling with school supplies for kids in need, and to top it off, over $53,000 donated to mission causes this past year. These things are truly worth celebrating.
Now today I want us to celebrate, to praise God for what he has done in and through Ashworth Road Baptist Church. And I say praise God because there is no doubt in my mind that what has happened this year, what has caused this to be one of the best years in the history of Ashworth Road, is the hand of God.
And even though I think there should be times we celebrate, I want to tell you that He is not done yet. I believe, the staff believes, our Leadership Team believes that we sit on edge of even greater impact and influence as a church, that as good as the previous year or years have been, our best days are still before us. God has poured out and continues to pour out his Spirit on this church and he continues to call us to reach farther than we ever have before so that more and more people experience His love and grace through Jesus Christ and know that He is God.
As I think about the future of Ashworth Road, and as the staff sat around this week talking about what to say today, looking forward, giving us a vision for what can be in the future, we remembered the story in the gospel of Luke chapter 5. In Luke 5 we find Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. He hasn’t even called his disciples to follow him yet. He already is drawing the crowds, the curious who want to check out this new guy who is saying some things they’ve never heard before. Let’s pick up in Luke 5 starting in verse 1.
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little fro shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. —Luke 5:1-11
This year, I think we began to see what happens when we respond when Jesus calls us to let our nets down in the deep water. We see what happens when we have been fishing for a while, with few results, but what is possible when we respond to his voice, cast our nets in a new way or in a new place. And let’s not miss the point of the story. Yes, it is about fishermen who go and catch real fish. But Jesus uses this to illustrate his work in the world.
His desire is for us to spread the good news of Jesus so that many will come to know Him. And it is our “fishing” that he uses to accomplish his work in the world. I realize that this is stating the obvious, but I want to make sure we are all on the same page. If we miss that imagery, we miss everything. So, what do we see in this story that we should take away and learn from?
The first is this, it begins with a word from Jesus. Jesus is the one who tells Peter, “Let’s go fish over there.” It wasn’t Peter or one of the other guys saying, “Guys, I know we weren’t successful last night but let’s go here and if that doesn’t work, let’s go there.” They weren’t blindly throwing darts at a map trying to figure out where to go or what to do. They saw results because they first heard the voice of Jesus.
I know this can be intimidating. Every week that I preach, I know the pressure of saying “God, I really need you to speak to me, to give me the words to say this Sunday.” It can be hard to know if this is Jesus speaking or if I am just asserting my own will and desires and sticking God’s name to it. And trust me, that does happen more than we‘d like to admit.
We must ask ourselves and we as a church must ask ourselves, “Are we listening to the voice of Jesus?” And as we listen, it is critical for us to do a couple of things so we put ourselves in better position to hear. First, we must read God’s word. We must spend time in it, not just once a week when we are here. We need to know what it says, because God will use his word to speak to us and when we need to figure out whether or not something we think he might have said is real, we can use the Bible to help us know.
Now, nowhere in the Bible will it say, “Go and do Kid Cafe on Fridays,” but we see where it tells us to show compassion. It tells us to reveal the love of Christ. It tells us to look after the poor, and stand against injustice wherever we see it.
We must also do something that I am so excited to see becoming more and more a part of Ashworth Road. And that is pray. We must be people of prayer. Again, not just once a week at church after the first song or two then right before the offering and again at the end of the sermon. We must be people who pray diligently, seeking God.
Also, praying means talking with God AND listening to him. We need to know that God does still speak and he desires for us to hear him. God is not some mystical sadist tormenting us with a carrot in our faces that he keeps pulling away when we reach for it. He will guide us. He will tell us where we should go and what we should do. Jesus is speaking. The question is are we listening?
Over the last year, we have done some pretty crazy things like feeding kids in a park once a week for four weeks, and setting up a Christmas light show that took hundreds of man hours to set up and program. Why would we do that? Because Jesus said, “Put out into deep water.”
This next year, as we seek God as a church and we pray and ask what are we to do to extend our impact and influence so we can see a large number of people come to know God, are we willing to continue to seek him, and pray and listen for his voice?
Obedience, Faith and Perseverance Required
The next step is probably equally important to hearing his voice and that involves Peter’s response to Jesus. Peter answers Jesus,“ Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.” Peter, the professional fisherman, looks at the former carpenter and now rabbi who is giving fishing advice. “We’re tired. We’ve tried. We’ve fished at the best time of day to fish. And they just aren’t biting.” Fortunately for Peter he doesn’t stop at that. He continues, “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” Peter, who has only known Jesus for a very short time, but knows enough about him to know he is something worth listening to, obeys.
What good is it to hear the voice of God and not respond? Obedience, especially in a church setting, can be difficult and sometimes uncomfortable. When God calls us to start a new worship service, or to plant a church, or to sing different songs, all so that others can come to know Jesus, and as we look forward, is there a limit to what we are willing to do, should God call us to? Is there a limit that we are unwilling to obey? Or will we be willing to obey, regardless of our discomfort or personal preference? Just what are we willing to do to be a church that reaches the people in our community, young and old alike, to be a church that your kids and grandkids love to attend, to be a church that if we ceased to exist, the neighborhood and community would feel a loss for?
Peter’s obedience included something else that motivated him to take action. Faith. The Bible defines faith as confidence in what we hope for and the assurance about what we do not see. Peter couldn’t see a boat sinking because of the massive catch, but he knew Jesus had said to do it and so he had assurance that he needed to do it.
We are called to follow in faith. We will not always know in the beginning how everything will turn out. For Peter, this would have appeared on the surface to be a difficult and unfruitful task. Are we willing to follow even when it looks difficult and like it will be pointless and unfruitful? We must be willing to listen to Jesus, be obedient, step out in faith, trusting God for the big things.
Peter’s obedience demonstrates another aspect here as well, and that is perseverance. These guys had been up all night. They had not seen any fish. They were ready to call it a day, but when Jesus spoke, Peter demonstrated faith, obedience, and perseverance. Sometimes it is easy to follow Jesus. . . things are going right, you see positive results. The big question is — are we willing to follow even when it is difficult? Will we persevere in difficulty and in success?
There is something else important we find here in this passage in Peter. After he’s gotten his partners help and they reeled in the big catch, Peter has a moment of clarity. He falls to his knees and says, “Go away from me. I am sinful.” Peter realizes this is not a normal moment. Everything leading up to this moment told the professional fisherman this was an exercise in futility. But because he had faith and was obedient, a miracle happened, something only God could do. And his response is not “Look at what I’ve done,” or “I’m the most amazing fisherman EVER!” He immediately knows that this is the hand of God.
As we talk about the last year and we see growth in our church and success in the events we have done, there is a danger that instead of recognizing the hand of God on it, we step forward to take the credit. But we must fight this and we must continually remind ourselves that we are where we are because of God.
The other danger here is that once you experience success, you step in, push God aside, and say, “thanks for the help but I’ll take it from here.” We must maintain a posture of humility. As one commentator put it, humility is the elevator to spiritual greatness.
We must always depend and rely upon God. Recognizing our shortcomings, our inability, and our sin is the best starting point for serving God and putting ourselves in a position to be used for a great catch. We can never assume we have arrived. We can never rest on past success. As one leader puts it, “The greatest threat to future success is past success.” Will we maintain a posture of humility not just in the difficult seasons but when we see things going great. Will we keep in mind that God can use us when we realize we need God and not the other way around?
What Peter and his friends experienced was something Luke describes as astonishing. They were amazed at what they witnessed. In this moment they saw so many fish that their boats began to sink. This was unlike anything they had ever experienced. But as Jesus explained, he was calling them to something greater, no longer fishing for fish but now fishing for people.
And at this point in their lives they could not have predicted what was to come. One translation uses the word “multitude” for the amount of fish. Do you know where else we find that exact word used repeatedly to describe the results of the work of God and the disciples? The book of Acts. Over a dozen times in Acts that same word is used to describe the number of people coming to faith in Jesus. This event is a preview of what is to come.
We have the benefit of hindsight and we see the thousands upon thousands who came to Christ.
And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,” —Acts 5:14
Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. —Acts 14:1
In fact, we sit here today because of the fishing for people that the disciples did. The disciples were amazed. This amazement isn’t something that was just reserved for them at this moment. God continues to do the amazing today. And he wants us to be a part of this incredible work in the world.
The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesian church wrote, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
We serve a God who is in the business doing the amazing, taking people who are slaves in sin and bringing them freedom, restoring life and the broken hearted, showing kindness, compassion, and mercy to the most neglected, and taking people from death to life. We need to be amazed and expect the amazing from our God, beyond what we could ask for or we can even imagine. And the basis of these astonishing things isn’t what we can do, or how much money we can give. It is by His power that is at work in you and me and in Ashworth Road.
I could get a little excited about this, but I want to close with this final thought. At the end of Luke’s story, that final verse 11, is an interesting statement.
So they pulled their boats up on the shore, left everything and followed him. —Luke 5:11
For the disciples, this meant leaving their vocation. I don’t think this means that everyone should quit their jobs and become pastors. But I think it shows that when Jesus begins doing something, when he calls us to follow, it is worth changing our priorities for. Peter and the disciples understood, but I think we miss this today. Jesus and his church is something worth giving everything for. It is the mission he has called us to.
The idea that the message of Jesus can bring life to people and radically transform people is something that we should be willing to give our lives to. Do we see Jesus as something worth giving everything for? Some here may be hearing about this Jesus for the first time and realize that you need to give your life and take that first step in faith. For others, when you really think about it, you think you’ve given everything.
But here is the real test. What does how you spend your time say about what you give your life to? What does how you spend your money say? And the $64,000 question, what would your kids say you give your life to? The disciples saw something that day, and when called upon they dropped everything to follow Jesus.
This doesn’t mean we all become pastors. It means we live with him at the center of everything we do. Do we see what the disciples saw? Do we see Jesus and his church as something worth giving everything for? We need to see the call of Jesus like the disciples did; as something worth giving everything for.
Today has been a day to talk about and celebrate Ashworth Road. And what I hope we have done today is shown you a Savior, someone who is truly worth giving everything for. Secondly, what I hope you see is that we as a church don’t exist for ourselves. We’re not here to make a name of ourselves. We are only here as a part of that Savior, as what he has left to make his name known in this world: the church, what some would call the hope of the world today.
And I hope that when you see Jesus as worth giving everything for, you also see a mission and a vision here at Ashworth Road that over the next year you will grab onto, and say, “I see what you are trying to do, and I want to be a part of it.”
We are trying to create activity for the staff to feel useful. We are trying to make the name of Jesus Christ known in our community and around the world. Our desire is to help people connect with God, with one another, and the world. We want to be about community and movement, discipleship, growing in faith, and we want to be about impact, because it all comes down to Jesus who changes everything and people who matter to God and matter to us. Do we see Jesus as someone worth giving everything for? Do we see his church as something worth giving everything for?