Fishing In Your Own Pond
The call to be witnesses was a call to go fishing in our own ponds, to be a witness within the network of relationships God has placed us, to capture the hearts and souls of family, friends, coworkers, neighbors and acquaintances, and spiritually reel them in.
Principle #1: ____________ like never before.
Principle #2: Show _________ to the church family.
Principle #3: ____________ those outside of God’s family.
Principle #4: Live a ______________ life.
Principle #5: ________ the truth.
Fishing In Your Own Pond
What is your life worth? Do you understand that your life is worth an eternity to someone? Did you know that the way you live your life, and relate to others, is an issue of life-or-death?
Just before Jesus ascended to heaven, he told his disciples, “You will be my witnesses …” Applying the rules of simple grammar to this statement we see that being a witness is not a choice. It is your identity. It is not an option. It is an assumption.
It is the same assumption that Jesus has in Matthew 28:19, when, contrary to the imperative command “Go”, the way most English translations render it, Jesus says, “As you are going, while you are going, or since you are going anyway, make disciples.” Jesus took for granted that we would be on the move to make disciples.
The question raised is not will you be a witness. It is what kind of witness are you going to be.
In the courts witnesses are categorized in several ways:
Lay witness – someone who observed events pertinent to the case. This is the average Joe who simple shares what he saw.
Independent expert witness – a doctor, lawyer, or other professional who was directly involved in events surrounding the case, who because of their involvement have professional insights to share.
Controlled expert witness – a professional who is paid to give expert testimony. These are the hired guns.
Hostile witness – a witness who is expected to be contrary to questioning by either side. These are the one who whether they like it or not are called to be witnesses.
We often convince ourselves that we have a choice to witness or not. But the awkward truth is that those who have chosen to not be a witness have actually chosen to be a poor witness, a negligible witness, or worse yet a witness for the wrong side because like it or not the world is watching our lives for evidence of Christ.
The call for the disciples to be witnesses in Jerusalem was the call for them to go fishing in their own pond. It remains the call for us to fish our own ponds, to be a witness within the network of relationships God has placed us, to capture the hearts and souls of family, friends, coworkers, neighbors and acquaintances, and spiritually reel them in.
Each of us has our own pond of relationships, the network of people that God has strategically placed us among to be a witness. Our ponds are all stocked, some more than others, but all have something to catch. It may be a family member who has never accepted Christ. It may be a neighbor who has abandoned their childhood faith. It may be someone who is actively involved in their home church, but has never really stepped across the line of faith, accepting Christ as their personal Savior. It may be a spiritual seeker sitting in the pew near you.
In the first several chapters of Acts, we observe what made the disciples effective fishermen for the souls of men. These principles become the standard for fishing in our own pond.
1. Pray like never before (Acts 1:12-14; 4:23ff)
I think we often study the book of Acts like an action novel. I’ve noticed that Bible studies of Acts, particularly for children, but essentially true for adults as well, give emphasis to those sections with lots of action. We glimpse at the ascension. We jump to Pentacost. We pause at the healing of the lame man. We drop our jaws at the story of Ananias and Sapphira. But there is a whole lot of material between those events that we do only a cursory skim of, and those events set the stage for the action scenes.
Let me point of three verses in particular:
Acts 1:14 – “They all joined together constantly in prayer…”
Acts 2:42 – “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to payer.”
Acts 4:23 – (After Peter and John were threatened by the religious leaders if they ever spoke of Christ again, it says) “On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.”
Did you catch it? The place we need to start in fishing for souls is with prayer. Principle #1: Pray like never before. This is the talking with others to find where the hot spots are before you drop the line.
The power of prayer is really the power of God realized through prayer. Through prayer, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21).
We’re priviledged to be part of God’s team to accomplish his mission to others. Yet we don’t want to try to reach people for Christ without consulting God.
We can’t help people without prayer. Talking to God about his concern for your neighbors is something you can do no matter if you are a Charlie Churchmember or Eddie the Elder. It’s the starting point for answering the “now what?” questions in witnessing.
Prayer still has the power to produce results it had in the first century. Listen to these results from the Acts 4 prayer service: “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (vs. 31)
If you have a family member who is screwing up their life, pray for them.
If you have a neighbor that is trouble to the neighborhood, pray for them.
If you have a coworker with no moral compass, pray for them.
And only the God who answers prayers can soften the hearts and open minds to the point that people will see the church as a connection with an experience of God rather than as a prison for the spirit, a self-serving social organization, or a political supporter of the status quo.
2. Show love to the church family (Acts 2:42-48; 4:32-36)
Prayer was the starting point of the witness of the early church. However, it was only the beginning. Now let’s think through our fishing bait. Principle #2: Show love to the church family.
At the end of Acts 2, after 3000 had poured into the church, we get a description of how the church lived as a loving community. Listen to these words. “All the believers were together (that’s connection) and had everything in common (that is loving compassion). (Look at this picture of loving fellowship) Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to everyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together (an act of loving acceptance) with glad and sincere hearts …” (vs. 44-46).
Observe that this was not a “Hi, how ya doin’?” time of Parlor fellowship. This was believers getting involved in concrete acts of love for one another, liquidating their own property for the sake of the financial well-being of others. What was the result of this outpouring of love among the body of Christ. “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (vs. 47b).
In chapter 4, we are given another description of the church at work. “No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had … There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money form the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need” (vs. 32b, 34-35).
This connection between fellowship and a Christian’s witness to the world was part of Jesus’ prayer in John 17. In that prayer he prayed that his followers would love one another so deeply that it would provide convincing evidence of faith for a lost world.
3. Serve those outside of God’s family (Acts 3:1-10)
Our love for one another is beautifully attractive to a lost and lonely world. However, we cannot stop at the principle of loving God’s family because that results in too many Christians no longer being fishers of men but keepers of the aquarium.
Evangelism must be done where lost people are. We have to get our feet wet at the pond. As witnesses, we have to step into the lives of those outside of Christ.
In Acts 3, Peter and John are on their way to the temple for prayer. In route, they are waved down by a beggar. This particular beggar, a paraplegic, spent every day at a particular gate of the temple asking for money of those heading to worship. As Peter and John passed , he hit them up for a donation to his cause, and Scripture says, “Then Peter said, ‘Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to this feet and began to walk (3:6-8a).
The principle we learn from this story: Principle #3: Serve those outside of God’s family.
You want to make an eternal difference in the lives of lost people, make a temporary difference. Find their needs, whether large or small, and do something about it.
Some of us need to stop sermonizing and start serving. Service goes a long way toward breaking through the resistance of people to the gospel.
Service as a primary witness was a principle pattern of Jesus. As a matter of fact, you would pretty much outline the gospel of John with a Service-Sermon outline. Jesus served – then he taught. Jesus healed – then he taught. Jesus fed – then he taught.
Evangelism has been described as one beggar telling another beggar where to find food. Sometimes we need to see that statement as more than a metaphor.
Jim, an elder at a church, was to oversee the evangelism of new people that moved into the area. Sun Lee and his family were Vietnamese refugees who had recently been moved into the area. They had no possessions, knew no one, needed help in every way. Jim began by helping them get food and then spent much time finding Sun Lee a good job. Jim wanted so much to tell Sun Lee about Jesus, but he didn’t know Vietnamese and the refugees knew very little English. Out of this struggle Jim and Sun Lee agreed to teach each other their native languages.
One day, Jim felt that he had learned enough Vietnamese to tell Sun Lee about Jesus. Jim began to explain about God and Jesus to Sun Lee, but the more he talked, the more confusing it seemed to get. Finally, Jim was so frustrated that he decided to give up trying to communicate until he had learned more of the language. Sun Lee at this point blurted out, “Is our God like you? If he is, I want to know him.”
Jim had thought for months that he was not communicating the gospel. But he was, with the greatest form of communication a person can use – the example of a life filled with Jesus Christ.
Let me tell you something. I’m not perfect (Now before you go saying, “You’re not telling us anything. Your wife and kids have told us that much,” let me finish.) One thing I’ve done right is mow the neighbors lawn and clean out their toilet and store their stuff in our garage when they were evicted because it showed I cared and by it I earned the right to share my story.
Pray like never before. Show love to the church family. Serve those outside of God’s family.
4. Live a transformed life (Acts 4;13; 5:1-11)
After healing this man, Peter and John were dragged before the religious authorities. And in this encounter we observe Principle #4: Live a transformed life.
Here in front of the religious leaders, who just weeks before had conspired to have Jesus arrested and ultimately killed, stand Peter and John. This is Peter, uneducated fisherman and owner of the blistering dock-worker personality who just weeks earlier had heatedly denied that he even knew Jesus, and John of the same low-class, uneducated, blue collar line of work, confronting the religious leaders with the gospel. And in that scene, Luke records this assessment.
“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (4:13)
Being with Jesus had changed them, and that change was observed. And being with Jesus should have the same effect on our life and our character. It is lives radically transformed by Christ that serves as bait to a world hungry for a life with meaning.
Yet, the biggest reason the unsaved reject Christianity is not on the basis of religious belief. The largest reason for rejecting Christianity is the inconsistent, ungracious, and ungodly lives of Christ’s followers. Why would the lost want to become Christian when Christians are just as likely to cheat their employers, get a divorce, be addicted to pornography, watch the similar television programs, need counseling, and take prescription drugs for depression. You could say that the only difference that the unchurched notice is that we loose sleep-time on Sunday morning.
To a church with that kind of reputation Will Rogers would repeat: “So live that you wouldn’t be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip.”
Jesus would say it this way: “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16).
5. Tell the truth (Acts 2, 3, 4)
To be an effective witness we need to pray like never before, show love to God’s family, serve those outside of the family, and live a transformed life. Yet we can’t stop there. There comes a time when we have to open our mouths. Principle #5: Tell the truth.
Someone once said, “Many Christians are like the Artic River – frozen over at the mouth!” In evangelism, the hardest thing seems to be to open your mouth to get the first word out. Here’s my observation – the reason it is so hard is that we make it harder than it is. Talking about Christ doesn’t require special schooling or a degree.
Simply tell the truth. What is the truth?
Acts 2:36b- “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
Acts 3:15a – “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.”
Acts 4:12 – “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
The clear story of what God did to save us through Christ.
So what are you going to do?
Toward the end of the movie Schindler’s List, Oskar Schindler physically collapses as he wrestles with the idea that he could have done more to save oppressed Jews from the Nazi regime’s death camps. The moment occurs as Schindler and his wife walk toward the car, and Rabbi Levartov hands him some papers.
“We’ve written a letter trying to explain things,” Levartov says. “In case you’re captured. Every worker has signed it.”
Schindler looks at a long list of signatures below the typewritten text. “Thank you,” he says.
His longtime assistant, Itzhak Stern, then places a gold ring in Schindler’s hand. Schindler notices an inscription on the ring.
“It’s Hebrew,” explains Stern. “It says, ‘Whoever saves one life, saves the world.’”
Schindler puts the ring onto this finger, nods his thanks, and then begins to talk to himself: “ I could’ve got more … if I’d just … I don’t know, if I’d just … I could’ve got more.”
Stern cuts in, “Oskar, there are twelve hundred people who are alive because of you. Look at them.”
Schindler continues his lament, “If I’d made more money … I threw away so much money, you have no idea. If I’d just …”
Stern again interrupts, “There will be generations because of what you did.”
“I didn’t do enough,” says Schindler.
Schindler starts to lose control, with tears coming; Stern too.
“This car,” Schindler continues. “Goeth would’ve bought this car. Why did I keep the car? Ten people, right there. Ten more I could’ve got.”
Looking around he continues. “This pin.” He rips the elaborate swastika from his lapel and says, “Two people. This is gold. Two more people. He would’ve given me two for it. He would’ve given me one. One more … I could’ve gotten one more person, but I didn’t.”
Schindler breaks down, weeping. Eventually Schindler and his wife, Emilie, get into the car and drive away.
Do you realize that your life has made the same life-or-death difference to others? A difference, not just for this life, but for eternity.
Jesus said you are his witness. Are you going to be a witness that politely nods as friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, and associates walk into a Christ-less eternity? Or are you going to be a witness that provides a compelling argument for loving and being loved by Christ for an eternity? What kind of witness will you be?
Let’s go fishing!
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