Today's church has a serious problem in the developed world. For all of our technical skills we are lousy fishermen. It is as though we have the best new carbon fiber fishing rods and reels, the most elaborate fish finders, and the most dazzling lures – and yet we catch nothing.
Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
One question I had when I moved to San Diego as an 18-year-old was, where are the fish?
I grew up fishing in the lakes and streams of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. Catching largemouth bass, northern pike, perch and trout was as much a part of my summer routine as playing kick the can with the rest of the neighborhood kids until our moms called us in for supper. Eventually, when I settled in San Diego as an adult, I was a fisherman out of water. I asked myself, where are all the fish? Fishing is very different here than up north. Pier fishing and deep sea fishing have almost nothing in common with lake fishing and stream fishing. So I went for decades without so much as looking at my tackle box.
Then, a few years ago on a family backpacking trip, we ended up at Fox Lake in Northern California. For years I had heard stories from Tammie’s family that this lake was teeming with trout. One afternoon, we all set up on a far shore of the lake. For a few hours we caught nothing, even though we had five lines in the water.
But as I was casting into the void, I spied out of the corner of my eye the Fox Lake Lunker about a hundred yards down shore. He was jumping every fifteen minutes or so near some reeds. After watching him jump for the fifth time, I reeled-in my line and trekked over to those reeds. I watched patiently for a while and noticed that the old boy was jumping at damselflies as they jittered over the surface. I found a damselfly in the grass by my feet and set my hook, and BAM, on the first cast, I caught that fat daddy-o and reeled him right in. 15 inches of beautiful, tasty, trout. I felt like a kid again!
Now, I share this story not to impress you with my fishing skills – In fact, you could ask any of my childhood friends and they will tell you I am the worst fisherman among us.
I share it to make the point that it doesn’t matter how skilled you are, if you cast your line or your nets in the wrong place at the wrong time, you will catch nothing.
More importantly for Peter, James, John and the rest, is that it doesn’t matter how skilled you are as a fisherman, if you are not fishing where and when the Lord tells you, you will catch nothing. But if we heed His voice, and cast where He tells us, we won;t be able to handle the haul.
You know, the church has a serious problem in the developed world. For all of our technical skills we are lousy fishermen. It is as though we have the best new carbon fiber fishing rods and reels, the most elaborate fish finders, and the most dazzling lures – and yet we catch nothing. To be sure, there are some churches that seem to have a steady stream of fish coming in, but it is debatable whether those are fresh catches or just fish poached from someone else’s nets. The latter seems more likely to me.
In the developed world, the body of Christ has the latest research, the greatest tools, the most highly educated leaders in history – and yet we still catch nothing. I wonder if we are not leaning too much on our own understanding?
Meanwhile – in what should sound an alarm bell to the sleepy western church – it is a telling sign that in the developing world, where our brothers and sisters in Christ have comparatively little in the way of resources, training, and skills, that their nets are overflowing with fish. Indeed, many of those rugged lifesaving huts bring more people into the kingdom of God in a day than most of our climate-controlled country clubs do in a decade!
Why is that? Could it be that evangelism – our common commission to share the good news of God’s love for a sinful world – depends not on slick promotion and feel-good, politicized messages, but on prayer and the power of God? Could it be that successful fishing has really very little to do with our supposed skill, and everything to do with simply heeding the call of the master, to pay attention to his voice, to let down our nets where he says, when he says, even if we’ve been at it all night – even if we think we know better?
This little powerhouse church that miraculously feeds 10% of Spring Valley is on the verge of something big. I mean something really big. I don’t want to overstate it, but we, who have been fishing all night and caught nothing are about to have our boats swamped – if we will stop busying ourselves with what we think we know for a moment and pay heed to the master’s call.
You see, here’s what’s going on. Let me lay it out for you, what God is doing here:
Three years ago, Terri asked to take over our food pantry, which at that time served 10 little grocery bags of food a week. Now we distribute over 1750 boxes of groceries every month to more than 1200 families, representing more than 6,000 people. Our budget has not increased one cent since Terri took over. God has provided everything we need and more. Just this week we received our first shipment of frozen meat – three pallets piled high, at NO COST. The first of many biweekly shipments to be sure. Terri and her team now distribute thousands of diapers and feminine hygiene products as well. On any given weekday morning, you will see an endless stream of cars driving through our parking lot to get food.
Where are the fish? They are driving up to our doorstep every day!
Let me tell you more. Just a year ago, we were approached by the county stormwater agency to serve as a demonstration project for water-wise landscaping. They budgeted $480,000 to revise our landscaping over several phases, which will not only beautify our grounds, but also provide outdoor gathering spaces. The plans even include a barbecue and a sensory play area for children. God is setting us up for something.
Then we were approached by the office of homeless solutions about providing our playing field as overnight, temporary shelter for families and individuals who have nowhere to sleep but their cars. The goal is to get each one into permanent housing. We are talking not just about individuals, but about families with children. As soon as April, there will be up to 20 carloads of men, women and children sleeping right outside our doors each night.
Where are the fish? They are coming here!
Then we were approached about another project, to house elderly homeless who have nowhere to go as they receive health and housing support. They plan to spend millions of dollars to upgrade our facility, even putting in an elevator. This project will bring many of God’s children not only to our doors, but through our doors.
Where are the fish? They are going to be right here!
I will be the first to tell you that this turn of events defies all logic. As with the enormous privilege we had to temporarily house 1200 war refugees from Ukraine for two weeks this past Easter, these things are nothing we could have – or frankly WOULD HAVE – planned.
It is simply what God is doing.
Where are all the fish? They haven’t been where we’ve been casting, but they are there.
We’d better get ready, because this is all starting to happen, even as I speak.
When the master says, “Hey, let down your nets… right here, right now,” will you and I be ready?
You might ask, what will the catch look like?
I can tell you it won’t be people with stable, well-ordered lives. There won’t be any high-wage earners or even marginally steady incomes. It will not be people with simple problems either. There will be deep brokenness and despair. The people God is preparing to bring to our doors will have family trees that make the Bible hero Joseph’s look tame and almost functional. There will be children who have grown up hungry, sleeping in the back of cars. There will be women who are abused and abusers. There will be addicts of every kind. Outcasts and immigrants. Orphaned elders who are consumed with loneliness. Not rooted, but rootless. This will not be the makings of a country club, but of a lifesaving station.
If you are here looking for a country club experience, I would respectfully urge you to GET OUT! Get out while you still can. Because as best I can tell, God is about to bring a beautiful harvest of souls, but one that will challenge and test our limits in every way. The men, women and children coming this way will undoubtedly force us to our knees in reliance on Him. And that is the best place to be – on our knees in prayer. We are going to be baffled and bewildered, shocked and even perhaps ashamed by some of the stories we are about to hear.
Any time we open our fellowship hall doors there will be fish. Just swimming around, drinking coffee, aching for hope, searching for peace that passes all understanding.
Most of all we are going to see God at work. Changing lives. Saving lives. Redeeming that which was lost. Transforming defeat into victory. Opening wide the gates of heaven, and crushing the gates of hell.
As the pastor of this church, I have watched for a long time as we have prepared and learned so well the rhythms of discipleship and loving fellowship. And I can see the wisdom of God in teaching us to rely on love instead of our cleverness. This has all been a season of preparation, and we are now ready. I can see that the time is near and He is telling us to let our nets down for the catch.
God is now saying to Spring Valley Community Church, the tiniest, most David-like church I have ever seen, “Let down your nets.”
The question I have for you is this: what part are you here to play? It’s never an accident when someone walks through these doors on a Sunday morning (unless it was Johnny’s car accident). There are ten thousand better places you could be on a Sunny Sunday morning in San Diego, and yet God has drawn you here. Your presence is not a random chance. It is destiny at work.
I believe without question that each one here is part of the plan the Lord has to rescue those hurting souls that he is even now preparing to bring to our doorstep. We will each have a different role to play as God rolls out his redemption story. Where will you fit into all of this? It is time to start praying about that. In the coming weeks we will have meetings to talk about just that – how to let down our nets for this catch.
Maybe you will be able to help with administration, or with creating a dignified, welcoming atmosphere, or with providing laundry for the showers, or with grilling burgers on weeknights, or with bagging oranges in the food pantry, or with teaching classes for the ones who want to learn, or playing games with kids who have no home… or for just being there to listen when someone shares their story.
But no matter what your purpose is, God will empower you every step of the way. Even our youngest will grow weary, but if we trust in him he will renew our strength and raise us up on wings as eagles.
This is going to be a hard net to haul in Peter. You are going to have to pull and drag and strive with all your might. And yet … the net won’t break. Did you notice that? God is sovereign, even with so much stress and strain, the net does not break. The unbroken net is a sign that God is with his church when we heed his call and cast where he says. When God is in control, though the nets may bulge, they will not break
Where are all the fish? They’re coming. They’re almost here.
What is your part to play? Why are you here? It’s time to ask yourself that. Why on earth did God put you in this place at this time?
Will we be ready? Will we be prepared to let down the nets where and when he tells us? Or will we continue to do ministry according to our own plans, our own skills, our own strengths – and catch nothing?
Please be in prayer about this. Ask God what you can do to let down your nets for him. Call me any time to talk about your ideas. I want us all to be ready. I’m praying for direction right along with you!
Jesus says in “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:5-8)
“Apart from me you can do nothing.”
Prayer: Lord Jesus, indeed apart from you we can do nothing. And we have done nothing for so long … Lord, forgive us for relying on our own strength and skill to do what can only be done in you. And loving father, please prepare us for the great catch you are orchestrating right here, right now. If there is anything we need to set aside, let us set it aside. If there is anything we need to take up, let us take it up. We are excited to see what you are going to do here, Lord. It has been a long time coming, but we know a change is gonna come.