I just got back from a two week vacation in northern Michigan. Talk about beautiful country! It is a wonderful place to enjoy the beauty of God’s handiwork.
One of the towns we visited was Petoskey, a harbor town right on Lake Michigan. Because it is a harbor, there is a breakwater built out into the lake to provide calm waters for boats to dock in. We took our two sons out for a walk on the breakwater to see the lighthouse at the end of the breakwater. It is an amazing thing to walk down the middle of a breakwater. On one side, the water was rough and choppy, splashing up against the concrete. On the other side, the water was smooth and calm.
As we walked down the breakwater, I noticed there were several folks out fishing. I had heard that there was good fishing off of this particular breakwater. What stuck out to me, however, was the side of the breakwater everybody was fishing. I would have thought that you would fish the calm & smooth side. However, everybody’s lines were cast into the rough, choppy waters. As I walked and observed all these fisherman with their lines in the rough waters, the Spirit spoke with that still small voice with a question, “Mark, which side of the breakwater is the church fishing?”
“Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.'” – John 21:5-6
Christ calls us to be “fishers of men”. As I walked down that breakwater, I realized how much more appealing the calm, still waters are. When the Spirit brought this question of conviction, I realized that so many times we as the church prefer to focus our ministry on the calm side, the people for whom life seems to be smooth and in order. However, when we look to Jesus, what we find is that Jesus fished on the rough, choppy side of the breakwater. He had dinner with tax collectors, prostitutes, and people that Scripture only labels “sinners”. He spent time with the grieving and sick. He even told people that it was the sick who needed a Great Physician, not the healthy.
Maybe we need to learn a lesson from the Great Fisherman. Last fall, while on sabbatical, I took my boys to visit my mom. We went with her to the church she had been attending for several months. At one point during the service, they had a time of greeting. All kinds of people came over and shook our hands and welcomed us. I was so impressed with how friendly the church was – until that night when my mom called me. “Mark, I’ve been visiting that church for months, and barely anyone has spoken to me. Today, I am there with a young man and two children, and everybody was falling over themselves to greet us. Can’t the church see that a single woman in her 50s needs a church as much as a young family?” Mom’s question hit hard. How many times have I sat in church meetings where we have talked about “We need more young families?” How many times have we said, “We need more divorcees” or “We need more of the poor” or “We need more developmentally disabled men and women”? The answer to the first question: a lot. The answer to the other questions: never.
The thing is, it is the people who are living in the rough & tumble waters who probably are more open and more hungry for the hope & salvation of the gospel and the fellowship of the body of Christ. They are looking for something to help them rise above the waves that are tossing their life upside down. What is better than introducing them to a Savior who says, “Come to me, all you that are weak and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
Coming back from my vacation, I am beginning to consider what side of the breakwater I am fishing, my church is fishing. I am asking, “Is Jesus calling me, calling us, to cast our nets on the other side?” I invite you to consider if that is a question you and your church should ask too.