GRACE TRANSFORMS A RUINED LIFE

“For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 1 Corinthians 15:9-10 (NASB)

GRACE is your only hope for a new start, a new life, a second chance.  God’s GRACE can transform a ruined life into a productive life.  That’s what happened to Paul.

Paul considered himself the most unworthy and least fit to be called an apostle.  He had been directly responsible for the death and imprisonment of many Christians.  He was so sorry for what he had done but there was no erasing the past.  The damage had already been done.  This should have ruined his chances for a relationship with God.  He was “toast.”

But, that was before he realized how effective and powerful the GRACE of God was.

God’s GRACE had been showered upon him and transformed him.   Looking back, he now says, by the GRACE of God I am what I am, and His GRACE toward me did not prove vain.”

That same GRACE is offered to you.  There’s nothing more you can do about your past.   God’s GRACE is offered freely to you, no matter your past.  Humbly receive it.  It’s a gift.  He offers it because He loves you.  And that’s right…He loves you even while fully aware of your past.

Once you receive His GRACE you are given a second chance.  In fact, your second chance involves helping others to discover the same GRACE.  That’s what Jesus had in mind when He said He was going to lead His followers to become “fishers of men.”

Fishers of men” are to be stewards of GRACE. “Fishers of men” have a message of hope to deliver.   So many people wish they could have a second chance.  They’ll not know unless you tell them.  Go on…tell them.

“As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold GRACE of God.”  1Peter 4:10 (NASB)

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GRACE OPENS THE DOOR

“For by GRACE you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  Eph 2:8-9

Fishers of Men catch men by sharing Good News.  The Good News is commonly referred to in the Scripture as the GOSPEL.  The GOSPEL identifies what keeps a man or woman from connecting to God and also reveals how the same man or woman can enter into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

The GOSPEL, when shared, highlights four distinct themes:  GRACE, SIN, REDEMPTION, and FAITH.  Each week for the next 4 weeks, I plan to highlight those themes in this blog.

This week – GRACE.

GRACE, by definition, is unmerited favor.  It is neither earned nor deserved.  It is a gift given by a gracious God that enables you and I to respond to Him.  The door to a personal and intimate relationship with God has been opened because of God’s GRACE.  Listen to this:

“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His GRACE which He lavished on us.”  Ephesians 1:7-8

God has “lavished” His grace on you.  He wants you to enter through the door to a reconciled relationship with Him.  You can because He wants it.  But you must never forget that it is only possible through His GRACE – not your worthiness, value, sincerity, desire, or even your attempts to change or repent.

The only thing you can do is humbly and unworthily accept His gift of GRACE by faith.  So today…come to God on His terms.  He puts it this way:

“Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of GRACE, so that we may receive mercy and find GRACE to help in time of need.”  Hebrews 4:16

Beware of Biases

And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.      Acts 10:28 (NASB)

He’s too smart.  She’s got everything.  He’s an atheist.  They’re not interested.  They’ve been burned before in church and won’t talk about religion.  I can’t speak their language.  I can’t relate to them.   It’s just too hard to talk about spiritual matters with my family.   Blah blah blah blah blah.

It is so easy to come up with an excuse not to tell somebody about Jesus.  But every one of those “somebodies” needs to have an opportunity to receive Jesus as their personal Savior.  Who do you think is best prepared to talk to them?  YOU ARE!

God doesn’t make any mistakes.  He puts people in our lives on purpose.  Some are smarter, wealthier, older, younger, too close, just acquaintances, etc.  It really doesn’t matter.  God brings them into your life because He knows you have what it takes to effectively communicate the Gospel to them.  Just because they don’t invite Christ into their life after you share doesn’t mean you were a failure.  It takes a while for a seed planted to produce life.

Fishers of men” have been commissioned by God to share the Gospel.  It’s not optional.  Jesus said that His followers were to be “fishers of men.”  If you’re a follower of Jesus, then it’s time to start fishing for men.  Even if the fish is bigger than you.

It Was Enough

“’God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’  I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Luke 18:13-14

Our message, as “fishers of men” never changes.  It’s called the Gospel.  The sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has paved the way for sinful men and women to experience forgiveness and establish a personal and family relationship with God.  The Bible says that “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God.”  (John 1:12)

The role of a “fisher of men” is to get the word out.  A response, however, is needed to become a recipient of this new life.  And the “fisher of men” must encourage it.  Honesty about one’s sinful condition and a cry to the One who was judged for their sin results in “justification.”  That’s what Jesus said.

And “Justification” means acquittal and right standing before God.  Can you believe it!?  Forgiveness and acceptance by God is available to all who humble themselves before God.

God isn’t waiting until a person rights all the wrongs they have caused before they can experience justification.  God isn’t waiting until a person proves his sincerity about change with their good works.  He is simply waiting for a person to humble himself, confess his sinfulness, and receive the mercy of God.  The tax collector that Jesus described in the passage above did it. The thief on the cross did it.  So many others have done it.  There was nothing else they could do.  It was enough.

And it was enough, because Jesus paid the entire debt for our sin.

Not Another Miracle

“If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”  Luke 16:31

It’s the truth, not the sensational, that sets a person free.  The sensational will get our attention, at least momentarily, but it is the truth that will linger on and beg for a response.

Jesus told the story of a rich man who died and went to hell.  In torment he realized that if his five brothers were not warned they would end up in the same place.  So he begged Abraham, who was in heaven, to send the poor beggar Lazarus, who had also died but gone to heaven, to his brothers to warn them.

The rich man believed that if someone came back from the dead to warn them, they would listen.  That’s when Jesus said, if they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.

It’s not another miracle that people need to see.  Miracles are breathtaking, amazing, entertaining, and will definitely get your attention.  But in most cases, it simply prompts you to look for another miracle.

A miracle will not change your life.  It may, however, give you another chance to respond to the truth.  But, again, it is so easy to be so wowed by a miracle that you miss the point.  It’s when you act upon the truth that your life changes.  The death and resurrection of Jesus was miraculous.  This incident resulted in the atonement for sin and the defeat of death.  But the reality of a changed life for you and me occurs only when we hear the truth about His death and resurrection and respond by faith.

A “fisher of men” has not been called to perform miracles but rather to deliver the truth and encourage people to respond to the truth.  God still works today and performs miracles but they are not intended to distract us from our primary role as “fishers of men.”  It’s not another miracle that lost people need to see.  They need to hear the truth and place their faith in Jesus Christ.

SO GO TELL SOMEBODY…TODAY!

A Detour Is Not A Defeat

They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.

A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.                         Acts 16:6-10 (NASB)

Attention all “fishers of men!”  A detour is not a defeat.

I know you were ready to go.  You were aware of the incredible need and were committed to be part of the solution.  You knew people needed Jesus and you were ready to proclaim the Good News!  As a follower of Jesus, you were resolved to become a “fisher of men.”  That’s what Jesus said you’re to become and you’re ready to go down that road.

And then it happened.  You went out to share your faith.  But, as you tried to present the Gospel, you were shot down, ignored, or rejected.  You immediately questioned yourself.  Was I clear, was I too pushy, did I say something wrong, did I wear deodorant, did I have bad breath?  Why didn’t they respond to the message and place their faith in Jesus?

There is so much more to “fishing for men” than simply learning to share the gospel more effectively.  “Fishing for men” doesn’t mean that every time you share the Gospel that the person will enthusiastically receive Jesus.  Your call to “fish for men” doesn’t nullify a person’s ability to make choices.  Some people are just not quite ready to turn to Jesus.

Did you notice in the passage above that Paul was not even permitted to go into Asia to share the Gospel.  It was the “Holy Spirit” that forbade him.  Was God against the Asians and not wanting them to hear the Gospel?  Of course not.  But apparently the timing was not right and God redirected Paul to Macedonia.  They were ready to hear the Gospel.

Paul didn’t conclude that he was not cut out to be a “fisher of men” just because he couldn’t share the Gospel wherever he wanted.  Paul didn’t conclude that he was to stop “fishing for men” just because people rejected the Christ he proclaimed.  Paul continued to “fish for men” his entire life.  When he came to a closed door, he continued on to one that was open.  “Fishing for men” is like that.  Sometimes you catch someone and sometimes you don’t.  But you and I are to keep on fishing.

Remember…a detour is not a defeat.

Where They Were First Called Christians

So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus.

And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.

The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch.

Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.

And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.             Acts 11:19-26 (NASB)

Is it any wonder the followers of Jesus were first called Christians in Antioch!?  The biblical text says the followers of Christ who fled Jerusalem and went to Antioch did not go into hiding.  They did run for their lives.  But they were telling everyone they ran into about Jesus.

Their message went viral and “a large number” became believers and followers of Jesus.  In fact, so many people were impacted by the message of these displaced “fishers of men” that word of it got back to Jerusalem.  The Apostles sent Barnabas to check it out and find out what was going on.  He found himself in the middle of an amazing work of God.  He jumped right in and joined the “Christians” in preaching the Gospel to all within hearing.

Notice what happened next.  Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul (later called Paul).  He wanted to bring Paul to Antioch to see and experience what was happening.  Is it any wonder that Paul’s ministry was unapologetically evangelistic and fruitful?  He, from the beginning, saw what could be and what God desired.  There would be no confusion in his mind about God’s call for every follower of Jesus.

Fishers of men”…”followers of Jesus”…”believers”…”Christians These are all names intended to describe people who have been redeemed by Jesus and committed themselves to live for Him.  And “living for Him” prioritizes sharing the Gospel to whoever will listen.  So, if you’re going to call yourself a Christian today, start proving it by sharing your faith.

If You’re Not Fishing, You’re Not Following

As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen.   And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”

Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets.  Immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow Him.               Mark 1:16-20 (NASB)

A fisherman understands the difference between fishing and simply talking about fishing.

A fisherman also knows what is needed to fish.  It’s not just about throwing some bait into the water and waiting for a fish to take the bait.  You’ve got to know where to go, the right timing, what equipment is needed at different locations, the kinds of bait to catch different kinds of fish, etc.  In fact, when Jesus called James and John, they weren’t fishing but rather repairing their nets in order to fish again later that night.

When Jesus called some fishermen like Simon, Andrew, James, and John to follow Him, He used a picture that He knew they’d understand.  He was going to help them become “fishers of men.”

A “fisher of men” fishes for men.  It’s that simple.  The goal of a “fisher of men” is to do what it takes to present the Gospel to people in a way that can be understood.  “Fishers of men” are, as a result, going to “catch” some “men.”  If you’re not fishing, you’re never going to catch anyone.  Plus, if you’re not fishing, it’s a pretty good indicator that you’re not “following Jesus.”

Fishers of men” work hard at their fishing.  Fishing for men means you are constantly looking for ways to improve your communication skills when talking about Jesus (i.e. “repairing the nets”). The “fisher of men” knows that you must approach different people differently if they’re to understand what you’re trying to say (i.e. “different bait”).  And the bottom line is that  “fishers of men” learn to fish while fishing.  Even a rookie fisherman catches some fish.

The ultimate goal is not just to demonstrate that you know how to fish but rather to actually fish for men.  Never forget that Jesus said,

“Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”

What Are You Thinking?

“For as he thinks within himself, so he is.”         Proverbs 23:7 (NASB)

What are you thinking about?

Do you find yourself daydreaming about a much-needed vacation?  Are you consumed with thoughts about getting another job?  Are you losing sleep over a deteriorating relationship?  Are you anxious and fearful about what the doctor told you?  Do you spend most of your time thinking about how to get ahead financially…or just to stay afloat and not sink?  Are you worried about your kids, your spouse, your memory, your sanity, your grades, your physical condition, the timely completion of a project, an international crisis, a national reversal of values, the upcoming election, etc.?

If you’re not careful, these kinds of thoughts can result in feelings of helplessness, paralysis, and despair.  God warns us not to allow your circumstances to shape your attitudes and predetermine your lifestyle.  We are told to look at our circumstances from God’s perspective.

“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” Colossians 3:1-2 (NASB)

What are you thinking about?  The Scripture says that your thoughts shape your attitudes, influence your decisions, and ultimately determine your behavior.  Read it again, For as he thinks within himself, so he is.”

So you want to change.  How do you do that?  You must choose to be proactive with your thought life.  You must predetermine what your thinking agenda will be.  Once you determine what your “thought” priorities will be, it will give you a healthy filter and context with which to deal with all the items you worry about.  It will also free you to wholeheartedly adopt Jesus’ agenda for His followers…”fishing for men.

Fishers of Men” will never have time to “fish for men” until they first see people like God sees them.  “Fishers of Men” will not tell others about Jesus until they understand the real meaning of “lostness.” Your sense of urgency and compulsion to tell others about Jesus will depend on what you see…what you think about.  That is why you, a “fisher of men,” must daily immerse yourself in God’s Word.

Today’s a good day to begin thinking about what God is concerned about.  Jump right in and watch how it impacts your effectiveness as a “fisher of men.”

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:6-9 (NASB)

Tell Everyone, Everywhere

And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.  “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.               Mark 16:15-16 (NASB)

It doesn’t get any clearer than this.  Jesus told His followers to go into ALL the world and preach the gospel to all creation.  ALL THE WORLD!

That means we cannot simply be satisfied with sharing the gospel wherever we are.  We must be intentional and strategic about getting the Gospel proclaimed where we are AND where we are not.  We are to “go into all the world” and get the gospel “to all creation.”

Are you supportive of your church’s mission commitment to get the gospel to all creation?  Do you share your faith with your neighbors, friends, classmates, family and coworkers?  Every one of them needs Jesus.

Have you been on a mission trip outside the city of your residence?  If you’re not physically able, are you assisting those who can go by helping to pay their way and praying for them?  Even if you can’t go personally, you can enable someone who can go.  Everyone is to have a role in this mission.

Followers of Christ have an assignment.  It is not a secondary assignment nor is it the task of those who aren’t too busy already.  The Church remains on earth, at this time, to carry out His mission.  The church, by definition is made up of followers of Christ who have been called to “fish for men.”  Have you been “fishing”?

Permit me to say it again, Followers of Christ are to fish for men.  Everyday of their life.  Why?  Because time is short and God doesn’t want a single person to perish without Him (2Pet 3:9).

Jesus is coming back…SOON!  We don’t know exactly when.  We just know the countdown clock has begun.