Why in the world would anyone go fishing?
Let’s start at the beginning. You have to get up really early in the morning. By early, I mean EARLY. Typically, my dad would wake me up at 5am to go lake fishing, about 4:30am for deep sea fishing…and that’s pretty late. My dad would let me sleep as much as possible and instead he would stay up late the night before to prep all the fishing rods and reels, load up the tackle box, and pack up the ice coolers. Then he’d get up even earlier than me to make me an egg sandwich for breakfast before we’d head out to the shore. I’d sleep pretty much all the way there. Most of the time when you’re fishing, you’re sitting around, waiting for the fish to bite. And you have to be quiet so it’s not like you can play around between catches. I mean REALLY quiet. Church mouse quiet. Making noise scares the fish and the looks you get from people fishing near you is enough to deter you from shouting for joy when you finally do get a bite. On top of that, it’s usually cold. You are getting there before the break of dawn so of course there’s no sun to warm you up and if you’re going deep sea fishing, it’s even colder than that. And it smells. The lake smells. The fish smells. The bait smells. And you probably didn’t take a shower at 4:30am since you’re going fishing anyway, so you smell too. Fishing smells. To top it off, you PAY for this privilege! Why on earth would anyone want to go?
But the truth is I loved going fishing with my dad.
Despite all the drawbacks, it was more than worth it to me, and if you asked me about it, I could tell you a bunch of reasons why you should go, too. And apparently I’m not alone. According to the Department of the Interior over 51.6 million people go fishing every year. That’s a lot of people willing to get up early, sit around quietly for hours in the cold morning air, and smell. And it’s not like back in the days of yore when we HAD to fish to have something to eat. Today you can go to the supermarket and somebody’s done it for you. Not only that, they’ve scaled, gutted, and filleted the fish, too. So there must be something to the experience itself that draws people in. Some reason why people go. For each person, that reason is probably different, but anyone who likes fishing can tell you why they do. Whatever your passion is, you must have a reason you love it. Whether it’s golfing, traveling, playing bridge, or fixing stuff around the house, there is a reason why you love it. We tell people all the time about our passions, about the things that drive us and make us wake up day-to-day.
Could we say the same about our faith?
Could we tell others why it’s important to us? If a friend of yours asked you why you loved fishing or bridge or home renovation, you probably could rattle off a few dozen reasons. But if they asked you why you believe in this stuff, what would you say? Peter, one of Jesus’ first disciples, tells us that we need to have an answer to these kinds of questions. We need to be able to share why we believe. Not just for others, but for ourselves, too. If you have a Bible or Bible app on your phone, would you please go to 1 Peter 3:13-16. This is one of Peter’s letters to the church and he’s trying to help them understand not only how to act as Christians but why it’s important. He’s trying to encourage them to live a life that stands up as an example of the life that Jesus lived. And in the passage we’re about to hear, he’s trying to convince them to be ready to explain their faith in a way that can reach those who need to hear it.
13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
As important as it is to reach out to others, it’s equally important to know why you are doing it.
As important as it is to reach out to others, it is equally important to know why you are doing it. That’s the essence of what Peter is saying to the church in this passage. When he tells them to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have,” he’s telling them they need to know why they believe in Christ. Because if you don’t know, you’ll have a hard time convincing other people to do the same. If you ask them to come to church for the food or for a special event, they’ll come once, maybe even twice, but it’s unlikely they’ll ever stay for the long haul. The truth is, as good as our food is, they can get their own somewhere else. If they come for a special event, they don’t associate that with needing the church. In their heads, the church is just a building that houses that event. But it doesn’t make any special connection to their life. It could have been at your high school gym and it would have had exactly the same effect. This kind of “event marketing” is something that people have done for a long time and still do with the illusion that it brings people into the church. It’s the idea that we simply need to bring them inside the walls of the church and they’ll suddenly realize how much they need Jesus in their lives. But that…never…happens. My experience has been that you can get people to come but they will have absolutely no investment in Jesus just because they entered the doors. Event marketing brings people TO church, but not into the LIFE of the church. Event marketing brings people TO church, but not into the LIFE of the church.
What people need to know is WHY they need the church.
That’s why Debi Nixon and Adam Hamilton in their small group book Catch asks people to answer three questions. Why do people need Jesus Christ? Why do people need the church? And why do people need THIS church? Why do people need Jesus Christ? Why do people need the church? And why do people need THIS church? If you can answer those questions, you will be ready to share why you have the hope you have in Christ. Because the truth is, people don’t join the church for coffee hour. People don’t join the church to be entertained. Ultimately, people join the church because the church meets a need they cannot find anywhere else. Ultimately, people join the church because the church meets a need they cannot find anywhere else. By knowing the answer to those three questions – why do people need Jesus, why do they need the church, and why do they need this church – you will know if we can meet those needs and how. Don’t worry if your answers are different than somebody else. Why you need Jesus and why you need the church and why you need THIS church are going to vary from person to person. But you need to be able to answer those questions in a way that differentiates what Jesus is doing from what any other religious leader can do. You need to differentiate what we do as a church from what people can do on their own. And you need to differentiate what we have to offer that they cannot find somewhere else. Otherwise people will go somewhere else.
The other key to Peter’s letter is to do it in a way others can relate to.
That’s why he writes we must share our faith with gentleness and respect and keeping a clear conscience. Because we risk alienating people more if we approach them the wrong way. And for each person that is likely to be different. Some people like the direct approach. Some people like a more comforting approach. Some like to convince themselves they thought of it on their own. How you approach people in gentleness and respect is in deference to what fits that person best. Maybe the person you hope will come is someone who wants to know the logical argument on how church will enhance their life. For them a book like The Case for the Resurrection would be a good fit. Maybe the person you hope to reach is someone who needs a personal connection, who wants to know YOUR story of how God has made a difference to you. Maybe the person you’re thinking of has a deep-seated need for something that our church can provide and by showing them the practical love of Christ they might ask the question, “Who are these people who are willing to do this for me?” Personally, the guy going door-to-door or wearing a sandwich board on the street telling me I’m going to Hell if I don’t believe in Jesus will never convince me. He’s assuming I believe there is a Hell to begin with and my experience is sandwich-board guy is starting from the wrong place. The key is to know both yourself and the people you hope to reach.
You’re probably curious what my answers to those questions are.
And I’ll be happy to share them, but I want to encourage you to think about the answers for yourselves. There isn’t one right answer. There are many. There are probably as many as there are followers of Jesus. So don’t be afraid to explore on your own how you would answer someone. If you just give them my answers, you won’t be very convincing, because only I can walk in my shoes, just as you can only walk in yours. For me, I believe people need Jesus because a relationship with Christ brings us as close as a human being can get to understanding God and knowing God fulfills us in a way that nothing else can. Our continual search for meaning in life is answered only in the life of Jesus Christ. People need the church because God built us to live in community. Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto. We are not meant to go it alone. We are limited by our own short-sighted lens of the world. When we engage in faith together with others, we get a broader picture of how God interacts with the world. It’s the same reason that people who live abroad or go on international mission trips always come back with a richer perspective on life. Our experience in community broadens our perspective. And I would say that people need this church because we are a multi-ethnic community that embraces everyone. We have members and visitors from many different social, economic, and cultural backgrounds and I have never seen anyone here singled out or made to feel unwelcome because of it. I think in this place we can honestly say that color, creed, gender, and age have no meaning and not every place can say that.
What are your answers to those questions?
During the week, I want to challenge you to wrestle with those questions. I want you to think how you would answer that friend you were hoping would come to church. I want you to think how you would approach someone to join us in worship. And how would you do that in a meaningful way that would enable them to see the difference that Christ has made in your life. Because that’s the key. What difference does it make in your life? When I tell people about why I like fishing, it’s MY story about why I like fishing. Some people like it for the sport. Some people like trying to catch the biggest fish. Some people feel a connection to something deeper they can’t quite explain. But for me, I like fishing because it reminds me of times I got to spend with my dad. During the week was largely “mom” time. Mom would be there to cook dinner or help with homework or play video games together and that was always cool. I’ll always appreciate my mom for all the long hours she would spend with us kids. But weekends were often spent with my dad and he liked fishing. I always thought it was kind of cool to just be out on the lake with my dad or have my dad teach me how to cast a line or bring in a fish on a half-day boat. I love that my dad let me drive the motorboat when we’d go out to the lakes during the summer. That’s why fishing was always important to me. It was time I got to spend with my dad. And I guess that’s why ultimately church is important to me, too. Because it’s in the church that I devote quality time to my Heavenly dad. It’s here that I often feel the deepest connection to God, with you, in this community, and in our worship. And when I invite people to church, it’s because I hope that in this place they will find the same connection to God that I do. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.