“Lest we offend them …”

20180927_082512Chief Wahoo — should he stay or should he go?

Over the past few days, I’ve been leaning towards excising the smiling Native American caricature from my Cleveland Indians jersey.

A bit about the jersey: one of my absolute favorite movies is Major League, the 1988 picture starring Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Wesley Snipes, Corbin Bernsen and others.

A few years ago, the short-lived TV series, Backstrom, chose Gospel Mission as the location for some of its scenes, which took place in an inner-city church. The role of the pastor was played by Dennis Haysbert, whose other screen credits include the voodoo-worshipping slugger, Pedro Cerrano, in Major League.

Since I was interim pastor at the time, I was the location liaison for the production, and as they wrapped, since they knew I was a big fan of the movie and was excited that “Cerrano” was there. I wanted to greet him by saying, in my best Southern drawl, “You tellin’ me Jesus Christ couldn’t hit a curveball?” But our only exchange was passing each other on the stairs: “Thanks a lot for having us here,” he said. “It’s such a blessing to have you,” I said.

Anyway, to make a long story short*, at the end of the production period, the crew presented me with a “period” Cleveland Indians jersey, signed by Dennis himself, and complete with “CERRANO 13” on the back and Chief Wahoo on the sleeve.

Lately, there’s been some controversy about Chief Wahoo. Some Indigenous people find it offensive. In at least one case, the Toronto Blue Jays’ broadcaster has stopped calling the team the “Indians”. If you know the story behind why the team was called the Indians in the first place, you might say that was going a bit far: it was so named by the fans, to honor Louis Sockalexis, a Native American ballplayer who had a meteoric but tragic career early in the last century. Today, it could further a conversation about the plight of Indigenous people in North America in general.

So we could be conflicted about “burying history”, “honoring Native Americans”, even “giving in to a vocal minority”; but when following Jesus, there is one critical consideration.

Are people offended?

When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?”

He said, “Yes.” And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?

Peter said to Him, “From strangers.” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you.

— Matthew 17:24-27

Jesus was on the verge of constructing an argument against paying taxes, but rather than offend anybody, He paid — and prophesied where the money was to be found.

As followers of Jesus, we need to follow His example. Prime among that example is the determination not to offend people. Speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), and

We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed.

— 2 Corinthians 6:3

Not that Christians don’t offend people by talking about the Cross — it’s written that that will happen

He will be as a sanctuary,
But a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense
To both the houses of Israel,
As a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

— Isaiah 8:14

People tend to love the idea of Salvation and Life More Abundantly, but get their back up when the consider what they need salvation from. That’s why we need the Holy Spirit in us to minister properly, so that we can, to the best of our ability, preach Christ in a way that doesn’t offend.

And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.

— Mark 13:13

Of course, people also have to be responsible for their feelings: while we are not to give offence — not provoke people by doing things we know will offend — whether someone takes offence is on their shoulders.

This doesn’t mean we argue with them or tell them they’re silly or hyper-sensitive. It’s up to us to tame our tongue and be kindly towards others – especially when we want to draw them towards Jesus. We don’t deliberately provoke people — like, drawing a cartoon of Mohammed — when we know something offends them. We’ll win a lot more souls that way.

And what about Chief Wahoo? There are more effective things I can do to help improve the lot of our Indigenous brothers and sisters, than taking a patch off a shirt to “show solidarity”.


*Too late!

Listen to the end

As I mentioned yesterday, I was struck by Caiaphas’ prophecy about Jesus:

Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.”*

And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.”

Now this he did not say on his own authority: but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad.

Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death.

— John 11:47-53

CAIAPHAS

“This Jesus must die!” Norm Lewis as Caiaphas in NBC’s production of Jesus Christ, Superstar Live

Caiaphas had prophesied about Jesus and that He would die for the sake of the people and save not just the nation of Israel but people all over the world.

So at this point, it appears that the priests and Pharisees decided that their calling from God was to make sure that happened — the “Jesus die” part, at any rate. After all, who else would do it? If anyone else — including the Romans — did it, there would be an insurrection, given Jesus’ popularity at the time. The religious leaders were the only ones in that position.

Of course, there were unintended consequences, like getting pinned with the killing of the Son of God, and the cover story, that has been proven untrue over the past 2,000 years, that Jesus’ supporters had stolen His body; but thank God they did all that, because that was exactly God’s plan.

(To be clear, I’ve written before, that while everyone was pointing fingers at everyone else about “killing Jesus”, the fact that it’s written that Jesus “yielded up His spirit”, should indicate that no one actually killed Him. That way, no one could be blamed. The oft-repeated theme is, “Jesus died for our sins,” not “Jesus was killed for our sins.”)

One quick takeaway from this is that, when we believe we’ve heard something from God, listen to the end. The Pharisees didn’t — their listening stopped at “Jesus must die” — the part they wanted to hear. We also need to check our heart and our motivation: the Pharisees were motivated by their self-interest, and that is not a Godly motivation.

The big one, though, is to remember that whatever we see in our world today, we have to listen to the end, and keep looking for God at work. Look at the undeniably evil stuff going down in our world. The world wants to put Jesus to death, so we need to remember that the only consequence of the Pharisees’ action was for Jesus to be lifted up, higher and stronger than before, revealed to everyone. We know — because we’ve read the book — that that is the end result of anything that is evil.

Remember that Jesus didn’t fight that evil at the time, but He was lifted up. We can’t fight evil either. Our only duty is to lift Him up and declare that His victory is already sealed.

Claiming the promise — or forcing God’s hand?

My Christian upbringing, such as it is, has been at the hands of faith preachers. I heard a lot from Kenneth Copeland, Noel Jones, Jesse Duplantis and Jerry Savelle at a time when I hit moral rock-bottom and needed to know there was a way out. Lots of people had shown me the way in — as in, identifying what was wrong with me — but the message of putting faith in God and riding out the storm, knowing that God had something better in store for me was what drew me to Jesus.

But at what point does “claiming the Promise” of God morph into “forcing the issue”? We often try to force God’s hand, receiving His promise, but then defining for Him what the promise looks like and how we’re to get it.

There’s actually a delicate balance. We go into a “holy partnership” with God, where our faith in His promise is combined with action. But this is a crucial point. We can’t go riding off madly in all directions, doing what we think we need to do in order to achieve that Promise. At this point, we have to listen to the Spirit more intently than ever: is God looking for an action on our part, or do we “be still, and know that I am God”?

My own experience — for what it’s worth — is that when I tried to force God’s hand, it either blew up in my face or turned out to be not what God wanted for me. Some years ago, I prayed for more work in order to meet my financial obligations, and I wound up working two part-time jobs. And I started to burn out. So I prayed, asking God why people who were younger and had less education were living more comfortably. And He said, “what did you pray for?”

I thought that was what I needed in order to get what I needed. I made the mistake of trying to define how that was to happen.

So I prayed for the means to meet my obligations without burning out.

Two weeks later, I was fired from one job and not recalled for another.

And just as I was in the midst of the gee-what-do-I-do-now? phase, a phone call came out of the blue with a job offer that was nothing I could ever have imagined. It not only moved me higher, but it benefited two Missions and the people they served. Truly, God knows what I need, and it was vastly different from what I thought I needed.

Praise God, He gives us the grace to be wrong! After all, I did get what I thought I needed when I prayed for it, but then, God gave me the grace to see where I had slipped up and to get back on track.

Now here’s the twist.

… he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

— Hebrews 11:6

It’s not really about God providing what you need or want, anyway. It’s all about seeking God, and having that relationship with Him. When you do that, He’ll provide.

A new word for our times

Confession: one of my guilty pleasures has become The Great British Baking Show.

(Other guilty pleasures include watching baseball, ordering a small “Chicago” pizza from My-Chosen Pizza when Amelia is out of town and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

great-british-baking-show-season-8-paul-hollywood-prue-leith-noel-fielding

Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith and Noel Fielding from GBBS.

GBBS has turned me onto baking as a hobby (like I need more breads and pastries in my diet) as I try to conquer puff pastry, blind-baking and Victoria sponge. And with this, a word has crept into my lexicon.

PROCRASTIBAKING

I don’t know if it’s been accepted into the OED or Merriam-Webster yet, but the definition is, baking for the purpose of putting off something you’re supposed to do. The degree could range from I’ll-just-whip-this-up-and-pop-it-in-the-oven-and-then-get-back-to-work to Well-you-never-know-who-might-just-drop-in; the result is the same: you’re still distracted from what you should be doing.

Let me offer a similar neologism:

PROCRASTITHINKING

On one hand, you could interpret that to mean “paralysis by analysis” — thinking a project to death or delaying action until a decision is made for you. But the word came to me in a Biblical context, and it’s worth considering.

I recently read an article on whether it’s possible or even advisable to try to turn “bad” people into “good” people. The author went on (and on and on) about “systems theory” and physics and math and fractals and the “butterfly theorem” and at the end of it all, decided that it wasn’t a good idea to impose morality on others.

Of course, Jesus Christ has some very cogent observations, to wit:

There is none good, except one, that is, God.

Judge not, or else you will be judged … by the same yardstick you used to judge others.

And the Apostle Paul expands:

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

“Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts.”

When I pointed out these Biblical truths, the author said I had “simplified” things. I don’t think she or he was complimenting me.

Translation: this person had done all this thinking and analyzing and constructing a thesis, and a much easier explanation had been sitting there in a book for the past 2,000 years.

Take another example: people spend billions of dollars on exploring space, “trying to learn the origins of the universe”. People have cudgelled their brains with quantum theory, string theory, the Big Bang Theory, the search for a Unified Theory of Everything, when it’s all summed-up here:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

And here’s the beauty of it: I didn’t “simplify” anything. God did. We humans are the ones who complicate things by deciding that the answer must be more than that. Some people use that as a source of pride, showing off their intellectual prowess (and the implication that they’re smarter than God).

But God has a reason for simplifying answers to questions like, “Where did we come from?” and “Why is there air?”. That’s because the more important question we should be addressing is, “What is our purpose?” or “What do You want us to do?”

That, too, has a simple answer:

Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. “And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

— Matthew 22:35-40

And Jesus’ half-brother adds,

Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

— James 1:27

Add to that, the commandment to tend His garden (Genesis 2:15), and you see that devoting ourselves to uncovering the secrets of the universe distracts us from what we’re supposed to be doing. God has already provided the answers — or at least, as much as we need to know — so that we don’t waste our time and efforts procrastithinking.

I could write more, but the butter is now at room temperature, so I have to start working it into the flour.

Regret – and the other side of the coin

On Friday, we talked about regret, basically wishing that you hadn’t done something bad and being sorry that you’d hurt someone in the process. But the interesting thing about the walk with Christ is that it places responsibility on both sides in the misdeed: on the perpetrator to repent; and on the victim to forgive.

And that’s tough. It’s human nature to want to hold onto a hurt, because, in its own strange way, it gives you superiority over the one who’s hurt you. It’s like you have a sandbag hanging over the other person’s head, which you feel you can drop on him at any time, as a form of revenge.

Forgiving means you put away that sandbag, never to pick it up again.

Forgiving is an admission that you could conceivably have done the same thing to someone else, given the chance, and now you know better.

Forgiving recognizes that you, yourself, have been forgiven.

Jesus tells a parable about a servant who owed his master some money, and, threatened with being thrown in prison, begs the master to give him a break. So he does. But then the servant turns around and finds another person who owed him money, seized him by the throat and eventually threw him into prison. Which incident was duly reported to the master.

“Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.

“So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

— Matthew 18:32-35

That’s pretty stern stuff. We’ve already been forgiven for our misdeeds — it’s up to us to acknowledge that Jesus’ sacrifice removes all trace of those from our record — so no matter what someone has done to us, it’s up to us to release them from the burden of that memory.

Or else.

Try it sometime. Try forgiving someone who’s wronged you and think back to other things that you haven’t forgiven. Don’t they eat you up inside, keep you lying awake or taking longer than usual in the shower, revisiting the incident and going over what you wish you’d said? Don’t you keep wishing there was some way that the perpetrator could be exposed for the lousy ratfink that they are, so that you can get some measure of satisfaction?

Don’t you get tired of hearing your own voice, going over the complaint again and again?

Don’t you realize that the other person has probably long-since forgotten about it — especially if they’ve repented?

Jesus is about freedom, and that includes freedom from the burden of carrying a grudge. His solution is to forgive, because in releasing them from the guilt, you’re releasing yourself, too.

Regret?

In yesterday’s offering, I referred to stupid things that we’d done in the past coming back to haunt us. This is the stuff of regret — thinking about things we’d done and wish that we hadn’t. Thinking back and reliving those incidents is exactly what the devil wants us to do, since it takes our minds off God and what He has for us in the future.

Often, you’ll hear someone say, “No regrets.” You can take that two ways: either as a defiant declaration that one won’t be held back by thoughts of the past; or as a Sinatra-type declaration that “I’m doing it my way”.

But there is some use for regret. Consider this:

… if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while.

Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow had led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing.

For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.

— 2 Corinthians 7:8-10

The Apostle Paul is referring to his first letter to the Corinthians, which was (for him) a paint-peeling rebuke of the way the lifestyle they had fallen into — one that was totally unbecoming a follower of Jesus. What he wrote made them sorry, but rather than beat themselves up over it, they got their act together, repented and moved forward.

As I say, regretting something for the sake of beating yourself up over it is really the devil, making you forget that Jesus already handled the “regret” part on your behalf. Sure, it’s easy, and it gives the impression of righteousness because you’re sorry it happened; but you wind up even farther away from God than before.

“… the sorrow of the world produces death.”

But there’s the other kind of regret, that makes you look at what you did, and then take the time to receive Jesus’ Blood to cleanse yourself and turn to God to show you how it happened and how to avoid its happening again.

That’s repentance leading to salvation.

(Worth noting: the word “salvation” actually means being “whole and healthy” — not, as I used to think, being saved from the teeth of hell. Think about it.)

Paul gets right enthusiastic about that:

What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.

— 2 Corinthians 7:11

I know from experience, that simply regretting something does not glorify God. But God is glorified and His love for us becomes obvious, when, because Jesus took the punishment on our behalf, we are transformed away from the person who did those things and become closer still to the way God intends us to be.


And now — because it’s there — here’s the Modern Jazz Quartet with “Regret?”* from their 1974 album, Blues on Bach.

*A setting of Bach’s “Das alte Jahr vergangen ist” (“The Old Year Now Hath Passed Away”), from the Orgelbüchlein (1708-1717).

Still here. Really.

(A re-run from earlier this year – but I wanted to share it again.)

I don’t do this as often as I should, but when I do, it’s a treasured time.

Go quiet, clear my mind of everything and focus on Jesus.

It’s not easy. One’s mind gets cluttered with all manner of things. If it’s not world events, it’s something somebody said or wrote; or there are memories of stupid things you did that can’t be undone but still haunt you, or the latest ball scores, or the Habs trading Max Pacioretty ….

You get the picture.

But sitting on the deck this morning, I was able to do it, if only for a short time. The dog was on my lap (she’s not a lapdog, as such, but she’s never let that stop her) and I was able to focus on The Lord.

I began with some generic prayer, thanking Him for, well, everything; then I said, out loud, “Speak to me, Lord.”

And instantly, I heard back. “I am.”

I listened. There were birds singing — all sorts of birds: hummingbirds, nuthatches, robins, sparrows. A squirrel was holding forth and one bird was acting as a sentry, warning that one of the cats was in the area. Bees were loading up on the flowers.

God was, indeed, speaking.

Tall evergreens swayed overhead and around us. The flowers themselves were colourful, their scents marvellous.

God was showing Himself, too. The Creator of all things, showing His handiwork.

Having said that, consider this. People talk about the need to get out into nature to get close to God, but let’s not forget that “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” (John 1:3) So even if we’re on a crowded bus or walking down a street filled with people milling about, it’s possible to go quiet and listen for Him there, too, because He shows Himself and speaks to us through the people and their voices and all the things He created.

And what is He saying?

“I’m still here.”

Be stilland know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!

— Psalm 46:10

The wars, hatred, environmental destruction, fixation on “identity” and other causes of strife are all man-made. God is still here, waiting for us to turn to Him; waiting for us to choose Him over the world and thus watch and see how He heals the land when we do.

Still here.

Really.

Disagreements? Stay off the devil’s turf!

In yesterday’s post (see yesterday’s post), I mentioned that someone was threatening to sue another person for remarks made on Twitter. Given that Person A is trying to deal from a position of Godly righteousness, it’s worth questioning if that’s what Jesus would do.

I don’t believe so: litigation, when it comes to personal interaction, is a win/lose proposition, and God is always win/win. When we leave disputes in God’s hands, He arranges it so that both parties come out ahead. If we try to argue against someone who disagrees with us, invariably the “fight” degenerates into a question of “who’s right” rather than “what’s right”.

And that’s the way the devil likes it. The more we fight each other over a point — whether it’s a disagreement over Scripture, public policy or who has dibs on the last slice of pizza — the more we stray from the way Jesus calls us to behave.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.

— James 1:19-20

Don’t we want God’s righteousness to prevail in a situation? Jesus advises us that, when offended, not to strike back, but to keep giving the offender a chance to offend again, and the more we are offended, the more we pray for the person offending us. Because that person is not the real enemy.

There’s nothing wrong with disagreement, but we can’t let the game play on the devil’s turf, resorting to retaliating for personal attacks or otherwise behaving in a way that makes people say, “I don’t want to be like them!” Instead, we need to deal with those situations by keeping the discussion on God’s turf — based in love and forgiveness — and keep asking ourselves, “how does this promote Jesus?”

It comes with the territory. Glory to God!

A friend of mine is on the verge of a spitting match.

Said friend has been spearheading a crusade against an issue that’s offended many Christians, and apparently, another person has taken her to task on Twitter. This has led my friend to call her lawyer.

I’d like to offer two words here.

Don’t whine.

Jesus told us this was going to happen.

Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake.

— Luke 6:22

It comes with the territory. And we’re supposed to take it, because there’s a greater reward in the Kingdom. And since God promises that greater reward for us, we really shouldn’t complain.

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

— 2 Corinthians 12:10

Paul actually takes pleasure in being persecuted for the sake of Jesus! Not that he’s a masochist or one of those people who wear their “humility” on their sleeves, but because he knows he on the right track. As one friend of mine says, “if you’re not taking flak, you’re not over the target.”

Jesus tells us twice — once near the start of His ministry and once at the end — that persecution and vilification will come with our commitment to Him.

… you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.

— Matt. 10:22

Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake And then many will be offended, will betray one another and will hate one another.

— Matt. 24:9-10

Consider:

And when they had brought [the disciples], they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!”

But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.”

— Acts 5:27-29

And what happened? They were beaten and thrown in jail. Peter was later jailed again and it looked like he was done for, except for prayer and an angel who had something better than the keys to the cell.

And further down the line? Paul was beheaded. Andrew was crucified (on the bias, because he said he was not worthy of dying in the same way Jesus did — hence the cross on the flag of Scotland). Peter was crucified upside-down. Others were burned at the stake, cut in pieces, stretched out on a grill over fire, stoned. And none of them complained.

And of course, Jesus went through worse.

So does someone saying nasty things about you on Twitter, which vanishes into the ether with the next cute kitten video, compare?

Again: don’t whine. It comes with the territory.

This isn’t to say that one should lead with one’s face — deliberately set out to get someone else’s dander up. Paul reminds us to “give no offence … just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.” (1 Corinthians 10:32-33) So if someone offends you, the recourse is not to offend back, but to forgive them, bless them, and keep on. “For in so doing, you will pour coals of fire on their head.”

Stick to the script that God and the Holy Spirit have given us. People will take offence if they so desire, and if that offendedness leads to court action, so be it. Play along with their game, willingly and smiling, because this is what we signed up for!

Go fish!

Victor Bregeda

“Fishers of Men” – Victor Bregeda

And as He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.

They immediately left their nets and followed Him.

— Mark 1:16-18

Have you ever mused on the fact that Jesus called His disciples to be fishers of men? He doesn’t call them to be hunters or even harvesters, but fishers.

True: He does say that “the fields … are already white for the harvest” (John 4:35) and notes the lack of laborers (Matthew 9:37 / Luke 10:2), but I think that’s more from the point of view of the timing and the scope of the work. But when it comes to the nature of the job, He talks about fishing.

First of all, fishermen are used to being out of their element. Even though they’re on “portable land” — a boat — they’re still at the mercy of the water and weather, as they found out that night on the Sea of Galilee.

Isn’t that a lot like spreading the Gospel? In order to do it, you have to get right out of your element. You have to wade into uncomfortable territory and talk to people who

  • have no idea Who Jesus is
  • have some ideas of Who Jesus is, none of them accurate
  • know Who Jesus is but don’t believe they need Him
  • know Who Jesus is but don’t want to know that they need Him
  • have heard about Christians and don’t want to hear about it

Fishermen know how to combat external forces that rock or threaten to sink their boat; same thing with evangelism.

Now, let’s take a look at technique. You bait the hook — attract someone with something good, like God’s promise of new life and all that He has for the person. Then you cast it into the deep and see what happens. You get a strike, but now what do you do? You might get excited and start reeling it in, hoping to land your catch before it gets away. But if the hook isn’t set properly, it yanks out of the fish’s mouth and the fish gets away — and is hurt.

Again, isn’t that like evangelism? You think you have a “prospect on the line”, but in your enthusiasm, you say the wrong thing or come on too strong, and you’re in danger of ripping out the hook, leaving a wounded fish that you won’t be able to catch again.

No: you have to draw the fish in gently, easily it to shore or into your boat. With evangelism, your gentle tugs are meant to encourage the person to come to Jesus willingly: we need to be careful what we say and how we say it.

(Mind you, the analogy breaks down somewhat at the point where you bash the fish over the head once you land it, but there you go.)

All in all, it takes sensitivity, compassion, and listening to God (as in, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat” (John 21:6)).

Speaking of net fishing, there’s a caution: Jesus advises the disciples on where to put down their net, but I think that’s more of a demonstration that God is omniscient and omnivoyant. On one occasion, they get so many fish in the net that it breaks and a lot of the fish get away. You could have an altar call that brings thousands of people forward at a crusade rally, but the “net” can break and many will be lost. The best sort of evangelism is one-on-one, gentle, patient and persevering.

Needless to say, evangelism is not like hunting: stalking your prey with a weapon and bringing them down. Nor is it like harvesting a crop, which implies taking the good crop and leaving behind the rotten, mal-formed and underripe. God is the one who separates the wheat from the chaff.

Besides, you can see when the harvest is done: the field is empty. But as that Bregeda painting implies, you can’t see how many fish are in the sea, so you can’t define when your job is finished.

And of course, it never is. So bait the hook with the Word, Jesus is the line, and we are the hands and feet, casting and reeling, casting and reeling …