PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Happy Unscrupulous Fishing: You Have a Divine License!” By: Ron Woodrum
Recently, my son Justin, reminded me that now that I am a Senior Citizen that I do not have to buy a fishing license any longer. What an exasperating feeling! One definite reason to get back into a habit that I have always enjoyed, but have not had much time to do it lately. I have always loved to fish. I have been an avid fisherman since Junior High days. I wish I could say that my Dad taught me how to fish. But actually, I only remember him taking our family fishing on one occasion, and I was quite small. There may have been more times than that, but not that I can recall. My older brother loved to fish. He was especially fond of going to pay lakes where you could catch some of the “big fish”, but he usually did not want a kid brother tagging along! My venture as a fisherman came when a new kid moved into our neighborhood. His name was Mike Phillips. Mike did not really like baseball, football, basketball, or tetherball. But he loved to fish. He talked me into joining him on a fishing trip to the neighboring Fairview Park in Decatur, Illinois, and we tried our luck at Dreamland Pond there. After that first day I was hooked! Dreamland was stocked with enough fish that they kept you busy with bites. Then we graduated to Steven’s Creek, a small tributary of the Sangamon River, that ran through Macon County. The real adventure then was to walk to Lake Decatur, and fish down by the Dam. We mostly fished with Zebco rods and reels, and fished on the bottom. I learned to catch all kinds of fish-bluegill; crappie; yellow belly catfish, an occasional channel cat; carp, and sucker fish. I learned how to concentrate on the end of that pole, be patient for the strikes, until you were sure this was the one where the fish took the bait. Moderate success kept me coming back for several years as a teenager. It was only after leaving for college, and entering into the pastorate, and working that it became more and more difficult to enjoy the hobby that I learned early on. But fishing can be a wonderful joyful past time.
Henry David Thoreau reminded us that “men go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after!” Robert Altman says, “You put a line in the water and you don’t know what is on the other end. Your imagination is under there!” John Buchan says, “The charm of fishing is that pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope”. Garrison Keillor quite pointedly reminded us ” Thank you dear God, for this good life. Forgive us if we do not love it enough. Thank you for the rain. Thank you for the chance to get up after only three hours of sleep to go fishing. I thank you now, because I won’t feel quite so thankful about it then, in the morning!” Steven Wright says, “There’s a fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore like an idiot!” I have done both! Haven’t you? But in spite of all of that-fishing has been something that has given me great satisfaction over the years, and I hope will again, not that I am a Senior Citizen! Lol.
That is why I find it intriguing that Jesus used fishing as a metaphor to describe winning the lost. It is a graphic metaphor for a very important subject. It is no small thing that four of his earliest disciples were chosen from the ranks of hearty fisherman that labored daily all over the Sea of Galilee. That metaphor conveys quite vividly important parallels to those who know even a little bit about the sport. When I was a teenager, feeling the call of God on my life to enter the ministry, the Pastor who had led me to Christ took me under his wings. I owe a lot to him for giving me opportunities to preach on youth Sundays, for recommending me to other Pastors to preach Youth Revivals, and for recommending me to the Church in Clinton, that I had the privilege of Pastoring at the ripe old age of 17. This year I am celebrating 50 years in ministry. Russell Pittman was the one God used mightily to lead me into such an honorable calling. I remember that Bro. Pittman belonged to a special group of Pastors. They called themselves the “Fishers of Men Fellowship”. It was a network of Pastors in Central Illinois who were dedicated to Soul-Winning, and in order to encourage each other, and the membership of their Churches, they had annual conferences on Soul-Winning on a rotating basis at each other’s Churches. These meetings were called “The Fishers of Men Fellowship Conferences”. I heard some of the best soul-winning preaching from Russell Pittman; Virgil Graham; Jerry McDaniel; Laverne Arndt; Gerald Thompson; and Mickey Hutchingson. They choose that term from Matthew 4:19. Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He saw Peter and Andrew, James and John fishing, and later cleaning their nets from a hard day’s work. Passing by, He challenged them to come and follow Him, and “He would make them to become Fishers of Men!” In Luke 5:10-11 Jesus challenged them again to “join Him in Catching Men”. The Greek word is “zogreo”- which should be translated-“catch men alive”. An invitation to join the Master and learn His technique. They took Him up on the challenge.
As we meditate on those passages, I want you to think with me about three things concerning that metaphor. The first thought is pretty much understood. The last two not so much! I hope it stretches your thinking, and broadens your perspective a bit. First of all, He likely choose that metaphor because of the apparent similarities that fishing for fish and fishing for men have between them. Fishermen must go to the location of the fish. Fish do not search for the Fishermen…just hoping to be caught! Fishermen need to know what fish they are seeking. Such knowledge lets you know their habits and habitats. Some like the deep. Others the shoreline. You need to know the bait that lures them. Some like Wheaties in a ball on a treble hook; others blood bait on a treble hook; many prefer a worm or a nightcrawler; Salt water fish prefer shrimp or cut-up pieces of squid. Bass seem to like the lures, especially a spinner with a plastic worm. It takes real skill to go fly fishing for Trout. Such knowledge is invaluable to the successful fishermen…and imperative for the Fisher of Men. A fisherman must have a desire to go at inconvenient times, and sometimes inconvenient locations to find the “best spots”. That is true of those who fish for men. There is never a convenient time, and usually never a convenient place. But we must go. Fishermen must be patient. You usually do not throw your line in and have a continuous experience of catching one fish after another. It also takes practice. You must develop strategy and skill…both in luring and landing the fish. I remember the first time Bonna and I took Justin and Josh fishing. Josh was a little young and found waiting for that first bite a little boring. Justin had a little more patience being a little older. Justin got the first bite. He pulled back to set the hook. Soon it appeared the fish had led him into a snag. He handed me his pole to get the snag loose. As I attempted to do that, the snag began to pull back! He and I together fought the fish, and landed a 12-pound catfish! Huge fish for his first catch! We have pictures of that trophy. Lol. These things find parallels to fishing for men. Jesus knew we would understand that much.
But…there are Bible teachers that believe that Jesus did not only mean that fishing was the only professional metaphor He saw as illustrative of soul-winning. Some believe that He was inferring that whatever your profession and talent is-if you will follow Him, and dedicate your giftedness to the Lord, that He will transform and sanctify your profession too, as He did these fishermen. Whatever our giftedness in life is-given to Him-it can be used to further the Kingdom of God. After all, Levi-Matthew was a tax collector. He was a gifted businessman. He knew a lot of people. He knew a lot of other tax collectors, and had the gift of instructing them, and entertaining them at his home. After his conversion, his first act was to invite them all over for a party, and introduce them to the one who loved spending time with tax collectors and publicans. That might just be where Zachaeus first heard of Jesus. I remember hearing Stuart Briscoe preach a message entitled Ordinary People Make Wonderful Disciples. In the message he spoke of a woman that he met at a conference. He asked her what she did for a living. He wasn’t prepared for her answer. She told him-“I am a disciple of Jesus Christ…cleverly disguised as a school teacher”. He said, “for the first time I understood that Christ wanted us to be primarily disciples who extended the Kingdom of God…through whatever gifted profession He had placed us in. We were to grow where we were planted!” Many believe that is the message of the fishers of men metaphor. Think of your calling. Take inventory on your talent pool. Dedicate that to the Lord. He will sanctify it and use it to win others to Himself through you. That may be the message of Solomon when he said “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your heart”. (Eccles. 9:10). Or what the Apostle Paul meant when He told the Colossians “Whatever you do-do it heartily unto the Lord…serving Christ!” (Col. 3:23-24).
But then there is another thought to incorporate into this devotion. Many feel that Jesus had a particular Old Testament passage in mind when He invited these four anglers to come and join Him in His work. Many feel that He was referencing Jeremiah 16:16 which says “I am sending forth many fishers declares the LORD, and they will catch them” The context speaks of those who have spent their time pursuing idolatry will be caught in the nets of judgment. The “fishers of men” reference may be a double-edged sword. There will be those who will be caught in the nets, and belong to the LORD in His Kingdom. But those who dodge the net He throws out, will escape to their own destruction. In the Parable of the Dragnet, in Matthew 13:47-49, Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven was like casting a net into the sea, and gathering fish of every kind. When it was full it was time for the sorting of the fish…the good into containers, the bad were discarded. Some are caught in Gospel nets and swept into Eternal Life. Others caught up in their own destruction. The same Sun that melts the snow, hardens the clay. Paul said that our witness is a sweet-smelling savior, an aroma of life to those believing. But he also said our witness is an aroma of death, to those who reject the Gospel, and are in the process of perishing. The Gospels record Jesus, the Master Fisherman, drawing in Nichodemus, the Woman of Samaria, (The Bad Samaritan!), The Demoniac of Gadara, and many others in His gospel nets. It shows the “ones who got away too”. -The Rich Young Ruler; The Pharisee Praying in the Temple with the Publican; Herod; Pilate; Caiaphas; His nets flung from the cross even netted the Thief on the Cross; and the Centurions at the foot of the Cross. Never forget God, in His Sovereign work, casts His nets into the lives of those who are willing to be captured for Himself and Life. C.S. Lewis made this point so clear in his book Surprised By Joy. He answered a young atheist who had asked for his advice with these words-“A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful about his reading. There are traps everywhere-Bibles laid open, millions of surprises, as Herbert says, ‘God uses nets and stratagems in His dealings with us’ (a reference to George Herbert-poet and author of the 1600’s) and I might add is very unscrupulous in His use of them on us”. Lewis had been caught in God’s fishing nets, and called himself “he most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England”. Of course, his intellect and profession became a great vehicle for God to apologetically defend the Gospel through him, like few others. One lesson I learned from those Fisher of Men Conferences I attended as a young man is that winning the lost only occurs when God’s Spirit empowers us to cast the Gospel nets into lives He longs to capture. Without His presence and power, we would fare no better than the disciples who toiled all night and “caught nothing!”. Twice, in Luke 5 and John 21, Jesus illustrated with His touch and technique the haul will be so successful it nearly breaks the Gospel nets! Go ahead launch out into the deep. Cast out on the right side. Happy Unscrupulous fishing. You have a Divine license.