“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. – John 21: 3-6 (NIV)
“Come, follow Me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” – Matthew 4:19 (Berean Study Bible)
The great state of Alaska is often called “The Last Frontier” or “The Land of the Midnight Sun.” This summer my family was blessed to be able to take a vacation in this glorious state experiencing both unofficial nicknames as we were awestruck by the beauty around us as well as the abundance of wildlife and summer light. We gained renewed energy to enjoy it all through the day and well into the late evening sun. We also had our own personal animal guide along with us in my youngest son Connor who studies animals with intelligent passion, knew the animal names of most of what we saw, and gave us interesting facts about many of the species.
The long days of sunlight made time for us in Alaska fade like the blue water of a changing low tide as hours seemed to almost disappear on our horizon while we were there. It was beautifully strange and something we had never experienced before. My wife Danielle even noticed that the three main places we stayed at throughout our journey either didn’t have clocks or had a clock with the wrong time. Perhaps a small taste of God’s eternal clock where only He knows the true day and the hour, maybe even chuckling a bit as we humans surmise and check the time all the time.
The good God of the Bible has lessons for us and is there with us in all our activities from the wonderful to the mundane. I expected to experience the beauty and splendor of God’s creation in Alaska, however, I did not expect some of the lessons he taught me in a most unlikely way in one of my favorite recreational activities. I believe they are lessons for all of us and that he is glad to teach us in ways that give us a true taste of his joy.
Among hiking, sea kayaking, and wildlife viewing, we went fishing on our trip often starting our fishing adventures with similar words used by Simon Peter so many years ago: “Let’s go FISHING!”
We did some fishing on our own in a river and ocean bay with some decent success for small fish along with two big ones—a nice pink salmon caught by my son Ethan in a river behind our cabin and another big salmon caught from shore by my son Andrew that popped off the hook on the beach and made laughing stocks of four of us as we chased it fifteen feet down the beach while it surfed the sand back to its liquid home. One last awkward leap by me into the ocean before it regained its freedom left us all cracking up and left me wet, sandy, and a little salty at that fish and myself for not bringing a net.
That salmon got the best of us and escaped before we were able to identify which of the five North American species it was. We learned that identifying salmon is a complicated thing in Alaska especially since each species has at least two well-known names. For example, some call the most prized salmon “King” while others call it “Chinook.”
Fishing on our own for the first time in Alaska was fun and we definitely did better than Simon Peter and his disciple fishing buddies that first day as documented in John, however, we still needed some help. We needed a guide who knew the waters and the fish. So, in between pulling ourselves up by our own wading bootstraps, we hired a few fishermen guides to lead us to better fishing waters.
On our first fishing charter, we booked a captain and crew who helped us catch some beautiful halibut from deep on the ocean floor. In our family’s catch that day included the largest on the boat that day, a sixty pounder that I caught with the help of two deckhands who helped me get it on board once I reeled it to the surface. Reeling that big halibut in and getting it into the boat was an unforgettable experience of a lifetime for me!
Four days later we drove two hours to fish with a self-proclaimed “River Cowboy” who took us upriver on his twenty-foot river boat and taught us how to catch Sockeye Salmon by using a technique new to us called “flossing.” The flossing technique involved exiting the boat in waders, standing in about two feet of flowing river water and using a special technique that catches the fish on a fly rod and hook without any bait or lures as they swim downstream toward the ocean. Truly fascinating and nothing like fishing we’ve ever done before; we learned the new technique to catch our limit of 15 Sockeye Salmon within an hour and a half. The two-hour ride home was filled with fish story glory!
Successfully implementing the new fishing technique called flossing reminds me of the creative ways our small group network at Aspen Ridge Church has used new techniques to show God’s love to our people and neighbors. One example of using new techniques to reach people are our fun small group offerings started about two years ago including such groups as fishing, skiing, jeeping and mountain biking. Meeting outside our church walls for fellowship is proving to be a successful way to experience God’s creation and show His love in adventure. More recently, our small groups used a new technique of meeting via Zoom and other virtual platforms during the pandemic. This new small group technique allowed us to physically distance while maintaining our social closeness!
The day after floss fishing for sockeyes, Andrew and I woke up tired at 5 a.m. yet energized to fish for halibut, ling cod, salmon, and rockfish in the ocean guided by some fishermen recommended by some of our local Evergreen friends who used to live in Alaska. They were instrumental in helping us plan this trip and we are so grateful for them.
Our captain piloted our boat out of Resurrection Bay for about three hours and into our fishing spot. We were on the water a total of 11 hours and had a glorious day catching a boatload of fish including salmon, rockfish, along with our limit of ling cod, and halibut. That day’s fishing haul included a 50-inch ling cod and 46.5-inch ling cod both of which were so big that they could have fit a small child’s head into their monstrous mouths. Drew and I had the time of our lives reeling in all those fish!
Besides the awesomeness of catching a bunch of big fish, the thing that struck me the most about these trips and all three of our guided fishing adventures were the fishermen themselves. The fishermen we met were very good at what they did—knowing where and how to catch the fish. They also wanted to make sure we knew that they were good at it and overall were a rough and surly bunch. Stories of their big fish and “the other” dumb fisherman abounded with sailor cursing along with prideful teasing of each other.
Despite them being a little “rough around the edges,” we learned to do exactly as the fishermen said in order to maximize our fishing success. I knew that I would have to throw my Colorado trout fishing, topwater bass fishing, and Lake Erie perch seeking techniques overboard to do well in Alaska. We listened, followed, and reeled ‘em in!
Captain Aaron on our third adventure was probably the most informative of our guides and very hands on with frequent and explicit instructions on how to catch the fish in real (or reel!) time as he watched every pole. “The captain sees everything” he boasted on multiple occasions. He was a proud man full of stories, some good and some inappropriate, who was really good at his job. Andrew and I listened and tried to follow his every fishing word to our success. I am thankful for him and even found a couple minutes on our adventure to share a “God story” with him. One of the passengers overheard the story I told and later said “Hey, nice to meet another believer out here. I’m a fisher of men too!”
At one point, Captain Aaron told a story of his Dad, who taught young Aaron how to fish in the Pacific Northwest, and his first visit to fish Alaska with his grown son. Thinking he knew best as a seasoned fisherman; the Dad didn’t do well fishing in Alaska at first because he didn’t listen to his son’s instructions. Frustrated, the Captain finally said “Dad, JUST DO WHAT I SAY!” His Dad decided to obey and finally had success.
Our fishing experience and the fishermen themselves reminded me of the human journey. God calls us to listen and follow him. I see it more as a warm invitation rather than a fisherman’s loud demand, however, our success means throwing our pride overboard and obeying his words found in the Bible. God taught me that lesson unexpectedly out on the water through fishermen and convinced me of a couple things in my own life where I need to listen to his word instead of trying to do it my own way. God offers us a beautiful sea of unmerited favor and abundant life if we simply listen, believe, and follow.
He truly knows what is best for us and how we can be successful individually and toward others. As we see in John 21, God desires what’s best for us in the physical world. In that chapter, he teaches his disciples how to catch more fish than they could handle when they couldn’t figure it out on their own and even cooks them breakfast over an open beach fire for them as they return from fishing the sea. What would have happened if they hadn’t obeyed and cast the net on the right side of the boat?
Even more important than our physical needs, God deeply desires what’s best for us in the spiritual, or unseen, world. For those uncertain of spiritual things, the God of the Bible desires a personal and restored relationship with you through faith in his son Christ Jesus and his cross work. Similar to gravity or a fish hooked deep in the sea, you can’t see it with the naked eye, however, you can feel the impact on you and see its effect on the physical world around you. It is a beautiful personal relationship that he promises lasts forever.
For those who have crossed the line of faith, he desires that we follow everything he says in his scriptures instead of picking and choosing like we do at a seafood market. And he promises that when we do, it is more of a blessing to us than a burden.
Is your deep desire for success, approval, wealth, beauty, popularity, things, power, control and/or pleasure getting in the way of God’s best for you? Perhaps it’s something else. Similar to our Alaskan fishing adventures, if we ditch our own way and instead listen and obey Him—the ultimate guide and Captain—we will be successful in this life. And by successful, I don’t mean that we are promised to be healthy, wealthy, or wise. What I do mean is that we gain more joy and satisfaction in life while getting better at serving others along with being effective “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19) as we reel people into the family of God. As John Piper says, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”
Fishing is the one activity in this life that makes me feel the most alive, especially when reeling one in. And I believe that seeing our family, friends, and neighbors come on board the glorious boat in God’s eternal seas cruising the gentle waves of grace and forgiveness is better than the best fishing day imaginable. His world is, as I will call it now, “The Land of the Forever Son” and He is calling you to its’ shores.
Director of Small Groups