Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Couple of Fish Stories

The Little Darby creek ran along the border of my uncle's farm. It ran high in the springtime, especially when we pushed the rowboat off the rocky bank and Dad took us past the bend. There was always the anticipation of wondering what wonders lay around the next bend.

It was an aging, green rowboat. By the time I was old enough to take it out myself, the paint was faded, it was all dented up, and it had a gray patch in the bottom. But to me it was magical -- like I was in a center console fishing boat, heading off the coast to fish for marlin.

One July weekend I took it out with my cousin, and we headed upstream. We had gone what seemed like ten miles (but probably closer to a half mile) into a part of the creek I'd never seen before. The creek broadened out and looked like it got a lot deeper.

Suddenly, a strong jolt completely disoriented me. Water splashed on my face, and I heard a loud clunk in the bottom of the boat. A strong vibration broke out across the hull, which I thought was the boat dragging across a rock. I was just about to call for all hands to abandon ship when the fog cleared and I realized what had happened.

A large fish had jumped into our boat.

I talked it over with my cousin. We knew no one would ever believe us if we threw it back. Besides, who wanted to touch the thing? It was gigantic. Instead, we spun around and headed back. I didn't have to worry about the rowboat not having a live well because my skill with the oars always ended up putting five or six inches of water in the bottom of the boat.

Everyone was amazed, and my uncle wrapped it in aluminum foil and cooked it over the campfire that night.

A few years later, my family started spending a weekend each summer up at Lake Erie. I can still vividly remember sitting on the dock with my feet dangling above the water (except on those rare days when the wind was blowing from the north; then the water level would rise, and I could reach the surface with my toes).

I'll never forget the day I tossed in my line, and I immediately got a bite. I set the hook and felt a weight on the line, but no fight. I reeled the line in, thinking I had snared a chunk of rotten wood, or a plant. But to my surprise, at the end of the line hung a medium-sized bluegill. It was absolutely lifeless. Of course, I had the grown-ups take it off the hook. I asked what had happened to it. On closer inspection Dad noticed the hook had caught the fish from the side of its head, and apparently killed it instantly when I set the hook.

The sun was hot and the wooden boards that made up the dock weren't all that comfortable, but I'd go back there in a minute if I could. My brothers and our neighbors' kids enjoyed a nice, little competition. It was the laughter and being with good friends and family in such a magical place that made the experience so memorable.

You may ask, why the fish stories? It's because our annual Men's NetWork North American Fishing Tournament is right around the corner. In fact, registration is now open. In past years the tournaments have focused on the fish, but that's never the most memorable fishing experience. It's when you go out with your brothers, or cousins, your kids, or grandkids, the guys from work, or your neighbors. It's the people you go fishing with that are the real gems, and the moments spent together are the memories that last a lifetime.

And there's more. Jesus came upon two sets of brothers (Peter and Andrew and James and John) when they were fishing. He told them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19). That is what Jesus calls each of us to do. We are to go fishing for men. And that starts with spending time together, building relationships and -- in the context of that relationship -- sharing the reason for our hope in Jesus Christ. Sometimes the best way to go fishing FOR men is to go fishing WITH them.

This year we will encourage and even reward tournament contestants who do that. Get registered and go fishing, but by all means take someone along. Take pictures, and tell us your story: who you invited, where you went, what you experienced together. Believe me, other guys will like hearing your tales, and they may become encouraged to start fishing for men too.

This year's angle on fishing is a little different. We welcome your perspective on the matter. You can share your thoughts by clicking here.

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