LIFE’S TOO SHORT…
Not to Fish
September 21, 2003
[The opening of the message is a video of Ed on a dock on Andros Island. He is tying a fly for fishing while he is speaking]
As many of you know, I love to fish. One of my favorite things about fishing is tying flies. I’m a big fly fisherman. I love to saltwater fly-fish. That’s my favorite thing. A while back, a friend of mine invited me to his fishing lodge here on Andros Island. Andros Island is one of the most remote areas in the Western Hemisphere. It has some fantastic fishing. So, right now, I’m tying a fly that sort of matches what all these fish are eating. This fly is a good fly because the hook is pretty well disguised and I think the fish will be all over it.
Today, I want you to do a little fishing with me. This fishing trip, I think, is going to have some pretty powerful stuff in it. The fly is tied. I’ve got my gear and all my flies…let’s go fishing.
[The video ends and Ed begins to speak live from the stage.]
Let’s go fishing. That’s what Jesus told a bunch of first century fishermen in Matthew 4:18-19. “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’”
This is a fascinating passage. This is a very unique text because Jesus was bringing into his ministry, into his life, his inner circle, his management team…. Jesus, being God, could have chosen anyone. He could have picked people from all walks of life. He could have chosen a bunch of farmers. He could have chosen a bunch of soldiers. He could have chosen a bunch of physicians or accountants. He could have chosen a bunch of attorneys, but we would still be in court. (You know I am kidding. My best friend is a lawyer. I love lawyers.) He chose, though, fishermen.
Why did our Lord choose fishermen? Why were seven out of the twelve people who braved the elements, people who got out there, people who fish? Why? I think we need to understand why.
During this talk, I am going to discuss with you some “fisheristics,” some characteristics that we all need if we are going to get in on the most powerful purpose in life – that of being a fisher of men.
Today’s talk is directed at three groups. The first group would be those here who are not in the family of God. If you are not a believer, if you are kicking tires, if you are testing the waters, then welcome to Fellowship Church. Make yourself at home. This is a place where you can seek. This is the place where you can ask the hard questions. Because of this message, though, you are going to see how much you matter to us and also how much you matter to God. I believe one day you will get caught, no pun intended, and you will be brought into this local body of water, so to speak. That’s the first group of people this message is for.
The second group of people this message is for is those people here who are in the family of God – those who are Christ followers. You have stepped over the line of faith and you are doing the stuff. You are braving the elements. You are getting out there. You are casting. You are sharing you faith. You are inviting people to Fellowship Church. Let me tell you something—my hat goes off to you. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love you. You are what makes Fellowship go and grow. It’s a God thing. God uses fanatical fishermen to share the Good News, because after all, the word “Gospel” means “Good News.” So, I want to tell you, “Yeah! Good job!” That’s the second group.
The third group is those here who have stepped over the line of faith, but for some reason or another you are not fishing. You are checking out your tackle. Maybe you have a boat. Maybe you have a net and a fly rod, but for some reason you are not fishing. Maybe you have fished before, but maybe, just maybe, you have lost the zeal of your faith. Maybe you don’t realize how deep and how grand it is to be forgiven by God. Maybe you don’t understand how awesome it is to have eternal life. Maybe you just need a wake up call. I’m not here to bash you. I’m not here to trash talk you. I’m here to share with you God’s love and how much God wants you to fish.
What a powerful purpose. Jesus told a bunch of fanatical fishermen, “Hey, follow me. I’ll make you fishers of men.” He didn’t say, “I’ll make you catchers of men.” Jesus does the catching. All he tells us to do is fish. Just fish.
FISHERMEN HAVE REEL PURPOSE
Let’s talk about the first fisheristic. Are you ready? We need to have “reel” purpose. We need to understand the “reel” (that’s a pun there) purpose of life. The reason God does not zap us to heaven the moment we step over the line is because he wants us to bring as many people as possible into heaven. We all have specific local bodies of water that God has given us He wants us to fish. He’ll do the catching. He wants us to fish. We’ve got to understand and own this amazing and powerful purpose because when we get the purpose down, guess what will happen?
FISHERMEN HAVE REEL PASSION
We have a second fisheristic. We’ll have passion. We’ll have “reel” passion. When I take someone fishing who has never been fishing before and they feel the tug of the fish on the line, they get passionate. They are like, “Man, I’ve got to reel this fish in! This is cool! I like this!” They are passionate.
I know some of us are old. Some of us are in our 40s, 50s, 60s or whatever. Do you remember the old Schlitz Beer commercial? I want to see how well you remember this commercial. Remember the guy would say, “You only go around once in life, so you better go for all the…” [The audience replies with, “Gusto!] You got it.
Here’s another one from McDonalds. “You deserve a …” [The audience says, “Break today!”] Now, why do we remember that? Do you know why? It’s because those companies, the marketers, the advertisers, the artists, and the creative minds poured in zillions of dollars and were passionate about selling beer and selling Big Macs. They were into it. Because of their passion, guess what? We remember those jingles.
Jesus is passionate about fishing. He’s passionate about sharing. He’s passionate about those of us who know him personally connecting with other people to communicate the life-changing message of the Gospel. Think about the Great Commission. In Matthew 28:19 he said, “Go.” What part of “go” don’t we get? Go. Go and do what? “Make disciples of all nations.”
Notice the bookends of Christ’s ministry. His ministry lasted what, three years? He knew in Matthew 4 that he only had about 36 months in the public domain. What did he do? He picked fishermen. Why? Because life is too short not to fish. Then, three years later, right before his ascension, what did he say? “Go into all the world. Preach my Gospel. Baptize people.”
So, the first words he said, in essence, when he started his ministry and the last words he said on earth before he ascended to the Father were all about sharing our faith. They were all about fishing. Jesus said, “Go.” In the literal language, “go” means “as you are going, as you are living your life.” Christ was passionate. You could feel the passion. So once we understand the powerful purpose, then we will have this “reel” passion. We are passionate about the purpose.
Here’s something we need to understand. Here’s a major mistake that Christ followers make in the church. Please hear me very clearly on this. Most of us see the Gospel as “God and me” instead of seeing the Gospel as “God and the world.” Do you understand that? Most of us see the Gospel as God and me. We think, “It’s all about me—what makes me look good, what fills my boats, what helps me, what feeds me. It’s all about me and my deal and my growth and my maturity and me, me, me, my, my, my. God and me.”
But it’s not God and me. Biblical Christianity is God and the world. Scripture reads, “For God so loved the…world,” and, “Go unto all the… world.” If we are not white hot with passion about reaching those outside of ourselves, then we are missing Christianity. We are totally missing the boat.
Christianity is unique. It separates itself from all the other world religions because Jesus tells me when I get outside of myself and think about you, that’s when my needs are met. Did you hear that? When I get outside of myself and think about what? The world. Then guess what? That’s when Ed’s needs are met. But when I (I’m talking about myself) get selfish and whiny and worry about me and mine, I have missed the good news.
But I’m passionate. I’m a fisherman, man. That’s my purpose. So, if I’m purpose driven and I’ve got this “reel” passion, that means I should be optimistic.
Obviously, Christ chose fishermen because fishermen are optimistic, aren’t they? They’re always saying, “We’ll get ‘em tomorrow. Didn’t catch ‘em today, but I’m telling you tomorrow, man,” or “That next spot, that next cove or that next flat. We’re going to catch ‘em.”
You know fishermen will put the sun block on. They will go into mosquito infested area, go around you name it just to catch the fish. Let’s think about it. We’ve got to go where the fish are.
[A video clip is played of Ed fishing in on Andros Island. While fishing, Ed is speaking on the video.]
Ed: If we are going to truly go out into the world and reach people, we have to meet them where they are. Just like when you go fishing, we think like the fish. We have to think and know how people away from the Lord are going to feel, what they are going to say, and what they are going to react to and act to. A lot of people, though, when they go fishing, don’t want to really get dirty or wet or slimy. They go, “Man, I don’t want to be any part of that. It would be much easier for us to be kicking back at your house right now.”
I believe Christians who really are fishers of men are not worried about getting a little slimy and even try some different things. You know what I am saying to you. I’m talking about trying different flies, different lures, whatever to catch the fish. And Prescott [Ed is speaking to his fishing guide, Prescott Smith], every time you and I have fished and have not caught fish, you will say, “Ed, we will get them tomorrow.” I think that too, man. I always think the next cast, or the next flat, is going to have the big one.
Prescott: Eternal optimism. You gotta have it.
Ed: Christians should be the most optimistic people in the world. If they are not, I have got to wonder if they truly know the Lord. I really do. Be optimistic.
[The video ends and Ed speaks live from the stage again.]
You see, comfort doesn’t cut it in God’s economy. You look at the people over the thirteen years who have dropped by the wayside at Fellowship Church. By and large, they are people who wanted comfort. We are not a comfortable church. If you want comfort, you have come to the wrong place. I’m talking to Christians now. We don’t worry about comfort.
Fellowship Church is the most unselfish church I have ever seen. We are a church that challenges you. We will get in your face—close enough to smell your cologne. We get between you and your makeup to challenge you to get out there and fish. We’ve got to be optimistic. We’ve got to brave the elements. We’ve got to try new stuff, we’ve got to be creative, and we’ve got to be innovative. We’ve got to try this technique and that methodology. Sometimes we will catch fish, sometimes we won’t. But you know what? We don’t worry about catching fish. All we are suppose to do is fish. We just fish.
FISHERMEN HAVE REEL PERSISTENCE
We’ve got a “reel” purpose and we’ve got a “reel” passion. And if we have this reel passion going on, what’s going to happen? We’re going to have “reel” persistence. Fishermen are persistent. I almost used the word “patient,” but I didn’t. People say, “Well, Ed, you know, I don’t like to fish because I’m just not that patient. I’m just not. Come on, let’s go.”
That’s not really true. Fishermen are not that patient. We are persistent, but we are not patient. If you are persistent, then you are active, you are intentional. When you are persistent, guess what? You are going to see great things. You are going to see fish caught. You are going to have story after story in your life where people were cast to, reeled in, and caught by the grace and the power of God. And I am going to tell you something right up front. If you don’t have any recent good fish stories, you might be spending too much time in the marina.
[Another video clip of Ed on his fishing trip is played on the side screens.]
Ed: I think about fishermen who have caught all these great fish. They love to tell people stories. I think if someone is truly a follower of Christ, and they are a fisher of men, they will also have fishing stories and tell stories about how God used them to reach people for the kingdom. If I don’t have very many fish stories, any recent fish stories, then I’m not fishing.
You know what great fishermen do? Great fishermen just keep on casting, keep on working and keep on casting because you are not going to catch every soul. You are not going to catch every person. At Fellowship Church, we have many people that show up, Prescott, and they might connect a little bit, but they never take it. That’s between them and God. But most people do. Just because I lost some fish doesn’t mean that I stop fishing. ‘Cause you have seen me lose fish before.
Prescott: [Prescott is talking to Ed about a fish that he is trying to catch, but the fish will not take the bait.] Ed, he’s always hiding…that fish. He tried to eat it [the bait] twice but just missed it.
Ed: What was I doing wrong, man?
Prescott: You didn’t do anything wrong. You just missed it.
Ed: It’s also great accountability to have yourself mic’d up when you miss a fish. But you know what? When you think about it, God is always listening. Every word. Every single word we say.
[The video ends and Ed speaks live from the stage again.]
How long have you been a follower of Christ? A year? Five years? Ten years? Twenty years? Do you have any recent fish stories, any accounts of how God has used you in his redemptive plan in your body of water to cast, to share, and to reel in someone by the grace of God? Some of you are saying “Yes,” and you can name names and you can think about stories and accounts. But if it’s been a while, then something is wrong. If you have never done it, then I encourage you with the words of Christ, “Go. Go fishing.”
I would tell you, “Life is too short not to fish.” That’s why we are here. The time is brief. The Bible says we are here for just a twinkle of an eye. “Our lives are just like a vapor,” the Book of James says.
Speaking of fish stories, the most elusive fish to catch in saltwater, specifically shallow saltwater, is a fish called a permit. A permit is a pretty large fish, a bulky fish. They are brilliant fish. I’ve been saltwater flyfishing for twelve years. Every year I try to go somewhere and fish for a permit. Over the years, I’ve gone to Belize, I’ve gone to Honduras, I’ve gone to Mexico, and I’ve gone to the Bahamas. Many people fish for twenty years and never even hook a permit. So, man, I’m into permit. I’m kind of obsessed with catching a permit.
Well, two years ago, my son and I were fishing with Prescott in the Bahamas. While we were out… [A video clip of Ed on a fishing trip is played on the side screen. While the video is playing, Ed is speaking live from stage.] …miles and miles away from civilization, we spotted a permit, which is a rarity. I began casting to the permit in some high winds. That’s a nice shot [on the video, Ed bends over in the boat and the camera angle catches his back side]. Amazingly, as you will see, a permit, about a 25-pounder, ate my fly. I was, like, freaking out. The line gets caught on the reel and I want to show you what happens.
Prescott (on video): Watch the reel! Jump into the water.
[Ed speaking live on stage] Prescott, the brilliant guide that he is, jumped in the water with me and untangled the line for me. Now the fish is running toward the horizon.
Well, a giant storm was coming up. A permit is a very powerful fish, and I had to battle this fish and get him in before the storm took us out with lightning and everything else.
So, I jumped back on the bow of the boat. I fought this fish for about an hour. I will not show you the whole fight. Finally, we got the fish within ten feet of the boat and you can see the fish coming up right here. [On the video, the fish that Ed has been trying to catch is swimming right next to the boat.] Again, they are very large, very powerful fish. Here’s Prescott. He tries to grab the fish by the tail and the tail is going to start to thrash around and he is going to try to swim off a little bit. He swims off. So I’m thinking, “This is it. This is the ultimate fish and I’ve got him!” Prescott has got him and then…the line pops! [On the video, the fish is seen swimming away.] Oh, I get teary watching that.
That’s one of the worst days of my life. Did I stop fishing? Two years ago did I say, “Well, I’m going to retire my fly rod. It’s over. I’m never going to go to Belize, the Bahamas or Mexico again. See ya!”
Are you kidding me? I didn’t say that. Once a year, my son and I go somewhere fishing in saltwater and I’m always thinking about the permit. I’ve got permit on my mind.
Do you have fish stories? If you understand your purpose and understand the passion, then you are going to have persistence. You’re going to be optimistic and you are going to brave the elements.
FISHERMEN HAVE A REEL PARTNERSHIP
But there is one more fisheristic we’ve got to understand. We’ve got to have “reel” partnership. This is so cool. We’ve got to have reel partnership. We have reel purpose. We have reel passion and reel persistence, but we have to have reel partnership.
Again, let’s remember the goal here. The goal—putting the ball through the net, reeling the fish in—is what? It’s not to be catchers, but to be fishers.
[Another video clip of Ed’s fishing trip on Andros Island is played. Ed is speaking on the video.]
Ed: Jesus never told us to be catchers of men. He says, “Just fish.” You fish. You cast. You throw the Gospel out there. He will do the catching. That’s really the way a guide works, because you [speaking to Prescott], in essence, do the catching. I couldn’t do this by myself. I couldn’t come out here and find these fish like this.
Prescott: The same thing with me. I can’t do it by myself. That’s what a team is for. But everything in life is like when you throw that fly out there. You have no control whether that fish is going to eat it or not. It’s the same thing as you say, putting God’s word out there. Some of the seeds are going to take root, some aren’t. The fish shows us that. We may catch ten bone fish, but we are never going to catch every fish we cast out.
Ed: There is one thing I have learned over the years as I have fished with Prescott. As I said, Prescott is an outstanding guide. I always do better when I do exactly what he says in this fishing game. The same is true, Prescott, with life. We do what the ultimate guide says, our heavenly Father, then our life is always going to go better, isn’t it? But we have that tendency to try to do our own thing, to make our own cast.
Prescott: That’s a natural urge we are fighting against all the time.
Ed: Right. So often, I think, Prescott, the Lord shows us people to talk to, people to help, he puts them on our heart and sometimes we respond to it; and other times, sadly, we miss it because we are thinking about other things. We may be trying to do this deal or make this amount of money or chase this fun fix, as opposed to really being sensitive and listening to what the Lord says.
Prescott: Think about a guide. A guide who loves doing for you just as your heavenly Father loves you. As bad as you want that fish, I want that ten times more.
Ed: Fish on.
[On the video, Ed has caught a fish and is reeling him in.]
[Ed speaks live on stage.] What it is, I listened to Prescott, saw the fish, presented the fly, and bang, he’s on.
[The video ends and Ed speaks from the stage again.]
That is a picture, an illustration of what we are all about. At Fellowship Church, we are partners with the Lord. The Lord, himself, is our guide. We’ve got to listen to him. We can partner with him once we step over the line of faith and receive Christ.
PARTNER WITH THE LOCAL CHURCH
Well, also, we can partner with the local church. The local church is the hope of the world. Jesus instituted and anointed one organization—the local church. He set it up and we can partner together with the local churches.
Every time you see the word “church” mentioned in the New Testament—except for two times, to be exact—it refers to a specific local church. We are to be a part of a church, and as we partner with the church here is what we can do. We can go out and use our sphere of influence and our local body of water that God has given us. And we, by God’s grace and mercy, can become fishers of men and we can bring people into the church.
A healthy church is a healthy body of water. A healthy church does not have a bunch of big fat marlin swimming around in it. That is not a healthy church. That’s a church that is stunted and a church that is out of balance.
A healthy church has three types of people, three types of fish, in it. It’s got some people, some fish, who are going to hell in the church. Did you hear that? They are on their way to hell and they attend regularly a healthy church. If you go to a church and there is not a bunch of hellbound people there, get out of the church. It is not a biblically functioning community.
The second group of people are baby fish. They have been born again into the family of God and they are little babies. They are like little guppies saying, “Oh, yeah, I’m part of this local church. This is cool! Yeah! I’m a fish.”
Then you have got the third group, a bunch of big fat marlin. If the big fat marlins are doing their job, then they are going out and inviting their hellbound friends to come to church. In turn, the hellbound friends are becoming Christ followers and they are growing into what? Healthy marlin.
People ask me all the time, “Ed, why is Fellowship Church so exciting, man? I’ve never been to a church like it. It is so enthusiastic.”
Do you know why? It’s very simple. Because we have adopted God’s purpose—not mine, not yours, not the staff’s—God’s purpose. We go fishing and we are very passionate about it. We don’t allow mission drift around here.
Also, we are persistent. We keep on fishing. Everything we do is about fishing. Everything we do has a hook in it. Whether it’s a song, it has a hook in it; a video, a hook in it; an activity, a hook in it; children’s church, a hook in it; youth ministry, a hook in it; small groups, a hook in it; mission activities, a hook in it.
Everything has a hook in it. If it does not, we throw it out. Because of that, we are partnering with the Lord and he is empowering us to do this stuff. It’s a God thing that you are seeing here. It’s a miracle of the grace and the mercy and the energy of our fanatical fishing guide, God. We are in partnership with him.
The Apostle Paul understood this. Here is what he said in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.” Isn’t that cool? “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”
When God wants to grow up a bunch of mature fish, he looks for the most fertile body of water around. Why has Fellowship Church grown from 150 to over 18,000 in average attendance in 13 years? Why? Is it because of marketing? Is it because of the contemporary music? Is it because of casual dress? Are you kidding me? It’s about God! It’s about God! He is the one. We simply understand his purpose and try to play it out with passion, and we are persistent and we are in partnership with him.
CATCH AND RELEASE
Now, when I fish, I practice something called “catch and release.” Are you familiar with that? I don’t keep fish. If I have to eat one, I mean, every now and then, I would. But 99.9% of all the fish I catch, I let them go. I reel them in and let them go. Do you know why I let them go? Because when I let them go, when I release them, I know they are going to get big and strong and I can catch them again. They are going to feed on all the crabs and the little mullet stuff that swims in the ocean. I also know that they will reproduce and make babies. Then the babies will grow up bigger. I just want to do that for the ecosystem, so I just like to catch and release.
I kind of left you hanging with my fishing trip two years. I have been trying to catch that permit to kind of avenge that loss, that tragedy when my line broke. Well, a year later we went fishing in that same area. Check out what happened.
[A video clip of the fishing trip is played. On this trip, Ed caught the permit. The video shows him in the water holding the fish, ready to release it back into the wild.]
Prescott: There we go.
Ed: It’s not because of my skill. It’s all about the guide.
Prescott: It’s a beautiful permit.
[Ed speaking live] I can tell that. [On the video, Ed kisses the fish.] I’m showing the love. You have got to love to fish. And here is my son. [Ed’s son is in the water holding the fish and is going to release it.] Watch now. Watch this. He is releasing the permit.
Check this out. Think about the local church. Think about the people who have been reeled in by the grace, mercy and the power of God. Think about how we catch them and release them to let them grow and mature and become big, fat, honkin’ marlin.
Friends, life is too short not to fish.
[A final video of Ed speaking is played.]
Ed: Do you know what? Jesus tells us to be fishers of men. Jesus will do the catching. All we do is fish. That is all we are to do. We are to cast and cast and cast. We are to cast by showing the love we have for them that comes from Christ, by serving them, by helping them, by sharing with them, and by telling them how we were caught by the hook of the Gospel. That’s how we fish. So, Prescott, it’s all about casting, man.