Fishing without a pole?

What's at the heart and soul of successful evangelism

Ron Halvorsen, Jr. is pastor/chaplain, Mt. Ellis Academy Church, Bozeman, Montana

"And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:1, 2).

It was to be a once-in-a-lifetime fly fishing adventure on the famous Yakima River. Like most of my fishing experiences with Dad, we pulled out at such an unearthly hour nobody saw us leave. Ever since childhood, when I began following my father up rivers and down rivers, over lakes and through lakes, I've tried to reason with him. "Dad, if the birds aren't awake and the worms aren't awake, it just goes to reason that the fish probably aren't awake either." But when it comes to fishing with Dad, reason has little to do with it. It's more about passion.

We had been warned that it got very hot in the canyons. We were prepared for it. The only problem was that at that early hour it was 42 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade—and everything in the canyons was shade! The man with the raft looked at us in our shorts and T-shirts and said encouragingly, "It will warm up when the sun comes up over the canyon walls." No sweat. Literally, no sweat. The problem was, it would be four more hours before that happened!

Pushing off from shore, I whipped the oars out and paddled wildly. It wasn't my fervor for fishing ... it was just that I was freezing and wanted to keep moving. Dad, on the other hand, was casting as soon as we hit the water. I paddled hard across the fast current, ducking my head at appropriate times so that I wouldn't be Dad's first catch.

At last I had us in the drift I wanted. Putting down the oars, I threw out the drag anchor and reached for my fly rod—it wasn't there! I frantically searched the boat—which only takes about ten seconds when you're in a raft.

My heart sank, probably much like the fly rod had. It was gone. Worse yet, it wasn't my fly rod—it was my father's, a beautiful rod and reel. I must have knocked it out of the boat when I put the oars in. I should have been more careful. I should have taken better care of it. But I hadn't and it was gone.

Dad was sitting in the front of the raft— fishing, humming, happy, and content. I sat in the back of the raft—not humming, not happy, and certainly not content. It was going to be a long day! There I sat, a frozen fisherman without a fishing rod on our once-in-a-lifetime fly-fishing adventure.

I wondered, How should I tell him? How should I break the news? What about, Nice weather we're having, Dad. Oh, by the way, your expensive fly rod is somewhere at the bottom of this huge river. No, it wasn't nice weather.

What about, Hey, Dad, having any luck? Catch anything? Rainbow trout? Wild trout? Brown trout? Fly rod? No, that wouldn't work. What about, Dad, if you had a friend who lost a fly rod in this river, how well would his fly rod float? Or perhaps the mathematical approach, Dad, what do you think the odds are of going on a fly-fishing trip and losing the fishing pole in the river before your first cast? Finally I gave up. I decided on the direct approach with a plea for help. I relived the moment, "Hey, Dad, have you seen my fly rod?" The two of us made a frantic ten-second search of the raft. It still wasn't there.

So I made a very long fly-fishing trip with out a fly rod.

Whenever the raft guide came by to check on us that day, I rowed harder. He took pictures of us along the journey. In every picture, I am rowing. He asked how we were doing and if there was anything he could get us. My dad said I should tell him what happened, and he would probably get us another pole to use. But I was too proud and too embarrassed to admit what had happened. So whenever he came by, I rowed all the harder. So he not only thought I was a fisherman, but a kind and thoughtful fisherman!

When he wasn't around, I had plenty of time to reflect on my once-in-a-lifetime Yakima fly-fishing adventure. Sitting in that dingy, I had time to go through all the stages of grief—some more than once—like denial, anger, bargaining . . . !

That day I did a lot of things. Eventually the sun came up over the canyon walls, and I thawed, and then burned. But I didn't do what I went to do. I went to fly fish the Yakima, but I didn't. I got up early. I froze. I worked hard. I reflected. I got blisters. I rowed and rowed. I covered a lot of river. But I didn't get anywhere.

I wonder if you see what I'm get ting at? Maybe there is something we can gain by my foolish loss. Without a pole, you are not on a fishing trip. You are just a goosebump-making, backbreaking, muscle-aching rafter. You are only an embarrassed sightseer without a rod and reel. You are not a fisherman. How quickly you can paddle doesn't prove you are. The type of lunch you bring doesn't confirm it. Just because you take pictures along the way doesn't make you a genuine fisherman. You can dress like a fisher man. You can have all the right lures and flies. You can even know all the places the fish are. But without a fishing pole you are not a fisherman. You are just a tired rafter.

Paul's determination

Paul wants us to know that: "For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2).

Paul knew what it was like to have everything for the trip except the pole. He knew what he was talking about. Paul the Christian had been Saul the Pharisee. Before the road to Damascus he was evangelistic with out the gospel. What a waste!

Before Damascus he was fervent. He was sincere. He was passionate. He quoted scripture. He upheld standards. He fasted and prayed. He went to all the right schools. He went to all the right synagogues. He was at all the right stonings. He could carry his Bible and beat people at the same time. He could preach with conviction, even without the Cross. He could hold coats and cast stones because he was religious, but not redeemed. He was strict, but not saved. He could watch Stephen look into heaven and accuse Stephen of being in league with hell. Saul could quote scripture and with the same lips consent to Stephen's murder.

Saul upheld the law, but not the Cross. He knew how to count to seven and which day truly was the Sabbath day, but he didn't see the grace in it. He understood everything about the sanctuary except the heart of it: the blood of the Lamb and the mercy seat. Somehow he forgot that the only way anyone could ever see the law of God would be to look through the blood of the Lamb and the mercy seat—the only way it will ever really be seen.

Saul knew what kind of meat was clean and what kind was unclean, but for the life of him he didn't truly know how a person got clean before God. He could preach about judgment, and he could judge his brother, persecute him too. He could crush the hurting and whip the weak, but he didn't know how to preach sermons that could bring hope and help to desperate people. What a waste of breath. What a waste of time. What a squandering of a rich inheritance. What a way to trash a God-given calling.

So how could he share life more abundantly with others? Saul preached standards and claimed orthodoxy, but he didn't really know Christ. What a dangerous condition to be in. What a dangerous situation for those in his audience.

Crooked smiles and cold hearts

When people come to a church that has forgotten Christ, keeping the law becomes a matter of merit—not a natural heart response. When people come to a church that has left the Holy Spirit behind, they lose their smiles.

They become critical—with crooked, strained smiles, pointed fingers and stone-cold hearts. They persecute others. They talk more about the sins of the saints than the blood of the Savior. They talk about fear and evil and say little about faith. They talk about man and even the devil, but scarcely utter a meaningful word about our saving God.

They talk about the Holy and the Most Holy, and yet in their cruelty there is nothing holy. They forget all about the mercy seat. Have mercy! They know what happens to a person when they die, but they have not experienced what happens to a per son when they really live with and for Jesus. They have the biblical under standing of the fires of hell, and yet have not felt the saving fire of the Holy Spirit. They have convictions— but no Cross. Perhaps worst of all, they are sincere—but not saved!

Those of us who have gone fishing without a pole know this is true. Saul found out it was true. Saul had pro claimed and stood for all kinds of orthodoxy, but he didn't know the gospel. Until on a road heading to Damascus, on his way to persecute somebody, he met Someone. On his way to imprison others, he was set free. On his way to stone somebody, Saul was offered the Rock of Ages.

Then the one who had been taught so much in seminary, but knew so little says, "I am determined." The Greek word is krino. It means I have thought it through, I have resolved, I have made a definite decision not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Pastor, evangelist, how determined are you?

Some may think that Paul tends to exaggerate at times. But I say he wasn't prone to exaggeration—he just knew what it was like to go fishing without a pole, and he was deter mined never to do it again.

When Saul met Jesus on that road, it so changed his life that he had to change his name. He was a different man. He still traveled, but he traveled differently. He still brought news, but now it was the "good news." In fact, it was the greatest news df all. It was the story of Jesus.


Just a day after my disastrous fishing trip, Dad wanted to take my little son fishing. I guess he wasn't giving up, at least on the next generation of Halvorsens. We drove down the road about a mile to the Point Defiance docks in Tacoma, Washington. My son, Ronnie III, was probably six or seven at the time. I stopped to buy some bait at the little store on the dock. I bought one small herring. I still remember that with tax it cost 11 cents. The clerk looked at me strangely as he took my money.

I took the bait out to the dock. Little Ronnie's eyes were big with excitement as Dad handed him his pole and I cut up the bait and put a small piece on the hook. I picked up Ronnie and the pole so he could see over the railing as we dropped the line. The other fishermen on the dock had their lines cast way out, dreaming of hooking a big salmon. They let their hooks and fancy bait sink deep into the current. Ronnie's line was just at the surface so he could watch the little fish that were there, biting at the bait that was just about their size.

I nodded sheepishly at Ronnie as he giggled, and the other fishermen watched. I explained that it was his first time fishing. I could see that they were not impressed with our technique.

We were both holding on to the pole when suddenly out of the corner of my eye I saw a silver flash. The pole bent in half. The drag on our reel was singing. You should have seen the excitement! Other fishermen were getting their lines out of the water and coming close to watch us land a huge salmon. They were applauding the little kindergartner who had caught the biggest fish of the morning. I just smiled with joy for my son—and thought to myself, What a difference it makes to have a fishing rod and hold on to it tightly.

Ronnie not only caught the biggest fish that day, he changed everybody's fishing technique. On the way to the car, I looked back at the dock. All those big fishermen were putting tiny pieces of bait on their hooks and holding their poles over the railing with their bait just at the surface.

"I am determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified." Next to Jesus, Paul may well be the greatest evangelist the Christian church has ever seen. And it's no wonder. Do you see how tightly he holds on to his fishing pole?

Excerpted from the sermon "Adventist Alzheimer's" by Ron Halvorsen, Jr.



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Ron Halvorsen, Jr. is pastor/chaplain, Mt. Ellis Academy Church, Bozeman, Montana

October 2003

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