Sermon illustrations


Learning to Catch Bonefish

For many years my hobby has been bonefishing. It is essentially a sport. You don’t normally eat bonefish—they are too bony. The Latin name is Albula vulpes—white fox. The bonefish is a wily fish—very hard to catch—that swims in tropical waters of the world, as in the Florida Keys and the Bahamas. They are normally caught in shallow water—knee deep (twelve to fifteen inches) is perfect.

Bonefishing combines hunting and fishing; you look for them and hopefully spot them before you cast to them. I have introduced dozens of friends to bonefishing, most recently my friend the late John Paul Jackson. I began reading about bonefishing in 1964.

For some reason I was immediately fascinated. I was cautioned, however—don’t try it without a guide to help you find them. You need a guide for two reasons: to pole (punting) the boat and to help you find them. I went to a fishing camp in Jewfish Creek in Key Largo. I said to the manager, “I want to go bonefishing. Will you rent me a boat?” He replied, “Do you have a guide?” “No,” I said. “Sir, are you a bonefisherman?” “I will be after today.” “Have you ever been bonefishing before?” “No sir.” “Let me explain: nobody—no one—ever goes bonefishing for the first time without a guide.”

I was sure I did not need a guide. For one thing, I did not want to pay the fee (not cheap), and I did not want to admit I needed a guide. I simply said to the manager, “Will you rent me a boat?” “Certainly.” “Would you show me on a map where to go?” “Certainly. Head out Barnes Sound for about twenty minutes, come to the cut that leads to Largo Sound. Bonefish are on the other side of Largo Sound. Good luck.” I came back some eight hours later. “How many did you catch?” the manager asked. “There weren’t any,” I replied. Someone overhearing the conversation said, “I saw you in Largo Sound. There were fish all around you.” Almost humiliated at my failure, I left and vowed never to do that again.

However, I read a few more articles in fishing magazines and knew what I had done wrong. I returned to the same fishing camp and went to the same spot—looking everywhere for bonefish. I saw none. Everybody seemed to catch them but me. Months later, swallowing my pride, I yielded to the idea of a guide. He said, “Meet me at Mayo’s Fishing Camp in Largo Sound.” I thought to myself, “This guide doesn’t know what he is doing. There are no fish there.” We met at eight o’clock on June 1, 1965. I will never forget it.

He headed us in his boat directly to the same spot where I had looked in vain for months and months. Within minutes he whispered, “Look carefully, eleven o’clock, eighty feet. Huge bonefish. Eight to ten pounds.” “Where?” I asked. “Too late, he’s gone.” But minutes later, the guide calmly said, “Twelve o’clock. Moving to one, now two o’clock.” “Oh,” I moaned. “So that’s a bonefish.” The fish—by dozens—had been in the same area the whole time.

They had been under my nose but I could not see them. Before the day was over, I hooked five bonefish. I could not do it without the guide, however. Jesus said of the Holy Spirit that He would “guide” us into all truth (John 16:13).

The work of the Holy Spirit is to reveal what is there. Right there in the Word. Under our nose. Paul said that the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God because they are “foolishness” to him.

R.T. Kendall, Pigeon Religion: Holy Spirit, Is That You?: Discerning Spiritual Manipulation, Charisma House, 2016.

Obeying Even When It is Difficult

Fishermen with any experience on the Sea of Galilee knew that the optimal time to catch fish was during the night in shallow water. During the day, the fish dove deep, where it was far more difficult to successfully sink nets to catch them. However, when Jesus instructed Peter to fish during the day, he obeyed—even though he was tired and not completely certain Jesus knew what He was asking.

Perhaps you remember a time when God asked you to do something beyond what you thought reasonable. You did not know if what you were hearing was the right thing to do because it appeared so counterintuitive. Maybe you are in such a season right now. Understand without a shadow of doubt that you will never go wrong obeying God. Peter did as Jesus asked and pulled in so many fish that his nets began to break. The same will be true in your situation. You may not know exactly why God is calling you to do as He instructs, but you can be sure that when you do as He says, you will experience a blessing beyond your imagination.

Charles F. Stanley, God’s Purpose for Your Life: 365 Devotions, Thomas Nelson, 2020.

Toss them to Me

A priest who has spent a fruitless day fishing picked out three fat fish in the market. “Before you wrap them,” he said to the store manager,” toss them to me, one by one. That way I’ll be able to tell the monsignor I caught them and I’ll be speaking the truth.”

Bits & Pieces, July 21, 1994, p. 15.

You Can Do Better

In his excellent book, The Magnificent Story, James Bryan Smith shares this short little anecdote from the world of bumper stickers. While funny, it also brings up the commonplace idolatry that exists in modern life.

I once saw a bumper sticker that said, “Fishing is my life.” My first thought was, That guy can do better. But my second thought was, Sounds like idolatry. A better bumper sticker would read: “Fishing: Thanks, God.”

Taken from The Magnificent Story  by James Bryan Smith. Copyright (c) 2018 by James Bryan Smith. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com