I’m back in Seattle for a few days to switch gears and go from “fishing lodge” guy back to “church leader” guy. At our worship service Sunday at Bethany North I had that distinct feeling I had just time travelled…the day previous I had been guiding in Queen Charlotte Strait miles from the nearest town or residence and the next day I’m leading church in Shoreline, WA. Though dizzying to keep track of, so far this summer has been an amazing privilege to lead both the fishing lodge and the church back home. This coming Sunday I have the opportunity to preach 2 sermons and do our church’s first baptism in Puget Sound (at Richmond Beach Saltwater Park). Come Monday, I’ll be back on a floatplane headed north to Canada again for a 2 week shift.
One of the things I cherish about the fishing business is the chance to be a fishing guide. I started guiding on the Inside Passage when I was 13 years and spent the next 18 summers guiding every single summer, every single day. Every 4 days the lodge where I worked would get a new batch of guests but the guide staff would continue to go out every single day. Wind. Rain. Sun. Hail. It didn’t matter, as long as the conditions were safe, which they were 99.4% of the time, we would go. And though chasing fish is our primary occupation, what a good guide really does is get others to talk about themselves and stimulate conversation for a great experience. Trust me, spending 11 or 12 hours straight on a 23′ boat with a few other people can get to feel like a very long day unless you can create a healthy culture where people are talking and laughing and discussing and getting to know each other. Someone once told me fishing is long stretches of nothing punctuated with a few moments of chaos. Learning to make the most of those “long stretches” is what separates the good guides from the bad.
Last week I had several guests out fishing the calm waters of the north shore of Malcolm Island and though the dawn “bite” was slow, we got into a couple nice chinook shortly after 7am which had our boat really pumped up. After fishing slowed again, the conversation turned to religion. I explained that I was not only a fisherman but also a pastor. One of the men, deeply religious, was intrigued by this and was excited to test me a bit on my biblical knowledge. “You say you’re a pastor, well here you go. What do you believe about _____”. As he started to “test me” a bit about my knowledge of the bible and my beliefs on different religious “hot issues” I found myself feeling a little under attack. Though I am new to the pastor world, I can already tell you that if somebody starts their question with, “well…tell me what you believe about ______” the conversation is always going to disinterest me. These kind of questions, trying to get my sound bite worth of opinion on hot topics like gay marriage, homosexuals in the pulpit, abortion, women in leadership, current Catholic sexual allegations, etc etc etc are less about stimulating healthy conversation and more like finely placed powder kegs trying to get an argument started. In the Christian faith, we don’t need to start with the most difficult and controversial issues that the church faces. These questions must be addressed, but only after the essence of the faith, the person and saving work of Jesus Christ, is fully understood. After we have understood the core of the faith we can come together as God’s people, the church, and prayerfully consider the difficult intersections of faith, culture, and scripture to discuss the difficult challenges that we face in our current world. But let me reiterate, these are issues to arrive at once the heart of our faith has been established in Jesus Christ. Scripture tells us, “Faith is the source of our hope, Hope makes all things possible, Faith Love and Hope abide, And the greatest of these is love.” This is my ‘boil down’ of I Corinthians 13. The source of the Christian life is faith in Jesus Christ which gives us love and hope to be renewed to be more like Him in order to be a blessing to our world. This is a healthy starting point for the Christian walk.
Back in my boat, on the Inside Passage, the fishing guest kept the interrogation going. “Okay, so you are a pastor, well tell me how big the wall was?”
“The wall?” I ask.
“Yes the wall Nehemiah built around Jerusalem when the Jewish people returned from exile in Babylon, how many feet long was it?”
“Well first off, I believe it was in cubits and not feet,” I said (proud of myself to at least remember this much). “But other than that I don’t know the exact measurements.”
Here he rattled off his well memorized dimensions to the ancient Jerusalem wall: “The wall was 2000.3 inches in thick in diameter and 1,702,462.635 inches long.” At the very same time, just off to our port side of the boat, a pair of humpback whales surfaced some 100 meters away. Without warning their breaths punctuated the otherwise still waters. PPPBBHUUHH sounded their blow holes. We fell silent in the boat. PPPBBHHUHHH. They breathed again, a mother and calf humpback. They made a few more appearances, circling and feeding on the bait fish and krill on the ocean’s surface and then with a flip of their tails, they both descended back into the ocean’s depths. And our boat fell perfectly silent. It was as if God, the very God that empowered Nehemiah to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem 3000 years ago, gave us a very clear message: “Don’t just focus on the measurements and facts and figures of my history, open your eyes and witness Me now. I am all around you.”
We’re all guilty of it, focusing on the “facts and figures” of religion instead of being captivated in child-like wonder of what God is doing now in the world all around us. On this morning, with this appearance from a couple of marine mammals, the message was crystal clear again. God wants us to see Him in our every day surroundings and tell these stories to the world. Let the scholars wrestle with the measurements, let’s be transformed by the witness of God today.