The Rev. Michael Rapp: Fishin’ out West

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A lot of people admire Jesus for being a healer, a wise man, a good guy or God. Those are nice, but I’m impressed that he was a good angler.

I’ve been trying to learn to fly fish for a year and half now, and I’m still lost. I grew up fishing lakes in Minnesota, where you stick a worm on a metal hook and then throw it in the water with what I always considered a regular pole, but have recently learned that having a spinning reel is like training wheels and live bait is cheating.

Well, I haven’t yet discovered how to pick the right fly, manage to cast it without tangling in the reeds or my own hat, or even figure out where a fish might be swimming around in the river.

People tell me, “Just think like a fish.” I don’t know what that means. I can’t breathe underwater or swim in an inch of stream. So I’m impressed when I hear Jesus say, “Throw the net over the other side” (Lk. 5:4), and a bunch of fish actually show up in the net.

The Gospel writers used fishing as an analogy for evangelization. Jesus told the disciples, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mt. 4:19, Mk. 1:17). The miracle mentioned above first attracted the disciples to Jesus, then taught them that if they listen to his voice and have faith in him, they will manage to win the hearts of all people for God (Jn 21:11).

When I read the Acts of the Apostles, I’m amazed by how many people “received the Word and were baptized” (Acts 2:41).

There were thousands at a time. Christianity has grown over the last 2,000 years to more than 2 billion baptized Christians in our day.

It has grown in fits and spurts, relying at times on nets like family loyalties, wholesale conversion of nations, and miraculous interventions. More recent history has emphasized the individual person so strongly that evangelization has relied more on the natural attraction of Jesus Christ to the individual, like live bait fishing one at a time.

Moffat County is “the Real West” and here the outlaw’s fast-and-hard life makes for interesting evangelization.

Fishing for men in a culture where rebellion and violence are marks of honor certainly makes things interesting. You can’t simply say, “Your grandmother loves Jesus, so you should,” or “Jesus saved me from the wild life that would have killed me” if a person is afraid of being tamed.

Evangelization out West is like fly-fishing.

There are plenty of people who don’t claim Jesus Christ, but there are no guarantees — it takes a great deal of patience, creativity, and technique. It’s tough, but just like fishing, there’s something beautiful and enjoyable even when you don’t succeed.

Nevertheless, the good news of Jesus Christ is, in fact, still reeling in the souls. Here are a few landmark examples:

Rev. William Byrd Craig was in his 20s before he was caught by the Gospels and eventually spent his life preaching and starting churches in Colorado.

Our town is named after him.

Buffalo Bill Cody was baptized in 1917, insisting on becoming a Christian before he died.

Molly Brown helped open several Christian orphanages, schools, and famous Denver churches. These are some of the famous examples.

Most of the saints of Moffat are buried in our cemetery, or quietly reading their Bibles at night, or inviting their friends at school to join them for church on Sunday. Jesus seems to want a few outlaws in Heaven … at least I can tell he’s still fishin’ out West.

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