I met Bentley and his grandfather Steve while fishing at Pride Lake, in Scott County Park. This is the story of God’s gracious providence.
A three-Fold Purpose
For me, there is a three-fold purpose for sharing testimonies about my gospel encounters with people.
First, I want to give glory to God for the times He allows me to watch Him work. “But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17). “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
Second, I want to encourage my fellow Christians to be about our Father’s business, which is, in part, reaching the lost with the gospel of Jesus Christ. “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4). “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Third, unbelievers might providentially stumble upon one of my blogs or videos, read or hear the gospel, and repent and believe. “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age'” (Matthew 28:18-20).
But there is a risk.
At the Risk of Losing a Reward
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward . . . And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward” (Matthew 6:1-2, 5).
A Fine Line
There is a fine line between the three-fold purpose for sharing testimonies I described above and practicing my righteousness before other people. Admittedly and ashamedly I have not always stayed on the right side of that line. I have posted videos with the hope of high view counts. I have posted stories on social media with the hope of lots of “likes” and comments of “well done.” I have shared stories under the auspices of giving glory to God while there was an underlying hope that people would financially support my ministry.
“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
While I have repented of these sins and while, over the last several years, God has graciously brought about sanctification in this area of my life, I must be watchful and diligent. I continue to need accountability and God has graciously provided it through my family, my pastors, the rest of my church family, and a few friends. I am thankful.
So, at the risk of losing a heavenly reward, I want to share with you a testimony of God’s gracious providence. I cannot share this story without making myself a part of it. I was an actor in this, one of God’s sovereign plays. But my part was very small and God most certainly could have used anyone else. More important than my role is the fact that I am a witness to what God did. As an eyewitness, I want to share with you a story, not of what I did, but a story of what God did.
Let’s go fishing.
Taking the Day Off
I hadn’t intended to take the entire day off. But for most Sundays, it’s rare for me to take an entire day off–a day that does not include some form of evangelism. There is neither boasting nor complaining in that statement. It simply is what it is.
It was a few minutes before 6:00 AM when I gathered my fishing gear out of the garage and climbed into my car to make the 12-mile drive to Pride Lake. Pride Lake is a small body of water nestled inside Scott County Park. I’ve fished there for several years, catching crappie, bluegill, and the occasional, accidental bass.
Just a few days prior, I had my best-ever morning of fishing at Pride Lake. I caught 26 crappies in just two hours. Lest you think this is just a fish story, I have video evidence. I make videos for Mahria. She enjoys watching me catch fish. So, the videos allow her to enjoy the fishing when she can’t be there with me. I don’t share them publicly, but in this case, I’ll make an exception.
The bite was much slower this day. I only caught six before it was time for the morning’s live YouTube broadcast of Morning Devotions. Following Morning Devotions, I fished for a few more hours, catching another half-dozen fish.
I spent the next few hours until Mahria came home from work putzing about the house. I had thought of hitting the streets for a few hours of crosswalking.
“What would you think if I took the rest of the day off and headed back out to the lake until dinner?” I asked Mahria.
She took me by the shoulders, simply smiled, and said, “Go.”
Steve and Bentley
I could feel myself relax as I pulled into the lake’s small, dirt parking lot. It hadn’t been a stressful day; there’s just something relaxing for me about casting a line into the water.
I pulled my gear out of the backseat and started to walk toward my current favorite spot. I saw a man about my age and a young boy along the shore. They were the only other two people at the lake. The man was sitting in a lawn chair and watching his pole. The boy was fumbling with a fishing rod that was at least three feet taller than he was.
The boy looked up from his pole, made eye contact with me, and immediately started walking toward me with his pole in hand.
“Can you help me?” He asked as he extended his pole toward me while holding the end of his fishing line in the opposite hand.
His name was Bentley. The size of a 13-year old, he was only ten.
“Sure! How can I help?” I asked.
Together, Bentley and I walked back to his fishing spot, which is where I met his grandfather, Steve.
“He just got that pole today,” Steve explained.
“Can I see your pole?” I asked Bentley.
Bentley, without hesitation and with hopefulness, handed me his pole. It was an eight-footer. The spinning reel attached to the pole was appropriate for a pole that size. The line on the reel? Well, it was heavy enough to tow a disabled vehicle. And there was too much of it, which caused the line to easily foul.
The rig was suitable for catching catfish or carp–some large species of fish that lives at the bottom of a lake. But to catch bluegill or crappie, the rig was too big. But, that’s the gear Bentley had so we were going to make it work.
“Do you have any tackle?” I asked.
Bentley looked at me as if I had just spoken French.
“Do you have hooks and weights and bobbers?” I asked.
“Oh! Yes!” Bentley replied.
Bentley reached for a large, soft-shelled case. It had many compartments and there was something in each one. Bentley found the items for which I asked. Like his rod and reel, Bentley’s tackle was suitable for fishing on the Mississippi River, but not for catching anything on little Pride Lake.
I reached into one of my jig boxes and removed the jig I have used for years to catch bluegill and crappie at Pride Lake. It was a small, blue, tubular jig with a white, feathered tail. I removed a 1/8th ounce, black with yellow eyes, jig head. Having attached the plastic body to the jig head, I showed the combination to Bentley.
“I caught 26 fish on this jig the other day.”
Bentley’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped. He gasped with excitement. I smiled.
I attached the jig to Bentley’s line.
“Now. Let’s pick a bobber. Since your line is so heavy, we’re going to have to use a bigger bobber so you will be able to cast it.
I looked through Bentley’s tackle box and picked a suitable bobber. I showed Bentley my pole so he could see how much distance should be between his bobber and the jig.
“Once you cast, let the bobber sit for a second or two. And then retrieve it at about a foot at a time. This will cause the jig to rise and fall in the water, making it look like an injured baby fish or insect.
I cast my line into the water and illustrated what I was trying to teach Bentley.
I pointed to the spillway a hundred yards or so away. “I’ll be fishing over there. That’s where I’ve been catching the crappie. If you need anything, just gimme a holler. And your welcome to come over and fish by me, if you like.”
Both Bentley and his grandfather thanked me for the help.
Transported Back in Time
The corners of my mouth may have touched my ears as I walked away, the smile was so big on my face. I was immediately transported back in time, in my mind. I was 13 again, the time when my dad and I had taken up fishing. We were clueless. We knew it, but we didn’t care.
Our first few trips to Puddingstone Lake were, shall we say, unproductive. My dad thought bigger bait would catch bigger fish. So, he hooked a cooked chicken neck and cast it into the water. It hit the water like a depth charge. I expected to see dead fish float to the surface. Did I mention we were clueless?
Then we met an older man (he was probably the age I am today) named “Catfish Charlie.” Charlie took us under his wing and patiently (oh, so patiently) taught us how to fish for trout and catfish. Along the way, I learned how to fish for bluegill.
My dad and I were hooked, and but good. There were days, many days when we would be at the lake twice a day–morning and evening. We would fish for trout and bluegill in the morning and catfish at night. We caught lots of fish.
As I progressed through my teenage years, my relationship with my dad (who had been my best friend my entire, short life) deteriorated. My dad, who I, as a boy, considered to be the smartest man on the planet, was now, in the mind of a then 16-year-old knucklehead, the dumbest man on the planet. It would take another four or five years for me to realize that it wasn’t my dad who got stupid over time.
Things got so rough that the only time it seemed my dad and I could have civil conversations was when we were at the lake. Neither of us knew the Lord. But I believe that God, in His gracious providence, used fishing to preserve our sin-ladened, father/son relationship. I am thankful.
My dad died more than 20 years ago. As I walked away from Bentley to my fishing spot, it seemed like old times. And I was thankful. There were no tears. Those would come later.
Fishing with Bentley
I had only cast a couple of times before I landed my first fish of the afternoon–a 1.5-pound crappie. After taking a gratuitous selfie with my catch, I held it up and hollered to Steve, “Would you like to keep this one?”
Steve appreciated and declined the offer. I tossed it back in the water and cast my line again. Moments later, I noticed Bentley making his way toward me with his pole in hand.
No sooner had Bentley arrived at my spot that I hooked fish #2.
“Do you wanna reel this one in?” I asked.
“No; that’s okay. I wanna catch my own,” Bentley said.
You don’t have to be a 57-year-old man to be prideful. You can be a ten-year-old boy.
I reeled in the fish (another crappie, but smaller than the last one), quickly unhooked it, and threw it back in the water.
Bentley, standing just a foot or two to my right, swung his massive pole back. As he made the forward motion, Bentley exclaimed, “I’m going right where you were!”
Such breaches of etiquette are to be expected with new, young fishermen. I let it slide. I really wanted Bentley to catch something.
I coached Bentley on his casting. I explained to him where bluegill and crappie like to hang out, based on the topographical features of the water in front of us. And I cautioned him not to cast too close to the fallen trees. Bentley listened, but he lacked both the maturity and skill to master his lessons. Bentley is ten, after all.
Within a few minutes, Bentley gave up and headed back to his spot next to his grandfather. Bentley also had the patience of a ten-year-old.
As often happens with schooling fish, what seemed to be a good and consistent bite quickly dissipated. I was back to fishing instead of catching.
Bentley soon returned. This time a much larger jig was on the end of his line.
“I’ve caught lots of fish with this,” Bentley announced.
Having helped Bentley set up his line and having watched Bentley fish, I was confident Bentley’s claim was, at the very least, an embellishment–a “fish story.” Maybe the time would come to explain to Bentley that lying is an abomination to the Lord, but this wasn’t it. I smiled and said, “Oh.”
Bentley whipped his pole back and forth, casting the large jig into the water. It hit the water with such force that I was reminded of the great chicken neck incident of 1977. And I waited for dead fish to float to the surface. That didn’t happen and neither did any more bites so long as Bentley was casting a hunk of metal half the size of a sparkplug into the water.
The fish were given a reprieve when Bentley cast too close to a fallen tree and snagged his jig in a branch. With no detectable fall in his countenance, Bentley marched back to his grandfather and worked on his line. And there he stayed.
I watched as Bentley’s grandfather would alert him to the movement of his bobber. Bentley responded like a novice fisherman by yanking so hard on his line that his bobber would sail back and over his head.
Fishing for Bentley
After a long, unproductive time of fishing, I moved down the shoreline closer to Bentley and his grandfather. After a few casts, I landed another crappie.
I glanced at my watch to see that it was about time for me to head home for dinner. I picked up my gear and walked toward my car. As I got closer to Bentley and Steve, I said, “Well, it was good to meet both of you.”
“Thank you for your help,” they said, almost in unison.
As I walked to my car, a wrestling match began in my mind.
“I should give them gospel tracts,” I thought. “Nah; that’s okay. I’m just fishing today. That’s no excuse. I really should give them gospel tracts. It’s okay. Maybe I’ll see them again out here. That’s weak.”
I opened the back door of my car and placed my rod & reel and tackle inside. I stood there for a few moments looking at the rain jacket sitting on the seat. I knew there were gospel tracts in the pocket.
I looked at Steve and Bentley sitting on their lawn chairs, looking out over the water, with their poles in hand. I knew they needed more than a good day of fishing, and it looked like they weren’t even going to get that.
I reached into the jacket pocket and removed two of my church’s gospel tracts. I held them in one hand while tapping them on the palm of my other hand. There was something else on my mind–something else I was thinking of doing.
I finally made a decision. I pulled something else out of my car, closed the door, and headed toward Bentley and Steve.
They were focused on the task at hand. Neither heard me come up behind them. They didn’t realize I was there until I said, “Bentley.”
Both turned with a little start and looked at me.
“Bentley, I want you to have my fishing pole,” I said as I handed it to him.
“What?” Both Bentley and Steve exclaimed.
“Are you sure?” Bentley asked.
“I’m sure. This is the right size rod and real for catching crappie and bluegill,” I explained. “I’ve caught a lot of fish over the years with it. I hope you will catch a lot of fish with it, too.”
“Thank you,” was the response from both Bentley and his grandfather. I could tell both were a bit taken aback.
“And I want you to have this,” I said as I handed Bentley and Steve each a gospel tract. “This is the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. God bless you both.
They thanked me again. I turned and walked back to my car, once again smiling ear to ear.
I sat in my car for a few moments processing what had just happened–processing what God had just done. I looked toward Bentley and Steve. Neither was focused on his pole. Both were reading the gospel tracts. I snapped a quick picture to capture the moment. No sooner had I put my phone down that both Bentley and Steve turned toward me and waved. I waved back.
I pulled out of the parking lot and onto the road. Bentley and Steve turned again in my direction and waved. I honked my horn and waved back.
The Floodgates Opened
I returned my attention to the road in front of me and began to sob. The floodgates opened–floodgates of tears and mixed emotions.
One moment I was thanking and praising God, the next I was missing my dad. One moment I was worshiping God for what I had just watched him do, the next I was thanking Him for preserving me for salvation, through turbulent teenage years, and using fishing, in part, to do it. I wept and I rejoiced. I thanked God for saving me, and I prayed He would do likewise for Bentley and Steve.
I called Mahria to let her know I was on my way home. Well, that was part of the reason.
“Hello,” Mahria said.
“Hi,” I replied.
“What’s wrong?” She asked. She could hear the quiver in my voice, in my one-word answer.
“Nothing. God did something amazing at the lake today. I’ll tell you tonight during dinner or family devotion,” I answered.
“Oh; okay. You had me worried. I thought something was wrong,” She explained.
“Nope; nothing is wrong,” I said. “God did something really special today and it’s making me emotional. I can’t wait to tell you about it.”
In God’s Providence
God doesn’t need me. This makes the fact that He uses me all the more extraordinary to me. God could have exposed Bentley and Steve to the gospel in a billion other ways, at any other time. Yet, in His perfect providence, He chose to do it at Pride Lake, in Scott County Park, Iowa. And He chose to use me as part of the means to His end.
All glory to God! To Him and Him alone be all of the praise and honor and glory!
This story has been a testimony of what God did. Praise Him. Praise Him and only Him.
And pray for Bentley and his grandpa’s salvation.
Lastly, if you have read this story and you are not sure to what “gospel” I am referring to, you can read about it, HERE.