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Fishing with bears

Updated: Feb 15, 2021

I just returned from a seven-day trip to Alaska where I was invited to speak at a great church that is impacting Anchorage in numerous ways. Getting the additional opportunity to take my wife and two of my kids was a rare privilege. The day before I was scheduled to preach four times I took the family to pan for gold and to visit the wildlife refuge.

Although I have traveled the world, I’m convinced Alaska is the most gorgeous landscape I have ever seen.

On Sunday, over 140 people made life-changing commitments to Christ. I was particularly moved by a message received afterward by a young bride who was pregnant with her second child. Her husband had recently notified her he wanted a divorce. She wrote to say that midway through the service her husband began to discreetly try and wipe tears from his face. Toward the end of the message, he grabbed her hand and came forward to receive Christ. She closed by saying, “I have never been more proud than I was as I stood by my husband when he trusted Jesus! It has been only 24 hours since this happened but I can already see 1,000 percent improvement in our marriage!”

I was so fired up to hear her story. Within a few hours her husband wrote me himself to detail his gratitude to God for this new relationship. His words erupted with hope, anticipation and excitement.

Others also wrote to tell how they were rescued from suicide, hopelessness and unbelief. Jesus said he came to make us fishers of men (Mark 1:17) and witnessing so many surrender their lives was beyond exhilaration.

We went from fishing for men to fishing for “fish” on the Naknek River near King Salmon, Alaska with two church staff members. For four days, we used fly rods to catch the biggest Rainbow trout I have ever seen. As fate would have it, my wife caught the largest fish that measured 23 inches (mine only measured 22 inches). Even though I never like being out-fished I was thrilled for her!!

While in the area, we had no cell service or Internet. Initially, I was panicked when I discovered we didn’t have access to outside communication, but it ended up being a great blessing to totally disconnect from the technology that is supposed to be freeing but is often so enslaving.

On our last day, I had an encounter that was unlike any other. I have always been infatuated with bears and especially grizzlies. We greatly anticipated our plans to spend our last day fishing on the Moore River. It runs through the Katmai National Forest, containing the world’s largest population of protected Grizzly bears.

Like us, you have probably watched the iconic pictures or videos of the bears standing on the falls catching fish as they swim upstream. Although over 2,000 bears reside there, we were told it was unlikely we would see any because we were arriving two weeks before the salmon run. Regardless, for weeks we prayed that God would allow us to see what we have witnessed on TV so many times.

God answered the request and we had seven different sightings. We even saw one pair mating and another two bruins on their hind legs fighting over a beautiful, blonde-colored female. Listening to their growls as they battled one another was a sound I will never forget. This brawl was only 100 yards from where we were standing!

A short time later my son and I were standing in the river fishing while my daughter and wife stood on the bank nearby. As we got to shallower water, my girls moved away from the shore to stand with us. Just a few short minutes from the time they moved, I heard my wife shout in fear, “There is a bear!” In the exact place where they previously stood, a huge male began retracing their steps less than 35 yards away from us.

I knew a bear could run up to 35 miles per hour, which is faster than a racehorse in the Kentucky Derby and if he decided to attack us, there was nothing I could do to stop it or save my family. Never, and I mean never, have I experienced such a feeling of being so small. Standing in the presence of something so great, majestic and powerful made me feel so insignificant and fragile. There were no strings to pull, connections to be leveraged, monies to be utilized or any other action I could possibly take that could change my predicament. I knew God and He alone was my only hope of salvation and protection.

The bear glanced our way but was thankfully more interested in looking for fish than pursuing us. As we watched him prance downstream I knew I had been in the presence of greatness. The sensation of experiencing total helplessness was refreshingly sacred. Reminding me of another encounter I will have someday that I think will bare some of the same components.

Someday we will all stand in the presence of the greatest majesty, power and strength ever known to man. This will be the day we stare into the face of the King of Kings. Like my encounter, connections, influence, standing or any other worldly connection or accomplishment will be of no value. Outside of the salvation and protection from Jesus all hope will be lost. There will be no uncertainty about how mighty He is and how weak we are. If we have rejected Him, we will be in unending danger and terror.

I am grateful for an encounter that was small taste of what I believe will have some similarity to the day I bow before Christ. At that moment I think I will experience an amazement not based on fear but one stemming from the reality of my nothingness compared to His greatness.

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