CATFISH-THE “BAD” FISH
LESSON TEXT: John 4:25-26; Luke 8:2; Mark l6:9; John 8:3-11; Luke 15:1-7; Matthew 21:31; Luke 19:9-10; Jude 23.
“….Neither fornicators, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:9-11).
LESSON AIM: To discuss methods of attracting outcasts to the gospel.
Teaching Material: Magni-Vu Picture DD. On left side place words “Despair,” “Love of Sin” and “Demon Possession.” On the right side place words “Gifts of the Spirit,” “Compassion,” “Sympathy” and “Good Deeds.”
A CONTROVERSIAL FISH
(Place Picture DD on board).
The catfish is the most controversial fresh water sport fish in the United States. Few northeastern anglers appreciate them, but they are loved and admired by southerners and Midwesterners. Millions of them are caught annually.
They live mainly in fresh water but are usually found in sluggish localities of lakes and rivers. Catfish can thrive either in muddy or clean water and can withstand pollution to a greater degree than most other fish. After taking them from the water they can stay alive for a considerable time, especially if covered with wet weeds or grass.
There are twenty-four species of catfishes in fresh water and two species in salt water. Their sizes range in fresh water from the
smallest of fish to the largest. They are easily distinguished by the long whisker-like barbels, which provide them with a very sensitive sense of smell.
Most catfish are firm-fleshed, delicately flavored fish with excellent keeping qualities under refrigeration. Catfish proudly grace the menus of the nation’s swankiest dining establishments, often under such fancy names as truit armadine!
A REPULSIVE FISH TO SOME
People not fully acquainted with catfish consider it repulsive because of its scaleless skin. Old wives’ tales associate it with the “horned, slimy fish.” However, in other nations of the world they are also rejected as a food supply. This barrier against the catfish is usually a faithful adherence to religious teachings opposing the consumption of these fishes, calling them “children of the devil,” etc. Many weird stories regarding scaleless fish attribute leprosy and other skin diseases to eating them.
The catfish has a defensive mechanism built in the stiff, sharply pointed spines of the pectoral and dorsal fins. A gland located by the base of the spine secretes a venom which makes a painful hand wound if the skin should be punctured by its spine. The toxin does not affect the flesh of the fish, however, and all catfish can be eaten without hesitancy.
These bewhiskered fish will eat anything edible. This is one reason why they are rejected by many. They are scavengers, which means they eat refuse or waste along with insects, fish and plants. Most of them feed on the bottom on anything available.
Practically all catfish are more active at night than in the daytime. Around dusk they leave their sanctuary and stay out most of the night. They may be caught during the day time only if you fish in the deeper holes of lakes and rivers.
There area wide variety of methods used in catching catfish. The most common ways of hook and line fishing for them involves hand lines, set poles stuck in the bank, lines tied to willow trees and trot lines. Trot lines may be from 50 to 150 feet long and have as many as 50 hooks attached to the line by short cords. They are set toward evening and checked at intervals during the night or the next morning. They can also be caught with rod and reel. If brave enough, they can be caught by grabbing them with the hand while they are spawning. While the male cat guards the eggs, usually located under a bank or in a hollow log, the grabbler thrusts his arm near the nesting area. The fish strikes and the grabbler attempts to shove his arm through the fish’s mouth and out its gill opening. If successful, he drags the cat out of its sanctuary. Sometimes the grabbler only has a scraped arm and hand to show for his efforts.
All kinds of bait imaginable are used to attract these fish. Some use blood bait, “stink-bait” pork rinds, ivory soap, etc. Since they will eat anything, fishermen have cooked up all sorts of coctions to entice them.
THE BOTTOM OF THE LADDER
Now we come to the people who are the farthest from God. They are the hard-core sinners, the immoral, the vile and the filthy. Without question they are lost-and they know it! No living creature can sink to such depths of depravity as mankind. Like the catfish, they are the scavengers of humanity, for they eat the refuse and garbage.
They are controversial because many righteous folks wouldn’t dare touch them. They don’t want to get their hands dirty or their feet muddy. But since most catfish like the bottom and relish the mud and pollution, that is where we must go to catch them.
Not all of them live in the muddy water. Some live in good, clean neighborhoods. They are among the respectable classes of society, but in their hearts, they are as filthy and polluted as the harlot on the street. The sluggish localities are more often infested with these people. Many of them are alcoholics, drug addicts, thieves, prostitutes, gamblers, homosexuals, murderers, adulterers, etc.
Their sizes range from youngsters to the elderly. They live in every kind of community, from every nationality and every social standing. The highly educated and wealthy often drop to this level of living because of the addiction of sin.
The good church member usually wants nothing to do with this person since their habits are so completely different. They look at sinners as “children of the devil” and warp their Pharisaical robes about themselves, leaving them for the welfare societies to care for.
Most of these immoral souls have a defensive mechanism in them similar to the catfish. Poisonous spines are ready to wound, should someone try to molest their privacy, which in reality are evil spirits inhabiting their souls. A good percentage are possessed by evil spirits. They must be delivered by God and the poisonous spines removed by casting out the devil.
Night time is when they come out. The bars, taverns, theatres, dance halls, gambling casinos and houses of prostitution open at dusk and stay open all night. Into the wee hours of the morning they revel in sin, looking, longing and searching for peace and contentment but never quite reaching it.
IS GOD INTERESTED?
To our way of thinking, the Lord would be so pleased with the righteous person that He would place His sole affection upon him because he is upright and good. Those who are filled with sinful habits and live in an ungodly manner would be looked upon with scorn. Fiery judgments would be poured out upon them. But it almost seems that the opposite is true!
Who do you suppose would be the first person to whom Jesus would reveal His true identity-a righteous person or a sinful one? It was to an adulterous woman of Samaria that the Master confessed that He was the Messiah. “The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he” (John 4:25-26). None of His disciples had been so definitely informed of His divinity. And to think that a woman-a very sinful woman-an outcast of society and looked upon by the Jews as a dog-would have the honor of being the first to whom Jesus would declare Himself!
Another rare honor was bestowed upon a woman “….which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils” (Luke 8:2). From that day for ward, Mary was His faithful follower. It was to this converted sinful woman that “….when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils” (Mark 16:9)
When the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman taken in the very act of adultery to Jesus, they asked what should be done to her? Moses said that she was to be stoned. But Jesus stooped down and began to write on the ground as though he didn’t hear them. When they continued asking, He stood to His feet and said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” Instead of condemnation, she was told to go and sin no more (John 8:3-11).
Is Jesus interested in the sinner? Does He care for their souls? He was such a friend to the publicans and sinners that the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, “….This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” At this accusation our Lord was prompted to speak the parable of the man who had one hundred sheep, but left the ninety-nine to search for the lost one until it was found. “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance” (Luke 15:1-7).
Over and over our Lord was condemning the self-righteous and giving hope to the outcast. To the chief priests and elders of the Temple He said, “….Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you” (Matthew 21:31). What a rebuke!
One of Jesus’ own disciples was a despised publican. The Gospel of Matthew, now a treasured possession, was written by the hand of a former outcast of society.
Zaccheus was the chief among the publicans, but the Lord loved this sinner so much that He invited Himself to abide at Zaccheus’ home. “And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, for so much as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:9-10).
Does Jesus love the man or woman at the very bottom of the social ladder, in the very depths of sin? Oh, how He loves them!
HINDRANCES TO WINNING THE OUTCASTS
There are many obstacles encountered in catching the individual who is so wicked. If recognized, it will be much easier to overcome them.
(Place each of these on board as you teach).
1. Despair. The person who is deep in sin feels there is no hope for them to be saved. God could not love them. They have been too bad. There is no way for a holy God to stoop so low to pick them up. Or they may try to compare themselves to the one who is trying to win them. “I could never be as good as you are. You just don’t know all I’ve done!”
To combat this feeling, tell the story of Jesus’ love for the sinner. All the references in the Bible we have just discussed should be given. Show it to them in the Word of God. As they read for themselves that Jesus actually did love the sinner, new hope will be sparked within.
2. Love of Sin. This is perhaps one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome. It’s not so much that they continue to love sinful habits and companions; it’s just that this is their way of life. Most of them have been taught from a child to indulge in sinful pleasures. Because of their long association with evil practices, sometimes it is hard for them to overcome everything all at once.
The soul-winner who catches these fish must have an abundance of patience. The pull of the world is so strong at times, it will take all the prayer and fasting you can muster up to save their souls. Even after they receive the Holy Ghost there will be many crises that will almost sweep them away again. Like the catfish, they can stay alive longer after being taken out of the water than other fish. If the opportunity presents itself, back into the water they may leap.
It is hard to imagine the problems they face. If you work with alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes, thieves, homosexuals, or anyone who has known the depths of sin, you had better know how to pray-you will be doing lots of it! They have no knowledge of the Bible whatsoever and many of them do not like to read. It is impossible to survive without the Word and they must be taught to love it and enjoy reading it.
They love the emotionalism of the Holy Ghost and the shouting and dancing, but they are not geared to overcoming anything. When a test or trial comes, their resistance is low because they have never learned self-discipline. When a person continually indulges in everything their heart desires over a period of years, it is very difficult to learn to tell yourself “No!” The Holy Ghost is a wonderful Helper, but doesn’t do everything for us. There must be some determination and desire on the part of each individual, which is sorely undeveloped in the majority of this type people.
3. Demon Possession. So many are possessed by evil spirits. Mary Magdalene had seven cast out. The maniac of Gadera had at least two thousand. Could it be that many of our fish are lost because they are never fully delivered from the power of Satan? It seems that evil spirits are wiser and more educated in our country than abroad. They disguise themselves and will sometimes remain dormant for months or years to prevent being cast out of their habitation. However, even after being delivered, it is possible for evil spirits to return to see if their home is empty and clean or if it is filled with the Spirit of God. New converts must be taught how to stay filled with the Holy Ghost so there will be no room for demons to return.
TYPES OF BAIT
One successful bait to use on catfish is blood-bait. This also works on sinners. Tell them the story of the cross. Jesus shed His precious blood for my sins and for your sins, He died that we might live. To know that someone loves them is all it takes for many. They have never known true love in all their lives.
Another good bait is ivory soap. Tell them how the Lord can clean up their lives. It doesn’t matter how dirty and stained by sin they may be the blood of Jesus can remove every spot.
Trot lines are one of the best methods of catching catfish. And I can promise that you will have to stay hot on the trail of your catfish friends. They must be checked on regularly. They cannot be left alone for too long or they will fall into more mischief. Keep a close eye on them and be sure to let them know that you care for their souls.
The brave fisherman will grab catfish right out of the water with his bare hand. This reminds us of what Jude wrote: “And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh” (Jude 23). All the time you are grabbing them out of their wickedness and sinful habits, you are despising the very evil that has them bound. If you are afraid of hard work and getting yourself wet or dirty, don’t try to catch a catfish!
(Place these on board as you teach).
The regular lures from your tacklebox are also effective. The gifts of the Spirit are wonderful bait. Compassion, sympathy and good deeds will certainly work. When a person has never known a true friend in this world and feel that no one loves them, the fact that the love of God is shed abroad in your heart by the Holy Ghost will automatically draw them to you. If they feel that Jesus loves them and you love them, they are confident that someone cares for their soul!
Catfish provide some of the tastiest food to be found. It matters not that they once lived on the bottom of the lake and ate anything they could find. When they are in the platter fried to a golden brown, all thought is forgotten of where they came from and the condition they were in when you caught them.
A soul brought from the bottom of the sea of sin makes one of the best witnesses you have ever seen. We quickly forget how tattered and terrible they looked when they came to the Church. The Lord can clean them up and make them into beautiful saints of God.
The Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians what they once were-fornicators, idolaters, effeminate, thieves, drunkards-you name it! But now look at them. They are washed, sanctified and justified after being baptized in Jesus’ Name and filled with the Holy Ghost! (I Corinthians 6:9-11).
If you ever want to see a bold witness for Christ that is unafraid of anybody or anything, look at a man, woman, boy or girl that has been lifted from the miry pits of sin. They will testify to everything breathing. Some of the best personal workers on the face of the earth are those who were caught off the bottom of the lake.
When you go after a catfish, you will have to endure a lot of mud, dirt and water to catch them, and watch for a slimy, venom-producing spine while cleaning them, but oh, what a delicious meal to enjoy!
Are any of your students interested in catching catfish? If they are, encourage them to go in groups to the skidrows or hippie hangouts of your city. Obtain permission for street services from the city or go out by twos to witness to them on the street or hand out tracts. If you have someone really interested in this type work, rent a building downtown to have services in nightly or several times a week. Perhaps you can begin a mission work from your church that could eventually be responsible for reaching hundreds of outcasts of society!
(The above material appeared in Fearless Fishermen, Search for Truth Publications, Houston, TX.)
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