I experienced possibly the greatest anointing of my ministry several years ago – not at Westminster Chapel but in Bimini, Bahamas. But let me first introduce Bimini to you.
Bimini is a small island located about 60 miles east of Miami, Florida. Native population is less than 2,000. It claims to be the bonefishing capital of the world, but so does Islamorada, Florida. I have spent more time fishing in Islamorada. Islamorada probably has larger bonefish – average 6 to 8 pounds but Bimini has more bonefish although smaller in size – average 3 to 5 pounds. And yet Bimini boasts of the world record bonefish caught on a spinning rod (16 pounds).
A lady came into the vestry of Westminster Chapel years ago and asked, “What is bonefishing?” I replied: “It is a requirement for membership at Westminster Chapel!” (I hope you know that was a joke.) To understand bonefishing see the Introduction to my book Worhiping God. Or just Google “bonefishing”. It is a rare sort of fishing, combining hunting and fishing simultaneously. You need a guide if you expect to see one or catch one.
I first went to Bimini in 1966. I fell in love with that place and have probably been there 40 times. I have fond memories of Bimini – having won a prize for the most bonefish caught (over 60) in a tournament there in 1968, and the largest bonefish (11 pounds) in a tournament in 1969. The prime minister of the Bahamas, L. O. Pindling presented me with a trophy. In those days the New York congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. – also the senior minister of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem – spent a couple years in exile in Bimini, owing to alleged financial indiscretions. He took Louise and me out on his boat – called Adam’s Fancy – one afternoon. I have taken a lot of friends to Bimini over the last fifty years – among Ernest C. Reisinger, Dr. O. S. Hawkins and the late John Paul Jackson.
The legendary fishing guide Sam Ellis – known as “Bonefish Sam” – took me fishing many times. He was famous for fishing royalty. He once made the cover of Life magazine. He appeared on the TV program “To Tell the Truth”. But in his old age he began preaching and pastored a small church in Bimini. He invited me to preach for him a number of times but one time in particular was most memorable and is one of the two reasons why I am writing this blog.
When we were at Westminster Chapel (1977-2002) we took six weeks of holiday time every summer. We always came to the Florida Keys. But there was one Sunday during our vacation in which I preached at the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale and also for Bonefish Sam in Bimini the same day. The morning service was quite liturgical, attended by two thousand worshipers. I wore D. James Kennedy’s rather ornate robe, walked behind the choir down the center aisle as they processed into the huge auditorium and sang the first hymn. And then I preached an old sermon. All went according to plan.
Later that day I flew to Bimini – in time for Sam’s service in the part of Bimini called Baileytown. The contrast was rather striking. All of the nineteen worshipers stood and exclaimed, “Praise the Lord”, to Sam’s opening word, “Praise the Lord”. “I say praise the Lord”, shouted Sam. “Praise the Lord”, said all. “Thank You Jesus”, Sam proclaimed. “Thank You Jesus”, the people joyously responded. This was repeated at least four or five more times. Wearing my short sleeve shirt and trainers, I smiled as I thought of the change of liturgy compared to being at Coral Ridge that morning.
Then all of us went to our knees for prayer time. All prayed aloud at the same time. As I knelt I began to ask the Lord for guidance on what to preach. I could easily repeat the same sermon I preached at Coral Ridge that morning. But all of a sudden the greatest sense of the manifest presence of God I had known in twenty-five years came on me. The presence of Jesus was so real that seeing Him would not have made Him feel more real. For some reason Hebrews 13:8 came to me: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”. I began to ask myself, “In what sense is Jesus Christ the same?” Answer – in several ways. But it came to me in a way I had not really thought about: He looks the same. His appearance has not changed. This “same” Jesus (Acts 1:11, 2:36) has not changed from being the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim.2:5). Not only that; He still has the nails scars in His hands (John 20:27).
Moments later I spoke to those nineteen worshipers. I was given power to convey to those people how the appearance of Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever. It was an amazing twenty minutes or so. Totally indescribable. Utterly beyond the natural level of ordinary experience. I could not work that up if you paid me a billion dollars tax free.
I could not help but ask: “Lord, why don’t You give me anointing like this at Westminster Chapel? After all, I reach the world in my own pulpit. Why didn’t You do this today at Coral Ridge – when two thousand of America’s movers and shakers were present?”
Even though I have preached in Sam’s church in Bimini since that memorable evening they still talk about the night I was there and described the nail scars in Jesus’ hands. I have preached on Hebrews 13:8 all over the world since that evening but never once have I experienced the kind of anointing that I had that night.
Why? You tell me.
The other reason I am writing this blog is because I am in Bimini this week – to do some bonefishing. Bonefish Sam is now in Heaven. I took John Paul to Sam’s grave a few years ago. This week I am with a different bonefish guide. I think of John Paul. I think of Sam. Of O.S. The good old days. Nothing is like it was. There is something inside some of us that wants to experience “the good old days”. But we can’t go back.
And yet we can! Because Jesus is the same.