Monday, June 25, 2012

Then donna got out of the boat ...

Jesus made them get in the boat and go on ahead.... He knew what would come with the dawn.

"Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. 'It’s a ghost,' they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: 'Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.'
'Lord, if it’s you,' Peter replied, 'tell me to come to you on the water.'
'Come,' he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, 'Lord, save me!'
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. 'You of little faith,' he said, 'why did you doubt?' And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, 'Truly you are the Son of God.' "
Matthew 14:22-32 (NIV)

During a quiet time with Steve last week, we came across this passage in Matthew. Having heard the story many times since our childhood, we resisted the urge to blow through it. Every thing we read these days seems to be clearer or more meaningful than ever before. We need it.
 We are also working to incorporate "Bible story-telling" into our teaching style as we prepare to serve in a country that is known predominantly to be oral learners by preference. So as i read a Bible story now, i ponder on it longer and more thoroughly than some might consider normal. I try and realistically imagine what the day actually looked like when the story unfolded. Even researching to find needed answers so my imaginings are a factual as possible.

With that in mind, as we read Matthew 14, i was transfixed on that moment when Peter said, "tell me to come to you on the water." Why would he do that??? No one had ever walked on water up until that moment when Jesus walked out to the disciples. When they saw Jesus walking on the water, "they were terrified". They thought they might be seeing a ghost... after all... people don't walk on water... right? But Jesus calls out to them --- immediately he recognized their fear and spoke to them. It's one of the 365 times in the Word we are told not to be afraid.
Then Peter, responds by asking if it is really the Lord, then "tell me to come to you on the water".
That's the moment that has me transfixed.

Why would Peter ask to get out of the boat and walk on the water too?
Why wouldn't he cheer for Christ and then release the deep breath he was surely holding in and sit down peacefully inside the boat?
Why would he not turn to his fellow disciples and rejoice with them at the miracle they were seeing?
Why wouldn't he just soak in the moment with awe-filled praise?

If the other disciples even mentioned a timid "me too", we don't find it in scripture. What did they do when Peter asked to walk on the water too? We don't actually know. We assume they stood in stunned silence, at least i do. Did they ask themselves (or even each other) "what is he thinking?...What was it about Peter that was different enough to say ---- let me walk on the water to you?

The lesson of faith is monumental in this passage. When focusing on Christ and trusting Him alone --- when looking beyond the buffeting winds and waves --- when listening only to the voice of the Savior --- Peter could hold on to enough faith to walk on water. However, when he let the situation around him outweigh the power of the Savior in front of him ----- he lost faith --- he began to sink.

My mind keeps going back to this question ----- if i had been in that boat, if i had been one of those disciples, where would i have been found that night?
Would i have been huddled in the corner of the boat?
Would i have been crying in fear?
Would i have been asking to walk to my Jesus even before Peter could get the words out?
Would i have thought Peter foolish and scoffed at him?
Or -- would i have been a cheerleader for Peter and encouraged him on --- with one foot in the water right behind him??
Would i have been encouraging Peter to keep his focus on Jesus?
Or -- would i have been a distraction to him casting my doubts doubly on his shoulders?

Does it matter?
Perhaps not --- but perhaps it does.
Because it speaks through a megaphone of my faith walk now.

i felt my Abba sitting with me as i read this passage through over and over and over again. And i faced the reality, that i would have surely been crying in fear at the waves buffeting the little boat (since the Son of God was obviously not in the boat with us)--- then astonished at the appearance of Jesus walking on the water --- then i believe i would have been cheering Peter on --- with thoughts like --- "you go first Peter, and if it works out for you - i'm right behind you buddy..."

You go first...
if it works out for you...
i'm right behind you...

No great measure of faith there donna. You're still wanting to "see with your eyes" first --- then you'll jump, you'll dive, you'll let loose your sails and grab hold of the wind ---- but after you see...

For the place where my feet have come to on this life path ---- that measure falls short, and brings me to my knees. I look around me at those who seem to not feel as though they are being woo-ed to step out of the boat. Even if their boat is scary at times --- at least they are getting to stay inside it, with thin wooden walls residing between them and the raging water on the other side. I envy them --- in a flesh covered sort of way.
But, the boat feels all wrong to me these days. I seem to have splinters all inside the wooden walls that in the past seemed smoother. and i hear His voice saying, "Take courage donna, it is I, don't be afraid."
Take courage, it is I, don't be afraid...

But God, i'll look so foolish stepping out of the boat?
Take courage, it is I, don't be afraid...
But Lord, what if i find myself alone outside the walls of this boat?
Take courage, it is I, don't be afraid...
But Father, there are big, scary fish under those waters, remember what happened to Jonah?
Take courage, it is I, don't be afraid...
But Abba, i feel very alone, even in the middle of a crowd...
Take courage, it is I, don't be afraid...
But Yahweh, what i've always known is inside the boat, not on top of the waves...
Take courage, it is I, don't be afraid...
But El Roi, what if you grow tired of me, and weary of my weakness?
Take courage, it is I, don't be afraid...

and then He whispers to my soul ---- donna, even when Peter became weak in his faith and began to sink, what happened?
"Well, he called out to you for help, and you reached out your hand and caught him."
That's right donna, i caught him and taught him. But notice, that while the others in the boat worshiped me on that day, Peter is the only one who actually felt my touch. I touched Him. He needed me to, and so i did.

I will never leave you or forsake you.
You may want to "leave" yourself donna --- you may even "forsake" yourself, growing tired of yourself and weary of weakness --- but i will not.
Remember what I say about your weakness?
I have called you, I have made you, I will be with you, You are mine. And what's more - I delight in you, and rejoice over you --- weak little daughter that you feel you are --- I delight in you. I'm God. I'm your Abba.

Come --- step out of the boat and feel my touch. You may falter. I will not.
My grace will cover all...

We are all in a boat of some sort ---- i hope you too will be encouraged to step out onto the waters --- where Jesus is walking nearby.

©2012 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

...and then you bless me...

"When i was beleaguered and bitter, 
totally consumed by envy, 
I was totally ignorant, 
a dumb ox in your very presence.

I'm still in your presence, but you've taken my hand. 
You wisely and tenderly lead me, 
and then you bless me." 

Psalm 73:21-24
 (The Message)

The difference, the place of "life" --- rests in the second sentence --- "you've taken my hand..."
The norm, the place of "wandering" is in the first sentence --- it's where most of the scowl-faced-walking-wounded --- flesh out their days.

But oh God, you've taken my hand and You wisely and tenderly lead me --- and if that's not enough -- dear Abba --- then You bless me. You ---- bless me.
Me -- the one that is so tiny, i often lose myself. i lose myself in the activities of the day, in the dishes and the laundry and the garbage and the doing. 
Then i come to you with all that concerns me -- and i ask You to increase, and to help me to decrease. I've breathed long enough to know --- i want more of You Lord and less of me. My way will end in a void, dry, empty place. It might be well-decorated and sparkle with cleanliness, it might even look good to others -- but you and i -- we know the emptiness that resides there -- it was you who taught me Lord.
Fine castles usually feel very drafty and hollow -- words spoken in them echo off the walls because no skin-covered-broken-soul felt comfortable enough to stay there long. You Lord, birthed your Son into a simple carpenter's home. And then you gave Him no place of His own except for the one He knew in you.
Your ways, Lord, your ways --- i've fallen hopelessly, helplessly in love with what comes from the overflow of your ways. And i've come to understand, it usually doesn't "look" great or "feel" great or sometimes even "smell" great. i knew this through and through as i stood in the middle of Kibera slum, in dying Teresia's dirt floor hut. A rusty nail was her only lock on the bent tin door. One cot was her only piece of furniture --- and she lay on it weakly, waiting for that last breath to finally arrive. Surrounded by stick framed rusty tin walls covering a 10'x10' span --- there hung one piece of paper. i strained in the darkness of this windowless place to make out the words.
It read,
"Christ is the head of this home,
the unseen guest at every meal,
the silent listener to every conversation".

You work magnificently in the messy places of this world don't you Lord.
You - the God of order -- the One who put the world together in 6 days -- the One who parted the huge Red Sea and fed thousands and thousands of people over and over again with things like manna and quail and loaves and fish. You can manage BIG situations. You put the universe in order, You raise the sun and chance the shapes of the moon and cause water to pour from clouds to feed the flowers you chose to give color to. 
We are hopelessly, helplessly in love with what comes from the overflow of your ways.

But we get caught up in our feet-stuck-to-the-ground tiny little worlds. We become "beleaguered and bitter". We feel beset with difficulties and downtrodden over the weight of hurts. We see what others have and ponder over what we do not have -- forgetting that we do not actually need. We wonder ---- and then we wander. We are such Israelites --- we forget -- we complain -- we overlook all that is good and right in our blue-sky-world and we focus with binocular-strength-settings on what is wrong.
And You - our great, mighty Jehovah - You tell us, you warn us, that in this world we will have trouble. Then we shake our fists at you as if it were your fault, but under those tiny fists ---
You know ---
we tremble.

Your grace is breathtaking and life-giving.
Why do You bother with us at all?
Why would You put another breath in my lungs?
Why would You even pause to look our way?

But not only do You look our way --- You reach towards us. You take our hand. You whisper to us as a shepherd calming His lost lamb. You don't scold the lamb for being dumb enough to wander off and get lost. No. You come for us, you weathered the storm on that day the sky went black and the veil was torn. When rain fell hard and Your blood flowed with it. You were being my Shepherd on that day. You weathered that storm - You were not timid to step into the dark chasm --- You had sheep that needed to be saved. You could hear me bleating even then. You knew Your bleeding would stop my bleating.

You reached out your hand --- and they pierced it through.
You reached out your hand --- and "i" pierced it through. Oh God - i'm so sorry...
But You -- in your beautiful grace ---- 
You reach out your hand --- still --- and take ours.
Even after the ugly flow of bitterness and envy --- the complaining and whining. When the storm is at it's worst - You reach into the darkness with Your beautiful, gentle, powerful hand -- scarred in the middle -- grace.

... and you take my hand
... and you wisely lead your ignorant, foolish, whimpering lamb...
... tenderly --- not roughly --- oh God -- i deserve a harsh hand --- but you give me exactly what i do NOT deserve --- grace.
"it's your kindness that leads us to repentance oh Lord"...

Tenderly You lead me from where my tininess would take me  --- and You open windows up to a view of what my mind could have never imagined. grace...
When "the one who is like a roaring lion" is breathing down our necks -- You remind us that YOU ARE THE LION OF JUDAH --- You move with power. You are with us, You are mighty, You will not be hindered from accomplishing your purposes among us, in us, with us, for us.

and for me --- because you made me and know me completely --- you send 3 tiny sentinels to gush out the simplicity of your sure love --- 3 tiny kittens thrown away by someone else --- became tear soaked fur balls in my arms as i felt your love in their purring and remembered --- remembered deeply --- you are my Lion of Judah --- what others would throw away --- you take into your arms and caress tenderly --- my weakness only magnifies your strength --- my neediness magnifies your ability --- You are my Lion of Judah -- you will not be held back --- not even by my tininess... 

And then ---- oh then ----- 
"You bless me..."

©2012 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe

Thursday, June 7, 2012

When God Totally Surrounds Us

Closing my eyes, i laid my head back on the river tube, listening to all the "commotion" around me. It was comical. Voices, old and young, rambling on in so many different nonsensical dialogues:
"mama, give me that..."
"did you see it?!?!"
"throw me that rope son...?
"she said she would never...?
"where is he?
"i'm gonna...
"stop splashin' me
"i'm so tired of the way she acts...
"don't throw that...
on and on and on and on the chatter went.

No one saying anything that really mattered ---- but everyone having something to say.

It wasn't that i was irritated --- not at all. It unfolded into a profound few minutes.

When i laid my head back on the tube and closed my eyes it came to me clear. Because when i then opened my eyes, they looked straight up (they no longer were caught up in what was around me), and guess what was in front of me...
Big, overwhelming blue skies and perfectly peaceful green tree limbs waving their shimmery leaves -- far "above".

The size of the silent presence overhead was breathtaking ------- the "rattling" of the tiny things around me was suffocating.

And i thought ---
how just like God...
He's so magnificently big --- even with no word at all --- He is felt, He is known, He reminds us --- He is with us. No rambling on and on. No idle words with Abba. The silence of the deep blue sky was speaking so loudly --- as long as i kept my focus on it.
To lay my head back on the tube as i floated down the river with these gazillion other people --- was the most comfortable way. Holding my head up, watching all the activity around me, trying to keep up with who said what and who was where ---- was so tiring to my neck. (the part of myself that holds up the protective covering over my thinking brain and turns this way or that to allow my eyes to see)
But when i relaxed that weary neck and laid my head back to rest ---- blue skies seemed to greet me, like an old, safe, good friend. No idle words, no chatter, no noise of any sort, just the occasional bird dancing by and the steady passing of brown-limbed-greened-leaved guardians of peace.

Steve and i just read it again this morning in Oswald's My Utmost for His Highest and i was taken back to my innertube moments on the river. Oswald writes, "The abiding awareness of the Christian life is to be God Himself, not just thoughts about God. The total being of our life inside and out is to be absolutely obsessed by the presence of God. A child's awareness is so absorbed in his mother that although he is not consciously thinking of her, when a problem arises, the abiding relationship is that with the mother. In the same way, we are to 'live and move and have our being' in God (Acts. 17:28), look at everything in relation to Him, because our abiding awareness of Him continually pushes itself to the forefront of our lives.
"If we are obsessed by God, nothing else can get into our lives -- not concerns, nor tribulation, nor worries. And now we understand why our Lord so emphasized the sin of worrying. How can we dare to be so absolutely unbelieving when God totally surrounds us? To be obsessed by God is to have an effective barricade against all the assaults of the enemy."

A line worth repeating --- "How can we DARE to be so absolutely unbelieving when GOD totally SURROUNDS US?"

I felt it --- i knew it --- God with us ---- in the deep, wide, silent blue sky overhead. Without a word -- He reminded me --- "I'm big donna, vastly big, bigger than your eye can see. I was here yesterday, i'm here today, i'll be here tomorrow. I was present before you, i'll be here long after you. Clouds may change your perception of me, but i will not have changed. Darkness may come between us, but remember My words to you ---- ' yay, though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will be with you...'  I'm never absent, I'm always present, I'm never inattentive, but I'm not noisy. I choose a still small voice usually, I rarely choose to be loud."

Many of the voices i heard, with my eyes closed and my head laid back on the innertube, were voices of worry or fretting. Phrases like, "grab him, she's falling, watch that rock, he's going under"...
On and on the voices poured out concerns, problems, worries, difficulties.

I was mesmerized by the contrast of what was around me and what was above me.

It became pivotal for me.

The voices and activity around me were a perfect picture of the rambling and wrecklessness that can happen inside of me. Thinking to much, wondering over solutions, pondering over options, worrying over outcomes. Oh God --- my silent rambling must surely sound much like the scattered chatter of these out-loud people around me. Oh God --- how i forget the unaltering cover of You, the unchanging purposes You are working to accomplish, the sure authority in Your hands, the certain outcomes You author.
Oswald's got it right ---- "If we are obsessed by God, nothing else can get into our lives -- not concerns, nor tribulation, nor worries. And now we understand why our Lord so emphasized the sin of worrying. How can we dare to be so absolutely unbelieving when God totally surrounds us?"

Sarah Young in "Jesus Calling" tries to remind us using words based on scripture as if Abba Himself were whispering to us -- "I am all around you, like a cocoon of Light. My presence with you is a promise, independent of your awareness of Me. Many things can block this awareness, but the major culprit is worry... Who is in charge of your life? If it is you, then you have good reason to worry. But if it is I, then worry is both unnecessary and counterproductive."

And then i open HIS WORD and feel His touch as i read,
"What I'm trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don't be afraid of missing out. You're my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself." Luke 12: 29-32 The Message
(bold font and underline added by me)

The clammering around us this side of the veil --- will likely never stop. We're told in the Bible it will increase until the trumpet blows.
But the sureness of Yahweh with us can be felt in the mightiness of the vast sky overhead.
It is silent.
It is over everything --- whether it is noticed by all that it covers or not.
We often falsely believe that beginnings happen when we enter into the awareness of something. With Abba, we are far too tiny for that.
We are the fleck of dust that is blessed to finally drift through the glowing light pouring in through the window. We are undetectable until we drift into the Light. Abba is the Light.

The noisiness of what is in front of us must be harnessed and put in its place ----
for how could we dare to worry or be so absolutely unbelieving when God totally surrounds us?

Thankful for a patient, gracious, loving Abba --- who is not altered in any way by my smallness.

©2012 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe