This morning my heart is heavy. I didn’t sleep much. Heaviness of heart seems to serve as fertile ground for sleeplessness. Such was the case for me last evening. Instead of awakening to the freshness of a new day, today I awoke to my tears and my husband’s arms around me assuring me of his love that will endure despite the chaos going on around us.
I also awoke to something else this morning.
The picture above. This morning’s sunrise over the Sea of Galilee. My friend, Stephanie, sent this picture via her phone to a few of us who have been praying for her during her missionary travels in Israel. Her words that accompanied this picture (as if any would be needed to add to its beauty)…
“I’m having fish for lunch today along the shores of Galilee after we take a boat ride there! I’ll be sure to get out of the boat when I see Jesus walking on the water! Tell Elaine this one’s for her! Shalom…Stephanie”
Shalom, indeed. A little piece of “peace” for the journey when peace is needed the most. And so, with Stephanie’s prompt ringing in my ears and the words of my “breakfast on the beach” series freshly racing through my mind, I once again turned to John 21 this morning and re-read the familiar story I’ve spent a great deal of time studying in recent days. This time, my focus fixed on verses 18 & 19:
“I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:18-19)
When was the last time you heard a similar “truth” from Jesus? When did he last remind you that on your odyssey of faith there will be times when you will be called upon to travel to places of his expectation rather than yours? When did you last feel the weightiness of your kingdom conferment as it pertains to your place of service? When did what “God wanted you to do” serve as the catalyst to your wrestling out a few things before him on the floor mat of heaven?
I imagine we all have a moment of vivid recall along these lines. We don’t travel very far with God before coming to a crossroads where the path of our choosing contradicts with the one he’s chosen instead. When we arrive there, we have a choice to make…
Follow him; follow not.
I’m there, friends. Today is my “follow him” moment. God has opened up the kingdom closet this morning and is asking me to dress myself with a plan that I wasn’t prepared to wear. He’s stripped me of my previous expectations and has presented me with his instead. To be honest with you, it’s not a comfortable fit for me… not yet. You see, I’m not a big fan of trying on a new set of clothes. I much prefer the ones that are currently hanging in my closet and lining my dresser drawers. At least with them, I know what to expect. With this new set, I’m not sure I like what I see. Rather than experiencing the warmth and familiarity of my “comfortable,” God is asking me to trade it all in for a new set of clothes that initially feels foreign and stiff.
My mind tells me that with time, the “new” will soon wear like the “old,” but my heart momentarily tells me something else… that I can’t do this. That this is too much. That this is going to be an uphill battle from the get go and that no matter which way I (or anyone else) tries to “spin” this, it’s still going to be a difficult fit for me. What I imagined and expected would be my next best steps are now being detoured along a path that had, previously, never been on my radar.
Still and yet, the path is clear, and like Peter, my heart is concerned, heavy-laden, and full of a few questions… not just for the clothes that I’m being asked to wear, but also for the clothes that my brother and sister are being given to wear as well.
“Lord, what about them?” Are you asking them for a similar obedience? Why is it that their dressing doesn’t look like mine? Comparatively speaking, it doesn’t seem fair, Lord. Why am I being asked to navigate these strange waters when it seems they’ve been given smooth sailing? Why does “following after you” live differently for those of us who are called according to only one, high and holy purpose? Why does it seem that my expectations rarely measure out in accordance with yours? Am I not listening closely enough? Living faithfully enough? Praying fervently enough? I thought I knew how this was going to go, Lord; it’s apparent that I don’t… know as much as I thought that I did. Forgive me for asking, Father, but what about them?
And for all of the questions that I could ask of God this day, for all of the chaos that’s been interjected into my life in the past twenty-four hours, Christ’s response to me this morning is the same as the one he gave to Peter on the shores of Galilee nearly 2000 years ago:
“What is that to you, Elaine? You must follow me.”
Follow me. Don’t concern yourself with your brother’s portion. Concern yourself with me and all will “feel” right in due season. All is right in this season, but all will “feel” right very soon. The “new” will fit like the “old” and the path that wasn’t previously on your radar will write as perfect history—your history, Elaine. Our history—yours and mine. Follow hard after me, child, and see if I cannot be trusted with the outcome. I have called you. I am faithful. I will do it. Now, follow me.
Breakfast on the beach with Jesus, again. Thank you, Stephanie, for taking me there. Thank you, Jesus, for meeting me there. I hear the waters lapping against the shore; I smell the fire burning in the distance; I see Christ’s arms beckoning me forward to receive the food that he’s prepared for my consumption. It’s not been an easy swallow… this eating from the Lord’s fire this morning, but it’s been good for me and will be my strengthened understanding for the path that lies ahead. How grateful I am for a faith that sustains me through the night and that brings me into the glorious light of a new day! As always…
peace for the journey,
Copyright © April 2010 – Elaine Olsen
More of Jesus. That’s all I want. Apparently that’s all he wants for me as well. He said so this morning in our time on the beach together. As I was preparing my thoughts to write this final reflection, God reminded me of something he spoke into my spirit a season back:
“If you write conviction, Elaine, you’d better live conviction or else be prepared for conviction to find its way to your table.”
As I reflected on his admonishment, I realized that before one word could be written for this final reflection—a series based on the practice of “breaking our fast” from Jesus and receiving from his hand—I must come to the shore and to his fire in order to receive that feeding.
So I did. I found my way to the couch, pulled a blanket around me, and sat before the flickering flames and crackling warmth of God’s breakfast fire. My centered attention on Christ’s gaze was real, poignant, sweet, and tender. I could hardly find my voice, but when I did, all that came out was a simple question…
“What’s next, God?”
And without hesitation he answered back in my spirit…
A simple two-word response that has the capacity to change my “next” because when my “next” is wrapped around Jesus, all is right and well with my soul.
“I’m next” is not so far from what he told Peter and the rest of those eavesdroppers on that morning stroll following breakfast.
“Follow me” and “I’m next” are phrases in keeping with sacred discipleship. We cannot forsake Christ’s earlier three-fold command to Peter to “feed my sheep,” but as so often is the case when reading John 21, we stay focused on Peter’s re-commissioning without ever moving forward to Christ’s final words of encouragement.
What does that look like for us 2000 years down the road? How are we to “follow after” the Christ who cannot be physically heard, seen, touched, and therefore, followed after most concretely? Is it just a game of cat-and-mouse, hit-or-miss when it comes to walking in the shadows of the Divine? How in the world do we find him in the midst of the distraction that fills our days?
A few ways…
First, turn off the noise in your life. Literally. Shut it off and find some quiet in your day. I don’t have to imagine how noisy your life is. Mine has given me an ample window of understanding. The Shepherd’s voice is most clearly detected when it is given the full benefit of the stage. Give him the stage, friends, the single spotlight and your undivided attention in your thoughts. How he longs for his voice to resonate in the uncluttered hallways of your expectation.
Two, look for his Presence. See where he is at work, and move in for closer observation. Where are you seeing the evidence of God’s Spirit moving in your day to day? It may not be something big. His work may be manifesting its witness in small measure in the life of someone you know. God’s not just after big, friends. Remember this post? It’s the small and near that collect and gather to leave an enduring, everlasting impact on the life of an individual and, ultimately, the world. Move yourself to the place where God is working, and add your heart and hands to serving the kingdom cause in that place.
Third, place yourself on a believing path. Put your life and the lives of those who sit under your influence in close proximity to other believers. Why? Because where two or three are gathered in his name, he promises to be there as well. One of the reasons we “do church” in our family is not because we have an obligation to religion, but rather because we have an obligation to relationship—with other believers and, consequently, with Jesus Christ. I’m counting on the fact that when I enter the doors of church (or other venues where Christians gather), my Jesus-lovin’-Holy-Spirit-walkin’ self is going to come in contact with at least one or two other Jesus-lovin’-Holy-Spirit-walkin’ people. When that happens, God’s presence is activated in a way that doesn’t happen when we choose the road of isolation. I want to be in the path of Jesus. I want to be headed in his direction even as he is headed in mine.
Thus, as we receive Christ’s directive to “follow me!” we’re going to move our flesh into a posture of active obedience that will aid our ability to follow through with his admonishment. Kingdom living doesn’t come without our obedience, and our obedience doesn’t walk in isolation from the King. He hasn’t left us to ourselves in the matter of our kingdom conferment. He’s dispatched his Spirit on our behalves so that we, like the disciples, can victoriously follow hard after him into our “next.”
He’s our “next” friends, and wherever you go from this point forward in your journey with Jesus, keep the hem of his garment within reach. Never lose sight of his shadow; never grow deaf to his voice. Do whatever you have to do to make sure that your next steps land you smack-dab in the middle of your Savior’s day. He is where we’re headed. He is where I live. Even so, I heartily reply to his breakfast invitation…
Be my “next,” Lord Jesus, not just in this moment, but in the next one that follows that one. And the next, and the next, and the next, until my “next” finally lands me on the shores of Canaan and in the physical reality of your Presence forever. Amen. So be it.
peace for the journey,
Copyright © March 2010 – Elaine Olsen
New day. New week. New beginning to an old life. Who amongst us couldn’t use some new right now?
Today, I offer you part five in my series “Breakfast on the Beach with Jesus.” For some of you, a series of this sort isn’t your cup of tea; I’ve sensed that, and I’m fine with your preference. I love writing with a “series” feel… it helps me better develop my thoughts on an entire section of scripture and, in this case, helps me prepare my heart for an upcoming speaking engagement. Thank you to those of you who are willing to walk alongside me in my ponderings. If you’ve missed the previous four parts of this series and wish to catch up, you can read them here. Shalom.
The closer we move to Christ’s fire on the beach, the deeper the exchange between our hearts and his. We can linger on the waters of certain truth, throw a few nets per his directives, and even recognize and acknowledge him from afar without ever really having to go deeper with Jesus. Offshore is sometimes the safest place for us if we fear the change that might come to us by eating what Christ is serving up for breakfast. Rather than drawing closer to the fire to receive from his hands, we choose the warmth of the fire’s perimeter.
Why? Why in the world might we distance ourselves from Jesus when it’s clearly obvious that the Lover of our souls lingers in anticipation for us on the beach? I think for a few reasons.
First, the deepest intimacy we will ever share with our Savior comes to us when our hands touch his. We cannot partake of his breakfast without receiving it from his hands, and we cannot receive from his hands without our hands touching his corresponding scars. For many of us, that is too real… too vulnerable… too much of an inward look at personal sin and shame. As Peter must have felt in those early morning hours after denying Christ three times, we also feel the weightiness of our guilt when our flesh reaches out for a plate from his hands. We cannot abide the look in his eyes, because in his reflection we fear seeing the unworthiness of our “all” staring back at us.
A second reason many Christians stand at a distance from Jesus’ invitation to breakfast is that they aren’t comfortable with the morning menu. Sometimes what Jesus is serving isn’t in keeping with good digestion. Certainly, all food from the Father’s plate is for our good gain, but with that goodness sometimes comes a heaping dose of holy confrontation—questions our Jesus isn’t afraid to ask us to chew upon and then to swallow and questions that are in keeping with his regime for our continuing good health. If we were being honest (and really what profit is there in pretending other than to side-track the issue and stunt our growth altogether), there are days when we’d rather go hungry than to have to digest a hard teaching from our Father. Our good enough becomes breakfast, lunch, and dinner fare rather than his plate of our moving onto perfection.
A third reason (and perhaps the poorest excuse of them all) for us not coming to shore per Jesus’ invitation is that breakfast with Jesus means giving our nets a rest… means taking a break from our daily demands and schedules and, instead, choosing to spend one of life’s most precious commodities—time—at the feet of the Father. We are a busy people crammed and overflowing with the tyranny of the urgent. Where one need ends, another stands in line to take its place. Rarely is there time in our days for a leisurely stroll on the beach with Jesus. We reason his understanding in the matter; we think he “gets it,” and because of his grace, will wait for us. We tell him “Soon, Lord, just a few more minutes” when in reality we’re simply saying “This is more important to me than You.”
Can you even imagine saying that to Jesus? That your “this” is more important than what Christ is serving for breakfast? Many of us wouldn’t dare say it, but friends, we live it every day. Every time when we choose…
busy over best.
schedules over the sacred.
distance over deeper.
chaos over Christ.
And with our “No, thanks…” and “Not now…” we grieve our Savior’s heart, for we forget that he has been up all night, stoking the fires of a good feeding, waiting in anticipation for our arrival come morning light. When we choose to stay off shore—whether because of our fear of intimacy, a breakfast menu not to our liking, or because of our busy schedules—we miss out on the most intimate fellowship we will ever experience with the Divine on this side of eternity. Instead of feasting on the fare of his hands, we waste it. We leave it, and before day’s end, it has grown cold, has lost its flavor, and has become the wasted remnants of a grace that was meant to be tasted and lived and enjoyed on the front end of a day.
Thankfully, our Savior waits for us… at least a while longer. Even when we forsake a morning rendezvous on the beach with Jesus, he consigns himself to another night’s watch on our behalves, another night’s fire, another night’s roasting of fish, until another night has passed, and morning light brings new anticipation to his heart for our acceptance of his invitation to “Come and have breakfast.” His patience is great and his love far reaching. He, greater than us, understands our need for intimate times around a fire and for nourishment from his hands. That is why he is faithful to a shore’s lingering.
Can you see him there, stoking the fire and casting a far glance in your direction? He lingers still. He lingers for you. Come and have breakfast with your Jesus today. There is no excuse you can offer that is worth missing out on the offer of his heart and hands. It may smell like fish, but it feeds like grace.
Even so, Lord, fill my plate and fill it up again. As always, friends…
peace for the journey,
Copyright © March 2010 – Elaine Olsen
Scripture is clear that when the disciples made it to shore that morning, there was already a breakfast cooking to completion over the fire. But rather than Jesus offering the disciples his food in isolation, Jesus instructed his followers to bring a portion of their night’s catch and to add it to the flames. It’s an important mention, and one that I’m glad John included with the story as he was carried along by the Holy Spirit while writing it.
Jesus didn’t ask them for more fish because he necessarily needed more fish. Jesus asked them for more fish because in doing so, he was able to share in the joy of their prior obedience. It is the same with us. When we obey God and out of that obedience our nets begin to fill with abundance, we have the sacred responsibility and holy privilege of bringing that abundance to the heart of the Father so that he might receive the glory due him. Our catch doesn’t arrive at our initiative. It arrives at our Father’s, and when we forget to remember his hand in the matter—when we take the credit for the catch because, quite honestly, fishermen and women are all about bragging rights—we miss out on one of the sweetest aspects of divine fellowship with our God—
The beauty of sacred cooperation between his heart and ours. God invites us to come alongside him and to work with him to bring about a kingdom agenda that doesn’t have to include us, but because of his great love for us and grace over us, allows us a portion of deeded influence. He trusts us with the net; the best we can do is to trust him with the catch—to give back to him what belongs to him and to remember that we are as dust without him.
If I’ve said it before, I’ve said it at least 43 times (that’s one a year for those counting birthdays): If there’s anything good in me, it’s not because of me, it’s because of Jesus. I didn’t always think this; I used to think that I was pretty good all on my own. But then grace humbled me. I walked a prodigal road, and I thought some prodigal thoughts. I lived some prodigal sin, until my prodigal days caught up with me, and I realized my growing depravation and corresponding hunger. It was then that grace finally took hold of my heart, and I realized that I was not as good as I had previously thought. God was better, and if my life was ever going to amount for anything good, I would have to wear his grace openly and without reserve—owning my wretchedness while acknowledging his holiness.
Since that time, God has blessed me with abundance. My net has been full on more than one occasion; I wish that I could say I’m always faithful to quickly acknowledge his hand in the matter. Thankfully, with each obedience comes further understanding. I’m beginning to see the correlation between my submission to his directives and the bounty of my net. And when I do, when I realize that the provision I am holding really doesn’t belong in my hands but belongs in his, I’m quick to surrender it to the fire so that he might receive all the glory and share in the bounty of my night’s catch.
I don’t think many things please the heart of our Father more than when we “bring what we have” and place it before him for the partaking. His hunger for relationship exceeds ours, and when we offer him a “taste” from our nets, we open up our hearts for lavish, intimate fellowship with our God.
The beauty of sacred cooperation—of him bringing what he has and us bringing what we have to the table of grace with the purpose of growing the kingdom.
It’s a mystery, friends. I cannot get my mind around God’s allowing me any measure of influence regarding his agenda. He’s entrusted this mystery to each of us—to the holding of it and the dispensing of it therein. Some days we serve that purpose better than others. Some days we come close to understanding how it all works and other days all we can do is throw our hearts up in faith, surrendering the details and particulars to his perfect understanding.
I’ve stood in both places this week—understanding and faithful confusion. But as long as I’m standing with Jesus, it matters not the level of my perception. What matters is He who is with me in my deliberations over breakfast—him sharing his fish with me, me sharing mine with him.
Sacred cooperation. Mutual joy. Intimate relationship.
Where I want to be this day. I want the same for you. Enjoy your time on the beach with Jesus this weekend. I’ll see you on the other side of breakfast. As always…
peace for the journey,
Copyright © February 2010 – Elaine Olsen