“Getting Your Feet Wet”
Pastor Tom Millner
February 20, 2011
Several years ago at a training center near the Pecos River in New Mexico, I participated in an “executive” outward bound program designed to teach us through experiences the power of excelling. There were two life changing experiences that I have recalled over and over since then. The first is that living life to “win” is different than living life “not to lose.” That notion was reinforced by numerous exercises, but none like the cliff dive. We climbed to the top of a huge granite outcrop several hundred feet above the Pecos River. There was a heavy gauge cable that ran from a large telephone type pole atop the rock to a location not visible through the trees about one and a half football fields away. The exercise instructions were that we were to secure ourselves into the harness tethered to the cable and launch ourselves out over the cliff, above the river, to the unknown location on the other side. I eagerly volunteered to be first. My eagerness arose not so much from confidence as from the desire to not procrastinate in waiting a turn for who knew how long. Some of you are shouting “amen” to my truthful declaration! God has gifted me patience with many things, but waiting in line is not one of them. Nevertheless, when I stepped to the edge of the cliff tethered to the harness and looked down past my toes, my heart sank and my stomach rose. I recalled our scripture verse from today about Peter keeping his eyes on Jesus, stretched my arms wide and leapt from the edge of the cliff, sailing at a rapid pace across the Pecos. The thrill was exhilarating, the wind was refreshing, and the sight of the landing position with three “catchers” at the ready was reassuring. It seemed to happen so fast I was eager to do it again to experience it without the original apprehension. The learning had already occurred, however. My reflection on this as I read Peter’s experience of stepping out of the boat serves as food for thought today.
1. Stepping out of the boat requires a leap of faith. When Peter saw Jesus walking on the water he was in somewhat disbelief that it truly was Jesus. He called out the figure in the mist who had identified himself as Jesus, to command him to walk on the water toward Him as proof of who he was. Apparently Peter had faith that the voice calling him forth was indeed Jesus; otherwise Peter would have never stepped out of the boat. Everyone has a place of comfort and safety. It will vary for each one. Some find it in a favorite chair, a location by the sea, a special position between the sheets or a place of fantasy to which one travels during moments of quiet or over excitement. Still others find it in surroundings that are familiar, even though those surroundings may not be completely emotionally, physically or even spiritually safe. How many people have we known who seem to find greater comfort in remaining in the familiarity of an abusive relationship rather than taking the steps to walk away to a saner and safer place? There are those who would rather hold onto the familiar place of religious rejection from the broader church than to take the steps to reconcile with whom God has created them to be in love and acceptance. Some say “well, Pastor, I just can’t seem to reconcile those clobber passages with going to the bars, having one night stands, or drinking and drugging.” Well that’s good because there’s no reconciling self abuse and using others as self-gratification or self-medication with the clobber passages or with the great command to love God with all your heart, soul and mind and to love others as you would yourself. If you’re stepping out of the boat, make sure it’s the water you’re stepping onto and not someone else’s mess. Simply because your feet are wet doesn’t mean you’re walking on water! Accepting who God has made you to be and living to honor Him in and through that does not mean you have to emulate Rue Paul or Margaret Cho or the “A” list! Neither does it mean you have to emulate Ted Haggard or Fred Phelps. God created us first and foremost to be in relationship with Him. It is only in that relationship that all other purposes for our creation come to life. If you’re trying to live someone else’s life, you’re not having a relationship with God. Stepping out of the boat of self-centeredness onto the waters of relationship with Him requires a leap of faith. To get the most out of your relationship with Him, you have to stop spinning your wheels!
2. Spinning your wheels revs your engine, but you don’t get anywhere. Three days a week I go next door to the gym, sit on a stationary bike and spin my wheels for at least eight minutes to get my muscles warmed up for some exercise. I can peddle fast or slow; it doesn’t matter; I’m still not going anywhere. The faster I peddle my bike the faster my heart, but at the end, I’m still at the same location I was when I started. If I really want to get somewhere I have to get on a different contraption. Many of us have either in the past or are now sitting on the stationary bike spinning our wheels and wondering why we’re not getting anywhere. Does life seem to be falling into the same routine? Doing the same old things? What’s the old recovery quote: “doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result is insanity?” Doing the same ministry work, perhaps but not enjoying it as much? Going to the same old hangouts and not meeting the right people? Going through the same routine each day searching for a job? I remember the old adage: “when you’re hip deep in alligators it’s hard to remember that your goal was to drain the swamp.” Peter experienced something similar as he was walking on the water. His focus was taken away from the purpose and he went back to doing what he had always done – worry about what’s happening around him! Isn’t it amazing how we avoid making changes in our lives and then complain about having to deal with the same old thing? So often it’s not the doing that is the root issue but rather the thinking behind the doing. Jesus took on death for us because that’s where each of us is headed eternally on our own. When He calls us to relationship, He calls us into a place of life. Relationship with Him is living. Relationship with self or others without Him is wheel spinning – getting nowhere! Want new life in your life? Want a different outcome than what you’re getting? Want a greater sense of peace, calm, or even more excitement? The place to find it is planting your feet solidly in the presence of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! As long as Peter had his eyes on Jesus, he was walking on the water. When Peter took his eyes off their focus and was distracted by the wind, he sank.
3. Keep your eyes on the prize and not on the wind. The greatest motivational speakers in the world will tell you that accomplishing what you want in life requires single-mindedness of purpose – a strong sense of focus. We all have that to varying degrees, however, so why aren’t we as a nation and a world happy with accomplishments? Why are so many of our brothers and sisters living a life filled with condemnation because of who they are rather than a life of joy and grace because of Who Christ is? Why do some see yet another day of defeat while others see another moment of victory? – it’s the same 24 hours! Depression, disappointment, heartache, and emotional pain are real. There are treatments available that help with the physiological components of these attacks. The majority of us ignore the key element to fulfilling our purpose, however; namely a relationship with the God who created us for the very purpose of relationship! That purpose is fulfilled in relationship with Him, because of Jesus. Often we spend two minutes in prayer that seem like an hour, babbling on and on about “I want,” “I need,” and we miss the opportunity to be in His presence. That’s not a relationship with Him any more than the cat’s relationship with the litter box. We reach out to God (like Peter), God says come on – “trust me,” and then we look the other way, sink, and scream out “save me!” He removes the litter from our box and we go back just to make another deposit! Pretty soon the only relationship we’re having is with our own litter. That’s a distraction from the relationship to which He calls us. That’s no more than spinning our wheels again. When we step out of the boat of all that’s dear to ME onto the waters of relationship with He who has given His all for that relationship to exist, we get our feet wet. We may experience some discomfort with the newness of wet feet, but if we stay there, He’ll lead us to a walk that is ever so refreshing. When looking at the lake of life, the surest way to the other side is a walk on the water! Staying in the boat or trying to find the path around is approaching life with the desire not to lose. In the end, we discover that we never had what we thought we were trying to avoid losing – namely safety, security and acceptance. When we take the step out of the boat onto the waters of faith in relationship with Him, we live the life that He has already won for us – the one we’ve truly been seeking, but never seemed to find.