By Cheri Lynn Cowell
I froze. My senses heightened. The Sea of Galilee spread out before me like the Table of Christ, as the rock is called over which the quaint chapel we’d just exited was built.
From this rocky shore Jesus called out to the disciples, “Have you caught anything?”
“No,” they replied.
“Throw your nets on the other side of the boat,” he shouted.
Peter and the other men had gone back to what they’d known before the ground-shaking events of the last several weeks—they’d returned to fishing. Yes, they’d been with the resurrected Lord several times. Yet, when it came down to living their everyday lives, not much had changed.
For three days I’d traveled with a contingent of Christian journalists to some of Israel’s holiest of sites. With every stop we made, I’d reached into the pages of the Bible and touched history. I knew it would be a moving experience to tour the land where biblical history was written, but I wasn’t prepared for how the Author of that history would touch me.
STRUGGLING TO PROCESS
As I stood on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, I was still struggling to process what had happened to me the day before. We’d just left Masada, the winter palace of King Herod, and the final stronghold for Jewish freedom fighters against the Romans in ad 73. We’d learned about the 960 men, women, and children who committed mass suicide there, rather than become enslaved to the Romans. Before that we’d been in En Gedi and seen the caves where David secretly snipped the edge of Saul’s robe, instead of killing “God’s anointed.”
Now we were traveling by military escort through the militarized zone between Israel and Jordan to the place called Kaser El Yehud. It is the site where Joshua led the children of Israel across the Jordan into the promised land, and also the historic location on the Jordan River where John baptized Jesus.
This is not the usual tourist site where people in white robes are baptized. The Ministry of Tourism hopes one day soon to open this place, but for now only those receiving permission are allowed to visit.
As the van bumbled along the dirt road past barbed wire with signs warning of land mines, my mind raced. What was God saying to me through these juxtaposing images? When the van stopped, we piled out—our military escorts, sporting AK47s, stood at a respectful distance. One by one we walked down the mud-covered steps into the rushing waters of the Jordan.
I nearly fell as my knees buckled; a warm current pulsated through my body, taking my breath away. My colleagues could see I was having “my moment,” as it later became known, but they didn’t know a healing was taking place.
For years I’d strived to serve God in everything I’d done. I’d served on church staffs, taught Bible studies, and even now was attending seminary. I never doubted his love for me. Yet, something was missing.
As the waters of the Jordan swirled around me, the world closed in, and in my mind’s eye I saw the descending dove and heard in my spirit the words, “In you I am well pleased.” Tears poured from my closed eyes as I grasped the reality of those words for myself.
PLEASED WITH ME
My heavenly Father was pleased in me. Not because of anything I’d done or would do, but because I am his. And although I’d continue to encounter danger as I sought to faithfully serve him, there is nothing I could do, no mountain I could climb or desert I could cross, that would cause him to love me more. In fact, all of my striving was for naught.
I am a doer. I’m a take-the-situation-by-the-driver’s-seat kind of gal, but my “doer” had just been snipped. It was a feeling I was unfamiliar with. In Bible studies I’d taught the difference between doing and being for God, but never had I experienced the feeling of not needing to “do.”
In the following 24 hours I wrestled with my new reality. That next day, as we toured the ancient Tells at Dan and Hazor and touched the ancient stones, a battle raged within me. How am I to simply “be,” and accomplish anything for the Lord? What are you saying to me, Lord?
As I walked out of the Church of Peter’s Primacy that afternoon, it was happening again, but this time, instead of the world closing in, it was opening up. All of my senses grew keen—I heard the Galilean water lapping upon the rock-strewn shore, a whisper of wind kissed my skin as it blew across the sea, and I almost smelled the fish frying as my Lord cooked breakfast.
“It is the Lord,” Peter cried out as he leapt from the small fishing boat weighted down with a huge haul of fish.
And I remembered the words as clearly as Peter had heard the words himself. “Cheri, just feed my sheep.”
I smiled. “Yes, Lord, I can do that.”
I had gone to Israel to see the places where biblical history had been written. I had gone to tour the ancient sites and touch the ancient stones. Instead, there among the ruins of history, I was the one who was touched.
After the resurrection, Peter and the disciples had gone back to what they knew. They’d gone back to fishing, even after they’d been with the risen Lord. I’d fallen into that same trap; perhaps you have too. It happens to all of us who continually give all we have.
I needed a fresh encounter with the living Lord to breathe new life into my daily witness. In the Holy Land, I received that encounter.
Cheri Cowell is a conference speaker and the author. See photos from her visit to Israel in November 2009 at www.CheriCowell.com.