The Active Decision
July 5, 2009
The entire world just disappeared. One minute it was there and the next minute, there it was gone. Well not really but it seemed like everything else had ceased to exist, and all there was left was Peter, the sea and Christ. It had started off as another boat trip across the Sea of Galilee for the twelve while Jesus stayed behind, it was a beautiful evening, with a star filled sky and then bang, a storm blew up from nowhere. What was it that Yogi Berra said, “It was like deja vu all over again.” Peter remembered another boat trip across the same stretch of water when a storm had blown up and threatened to swamp their boat. The difference being that this time there was no Jesus to stand in the bow and rebuke the wind.
And so the disciples desperately struggled against the storm as they made their way slowly across the lake. A short trip soon turned into an epic journey. The daylight had fled in the path of the impending night and the sunset had been a crimson slash across the western sky ushering in a heaven like black velvet studded with chips of diamond. But soon the stars were hidden by an increasing number of clouds and the wind whipped the shallow depths of Galilee into a boiling cauldron of froth. They were bow into the wind and it seemed that every metre had to be fought for and bought with a price. But they had been through worse and survived, after all they made their living on the sea, but it was a lot more fun without the gale force winds.
Then it happened they’re struggling at the oars, they’d had to pull the main sail down to keep it from being torn to shreds, and somebody said “what is that?” Well talk about freak city. There was somebody walking out there. No there couldn’t be he had to be in a boat, nope there wasn’t any boat, “it’s a ghost” somebody yelled, and well there wasn’t a great deal of time for consultation it would appear that was the consensus. What next? First they were battling for their lives in a storm, now they have a ghost walking on the water? When Peter had said earlier “cheer up, things could be worse” he didn’t entirely expect things to get worse. Well there was only one thing left to do. So they did it, they screamed, in fear. But a familiar voice came across the water saying Matthew 14:27 But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!” It was Jesus, and I’m sure that Peter was thinking “I hate it when he does stuff like this” I kind of like the N.K.J.V. translation here because Jesus say’s “be of good cheer”. Oh, no problem. We’ve been in a storm that been threatening to sink us for the past seven hours, we’re wet and we’re cold, and now out of nowhere a dude walks across the water and says “hey guys cheer up” not a problem. But then he qualifies his first statement by adding, “It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Pretty stiff translation if you ask me, picture a carpenter saying “take courage! It is I. don’t be afraid” how about “hey guys, it’s me and I’ve got everything under control”
Well I don’t know about the rest of the disciples but Peter believed him because he stands up and shouts into the wind, Matthew 14:28 Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.” Tell you what that is a Peter statement if I ever heard one. Well you know the rest of the story don’t you, Jesus says “yes, come,” and Peter crawls over the gunwales of the boat puts one foot on the water, not in the water but on the water, tests it puts his other foot on the water and starts to walk toward Jesus. I wonder what he was thinking. There’s spray blowing in his face, the waves are slapping against his legs and he’s – walking – on – the – water. Hot diggity dog, walking on the water, he can hardly believe it, everything else seems to disappear except for Jesus and the sea and him.
Now personally I think the devil showed up about that time and whispered in Peter’s ear, “hey dummy, you can’t walk on water you’re going drown.” if Peter was like the majority of commercial fisherman and seaman that I know he couldn’t swim, and had a fairly healthy respect and fear of the sea and suddenly he realized that people don’t walk on water, people walk under water and so the bible tells us that he began to sink, and that’s where we come in.
We are now week three in our series on the Traveler’s Gift. If you haven’t been with us for the first two weeks or if you have a really short memory let’s come up to speed. I read the book last year, and it became one of my favourite books. The author Andy Andrews is a PK, which is a term affectionately applied to preacher’s kids, we have several in our congregation. When Andrews was 19 years old his mother died of cancer and his father died in a car accident, in his own words “I took a bad situation and made it much worse.” Within two years Andrews was homeless and living under a pier. It was there that he started reading biographies of men and women he admired and asked the question “Is life just a lottery ticket, or are there choices one can make to direct his future?” And he came to the conclusion that there were 7 decisions that successful people made that impacted their lives.
He later wrote the novel “The Traveler’s Gift”, where the hero of the story David Ponder visits with 7 historic figures who each provided a gift in the form of a letter to Ponder. The first gift was from President Harry Truman who encouraged Ponder to accept responsibility for the choices he had made in his life. It is the responsible decision or understanding that we are where we are in life because of choices we have made. Clear back to the choice you made in grade school to work hard at your school work and pay attention or not.
The second gift came from King Solomon who encouraged our hero to choice wisdom. And so last week we looked at where we receive wisdom from. From books, from others and from God. It is the guided decision.
And in a flash, David Ponder leaves Solomon’s throne room and appears on July 2, 1863 at Little Round Top. It is the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg and Ponder meets Colonel Joshua Chamberlain a 34 year old school teacher from Bangor Maine, who is commanding the 20th Maine a volunteer unit in the Union army.
Two years previous we are told there had been over a 1000 men under Chamberlain’s command when they left Bangor Maine. But by 1863 the numbers had been reduced to a few hundred who had been commanded to hold the line at Little Round Top against the advancing 15th & 47th Alabama regiments. After repelling the advancing Alabamian’s five times there were fewer than 100 left with Chamberlain, and they were without ammunition. Some of his junior officers recommended surrendering but Chamberlain had been told how vital that position was to the Union defence. And so he commanded his men to fix their bayonets and he led the charge against the enemy position. And the remaining 80 members of the 20th Maine, armed only with bayonets captured over 400 heavily armed confederate soldiers.
Chamberlain would later remark “Later, I felt sorry for my men. Their leader had no real knowledge of warfare or tactics. I was only a stubborn man, and that was my great advantage in this fight. I had, deep within me, the inability to do nothing.”
We are told by historians that Chamberlain’s actions were key in the Union army’s victory at Gettysburg and that Gettysburg was the turning point in the War Between the States and all because Joshua Chamberlain refused to give in and instead took action. And so today we look at “The Active Decision”
Matthew 14:24 Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves.
1) The Situation Everyone one of us finds ourselves in perilous situations from time to time. In Joshua Chamberlain’s case it was a battle he could not win, in Peter’s case it was a storm over which he had no control. I don’t know what your storm is and maybe you are not in a storm right now, but you have been in the past or you will be in the future. We need to realize that storms will come in each of our lives whether we are Christians or not, storms of illness, unemployment, financial set back, martial strife or death. Christ never promised us that our life would be a stroll in the park.
Some of those storms are brought on by ourselves. If Jonah had of been obedient then he would never have ended up in his particular storm. If you smoke and end up with lung cancer you have no one to blame but yourself, don’t stand demanding “God, how could you do this to me?” You cheat on your spouse and they leave you, that’s a storm of your own making. You don’t do your job right and get sacked. We need to recognise that some storms are our fault; nobody is to blame but us.
Some storms are caused by Satan, take for example in Job 1:19 the storm that killed job’s family was directly attributable to Satan. The mobs that attacked the early church in the book of Acts, the crucifixion of Christ all storms caused by the devil. But sometimes we give the devil too much credit and we credit him with things that just happen. A family that I grew up with lost their nine year old son when a mud bank where he was digging a cave collapsed on him, you lose your job because of a poor economic climate in the country, you or a loved one gets cancer. We need to realize that sometimes bad things just happen and that is just the way it is.
Some storms come from God or he sends us into them. In John’s account of this story he tells us a little bit about what went on before Jesus sent the disciples out in their boat. In John 6:14-15 When the people saw him do this miraculous sign, they exclaimed, “Surely, he is the Prophet we have been expecting!” When Jesus saw that they were ready to force him to be their king, he slipped away into the hills by himself.
Perhaps Jesus knew that the disciples would spend the night talking about what it would be like if their boss became king, and if that was the case then just maybe they were being kept busy in the storm to get their minds off those things. Sometimes a storm is our safest place because it demands all of our attention, and energies, and keeps us from giving into temptation. My dad told me about being in a little fishing boat as a teenager with his father when a sudden storm blew up, he was bemoaning the fact that they had to be at sea and how much nicer it would be on land and my grandfather told him “oh you wouldn’t want to be ashore now, it’d be too dangerous a tree could blow over and kill you. No we are much safer here.”
And sometimes it takes a storm for us to step out of our comfort zone and do something great.
And so there they are, in the storm, alone and struggling for their very lives. Their thoughts probably went back to the last time this happened. Maybe Andrew said “hey guys, do you remember back in Matthew 8:23 when this happened and Jesus stopped the storm” and they reminded him that was fine but where was Jesus now. And so the discussion went, made up of little jerks of conversation between waves. Maybe they decided that they must be out of the will of God, because that’s they only time that bad things happen to believers is when they are out of the will of God or when there is unforgiven sin in their lives right? Hardly. But the question must have been in their hearts if not on their lips, “where is he?”
Well when Mark wrote his account of the story he added this insight, Mark 6:46-48 After telling everyone good-bye, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Late that night, the disciples were in their boat in the middle of the lake, and Jesus was alone on land. He saw that they were in serious trouble, rowing hard and struggling against the wind and waves. About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. He intended to go past them,
Must have been one of those God things, because it was dark and they were in the middle of the lake. I mean the Sea of Galilee isn’t that big but it’s still between four and seven miles to the middle depending on where you stand, not many people have that kind of eyesight. They may have thought that they were alone but he was there all along. And when the storms come in our life we’re not alone either. But sometimes it seems like Jesus waits until the night is at its darkest to show up, and maybe it is, or maybe we’ll never know how dark the night might have got if he hadn’t shown up, or maybe it was simply because he doesn’t always follow our timetable that it seems like he’s not on time. How often are we guilty of praying “Lord grant me patience and grant it now”?
Whatever the reason it wasn’t until the fourth watch and that’s between three and six in the morning that Christ finally got to the boat. And were they thankful? No they freaked. I’m sure that they wanting rescuing, but they wanted to be rescued their way. They saw Christ walking on the water and they thought it was a ghost. Now I realize that it’s very easy for us to laugh and say “a ghost, how silly can you get?” I don’t know I think I’d have some serious doubts if I saw somebody walking on the water in the middle of a storm.
Matthew 14:28-29 Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.” “Yes, come,” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus.
2) The Action
Can I ask you a question? Sure I can, after all I’m up here right? When was the last time you took a risk? Any risk, outside of driving in the city? When was the last time you took a business risk? When was the last time you took a personal risk? When was the last time you took a spiritual risk? When was the last time you got out of the comfy little boat that you call life and took a risk? You probably used to do it a lot more when you were younger didn’t you? It seems like the older we get the more comfortable the boat seems and the more dangerous the storm looks. But life is about taking risks, it shouldn’t be about playing it safe. After all the secret is not who gets the most years in their life but who gets the most life in their years. Maybe Charles Lindbergh said it best when he made this statement, “I decided that if I could fly for ten years before I was killed in a crash, it would be a worthwhile trade for an ordinary lifetime. . . Who valued life more highly, the aviators who spent it on the art they loved, or the misers who doled it out like pennies through their antlike days”.
You say “Preacher Peter really didn’t take a risk” oh really? Bet the other eleven guys thought he was taking a risk, notice that they didn’t get out of the boat.
Every note worthy contribution every made to society has started out as an action and ultimately was a risk. Beginning with Adam and eve deciding that maybe cooked meat might not be so bad and trying to figure out how to go about harnessing fire, right up to and including space travel and beyond. Human progress entails risk taking. It’s easy to play it safe, but it’s not profitable. Peter wasn’t the only person in the bible to take a risk. Think about how different our bible would be if Abraham had said no when he was asked to leave everything he had to pursue the vision of a great nation. That’s a risk when you are told that you will be the father of a nation when you aren’t even the father of a child.
What would have happened if Noah had of decided to play it safe and not become a boat builder in his old age? And if David decided that tending sheep had a better future then fighting giants? What if Daniel realized that it was safer to obey the king’s command then to pray? And if Mary had of told the angel that she really wasn’t interested in being a teen age mom because she didn’t want to take the risk? What if Jesus had of come to the conclusion that there was a brighter future in being a carpenter then being a messiah? Or if he hadn’t wanted to take the risk of coming to earth at all?
If the apostles had of decided that it was too risky to leave Jerusalem after the Holy Spirit had come, would we still be painting our bodies and living in trees? If Columbus hadn’t taken a risk on the earth not being flat would England and Europe be very crowded now and the North America still belong to the original owners. If Luther hadn’t taken a chance would we all still have a pope? If Wesley hadn’t taken a chance would we still have an archbishop?
If Henry Ford hadn’t taken a risk would we still be riding horses? If Edison hadn’t taken a risk would we still be reading by candles? If Alexander Graham Bell hadn’t taken a risk would we be living without the telephone?
The face of the earth and the scope of human history has been changed by those who were willing to get out of the boat. Now I know that we can’t all be Fords and Edison’s but everyone of us has the ability to change our world. Every one of us has the ability to leave a mark with our life. I remember reading once “if you want to put your life into perspective put your finger into a bucket of water and then pull it out, that is the difference that your being here will make” and I am here to say that is wrong, wrong, wrong. The world is what it is today not because of what society has done but because of what individual people have done. And in doing it they have had to get out of their boat and walk on water.
Matthew 14:28-31 Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.” “Yes, come,” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted. Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”
3) The Consequences You understand that it was only when Peter took his eyes off Jesus that things got out of hand. The tight rope walker Tino Wallenda said “When I walk the wire I must concentrate definitely on the other side. I keep my eyes straight ahead. If I start to look over to the audience or watch somebody underneath me there is a good possibility I could lose my balance.” In life we need to keep our eyes on the goal and in our Christian walk we need to keep our eyes on Christ. It’s when we start watching people that we loose the balance we need to keep going. And so Peter starts to sink and I love what he says, “Lord save me” no fancy prayer there. “Oh great and awesome Lord, creator of all things, that which is in the sea and that which is above the sea, I beseech thee to reach forth thy almighty hand and save this unworthy yet needful sinker” the man would have drown if he had of prayed like that.
Now notice that Jesus took time to save the sinker before he rebuked the doubter. Didn’t point a finger of accusation instead he extended a hand of assistance. Take that as an example and when a brother or sister in our congregation begins to sink, for what ever reason, don’t stand there and criticize, help them.
When Jesus said “O you of little faith” he was acknowledging that Peter had some faith. Peter was ready to do something great with Jesus. And he did he walked on water. I don’t know how far he walked on water but it doesn’t matter what matters is that he walked on water.
But understand this: before he sank he did what no other man had done before and what no other man has done since he walked on the water. And after Jesus reached out his hand, well he had to get back to the boat somehow so I suspect that he walked back. And all in all I think that if I had my druthers I’d druther be a wet believing Peter, then a dry doubting Thomas. And Peter was never rebuked for trying.
Are you ready to take a risk? To live life the way that Christ intended it? Remember in John 10:10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.
Can you honestly say that you have been living your life to the fullest? You need to take life by the throat and make an impact. Your goal isn’t to live long it’s to live, it’s not how many years you get in your life but how much life you get in your years. Don’t listen to the whines of those who have settled for a second rate life and want you to do the same. It is up to you to make the choice, will you choose to act or to stand still and watch life go by? Let me close with a quote by Thomas Jefferson who said “I’m a great believer in luck; and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”