This past Sunday I had the opportunity to preach my first third of a sermon in front of an audience of adults. I say my first third because I wound up sharing the time with two others. Oddly enough it wasn’t the speaking in front of a large group that I found difficult; it was trying to get my point across in only ten minutes that made it so challenging.
For this week’s newsletter I have included the transcript of what I taught on. If you prefer the audio version you can listen to the first ten minutes of the link below (click on the message titled Week 1 and then click play): http://awakenchurchny.org/media.php?pageID=29
This is not my first time speaking in front of a large group, but it is my first time only having ten minutes to do. Unfortunately I have, at times, shown the tendency to be long winded and so while I don’t typically read from my notes, I will do so in the interest of allowing you guys to get out of here on time… or at least allow you to get out of here on time without only leaving Juan 2 minutes to tell his story at the end.
This week we are kicking off Josh’s sermon series with three incredible stories of faith, stories concerning Jesus or the parables he told, stories that relate to each of us in a very personal way.
My story comes from Matthew 14. We find ourselves looking at events just after Jesus had performed the miracle of feeding over 5,000 people with only a few loaves of bread and a couple small fish.
22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.
Who am I? My wife and I have been attending this church for about 5 months now and there are still a number of you that I do not know very well and while I do not have enough time to give you my life story there are a few details that I need to share in advance so that you understand what went on in our lives a little over 5 months ago.
What is the life story I want to convey? Eight months ago my wife and I moved up here from Texas with our son Jack; we were following an offer that I received from GE, one that entailed moving to New York. We both have family all over the country, but neither one of us have any family in New York… or even in the northeast for that matter so while we had family that had come up for a little while to help us get moved in, the transition was a little rough, especially on a very pregnant lady taking care of a not quite toddler son and a husband trying to care for both. It was kind of a lonely time as we were brand new to the area and had no friends and no family anywhere close.
Last Christmas Eve my wife, then not quite 8 month pregnant and I found ourselves celebrating Christmas alone (with our son) because we were unable to travel as we had originally planned, due to some difficulties with Leslie’s pregnancy. Determined to make the best of things we had decided to open a couple of gifts that evening. As Leslie crossed the room she stopped dead in her tracks and with a stunned look said, “My water just broke.” Skeptical, it was five weeks before she was due, I just looked at her and gave her that look. That stunned look turned to horror as she realized it wasn’t water running down her leg, rather it was blood. As she began to panic slightly I got a towel and guided her to the bathtub where she proceeded to strip down. I will save you all of the gory details, but suffice it to say that the blood that was pouring from my wife was doing so in amounts usually reserved for someone who has severed a major artery. At that point I had a high degree of certainty that we were getting ready to lose this child. This child that we had spent nearly eight months planning for, this little girl who had turned our plans upside down, this little girl whose name we had had picked out since well before our son was born. My little girl was getting ready to die.
It was at this point that I decided to get out of the boat. As I stared at my wife that night I made the commitment that regardless of what came out of this I was going to praise Him. If He gave me my little girl’s life I was going to praise Him. If He took my little girl from me, I was going to praise Him.
You see, ever since I found myself in Brazil shortly after the birth of my son, which was nearly a year and a half ago, God had really been working on me, trying to get me to understand the meaning behind the old hymn “It Is Well.” To bring me to the point where I was willing to praise Him in both the good times and the bad, to be thankful for my situations in life, regardless of what they are. At the time, my son had just been born and the very last thing I wanted to be separated from he and my wife, much less to be on a completely different continent, yet there I was and it was inarguable that it was God’s design that held me there. It was there that I began to learn what this hymn meant. The first verse of that hymn goes something like this:
“When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”
Why is this story important? At some point most of us become Peter, we tell God we are ready to be a part of His work and He invites us to walk on the water with Him. Then in the middle of doing so we look around and get frightened, completely ignoring the fact that we already did the hardest part, we took that first step out of the boat! Yes, Peter sank after a bit but he was the only disciple present that had enough faith to even step out of the boat… for just a little while Peter was walking on water.
Peter did not want to walk on water, Peter wanted to be with Jesus and he was simply willing to do whatever was necessary to be with Him.
While I was in Brazil, I told God I was ready, in a sense, I told Him, “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Last Christmas Eve He told me to “Come,” and I decided to get out of the boat.
As most of you know, I now have a beautiful 5 month old daughter, so obviously things turned out ok. I don’t know what would have happened had we lost our daughter that night. I may have been like Peter and once I looked around at the wind and the waves fear and sorrow might have gripped my heart and I could have begun to sink. I just don’t know… I do know one thing though, that night I made the decision to get out of the boat. As I called the doctor and packed up my wife and son to go to the hospital I kept singing the same few lines in my head, over and over.
*sing* “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”
What are the main takeaways? Get out of the boat. Have the faith to take the steps necessary, be willing to follow Him. We will never be perfect, in all likelihood there will be times where we begin to notice the wind and the waves, where fear and doubt will begin to sink us; at that point we will have no option but to cry out, “Lord, save me!” It is interesting that we are given the option in this life to play it safe. God gives us the opportunity to choose whether or not to risk it all and leave the safety of the boat but there is only one decision that leads to experiencing miracles, there is only one decision that allows us to experience the thrill and exhilaration of walking on water (figuratively), and there is only one decision that will allow us to experience the fullness of God’s presence. We can stay safely in the boat and distantly wonder what a relationship with Him is like or we can get out of the boat, go to Him, and know what a relationship with Him is like. But we will never get to that point if we do not first get out of the boat.
*End of speaking*
It was really interesting that this was the message that I chose because I was tested on it Sunday morning before I gave it… Although, I find it extremely likely that I was tested in this manner because this was the message that I had chosen.
I woke up early and excited to speak, however, as the morning progressed my patience began to wear thin with my wife and son. About half an hour before we were to leave I decided to open yesterday’s mail, where I was greeted with a series of medical bills that were supposed to have been covered by insurance but ultimately had not been. Frustrated with this and all the other little things that had gone on that morning, I retreated to my bedroom to finish getting dressed and to pray. Taking an aspirin for a headache and then putting on my shirt I laid down on the bed. Jack had followed me into the room so I decided put him on the bed with me as I prayed. No sooner than I had picked him up he vomited all over my shirt (the one I had had on for less than 3 minutes). Frustrated, I put him back on the floor and snapped at Leslie when she came in to see what all the commotion was.
Leslie removed Jack from the room and left me to change shirts. Angry with Jack and with myself for how I had responded I laid back on the bed and tried to calm myself down to pray. It was at this point I realized that this was exactly what my message was about; these were exactly the times I was supposed to be praising Him in. Everything had caught me off guard, it was all so unexpected that I almost completely missed the point; here was my opportunity to practice what I was getting ready to preach! In a sense, it was almost easier to put this into practice the night Ayla was born, I was desperate and really, I had little choice in the matter. Now was so much more different, now was the time I could say, “God, sit back, I got this.” Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth. It was every bit as important to praise him in these times as it was in the times of (near) tragedy.
At this point I calmed myself and began to praise Him for all that He had given me; for my family, for my church, for the opportunity to speak, to teach. Most importantly I began to praise Him for the opportunities to learn, to grow closer to Him.