Get out of the boat

This is the text of a sermon I preached today. You can listen to audio of it here.
We started two weeks ago by talking about what makes up the foundation of the church that Jesus builds, this ongoing revelation and obedience where the Spirit speaks to us and we obey and Jesus is glorified as the Christ – the savior of the world. Then last week we talked about how those directions the Spirit gives us lead us into community, into fellowship, into praying together, and learning together. For those of you who have been in the Vineyard for a long time, you may think that so far this all sounds very Vineyard, but I want to reiterate that up to this point what I have shared with you I take to be true of any church that is the body of Christ. No one lays perfect foundations or comes together as well as we should, but you can find elements of each of these in all Christian churches. Part of what made the Vineyard movement successful was that it tapped into these foundational characteristics and refocused on them, at a time when many churches had lost their focus.

Because there is also an ever present tendency to drift away from these core characteristics, to replace the leading of the Spirit and the building Jesus does with human-made facsimiles. As important as Peter’s confession was, it was the second part of the foundation event, and was completely dependent on the Spirit initiating the action. It is entirely possible to build a church that looks a lot like the sort of church we want to be, but is in fact hollow inside. What makes us distinctively Vineyard, is that we cannot be satisfied with that, with hollow church forms – even if the music is cool, the dress is casual, and everyone’s sipping coffee – these cultural things are not what makes us Vineyard. They are nice and they are part of our more down-to-earth nature, but that itself is a byproduct. You can be more relaxed about the cultural stuff when your focus is on the power and presence of God. That other stuff looks as unimportant as it is in comparison, which is why those things came to be more relaxed in the first place. But if we turn around and focus on those things like they were what was important, we miss what made Vineyard what it was, what must make us what we are going to be, if what we are going to be is the Vineyard Church in Wake Forest.

And what it means to be the Vineyard Church in Wake Forest is this: we come together and invite the Holy Spirit to come. We worship and exalt the Lord as a way of inviting His presence and focusing our attention on His presence and then we fully expect – we anticipate and make room for – the power of His presence to come. We expect prophetic words to be shared. We expect tongues and interpretations. We expect healings, deliverances, and miraculous life transformations. We don’t hype it up or make stuff up – but we also don’t cower away from stuff when it happens. We come to live with the idea that God showing up in power is a normal (if unpredictable) part of our life together. We try to orient what we do toward that normal and learn to roll with it when it comes.

We do things this way because this is the way Jesus operated. Look at John 14.8-14:
     [8] Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” [9] Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? [10] Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. [11] Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.
     [12] “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. [13] Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. [14] If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

Jesus says all he spoke and did came from the Father and points to the Father, and His unity with the Father. He also specifically appeals to the works He had been doing as evidence that His claim was true. The very next sentence is Jesus saying that whoever trusts Him will do the same works and even greater works. For the same purpose of glorifying the Father through Jesus. The founder of the Vineyard, John Wimber, read these words and all the healing and miracle accounts in the Gospels and he asked when the church was going to get back to “doin’ the stuff” – doing the works Jesus did. The Vineyard movement developed around doing these works. And I want to be clear on this. It’s not like this was a side thing, like they had ‘normal’ church and then had prayer time at the end, or relegated this stuff to home groups, or to healing conferences. Doing these works was central to their life together and to their communal identity. It marked who they were. I want this to mark who we are as well. I want us to welcome the presence of the Holy Spirit and invite Him to do His works in and through us so that the Father may be glorified in them in Wake Forest. That’s why we’re here.

There are some principles that we follow in the Vineyard that help us stay focused on why we’re here and help us learn to do the stuff, make it normal, and roll with it. We’re going to talk about these over the next three weeks (right now and the next two Sundays) and focus them around three catch phrases you might be familiar with. Can anyone finish these?

1. How do you spell faith? R-I-S-K
2. Everybody gets to play
3. No guilt, no glory

For today, faith is spelled R-I-S-K. Let’s look at what that means, by visiting with our old friend Peter again at another watershed moment in his life. Matthew 14:22-33:

     [22] Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. [23] And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, [24] but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. [25] And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. [26] But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. [27] But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
     [28] And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” [29] He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. [30] But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” [31] Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” [32] And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. [33] And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

There are a few things to note in this story about faith and risk. 

1. Peter was afraid and doubtful but he also saw something. We are not talking about faith healing. This is not something we drum up, this is not something we can will to happen, this is not the power of positive thinking or positive confession. NO SPECIAL FAITH REQUIRED. Just enough to take a chance. This is the Holy Spirit coming and doing the Father’s will, revealing the Father’s love both for Jesus His Son and for us His children. Like Jesus told Phillip, we want to be about what God is doing, not assume God will be about what we are doing. Peter didn’t come up with the idea to walk on water, he saw what Jesus was doing and wanted to be part of it. Same thing with us. Remember, listening to the Spirit is foundational. That is how we know what the Father’s will is, how we know what Jesus is up to.

2. Peter asked Jesus to tell him to come. Even after seeing what Jesus was doing, Peter took this important step. He didn’t just jump out of the boat and he didn’t exactly ask to come. Even in his asking, Peter pointed it back to Jesus. It’s okay to want to do the stuff. Peter really wanted the experience of walking on water. Who wouldn’t? But the focus was Jesus. IF it’s really you Jesus is key here. And this goes back to the previous point. Not only do we not have to have perfect or special faith to see healings and miracles occur, the fact is, Jesus showed a strong desire to prove Himself in the Gospels. He was not exactly shy about doing miracles. It’s true that he wouldn’t give signs on command, but in those cases the ones asking for signs had already seen miracles and had not believed. They weren’t asking for a sign. They were asking for another, having already dismissed the ones Jesus had done. As we press into this as a mode of outreach – what the Vineyard calls ‘power evangelism’ – you are going to find that God likes proving Himself. He relishes the chance. The problem is that most of the time we don’t give God that chance. All faith means is giving God a chance. 

3. Peter gets out of the boat. Peter climbed out of the boat in his own power. Power comes through exercising the power you already have. Peter couldn’t walk on water until he walked on water, until that moment, crossing the deck, climbing out, all that he did himself. The power to do amazing things will come, but it will not come before the moment you need it, not until you have moved out in the power you already have. This is where the risk part really comes in because what this means is that there isn’t a guarantee that anything is going to happen. Peter did not have the ability to walk on water either before or after. His feet didn’t morph into floatation devices – there was no outward sign ahead of time that this was going to work. And here’s the thing: it didn’t make sense for Peter to get out of the boat – the whole thing is crazy. That’s why it needs to be what God is doing, because if we’re going to do crazy, we need to do God-crazy. We can all come up with our own brands of crazy, but those will definitely sink. But make no mistake, risking means feeling as crazy as a guy who’s about to walk on water. 

4. Peter did a very natural thing: walking. He didn’t levitate or float or anything. The Lord empowered Peter to do something supernatural within his natural range of motion. This is the same with us. We can and should act normally, talk normally, engage in our natural range of motion. As crazy as it was to be walking on water, he was still just putting one foot in front of the other. You don’t have to become someone else in order for the power of God to work through you. Peter did not have some innate proclivity to walking on water. He was not especially buoyant or light on his feet or anything like that. He didn’t need special training either. There is nothing wrong with either our talents or giftings – God gives us those – but we must not think that they are what makes the difference here. They don’t. Just like Peter’s confession, our part is secondary and dependent. Important. Essential. But secondary and dependent. The Spirit prophesied through Balaam’s donkey. The Spirit can definitely work through us and through who we are.

5. One last thing. There were twelve in the boat. Only one got out. Only one walked on water. There should have been a party of thirteen taking a stroll, but it was just Jesus and Peter. Why? Because the number one challenge we face here is in getting out of the boat. All of them were Jesus’ core followers. Eleven out of twelve declined to even try. They wouldn’t take the risk. And they never walked on water. As we move into this, you are going to find resistance at every turn. Some of this cultural. Our modern, Western society has no conceptual way to process any of this. Don’t underestimate how much that affects us. Because it does at every turn. But these eleven weren’t stuck in the boat by their culture. The resistance runs much deeper than culture. It has to do with how uncomfortable we get with things we can’t control, things that make us dependent. Same reason Adam and Eve ate the fruit. We’d rather be gods than serve One. Between our sin nature and our culture, we face a pretty steep uphill battle. I’d like to tell you there was some easy way around it, some mental trick to get you over, but the fact is, climbing over the hull of a boat in water is uncomfortable, and awkward and a little strange. But it’s time to get out of the boat. 

Here’s what getting out of the boat means right now. This is your assignment this week. I want you to memorize seven words. Seven words that will change your life, will change this church. You ready? Here they are:

“Can I pray for you right now?”

I didn’t invent those, this is another Vineyard thing. If you don’t remember anything else this morning, remember this question and remember “get out of the boat.” Your assignment is to ask this question of at least one person this week and then to pray for themNatural range of motion. Be yourself. Ask God to do specific, tangible, measurable things. Ask God to show up and show it’s really Him. And don’t just ask a random person. Watch. Look for what God is doing. Someone is going to walk across your week like Jesus was walking across this lake. When you see them, ask the Lord, ‘if this is you, tell me to get out of the boat.’ When he tells you, then get out of the boat. Don’t make stuff up, don’t try to pray super-holy. Just ask for what they need. See what happens.

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