Last week, we started a new series called “God-Size Faith.” This series is a God given gift with perfect timing because it fits very well with where we are in our denomination. We are at a crossroads and decisions need to be made. But it’s not a decision for us to make alone. It really needs to be a discernment, a leading and call from God. And that’s going to require faith on our part.
Living as followers of Jesus requires a faith that cannot be shaken. And the Bible is full of examples of men and women who trusted in the faithfulness of God, even when it wasn’t easy. So in this series, we we’re taking a look at the some of the ways people in the Bible did incredible things, but not because of the strength they had in and of themselves, but because of their great faith in God.
A God-size faith is displayed when we step out in trust and obedience before the miracle even takes place. It means we keep our focus on Jesus no matter what’s happening. It means we are willing to follow God even if we don’t know exactly where He’s going to take us. And it means living for God, even if it costs us something.
The Bible is full of wonderful examples of people who had this extraordinary faith. Which makes the Bible not only a guide for us to follow, but a source where we can learn how to trust God with full obedience and full faith. Remember, we define faith as…
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
In other words, faith is confidence that what we hope for will actually happen. And it’s trusting the One we know to be faithful. I have a sign in my office that says it pretty well. It says, “Faith is daring the soul to go beyond what the eye can see.”
In other words, if you want to see God’s power, go ahead and step out, get ankle deep as we talked about last week. Last week, we looked at the Israelites crossing the Jordan river to get into the Promised Land. The fascinating part of the story is that God did not split the water and provide dry ground to walk across until the priests, carrying the Ark of the Covenant, followed God’s instructions and put their feet into the water, getting ankle deep in rushing, flooding water.
Their demonstration of faith, by putting themselves ankle deep in the high tide of the Jordan river, was just the start to the amazing things God would do for them. But it took their first steps of obedience to allow them to see this miracle. So sometimes, if you want to see God’s power, you have to be willing to exercise your faith by taking the first step.
And this week, we’re daring the soul to take your eyes off of your circumstances and place them on Jesus Christ. We’re looking at another angle of faith, the interplay between faith and fear.
Over the past few years, the Church has become well acquainted with navigating these two extremes. The global pandemic, the inflation crisis, a nation dividing, and our denominational issues.
May I just say, that as a church, you have so far shown great faith. In the midst of the pandemic, you didn’t let that slow you down from coming to church and worshiping your God. Particularly during the shutdown, you gave offerings in numbers higher than ever expected. In fact, they were better than at least several years before the pandemic. Then just this past year, even though costs are rising on everything, you still demonstrated your faith in God by giving two local families thousands of dollars. And let me add this, you are still giving in faith as the monthly mission amounts each week are what they used to be for a whole month. That’s faith. That’s trust.
Some of us may have been tempted to embrace fear during these times, or maybe even abandon our faith. And maybe that is a temptation right now with the crossroads we are at in the UMC. But let me assure you of one fact, fear only paralyzes us and keeps us from being the hands and feet of Christ in a broken world.
If we let it, life can overwhelm us with fear. And anyone can become afraid of anything. They are called phobias. I certainly have a few, and maybe you do too. Let me just lighten the mood here. For me, I know it’s a mind game, but I’m not a big fan of small spaces or at least not for very long.
Just for fun, let’s see if you can guess the fear that these different phobias are describing.
Arachnophobia: Fear of spiders
Dentophobia: Fear of dentists
Nomophobia: Fear of being without your mobile phone
Technophobia: Fear of technology
Scoli-o-no-phobia: Fear of school
Pela-doe-phobia: fear of baldness and bald people.
Chae-to-phobia: just the opposite, fear of hairy people.
Phobophobia: fear of being afraid.
And the number one fear in the United States as of a few years ago is Glossophobia: fear of public speaking, which affects 25 percent of Americans.
Do you know what the fear of long words is? Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia
Yeah, I’m not saying that!
Look, I know fear is real, and I know we all have some fear about what’s going to happen in our church. So I want to show you today the key to holding onto our faith right in the face of that fear.
I’m going to be really honest with you, there are many people within the Church today who are not living up to their full potential in Christ. They don’t serve others; they don’t make worship a priority; they don’t make the church body a priority; and they don’t take risks for the sake of Christ. Why? There might be lots of reasons, but one of the biggest, I believe, is because of fear. A fear of what others might think. A fear of failing. A fear of what following Jesus might cost them. But if we want to see the power of God in our lives, we have to be willing to step out.
A disciple named Peter learned this lesson in a classic story from the Gospels. In Matthew 14, John the Baptist died in prison and Jesus fed the 5,000. After all that, Jesus sent His disciples out on a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee while He went up a mountainside to pray.
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.
The Sea of Galilee is really a large lake, but not anything like the lakes we have around here. It extends 13 miles from north to south and 7 miles from east to west, with a depth of 150 feet. What’s really fascinating about the Sea of Galilee is that its surface level is 680 feet below sea level. Sudden storms can appear over the surrounding mountains with little to no warning, stirring the water into violent waves.
Compared to the story Matthew tells in chapter 8 about Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee, this time wasn’t nearly as bad, however the disciples were alone in the boat this time and the wind and waves were causing enough havoc that they were in trouble. The Greek word used for buffet is the word basanizo (boss-a-nee-zo). It literally means to torment,
to be harassed and distressed. The disciples found themselves in a difficult and scary situation. A circumstance that was outside of their control. Isn’t it true that…
POINT # 1 – Life Is Often Outside of Our Control.
Every one of us in the room today can point to a time in recent memory where we felt tossed by the winds and the waves of life. A disappointment. A tragedy. A crisis. A diagnosis. Chaos. These are the very things that are often outside of our control, yet cause our faith to waver. It can leave us feeling vulnerable and exposed, and we can wonder where Jesus is in the middle of it all. The storms of life are unavoidable. Yet the question is: Who do we trust in in the middle of it?
It was a dark and stormy night, and the disciples were being tossed around in their tiny boat. Now, many of Jesus’ followers were fishermen, so they would have encountered a storm or two before; but their immediate response was fear. That would indicate that the storm was particularly dangerous. And this time Jesus wasn’t with them, at least not yet.
It’s like Jesus put them on the boat alone this time to test their faith. The scripture says that just before dawn, Jesus came out to them walking on the water. Jesus was demonstrating His power and control over the elements of the storm. But when the disciples saw Him, they were gripped with even more fear because they thought He was a ghost.
Immediately, Jesus spoke to them. The words He said are echoes of the most repeated command in the Bible. Three hundred and sixty-five times God told His people to not be afraid and to take courage. It is the command given to Joshua before they cross the River Jordan, as we discussed last week.
“This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Facing uncertainty in a new land and the crossing of a flooded body of water, God told his people to have courage. Not because all the obstacles would be eliminated or easy, but because God was going to be with them all the way. The same is true in this passage as well. Jesus told the disciples to take courage in the middle of the storm because He was with them.
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.
So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. Jesus’ most comforting words to the disciples are: “It is I.” They didn’t have to be afraid because they were not alone. Maybe someone needs to hear that this morning.
You can have faith in the middle of what you are going through because you are not alone. Jesus is with you. That is the beauty of faith. You can do the hard things and make a difference for the Kingdom even though you may be fearful. Fear does not disqualify you from trusting and obeying.
POINT #2 – Faith does not require the absence of fear. It requires a trust in God.
Is that not the definition of faith? Confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
Dr. E. Stanley Jones was an American Methodist missionary and author. He once said, “I am inwardly fashioned for faith, not for fear. Fear is not my native land; faith is. I am so made that worry and anxiety are sand in the machinery of life; faith is the oil. I live better by faith and confidence than by fear, doubt and anxiety. In anxiety and worry, my being is gasping for breath–these are not my native air. But in faith and confidence, I breathe freely—these are my native air.” A John Hopkins University doctor said, ‘We do not know why it is that worriers die sooner than the non-worriers, but that is a fact.” But I, who am simple of mind, think I know. We are inwardly constructed in nerve and tissue, brain cell and soul, for faith and not for fear. God made us that way. To live by worry is to live against reality.”
The Apostle Peter lived in the reality of faith. His response to Jesus’ presence was to ask Him to invite him out of the boat and onto the water. I think Peter had seen Jesus do such amazing things throughout their ministry together that he longed to face his fear and get out of the safety of the boat to do what Jesus did.
I would bet that many of us feel the same way deep down. Deep down we long to be invited out of the boat of a comfortable life to see God do amazing things. But to see those things we have to be willing to get out of the boat. Jesus’ response to Peter’s invitation was “come.” Do it then Peter. Come out onto the water and see your faith overpower your fear.
Peter obediently got out of the boat. And right before the disciples’ eyes, a miracle took place. Peter was walking on water. That is the goal of the Christian life isn’t: to respond to God’s call to trust Him and have the faith to take risks for God, while blessing others with our actions.
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. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
POINT #3 – Keep Your Eyes on Jesus.
Peter’s flaw was that he let his eyes focus on the swirling waters around him and not remain fixed on Jesus. If we’re honest, we have the tendency to do the exact same thing. Though we may have started by developing a deep faith with eyes on Jesus, if we are not careful, the worries of the world will creep in.
The struggle with faith is that it doesn’t have a long shelf life. So many of us try to live off of recycled faith. We don’t take the time to nurture a vibrant trust in God that is renewed each and every day. The danger in this way of living is that our eyes can drift from the Savior to our circumstances, and we may begin to sink.
We are wise to respond the way Peter did. He cried out, “Save me!” This is the proper response to a fragile faith. There is no shame in reaching out for Jesus’ rescue. He is our ever-present help in time of need.
As Jesus pulled Peter from the water, He asked him why he had such little faith and why he doubted. But I wonder who Peter was really doubting. It couldn’t have been Jesus because Jesus was still atop the water. Peter must have been doubting his own ability to do what Jesus was doing. He was questioning his own ability to trust.
The key is keeping our eyes on Jesus because He is the one who provides the power to live the full life of God. Once Jesus and Peter were back in the boat, the waters calmed and the disciples worshiped Him because they knew He is the Son of God.
Today, I believe Jesus is giving each of us the same invitation He gave to Peter; to leave the comfort and security of the boat and step out onto the waters of audacious faith to see the power of God work in you and through you in amazing ways. There will always be waves, winds, and distractions from Christ, but if we can keep our eyes on him, there is no telling what we can do.
Jesus is our solid foundation when everything else feels out of control. Take your eyes off of your circumstances and place them on Jesus Christ.