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  Mark D. Roberts
         Pastor, Author,
         Speaker, & Blogger



"Living Outside the Boat "

by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts          July 11, 2004

Preached at Irvine Presbyterian Church

Copyright © 2004 by Mark D. Roberts

Note: You may download this sermon at no cost, for personal use or for use in a Christian ministry, as long as you are not publishing it for sale. All I ask is that you give credit where credit is due. For all other uses, please contact me at mark@markdroberts.com . Thank you.  

Scripture Reading: Matthew 14:22-33

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.  23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,  24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.  25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea.  26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear.  27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid."

28 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, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.  30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!"  31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"  32 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."

Inside the Boat

Just over a month ago Linda and I had an experience that I thought we might never have, at least not this side of retirement. It's something we had dreamed about, but just never thought would become a reality. We went on a cruise. And not just any cruise, mind you, but a Mediterranean cruise on the Radisson Diamond, a ship which, I'm told, is known for its luxury.

Now I know what some of you must be thinking at this point: "So just how much are we paying this guy? I mean, he's a fine pastor and everything. But a Mediterranean cruise?" Let me reassure you that we were able to take this cruise only because of the generosity of some friends. I suppose in some ways their liberality made the whole trip ever more magical for Linda and me as we celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. It was one of those rare times in life when my mind wasn't continually calculating expenses, trying to find ways to economize. For  seven days we lived sumptuously, like something out of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

Take our stateroom, for example. We had an outside room on the eighth floor, with a giant picture window. It's as if the wall at the end of our room were the entire Mediterranean sea. When we first got to our room, there was a bowl of fresh fruit on the table. We ate a bunch of that fruit, then went to dinner. When we came back to our room, the bowl was magically filled once again. In fact, over the course of the week, that bowl kept on refilling itself automatically. I guess the house elves were pretty busy on that ship.  

The meals were unbelievable, though not, as I've heard some describe cruises, simply because of quantity. Five-course dinners were luscious, meticulously prepared and assiduously served. I can only think of a couple of times in my whole life when the table service was comparable. One can get pretty spoiled on a cruise, let me tell you.

The Radisson Diamond is an unusual ship because it's a giant catamaran, with twin hulls. This makes the ship more stable in water than typical, single hull ships. But the shipbuilders didn't make more of them because they're too expensive. Yet the design was great for us. Most of the time at sea it felt as if we were on terra firma. It was smooth sailing almost all the way. We felt safe and comfortable - not to mention pampered beyond our wildest dreams.

I could go on and on. But I think you get the point. Living on the Radisson Diamond was exquisite in every way. It was great to be on that boat, let me tell you.

Our ship in the background, by the town of Mahon on the island of Menorca (Spain).

The Search for Financial "In-the-Boatness"

Sometimes we try to make our lives like this, like living on the Radisson Diamond. We want comfort, security, and even a bit of luxury. Moreover, we want our lives to be smooth sailing, safely protected from storms and disturbances.

Many of us would like to church be this way as well: predictable, calm, not too stressful. After all, church is often a haven of rest for us in a crazy world. The last thing we want is for church to a source of even more stress in our lives.

I once heard of a Presbyterian church that actually raised all the money needed for the ministry budget by July of each year. Then they devoted everything else they received to missions. How wonderful, I thought! What a dream church! Not only would we be set free from worry, but we'd be able to grow in our giving to our mission partners, something I am eager to do.

Along with the Session and Finance Committee, I spent my first years here trying to stabilize our finances, to live within our means, and yet to grow our ministry at the same time. We had emerged from difficult financial times in the late 80's, and we still had lots of repair work to do. Always in the back of my mind was the hope that, someday, we'd be able to be like that dream church. I looked forward to the day when I wouldn't have to challenge you folks to give more, when we had the resources to do ministry without worrying about the bottom line.

But after we stabilized our fiscal life in the mid-90's, something strange began to happen. Just when we seemed to have everything ship-shape, the Session would sense God's call to add something expensive to our budget, not to mention the fact that we were building and paying for this Sanctuary! First it was a full-time Junior High Director (we had just a very part-time intern when I got here). Then it was a new Pastor for College and Young Adults. Then an intern for high school ministries. Then a program associate in children's ministries. Then a half-time Pastor for Women, Singles, and Seniors. Then a full-time Director for Music, Worship, and the Arts plus an excellent accompanist. Meanwhile, we were growing our missions budget steadily, adding some new partners while increasing the amount we were giving to existing partners. And this doesn't include all of the extra giving to missions: Habitat for Humanity homes, house building projects in El Niño, mission trips. etc.

Just when it seemed like we were finally in a position to be financially secure as a church, some new ministry need or opportunity presented itself, and before I knew it, we were far away from the safety I longed for.

Some of you have noticed what I'm talking about, sometimes with chagrin. "You're asking for another increase in the budget this year?" you'll say. "But you did that last year. When is Session going to learn to live within its means?"

Good question. And I have a good answer for you. Never! At least I hope not. At least not as long as I am your pastor.

Now you've got to understand that I'm not altogether happy about this. I've already admitted my dream of a financially-secure, no-worries church. By nature I'm not one to take risks, especially financial ones. Yet I have become convinced that it's never right for a church to become too secure financially. Never. (Sigh!)

Let me explain.

Living Outside the Boat

A couple of years ago I was struggling with the financial challenges of this church. We were coming up on December and, as is common, we faced a monumental fund-raising challenge if we were going to end the year in the black. So I took off for the beach to pray. I told the Lord how tired I was getting of church finances. I reminded him of how I had once hoped to be a "we've covered our expenses by July" kind of church. I let the Lord know how unhappy I was, not only with things at church, but with him.

As I prayed, I looked out at the ocean. It wasn't stormy, but there were a few whitecaps that day. "Lord," I finally said, "I feel just like Peter outside of the boat. I feel like I'm always at risk of sinking. And the same with the church. We're always out there on the edge, and I don't like it. When can we just be safe in the boat?"

At that moment a thought pervaded my mind. I don't know if it was a word from the Lord, but it sure could have been. The thought was this: "What you're experiencing is the way it's supposed to be. You're supposed to live outside the boat. And IPC is supposed to live outside the boat. That's the way I like to do things."

As I heard this in my mind, I felt rebuked, rightly, for my lack of faith. How could I have missed something so obvious about God? But I also felt encouraged. God wasn't merely slapping me on the hand. He was also grabbing my hand and pulling me out of my ocean of doubt. He was helping me see something I desperately needed to see, something about how his Kingdom works, something about how I'm supposed to live, something about who we are to be as a church under God's reign.

As I continued my conversation with the Lord on that beach, I thought about the story of Peter in Matthew 14. I love this story! Always have, always will. It's so fresh and real. I can relate so easily to the fear of the disciples as their little boat is tossed around on the stormy Sea of Galilee. In this case, life in the boat wasn't so great either! Moreover, I can empathize with their amazement when Jesus appears, walking to them on the waves.

Now I can't really relate to Peter, though I admire his guts. "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water," he says. What was Peter thinking? In truth, it was probably one of those rather thoughtless, spontaneous moments that filled Peter's rocky existence.

Amazingly enough, Jesus goes with Peter's plan and calls him out of the boat. And, doubly amazing, Peter gets out and starts to walk toward Jesus on the water. And, triply amazing, he doesn't fall in. But then he comes to his right mind and realizes what he's doing. Matthew says, "But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened." No duh! All of a sudden Peter looks down and sees nothing below his feet other than raging waters. He looks around to see nothing but wind-tossed waves. Finally he comes to his senses and does the utterly sensible thing. He sinks! You know, that is what sensible people do when they try to walk on water.

In this desperate moment Peter calls out to Jesus, who reaches over and grabs his arm. As the storm quiets down, Jesus turns to Peter and says, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"

I don't think this is a rebuke so much as a gentle word of encouragement. Peter had, after all, climbed out of the boat. That's quite a bit of faith, if you ask me. He'd done more than all the other disciples combined to show how much he trusted Jesus. But then he chickened out as his faith slipped. I take Jesus as saying to him, "Ah, Peter, you were so close. You began trusting me. That's what got you out of the boat in the first place. And that was just where I wanted you, Peter. Out there with me, trusting me. Oh Peter, I wish you could have kept your eyes on me the whole time. Everything would have been fine."

Do you suppose Jesus could be saying something like this to you today? I know that many of you are facing great challenges in your life. You might be feeling as if you're out there on the turbulent waves right now. And you're wondering if you're going to make it. To you Jesus says, "Look to me. Put your trust in me. I'm here for you. I won't fail you."

Or maybe you're still in the boat, hanging on for dear life to anything that feels secure, while Jesus is calling you to be with him outside of the boat. On the one hand, you've got security and familiarity. On the other hand, costly and risky discipleship. You're wondering right now which to choose. To you Jesus is saying, "Come on outside the boat. Come with me. Trust me. I'm with you, always. I'll never leave your nor forsake you. So jump out of the boat!"

A Church Outside of the Boat

As I walked along that beach that day, reflecting on what it means to live outside of the boat, I realized something I had never understood before. God does not want his church - including IPC - to live safely inside the boat. God does not want us to be a church that budgets so conservatively that we can cover our committed costs by July, no matter how much a part of me would have this dream.

I also realized that I don't really want to pastor a church that lives so safely in the boat. Now, let me be clear, my personality desperately wants this. My doubt wants this. My exhaustion wants this. My fear wants this. But I simply can't reconcile this desire with Scripture. If we're going to be faithful to God in this church, if we're going to reach beyond ourselves to this community and, indeed, to the world, then we're always going to be stretching ourselves: missionally, evangelistically, programmatically, and  financially. That's what life outside of the boat is all about.

Practical Conclusions

At this point some of you may be thinking, "Wow! What's this? A stewardship sermon in July? Isn't that cheating, or something? Aren't you supposed to wait until October for this?" Well, all I can say is I've felt strongly that God wanted me to preach this sermon on this weekend. And, let me add, don't worry that I'll neglect stewardship sermons in the fall. I wouldn't want to short you here!

I want to end this sermon with a couple of very practical applications. First, as many of you know, we are beginning a new capital campaign as we speak, the main effort of which will be in the fall. The point of the campaign, on the most rudimentary level, is to finish paying off the Administration and Youth Center that's rising from the ground just to the south of this Sanctuary. But, like all our capital campaigns, the financial part is really just one result of a much more important spiritual and visionary focus. What God wants to do with us this fall isn't primarily to get us to give money. God wants to stretch our minds and hearts with his vision for our church and our lives as his people. And when this happens, we'll be way outside the boat. More to follow on the campaign . . . I promise.

Second, I want to talk with you about something that's coming our way, something about which I am thrilled. Let me give a little background. As you know, last fall Junko decided that she needed to step down as our Saturday Evening Worship Director because her personal ministry was growing by leaps and bounds. So we set out to hire a new Director for Saturday evening worship, which we have now done. Dale Huntington has just finished his second week in this role. Dale is a great musician and a fine worship leader. I'm exciting about the future of Saturday evening worship under his guidance.

But here's the "outside of the boat" part. As Session began working on the need to replace Junko, we looked more broadly at our worship life at IPC and our goals for worship. Years ago, we had established the Saturday evening service primarily in the hope of drawing youth into worship and reaching many from the community who prefer a band-led worship style. But, after ten years, these things haven't happened as we had hoped. Few teenagers, it turns out, want to be in church on Saturday evenings. But quite a few young families have found this timeslot to be perfect. Moreover, though Saturday evening is good for some folks in our community, the vast majority would rather come to church on Sunday mornings.

With this information in mind, Session was aware of what many churches like ours have done with Sunday morning worship services. Basically, if they have two services, one remains a more traditional, choir-led service, while the other is changed into a contemporary, band-led service. We considered doing this very thing at IPC. But Session did not believe this was right for our church for many reasons, not the least of which has to do with the fact that our two morning services are both strong and growing in their current mode. We didn't want to mess with something God is clearly blessing.

So we began to look at the possibility of adding another service on Sunday, one with a different genre than our two existing services. We considered different times, formats, etc. In the end, Session voted unanimously and enthusiastically to add a third service on Sunday morning at 11:30. This service, which will begin in January, will be band-led, though with an intentional appeal to Gen-X and younger musical tastes. In other words, it will be a bit edgier than our Saturday evening worship. We will also include more visual and dramatic arts within the 11:30 service, including but surely not limited to digital projection.

Our goals for this new service are simple. First, we want to provide a place where youth, including high schoolers, can worship in their idiom. Second, we want to reach far beyond ourselves into this community, and provide a place where the forms of worship communicate effectively with the tens of thousands of our neighbors who don't relate to our current Sunday morning services.

Now, I've got to tell you, this feels like one, big, giant "out of the boat" experience. On the financial side, Session has taken a major step of faith by hiring Dale Huntington, beginning in September, on almost a full-time basis. Dale will be a key leader of the third service, and will also be a strong resource for band-led worship throughout our church, especially in the youth ministry areas. To do a third service well, we'll also have to build up our staffing in Children's Ministries. I'm sure there will be other costs as well. And I haven't even mentioned other areas of potential growth, in missions, youth ministry, etc.

So, yes, next year's ministry budget will have to be larger. Yes, we'll be asking more of you to participate faithfully in supporting the growing ministry of this church. And, yes, all of this will happen in the midst of a capital campaign.

Are we crazy? Has Session lost its mind? I don't think so. But we're certainly living outside of the boat. And we're asking you to join us there.

My friends, God is richly blessing this church in more ways than I can possibly mention today. But these blessings aren't just for us. They're for the greater work of his kingdom. They're for the kids across the street at Woodbridge High School who desperately need to know Jesus. They're for our neighbors who are looking for deeper meaning in life.

God has placed us here in the center of this city for his purposes. One of his purposes for us, I believe, is helping people in our community - who have varied musical tastes - worship God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. If adding a third service on Sunday morning can help this to happen, then I'm for it, 100%. If we can provide a place for our young people to worship, a service that feels like home to them, then I'm for it, 100%. And I'll be the first one to jump out of the boat so that more of our neighbors can know the Lord and more of our young people can worship him. Want to join me?

Here's the exciting and the scary part for you personally. This church will only live fully "outside the boat" if each and every one of us jump out.Friends, Jesus is there for us all. He is faithful. If we keep our eyes on him, we will not fall. If we fall, he will pick us up. So what will it be? Safety and comfort inside the boat? Or following Jesus, outside the boat?

I say "Let's jump!"









Dare to Be True:
We need it now more than ever!

Basics for Worship: A Theological and Practical Statement of Irvine Presbyterian Church

An outstanding new book on the church. Highly recommended!