#2068–How Big is God?– 18 Oct 2009

The Message

Pastor John Ortberg

Special Guest

Ginny Owens

Special Music

Joyful, Joyful
This Joyful Day/Jesus is All the World
Be Joyful and Sing to the Lord.

Solo/ Anthem:
Ginny Owens – How Can I Keep From Singing
Ginny Owens– Be Thou My Vision
Ginny Owens – O Sacred Head, Now Wounded

The Message

Thank you. It is a terrific honor to be here with you. I went to seminary not real far from here at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, and I was actually here a weekend about 30 years ago, I think, when you announced that the Crystal Cathedral was going to be opening up, when you were still meeting in the other facility. And so it’s just a terrific honor to be here with you.

I want to talk about how big God is and about getting out of the boat. A number of years ago, early in our marriage, my wife Nancy got a creative birthday gift for me. It was a ride in a hot air balloon. And we went to a field in Thousand Oaks, where the balloon would ascend. We met the one other couple that would go up in this balloon with us and told them what we did for a living and they told us what they did, and then we got into the balloon and it went up in the air and it was magnificent, it was beautiful, you could see the mountains and all the way to the ocean, but I experienced one other emotion I had not anticipated. Anybody want to guess? Fear because the basket on at least this particular hot air balloon did not even go up this high. It barely went up to your knees. And one good lurch and you’d be thrown out of there. So I was not happy about this, and I looked over at my wife and she doesn’t like heights, she was more frightened than I was. I could tell because she was holding onto the ropes with white fingers and I said ‘Nancy, look behind you. There are horses down below.’ She loves horses. ‘Nancy, look at the horses.’ And she went ‘oh yeah, beautiful.’

Now about this time, I decided I would like to get to know a little bit more about the guy who was flying this hot air balloon. Because I could try to convince myself that everything was going to be okay. I could try to drum up a good attitude, but the reality was we had placed our futures in the hands of the competence and the character of the guy who was flying this thing. So I inched over towards him and asked him what he did for a living and how he got started flying hot air balloons. I was hoping he would say that he was a neurosurgeon or something and he used to be an astronaut and missed going out into space and I knew we were in trouble when his response began ‘well its like this, dude,’ he said. He did not actually have a job. Mostly he surfed and he said he got started flying hot air balloons because one time he’d been driving a pick up truck and his brother was in it and he’d had too much to drink, and he crashed the truck and his brother was hurt and that gave his brother something to watch. My wife said to me, ‘you mean to tell me we’re up a thousand feet in the air with an unemployed surfer who got drunk, crashed a truck, crippled his brother’ and he said ‘by the way, I’ve never been in this particular balloon before. So if it’s a little bumpy on the way down you’ll understand why.’

Now at this point, the other couple in the balloon spoke. The wife said the only words that either of the two of them were to say the whole time. She looked at me and said ‘you’re a pastor, do something religious.’ So I took an offering. And here’s a question. Can I trust the pilot? Because I can try to psych myself up, I can say I believe, I believe, I believe a hundred times a day but the real question is, is there somebody flying this thing, this giant balloon that circles the sun every year, is there somebody flying it, and can He be trusted? Are His character and His competence such that I can with confidence, with unshakeable joy, put my life and the lives of the people that I love, in His hands and rest in the knowledge.

The real question is how big is this God? And I got to trust Him, but trust is never easy. Faith will be intimately connected with fear and risk and you can’t grow without it and that brings us to this story of Peter and the disciples, and being on a boat in a storm and walking on the water. It’s told in the gospel of Matthew. Many of you know this story. The disciples are in the boat, Jesus told them to get in it, and then He went on ahead of them. They get into the boat when its still daylight, we’re told, and the Sea of Galilee is not terribly large, it’s maybe four, four and a half miles wide at its widest point. Many of these disciples have been in boats around water their whole life long, they’re professionals at this, said now you imagine how bad the storm must be that hits them. So rough that they cannot make it across the lake. Jesus comes to them, we’re told, in the fourth watch of the night. That would be between three o’clock and six o’clock in the morning. And picture in your mind the size of the waves, the strength of the wind, the darkness of the night. The boat is struggling not to be overturned. It is tormented by the waves, is how it’s put. Cold, wet, exhausted, terrified, these are the conditions under which Peter is going to get out of the boat. Now I would think it would be difficult enough to walk on water when the water is calm. You imagine trying it when the waves are crashing and the wind is at gale force and its three o’clock in the morning and you’re terrified. Jesus comes along and says get out of the boat. And Peter gets out and he falls. He doesn’t make it. It’s a story about failure. Or is it?

Here’s what I want to do at this point. I want to do a mass confession of failure and if you have ever failed in your life, I’m going to ask you to literally raise your hand. You do this at home as well. Hang on, don’t be too excited yet. Let me run through a few categories just to prompt your mind. Just to kind of level the playing field. If you’ve ever failed a test, if you ever got cut from a team, if you ever didn’t get a job you wanted or a promotion that you wanted, if you have ever been inappropriately impatient with a three year old, if you have ever criticized somebody, if you have discovered that criticism is your spiritual gift, if you ever said the wrong thing or ate with the wrong fork, or wore synthetic fibers, if you have ever experienced moral, academic, athletic, social, financial, vocational, or relational failure of any kind, now raise your hand real high, would you? That’s kind of what I thought. Unbelievable. How many of you have never failed personally, but the person next to you looks like they went south a couple of times.

Well we are all would be water walkers. And God did not intend your life to be something of just failure avoidance. An author by the name of Eileen Guder writes this: You can live on bland food so as to avoid an ulcer, you can drink no tea, coffee or other stimulants in the name of health, you can go to bed early, stay away from nightlife, avoid all controversial subjects so as never to give offense, mind your own business, avoid involvement in other people’s problems, spend money only on necessities and save all you can. You can still break your neck in the bathtub and it will serve you right.

The boat is safe. The boat is secure. The boat is comfortable. And the water is rough, the waves are high and the wind is strong. There is a storm in our world. And if you get out of the boat, whatever your boat is there’s a possibility that you will sink, but there’s a certainty that if you never get out of the boat, you will never walk on the water because if you want to walk on the water, you got to get out of the boat. There is something inside every human being. There is something inside you that tells you that God intends your life to be about something more than just sitting in a boat of comfort or security. There is something inside you that wants to walk on the water that calls you to leave the comfort of routine existence and abandon yourself to the adventure of following Jesus, of doing what it is that Jesus calls you to do that will be too big for you to do all by yourself.

Did Peter fail? Well, yeah he did. I mean his faith gave out; he took his eyes off Jesus. He sank in the water. Peter failed but here’s what I think. only Peter knew the shame, the humiliation of public failure, but only Peter knew two other things. Only Peter knew the glory of what it is to walk on the water. To be held up by God and doing something to please Jesus that you could never do by yourself. And I don’t think he forgot that as long as he lived. I think if you ever walk on the water, you carry that reality with you to the grave.

And only Peter knew that when he failed, when he sank, Jesus would be there. That Jesus was wholly adequate to save. Peter had a shared moment, a shared connection, a shared trust in Jesus that none of the other 11 disciples had, they couldn’t have it because they never got out of the boat. How big is God? He is bigger than your biggest problem, He is bigger than your biggest regret, He is stronger than your biggest weakness, He is more gracious than your darkest sin, He is bigger than you can imagine and He loves you more than you can know. And He is still looking for somebody who will get out of the boat.

And that’s hard for us because we’re into comfort. Anybody want to guess what’s the name of the number one best selling chair in America? Anybody know? Lazy-Boy. Not risky boy, not worker boy, Lazy-Boy. We want to come home and immerse ourselves in comfort. And Jesus is still looking for somebody who will get out of the boat.

So how about you? Maybe you used to be out on the water on a regular basis. And somewhere you have settled for life in the boat. Maybe God is calling you to a new adventure around your job. Maybe God has given you gifts and you have neglected them and God wants to use them in ways that they have never been used before. Maybe God has given you some financial resources and He wants those to be used for something bigger than just your own comfort or security. Maybe it’s about a relational risk. Maybe you’ve been struggling with a habit or a sin and kept it hidden and God is calling you to bring that into the light to get help on it.

Well you get out of the boat. Tell you about one more water walk and then we’re done with this message. Man by the name of Doug Coe lives in Washington DC and works with a lot of people in state craft and government, but he was telling me one time a story about a guy who was insurance, not a mover and a shaker, just an ordinary guy named Bob. But Bob gave his life, committed himself to Jesus Christ. And he would meet together with Doug to learn about following Christ. And one time Bob came in and he had just read this statement in the bible where Jesus says “whatever you ask in My name, you’ll receive.”

Bob asked Doug “is that really true?” And Doug said “it really is and it’s not like a blank check, you have to understand it in context of all the writings of scripture about prayer, but yeah, God really loves to answer prayer.”

And Bob said “well I’ve got to start praying for something.” Bob had never prayed for anything.

And Doug said “what do you want to pray for?” And Bob said “I think I’ll pray for Africa.”

And Doug said “well that’s kind of big, couldn’t you narrow it down a little bit?” Bob said “all right, I’ll pray for Uganda.”And Doug asked “have you ever been there?” “No.” “Know anybody there?” “No I just want to pray for it.”

And Doug said “all right, I’ll make you a deal, Bob. You pray for this country every day for six months, It’s kind of an unusual approach to prayer. But Doug’s kind of an unusual guy.

So Bob starts to pray. Long time nothing happens. And then he’s at a dinner one night, people sitting around the table talking about what they do, and this one woman starts talking about how she runs the largest kind of an orphanage medical facility of its kind in that country of Uganda. And all of a sudden, Bob roars to life and starts pounding her with questions about what she does and why. And she finally asked him, “you know you’re very interested in what I do. You’ve been to my country.” “No.” “Well you know people in my country.” “No.”
and she said “would you like to come and see what I do?” And he said “yes.”

And he went over there and his heart was appalled by the misery and the poverty and so he came back and he started to write. Again, Doug Coe told me this story. Bob starts to write to major pharmaceutical companies and say to them, ‘you know every year you throw away all kinds of un-sold supplies and there’s kids dying in this place. You ought to send some of those supplies to them.’ And some of them do and this facility ends up getting over a million dollars worth of medical supplies because of Bob.

And they get back in touch with him and say “we want to celebrate what’s happened, have a party and we want you to be the guest of honor. Would you come back?” And Bob says “sure.”

So he flies over there, and they have this celebration and because it’s so extraordinary, it’s not a large country, the president at that time, attends this celebration and gives Bob a little tour of the capital. In the course of which, they see a prison, a group of prisoners Bob asks about and is told they’re political prisoners. And Bob says, “oh that’s not a good thing. You know, you shouldn’t hold people for that. You ought to let them go.”

They finish the tour, Bob flies back home. Sometime later Bob gets a phone call from a man who’s with the U.S. State Department. “Is this Bob?” “Yeah.” “Bob, you’ve been to Uganda lately?” “Yeah.” “Bob, did you make any statement about oh political prisoners?” “Yeah.” “What did you say?” “Well I said they ought to let them go.” Guy from the state department went on to say the U.S. government had been working for the release of those prisoners for years in vain, and they had just been informed that those prisoners had been released and it was partly because of Bob.

Later on, Bob gets another phone call from the President, who says “I’m going to select a new cabinet, group of new cabinet members and Bob I’m wondering, would you come over and pray for me while I’m doing that?” So Bob, who knows nobody, no connections, this is an ordinary guy, gets on a plane, flies back over there, spends a weekend praying for the President. When Nancy and I were in Washington and Doug Coe was telling us this story at the facility where Doug’s ministry is, one of the guys who was staying there was a member of Parliament in that country and a part of a spiritual renewal that was going on in that time. Jesus is still looking for somebody, just an ordinary person who will get out of the boat.

So here’s the deal, here’s the deal this weekend. Anybody who’s here, you pray for the next six months every day. Jesus, where are You calling me to get out of the boat. And if at the end of those six months God has not clearly answered those prayers, but if God does something, then you write this church. And you say you know God’s still involved in the lives of somebody like Peter and the life of somebody like Bob and the life of somebody like me. You pray and you ask and I know two things if you get out of the boat.

One of them is when you fail, and you will fail, there’s a storm in this world. When you fail, Jesus will be there to pull you out. Jesus has lost none of His strength, none of His care. And the other thing I know is this: every once in awhile, you’re going to walk on the water. You are going to walk on the water. But if you want to walk on the water, you got to get out of the boat. Thank you.


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