The Apprentice: High-Risk Ventures

I recently asked a friend, who is an electrician, what it takes to become a licensed electrician. He said that before you get an actual license, you go through a period of time working as an apprentice. They put you in some class room time, as well as out in the field for some hands-on training with a journeyman electrician. This goes on for three to five years, then you are allowed to take a test to become a licensed, practicing electrician.

As he described this journey I thought to myself that this is not so different from those of us who have chosen to go into the pastoral ministry. We enter into the seminary and along the way they put you into some congregations to get some hands-on experience. Your third year they send you out into a parish to work for a full year under the tutelage of a practicing pastor. All of this is in hopes of giving you good, helpful hands-on experience as a pastor of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jesus, when he called his disciples to be his apprentices, he gave them his vision. If you will follow me, you will soon be catching people. However, Jesus did not take Peter and the other disciples to a classroom but instead on the road. There he gave them hands-on experience, teaching, training, and preparing them to reach other people for the kingdom of God.

The lesson in todays text takes place out in the middle of a lake. Jesus has just finished feeding five thousand people with three loaves and two fishes. He had the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him while he went up into the hills to pray. Suddenly a storm came up, and the disciples battled with that storm for several hours.

At about three oclock, when I am sure they are very tired out and wondering if they have been deserted and what was to become of them, Jesus showed up. But they didnt expect Jesus, so they thought it was a ghost! The last place they expected to run into Jesus was out in the middle of that storm in that lake.

From the midst of that storm he called out to them, Take heart, it is I. Dont be afraid. Now when Jesus says, It is I, in the story, those words in the Greek literally mean, I am. So the verse should actually read, Take heart, I am. Dont be afraid. We see that identification used by God when he told Moses, Tell the people there in slavery in Egypt that I am has sent you, Moses, to free them and bring them back to the Promise Land. I am is a term for God. So when Jesus says, Take heart, I am. he is saying to them, You are in the presence of God himself. He is the one who created this sea. It was simply a puddle in the palms of Gods hands.

Now Peter obviously picked up on this reality because he is the one who spoke up and said to Jesus, Lord, which is another name for God, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.

And then Jesus commanded him, Come. So Peter got out of that boat and began to walk on the water towards Jesus. But suddenly a great wind came up, and Peter became very frightened as he turned toward the giant wave in his way. He began to sink. But as he went down for the second or third time, he kept his wits about him enough to say, Lord, save me! And before he knew it, there were these strong hands pulling him up out of the water, and he was looking in the face of Jesus, who said to him, O man of little faith, why did you doubt? It was as if to say to Peter, Peter, I want you to trust me.

Then the Lord takes Peter back to the boat and as they are getting into the boat, the winds ceased. The other disciples got on their knees and worshiped Jesus saying, You truly are the Son of God.

What classroom lessons were learned out on the lake that day by Peter to prepare him to later on be an effective fisherman for the kingdom of God?

The first lesson, which is good news/bad news, is important for every one of us to learn. The bad news is, Expect storms in your life. Even when you are being obedient to the calling of the Lord, when you are striving to b e faithful, sometimes storms will come up. They are simply a part of life. We as Christians are not exempt from them. Sometimes, when people are going through a hardship, they will ask me if God is trying to punish them? And my response is, No, absolutely not. You are experiencing a storm which is just a part of life.

The good news is, Jesus knows what is going on in your life. He is the one who is coming towards you in that storm. He is not unaware of the storm that you are facing. As he came to those disciples in an unexpected way, in an unexpected place, at an unexpected time, so also we can count on him to know he will come to us in the middle of our storm.

Max Lucado, a favorite author of mine, tells the story of a young woman who died in the city. At the funeral the officiating priest shared a story about the woman. They had been friends for some time as she lived in New York City, and they kept in touch with each other over the e-mail. Late one night, he received a message indicative of Gods presence in this womans life. She had missed her station on the subway. By the time she realized her mistake, she didnt know what to do. She prayed for safety and some sign of Gods presence. It was not a good hour for an attractive woman to be passing through a rough neighborhood alone. As she rode the subway, the doors opened and a homeless, disheveled man stepped on board and plopped down next to her. God, are you near? she prayed. The answer came in a song. The man pulled out a harmonica and played Be Thou My Vision. It was her mothers favorite hymn and enough to convince her that Christ was there in the midst of it all.

We need to remember to look for him. He may come to us in the kind word of a friend where we experience the face and presence of Christ, or in a card in the mail that just happens to be very timely. Perhaps it may be a phone call from someone, or a strong sense in the middle of your prayer time that you are not alone and you can almost sense the touch of God upon you. You are not alone as you face the bad news of a storm in your life. The good news is you have a Savior who comes to you.

The second lesson that Peter and the other disciples learned is a takeoff of an old adage: Nothing ventured; nothing gained. If you want to walk on water, youve got to get out of the boat! Peter sensed that Jesus wanted him out on the water with him to experience the adventure of water walking. So he got out of the boat and had an experience like no other as he began to walk towards Jesus. We see extreme discipleship being experienced by Peter. It helped to prepare him for years later when he is called into what looks like some fairly impossible stormy situations.

Everyone of us, I suppose, at some time or another has sensed Jesus calling us to get out of our boat. Instead of playing it safe, He calls us to join him out on the water doing something for the kingdom of God. When you think about it, if Jesus can take an ill-equipped person like Peter, do the great things he did with him that day, to help Peter to later become an effective leader in the Christian church, why do we have trouble believing he can do something with us when he calls us into an adventure of some sort?

Last year my brother-in-law, out of the blue, asked me to go on a medical mission trip to Peru. At first I was hesitant. I dont know Spanish, and I know nothing about medicine. I did not want to be a burden to the party doctors going down of doctors. I was also worried about what would become of my family if something happened to me down there. I could not see what good I could possibly do on a trip like that. So I put it off. However, things kept coming in my direction, just like Jesus was waving me out to join him. One day, after prayerfully thinking about this, I cast my caution to the wind and decided it was time to get out of the boat. So I called up my brother-in-law and told him I would go with him.

I have never had such an exhilarating, life-changing discipleship experience as I had in those two weeks with the people in Peru. We shared the Gospel through translators. God used us to serve people and lead them to Jesus Christ. I am still learning that, when Jesus calls us out of the boat, we can trust him. And hes got a great adventure in store for us.

How about you? Maybe Jesus is not going you off to Peru, but instead to someone who lives around your area or works next to you who has no relationship with Christ and needs to experience Christs love through you. Maybe, just maybe if that thought has crossed your mind, it could be Jesus calling you, saying, Come on out, the water is just fine. Have I got an adventure for you!

Please note, when Peter got slapped in the face by the wind and waves a little bit, he remembered who to call for in the midst of his sinking feeling. He called out to the Lord Lord, save me he found that the Lord is faithful. Those strong hands of Jesus were ready to pull him up out of the water and put him back into the boat for another day to be called out to walk with Jesus.

Those same strong hands, waiting to grab you, have nail holes in them. For that Savior loves you and he allowed himself to be nailed to a cross for your sins. He is the leader whom you truly can trust. He went all the way to the cross for you.

What Can Money Give You?

Money is a gift from God. Through it he gives us many blessings. Money provides the necessities of life, such as food, shelter, and clothing. It gives us extra necessities, such as medical care, education, and recreation. We can have the joy of sharing some of our wealth with others. What a joy it is to contribute to worthy causes and help lift some burdens of those who have needs.

I had an old friend who gave millions of dollars to worthy causes. When visiting with him one night over dinner, this seventy-five-year-old man told me that his greatest happiness in life was contributing to projects that enriched the lives of many people: a fine arts building in the community where he lived and large gifts to the university from which he graduated.

While money can bring blessings, it can also be a curse. Money can put people in the high risk category of hurting their relationship with God and people. Jesus said, “It is hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 10:23). Wealth has the power to enslave us. Our Lord said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart is also” (Matthew 6:21). Remember Judas selling Jesus for thirty pieces of silver? That is what the love of money can do. Is it any wonder that Paul said, “For the love of money is the root of all evil. Some people, eager for money, have pierced themselves with many griefs.”

It is easy to see why James is not the most popular biblical author in the Bible. He leaves no doubt about the sinful use of money. For James, it was one thing to be prudent with money, but it was another matter to hoard your wealth just to get a little bit more. He would ask, When is enough, enough?

Money’s power can be so strong that it even causes us to deny ourselves some simple necessities of life. My wife and I were once visiting the home of a farmer who boasted that he had $100,000 in his savings account at the bank. That was back in the early 1950s when $100,000 was a lot of money. Yet this family did not even have an indoor toilet. Instead they used an old-fashioned outhouse. To make matter worse, his wife was so afflicted with arthritis that she could hardly walk. Yet in the cold winter she had to make the long trip to the outhouse simply because the money to finance an inside toilet was not to be spent. This shows how money can grab us and make us foolish and difficult people. Who is the most to be pitied, the spendthrift or the miser?

How many families have been divided over money inherited in an estate after a loved one died and the will was read! How sad it is to hear non-Christian people say talk about those, who claim to be Christian, yet are often shady in their financial dealings. They cannot be trusted for they have made promises that were not kept. James counsels the Christian by saying this must not be. Gold and silver become corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You must guard against hoarding wealth in the last days.

Money can easily become our god. It supposedly gives us a feeling of security, which is not a lasting security. Your wealth has rotted and moths have eaten your clothes.

Yes, money is God’s gift, and it can give us many blessings. However, it can also become a curse and easily become our god. It supposedly gives us a feeling of security. However, it is not a lasting security. Only a personal relationship with God, made possible through the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, can restore us into fellowship with our Heavenly Father. He will guide us in the use of our money so that it may be a blessing and not a curse.

A Living Faith

During the Church’s two thousand year history, there have been many strong disagreements that have been unpleasant. However, none can compare to the controversy over the basic question of how a person is saved. How does a person enter into a personal relationship with God? How does a man or woman enter the heavenly home? There are at least four answers to this question.

T he most common answer, even among church members, is to live a good life and you will get to heaven. St. Peter will wink at you upon your arrival at the pearly gates. However, nothing could be farther from the truth as taught by the Bible. Yet the moralist and the humanist believe that if there is an existence beyond the grave, this is the way to eternal life. Talk to many of your friends and ask them if they know whether they will be in heaven one day. Their answer, in most cases, will be, “I hope so.” Why do they hope? Because they are relying on their own good works, and they are never quite sure if they have done enough.

A second answer comes from the staunch church member who has been well taught in the doctrines of the church. These doctrines have become family traditions. “Be baptized, know the teachings of the catechism and the central teaching that Christ died for your sins. That is it. Then you are free to live as you please. Your way of life might be contrary to God’s Word, but Jesus died for your sins, and that covers it all.” In this case, faith has been reduced to intellectual consent of a system of dogma. This is dead orthodoxy.

A third answer is a mixture of faith and good works. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ” is the basic part of this answer. However, it is followed up with the dictate that you must live by a strict code of laws (some of them God’s law and others man’s laws). I know from personal experience that this is a very unhappy way of life. For the first twenty years of my life I believed that I was saved by trusting Jesus as my Savior, but I must live by a list of dos and don’ts. Many of you have had the same experience. Some of the legalism that was thrown at me as a young person was, “You shall not play cards, go to movies, dance” and other rules like these that have slipped my mind. Then one day as a college student, I heard a theological professor admonish a large group of pastors. “You preach as though Christ has accomplished 99% of what must be done to be saved, but the people must do the 1%, and they cannot do it! Just bathe their souls in the Gospel, and tell them that Christ has done it all Ð 100%.”

This brings us to the biblical answer to our question, How is a person saved? “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith Ð and that not of yourself, it is the gift of God Ð not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). This is what Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). This is what Augustus Toplady wrote in the hymn, Rock of Ages: “Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.” Here faith is not simply an intellectual assent; it is trust. Faith in Christ causes us to love Him. Out of love for him, we serve Him. These good works, which are the result of one’s faith, do not contribute to their salvation. They are the fruits of faith.

It is to this important point in our Christian faith that James speaks. He writes, “What good is it if a man claims to have faith, but has no deeds? Can such faith save him (14)? Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action is dead (17). As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” (29).

These statements sound like the Bible is contradicting itself, doesn’t it? Not so, not so. If we read portions of Paul’s writings out of context and passages from the book of James out of context, you could conclude that they do not agree. But, in context, these two biblical writers both teach that our salvation is by grace through trusting Jesus as our Savior, and the results of this faith make a person desire to live for Christ.

Christ has saved me. I want to live for Him. I am not fulfilling an obligation. I am living for Jesus. James gives us the great example of Abraham. Abraham trusted God. When God tested Abraham’s faith by telling him to take his son, Isaac, to the top of the mountain, Abraham, out of love for God, took the child. He was about to sacrifice the lad when he heard the voice of God say, “Abraham, Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld your son, your only son” (Genesis 22:11-12).

The great preacher, Charles Spurgeon, once said, “If you want to give a hungry man a tract, wrap it up in a sandwich.” J. A. Motyer writes in his commentary on James, “Pressure on government and other agencies to feed the hungry is a must for the evangelical church.”

Such preaching is often labeled the “social gospel” and is not looked upon in good light by certain people. Rolf Syrdal, a Lutheran theologian, says it well: “To reach out to those who are in need is not the social gospel. It is the gospel with a social emphasis.”

But, above all, Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.”

And the disciples replied, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and give you something to eat, or thirsty and something to drink?”

And Jesus said, “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did it unto me” (Matthew 25).

I appreciate what J. A. Motyer said, “To Paul, the question was, ÔHow is salvation experienced?’ The answer is, ÔBy faith in Christ along.’ To James the question was, ÔHow is faith recognized?’ The answer is, ÔBy its fruits.'”

We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ alone, but a living faith produces good works.

The Controlled Tongue

What part of your body gives you the most trouble? Do you have a sensitive stomach? Are you bothered with severe headaches? Do your legs hurt? The list of our afflictions could continue indefinitely.

James, the half-brother of our Lord and the pastor in Jerusalem, would have said it was his tongue that gave him the most trouble. He writes, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness” (James 3:9).

Do you have trouble with your tongue? I do. Let us see if God can give us some help.

The control of the tongue is very important for it is the tongue that introduces us to people. Listen to speak a person for a while and you will get some idea as to what he is like. I have had this experience many times of talking with a stranger whose vocabulary was terrible profane. After he has told me his life history, he asks, “What do you do?” When he learns that I am a pastor, the man is mortified. He apologizes for his language and then tried to make an impression by saying, “You wouldn’t know it by the way I have spoken, but I am a deacon in our congregation.”

I have to admit that his profanity gave me a poor impression of him. And when he tried to make amends for his language by telling me that he is a deacon, I thought even less of him. Well, I wonder if James might have felt the same way. In today’s text he is talking to his congregation about the use of the tongue and passes some of this same counsel on to those of us who live two thousand years later.

What do we do to clean up the tongue? When I was a child, a few of my friends had come to visit me, and we were having a good time playing in our back yard. During the course of a game, I let go with a curse. My mother had the window open and heard me swear. In seconds she was out in the back yard, took me by the arm, and put my head over the sink. There I learned how ivory snow hurts when it is applied to your tongue as she washed out my mouth with soap. It was a good lesson which I have remembered long. However, the tongue is not controlled from the outside. A few mouth washings and a long list of rules of what to do and what not to do with the tongue will not give us control of our tongue.

Jesus tells us it is the heart that controls the tongue. Listen: “Out of the abundance of the heart, the tongue speaks” (Matthew 12:34). As the heart is drawn closer to Christ, the tongue will reveal this relationship. Let Jesus feed us spiritually and the untruths, the harmful gossip, the dirty stories, and the profanity will be on the constant decline.

But it is not only the sin of commission that we consider when thinking about the tongue. There is also the sin of omission when we fail to use our tongue to bring glory to God. Let me tell you of a recent experience. My intent here is not to boast of my abilities, but only to show how God can use our tongues to His honor and glory.

Shortly after I had prepared this sermon, a very close friend asked me to come to the hospital. His wife had suddenly become ill and might not live. Immediately I went to be with this friend who had meant so much to me for fifty years. We waited for the doctor’s report. Then we were invited into a room in the intensive care unit. This highly-trained surgeon explained what had happened, and then he gave us the new: “There is nothing we can do for her.” The family and a couple of friends were stunned.

I asked, “Doctor, are you telling these people that their wife and mother will soon be dead?”

“That’s right,” he replied.

I stood there as a Christian friend. Suddenly God reminded me that not using the tongue was sin, too. I thanked the doctor and said to the family, “You have heard the doctor’s words. He is a highly-trained person with the best of equipment at his disposal. But there is no more that he can do. He has worked hard for several hours. There are human limitations.” Then God gave me these words: “We must now close the book on this life for our loved one. But this is not the end. Immediately after death in this life we open the book to a new life, a life with God in the heavenly mansions. Jesus is saying, ÔDon’t let your hearts be troubled. I have prepared a place for your loved one, and now I have come to take her to her heavenly home.’ This is the beginning of a new life where there is no sorrow, no suffering, and no death. She trusts Jesus Christ as her Savior, and that is the only way anyone can enter heaven.”

Then we prayed. A friend of the dying woman stood next to the surgeon. Later she told me that the longer I prayed and thanked God for our eternal home, the more he squeezed her hand.

Again, this story is only told to show how God can take sinful people and open their mouths so that others may hear the Gospel. That is our privilege. He has called us to be His voice. This was a glorious opportunity to comfort the family with the only message that can bring lasting comfort. I do not know the spiritual condition of the surgeon. However, that day this brilliant man heard the Gospel. We will leave the rest to the Holy Spirit.

I felt fulfilled that night when riding home from the hospital. It had been an emotional day, but a good day, because we rejoiced in Christ our Savior. How often I have gone home feeling beaten because I had let my tongue remain silent when I could have spoken a good word for Jesus Christ.

With the tongue we can bring dishonor to God, but with that same tongue we can bless His holy name.