Now more than ever, let us fight the tendency to compare ourselves with others, but to have a mindfulness for those around us.
Hello everyone, this is Pastor Terry, if you’re joining us for the first time. I give all of you my love and blessing. I know this is a usual time. We’re jumping into May now. This is a month of transition, no question about it. There are going to be a lot of changes. A lot of different things we’re going to be feeling. We’re going to make this journey together. Part of my goal, part of our goal, is to strengthen you for the present and prepare you for where we’re going into what’s ahead. So prepare and strengthen, this is part of what we want to do.
For me personally, yesterday was my birthday. I’m not going to tell you how old I am. That’s a secret. All I will say is, I’m younger than my wife. Okay, that’s all I’m going to say. But I do think that, obviously, this was not the year we planned. 2020 has turned out so different then what we planned. There was a lot of adversity that we’ve had to face. We’re still facing it now. In every adversity, there is an opportunity, an opportunity to grow. You’ve heard me say it, I keep reminding everyone, if we have to go through it, we might as well grow through it. Let’s grow.
We’ve been talking about this, sow, water, and reap; just sow good, sow God, sow good, sow God. Everything about what we’re trying to do has to do with trusting the Lord. We’re going to be, in a few minutes, sharing a message, a teaching that I’ve called Follow Me. It’s really built around a question that actually Peter asked Jesus when they were in that recovery moment by the Sea of Galilee. We’re going to really sit with that and engage it together. But before we even get there, we’re going to share a song. Pat Odalyis is going to share a song with us. And then she’s going to pray at the back end of that and set it up for the teaching and for where I’m going.
I do want to remind you that when we get to the message, and it’s something for some of us to really consider, I really want to encourage us even though I know we can share this service online in a very relaxed way and that’s totally okay, right, but I do want to encourage everyone to create space to properly engage the message. With the message, I want to encourage all of us to take notes, consider taking notes. I know. You say, “Well, I don’t do that.” Well, consider it.
You can either do it digitally. We’ve got it. It’s very accessible to do that. You can do it here online. It’s something that we’ve tried to make convenient. But I think, even more, some of us may want to actually do it the old-fashioned way and write it down. What you want to write down are the things that really impress you in the Lord. Listen to the message, but also listen to your life and listen to the Lord. That’s the way to approach it. I’m a big believer in that.
I think that there are times that we receive something, but we don’t hold it long enough. One of the best things we can do is to ponder things that God is trying to impress into our heart and to revisit them. Some of us may want to revisit our notes. Just the little brief things that we’ve written down. We may want to revisit them tonight or tomorrow morning when we have some space to spend with the Lord in prayer.
Some of us may want to share with our small groups that we’re engaging in digitally, and with our friends even. Just say, “Hey, this is how this spoke to me.” I really want to encourage you to do that. Because here is the thing, we reinforce what we write down. We reinforce what we pray over. We reinforce what we share. I’ll say that. But will you write down what we pray over and what we share? I want to encourage everybody to prepare to engage in what we’re about to share together.
God, in days like these our minds wander. We just say, “People, we often wander,” but you stay the same. You are always at our side. Even in the most difficult of circumstances, we can turn our attention towards you and remember that you are with us, that you are steady. That on the foundation of you, we have a solid rock and we won’t be shaken. So we choose you, God. We hope in you and we pray these things. Jesus, in your name, amen. Amen.
What a blessing that was. Let’s return again to the scene that we were with last week. It kicked off our whole Engaged series. If you recall, we were by the Sea of Galilee. It was on the shores of the Sea of Galilee in John 21. There were these moments where Jesus would appear after His resurrection, prior to His ascension. One of the most memorable moments was an exchange that He had to have with Simon Peter. Remember, Peter had failed so miserably and he had denied the Lord, not once, not twice, but three times.
Jesus, as we saw last week, was having breakfast with them. He started to have a conversation with Peter. It was the conversation that they all knew He had to have. In that conversation, Jesus asked Peter, He said, “Do you love me?” And Peter said, “Yes, Lord. I love you.” Jesus said, “Do you love me more than these?” He said, “Yes, Lord. I love you more than these.” Then Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” Then Jesus asked him again, “Peter, do you love me?” Peter said, “Yes, Lord. You know I love you.” Jesus said, “Tend my lambs.” Then a third time, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Peter was sad that Jesus asked him. Yet, I don’t think the number three was coincidental because it had been three times that Peter had denied Jesus. Peter said, “Yes, Lord. You know I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Feed my lambs.” It was a beautiful moment.
Remember, everybody is around the fire. They’ve had breakfast. Jesus has been cooking fish and the bread upon the charcoals. They’re at the breaking of the day and at the shore of Galilee, and the water is lapping. The sun is beginning to arise. There has just been a whole tenderness and beauty to that exchange. When Jesus is done, He turns to Peter and He says, “When you were young, you did what you wanted. You dressed yourself. You walked where you wanted to go. You were an independent man. When you’re older,” Jesus said, “another is going to take you. You’re going to stretch out your hands and they’re going to carry you away to a place that you don’t want to go.”
We’re told in John 21 in the 19th verse, “This was Jesus’s way of saying, you’re going to give your life for me. You’re going to yield. And when you’re older, you’re going to die for me.” It was a very powerful thing that Jesus said. After He said that to him, Jesus turned to Peter, in front of them all, and said, “Follow me. Follow me.” Now, that word, that phrase, that invitation was almost like a command, but it required Peter to hold onto that word. That word was actually something He had begun with. It was the beginning invitation that Peter was given three years earlier as were the other disciples, “Follow me.”
Ironically, Peter got that same invitation right there on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was also connected to fishing. Jesus had said, “I’m going to make you fishers of men.” So this a full-circle moment, if you think about it. Again, it took place in front of all of Peter’s friends. It took place in front of John, James, and four of the others as well. They had all been, I’m sure, listening with a fixed gaze to Jesus asking those questions. I guess the words themselves would have been both simultaneously troubling and comforting. If you think of it this way because, in one sense, Jesus was saying, “You’re going to die for me.” Albeit as an older man, but you’re going to end up giving your life for me. You’re not going to want what’s coming, but you’re going to yield to it. That’s very powerful.
As troubling as that was, it must have also been comforting, because it revealed to Peter his destiny as a faithful man. Though the one he had so shamefully denied the Lord, who had just moments before been forced to revisit his failure in a way, was being told even as his love and devotion were being questioned, He was now being told in front of the others that, in the presence of his brothers, he would in the end stand. He would not deny Jesus. He would actually pay the ultimate price. When Jesus said, “Follow me,” it was travel with me into this moment. Very powerful, a very powerful dynamic.
This is where we’re going to go in the time that we have because the study itself has beauty and power in it. The conversation that follows next, we’re going to be sitting with, has so much in it. It also has something for us, particularly in light of the subject that we’re exploring about putting our faith into action. I think even more, because of the unique time that we’re in, what all of us are experiencing right now, what many of us are having to work through, this whole transitional period and having to begin to think about what it will be like when we start to move forward into places of transition that are going to make us a little uncomfortable. What are the implications for it? We’re wrestling with these things. How do we live out our faith in this environment and in the one that’s coming? It’s a great question for us to explore together.
It was interesting because as Jesus has that conversation with Peter and as it settles in, at the moment, in a sense, it makes its way and they’re all there listening, in that very exchange though, Jesus turns to Peter after He’s done with him. I see him looking at the rest of the disciples. As that’s happening, Peter asks a question. It’s the question that we’ll put up. It says, “Peter turned.” And interestingly enough, “He looks at John.” He looked at the disciple whom Jesus loved. That’s how John puts it in verse 20. The one who would also lean back against Him during the supper and said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” John is referring to an incident that occurred on the night of Jesus’s betrayal when around the table John had asked, “Who is it that is going to betray you.” Peter turns to John and we’re told he says, “Well.” And again, after he’s been just given insight into his future. He feels compelled to then in turn look at John and say, “Well, what about this man? What about him?” It’s a classic Peter move. For reasons we’ll never fully appreciate nor understand he fixes his attention on John. Again, it was John who had found Peter, I think. We would mostly agree that it had to be his lowest and darkest moment. Maybe perhaps even a suicidal moment for Peter after his failure when everything seemed lost. It certainly was his darkest hour.
Peter turns and says, “Lord, I appreciate what you just said. What about John? What’s his future? Is that going to happen to him as well?” Maybe it was because Peter saw John as his chief competitor to the Lord’s affections. Although, because Peter was generally recognized as the leader of the group, he was a bit on the edge. He was impetuous. He was a little reckless. The way the Bible characterizes Peter, he’s flawed, but he’s fascinating. He’s daring. He’s fiercely loyal. Those were all the things that Peter was.
But it was John who seemed to have the Lord’s favor. Or I can put it this way, John seemed to understand the Lord the best. It was John, for example, who Jesus’ modeling for us what it is to honor your father or your mother, your parent. It was John who was given, while Jesus was on the cross, one of the seven sayings, remember? “Behold your mother. Mother behold your son.” Jesus entrusts, in His dying moments, the earthly responsibility of caring for His mother, who was a widow and was losing her Son. He entrusts her to John. It tells us something, doesn’t it?
It was John who, though most people believe, ironically, was the youngest of all the disciples, whom Jesus seemed to have had the most confidence in. That it was John who the Lord seemed to have the most trust in. Just basing it on how we assess Peter’s character, it was probably John whom Peter both loved and competed a little bit with. I think that’s a fair assessment. Peter wanted to know, “Well, what’s his future going to look like, Lord? What’s John’s future? You just told me mine.”
Jesus, and I love this, turned to Peter and gave him what would be his last earthly rebuke. Look what it says, “Jesus said to him,” put this up, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Your job, you, you follow me.” All right. Again, I’m sitting in that circle trying to imagine it. I’m imagining I’m with the disciples there. We’re all warming around the fire. We’ve eaten. Time has passed. Jesus begins to work with Peter. We’re listening with fixed interest to the exchange that Jesus is having with Peter. After, Jesus says, “Follow me,” to Peter. “You follow me.” It’s an intense, beautiful, powerful, and wonderful moment.
Peter, instead of saying, “Well, what does that even mean,” basically focuses it on John. If I’m John, I’m going, “Why are you bringing me into this? This is about you. Why are you bringing me into this? What?” It’s like, “What happened? How did I become the focus? What got into you, Peter?” It’s one of those things though, it’s a great reminder to me, because it’s like Jesus says to him, “You know, whatever my plans for him are, that’s not the issue at hand here. What is it to you? What is it to thee? Peter, stay focused here. Your task is to follow me, not worry about John. It’s to follow me.”
What a great reminder that is. Just consider this, on the one hand, we are to deeply care about the well-being of our brothers, sisters, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and certainly people in our church family, absolutely. We pray for one another. We’ve been doing that. We are to love one another. As much as we can in our small groups, in our ministry participation, in any way we can, and in all of our relationships, we are to be there for one another.
I’m always thinking about our relational circles of concern. It’s periodically good for us to think about, what are my primary relational circles of concern? Usually, there are some key ones in the middle. Then we build our way out of that. We are to show up in these circles of concern, our relational circles of concern. In fact, I think, at the time that we’re in right now with the whole virus and transition, the whole shelter-in-place that we’ve been experiencing together, reintegration, all the displacement, all the feelings and emotions that are associated with what we’re all walking through, is a very important time. It’s one of those times when care and love need to really show up. This is an opportunity for us to really demonstrate our love for Christ and our care for others. It’s a time for putting our faith into action, no question about it.
How can I put this? While a part of us needs to keep our eye focused on another, on the other, we need to be other-focused. While a part of us needs to be other-focused, concerned, thoughtful, and looking for ways to bless, refresh, and be healers, prayer-givers, life-givers and just expressing the goodness of the Lord, a part of us needs to keep our eyes on others at this time. It’s also true that a part of us needs to keep our eyes off. That’s right. It’s both a time for keeping our eyes on others and their well-being, and it’s also a time for keeping our eyes off of others. In the sense that, we need to resist doing, I think, what Peter was doing. We need to resist comparing ourselves with one another.
The Bible tells us that, “The one who compares themselves with another is not wise.” Maybe this is the best way to put it, we are to care, but not compare. I’ll say that again. We are to care, but not compare. We are to care, but not compare. That’s a huge thing. Ultimately, our business with God is not dependent on His dealings with another. We can get really stumbled here. It’s almost like Jesus is saying, “Peter, this isn’t about John. This is about you. You follow me. This is not about John. It’s about you. I don’t know why you want to know about John, but this is about you. You stay focused on the path that I have for you.”
I think a lot of our struggle in life is associated with, I know not all and maybe a little less so right now, comparison. The corresponding discontentment flows out of that, especially in what I think is our social media era, the era of Instagram and Twitter. I’m thinking particularly of Instagram. A lot of social media where I guess everything is curated a bit. Isn’t it? At least this is how it has been. Often to show only the best, the best pictures, food, travel experiences, the best shots, or angle. Some people are really good. They have their angle down. It’s the selfie angle. They’re really good at it, and things look great.
It’s an interesting thing because, in this world that we’re living in, it’s like we’re getting portions of reality, but they’re curated. Sometimes, we’re getting things that honestly shouldn’t be shared at all. They’re better left unshared. But then, the paradox to that is that a lot of what is being shared is curated, fashioned, and shaped in a way that exposes only a certain aspect of an experience, or where a person is at in their life. Oftentimes, it’s not even the most real or genuine part.
In fact, I can tell you as a pastor that I’ve come to understand that what is often showcased is far less than what is real. I understand why, but it just means that we need to be really careful. There is always more than what meets the eye, always. There is so much more than the sanitized shot with the perfect filtered choice, there really is.
I suppose that’s maybe changed a little bit because of the season that we’re in. I think people are a little bit more thoughtful about what’s being put up. Everybody is trying to be very sensitive, as we probably should be. Certainly, there is less of everything, less travel, less eating out. Everything has shifted right now. Having said that, it’s probably not bad. Maybe that’s for the good, that part of it because maybe people are being a little bit more real than we’ve been before, or before the pandemic happened. Maybe that’s one of the small blessings of this unwelcome time. The situation that the pandemic causes, at least to think about, at least most of us, to be more genuine people, to really think about our priorities. What’s actually really important in life. I know it’s created unique struggles as well. But at least that part of it is a positive in my opinion, in my perspective.
Peter, it appears, was willing to accept his assignment, no problem. He just wanted to double-check it against John. Jesus reminded him and He reminds us too. “Peter, this is between you and me. It’s not about John.” Again, I think it’s worth mentioning, that our primary responsibility and concern as followers of Jesus needs to be with what He’s requiring of us. What is it that the Lord is asking us to do or become? It’s “But what about John? What about him? What about her? What about them?” This is not about John. This is about you following me. That’s what this is about. It’s the same Word. Something each of us must wrestle with in a uniquely personal context.
In Christ, we all have a unique path to walk. It’s true that even in our closest relationships between a husband and a wife, and parents and children. It’s true even in our closest friendships and relationships, that in the end, each of us, as close as we may be to someone else, have a unique path that the Lord asks us to walk that is, in some areas, not dependent on the other. We always talk about how you need to have your own relationship with Jesus.
There comes a point, even for children who grow up in a home where the love of Christ is nurtured and relative consistency is modeled of love, faithfulness, and commitment things start with us. Where there is the consistency of love, not perfection. Even in those environments where children grow up to have a love for Jesus, some of us came from that environment, I think a majority of us did not, which is okay, some things start with us. Even those of us who had rocky times as parents, maybe we’re going to be really wonderful grandparents. Or maybe there are people whose lives we can affect even if we don’t have children of our own, that we can actually affect right now. There are people who we can influence and make a difference in their lives. My larger point is that, in the end, we all have a unique relationship to walk with the Lord.
When we’re having issues or struggles, or we just want to see things working better, we may say, “Well, if they would do this,” or “If they would do… only take care of that.” A lot of times, our focus is on what the person or people we love should be doing, or the people we work with, people in our relationships, or the church should be doing. “Why aren’t they doing this?” Or, “Why aren’t they doing that?” I hope we can hear this.
The real question is, what path is Jesus asking us to walk? What is it? What would following Him look like right now in this season of our life that we find ourselves in? Maybe play out one more step and say, what would it look like in this year, the year that we’re in right now, which none of us could have seen coming? Which I’ve heard a lot of people calling, “The year of living digitally.” It’s, “The year of living digitally.” That’s a tongue twister, but I like It. I like it because I think it’s a great way to describe this year. So many of us have had to learn a new way. “The year of living digitally.”
I think that it’s good for us to think about what following Jesus well and living a life of contribution and a life of love look like in this time? Because remember, before it’s about him, her or them, it’s about us. It’s about us. What I mean by that is not selfish. It’s about us as me and him. It’s about Jesus and you. It’s about our relationship with the Lord. Before it’s ever about anybody else, it’s about us. Do you understand what I’m saying? That’s for anyone who wants to follow Jesus, who accepts that invitation to follow Him. The same invitation that Jesus gave, He gives to each one of us for our whole life, yes, but also for this time.
In the end, it’s not about him, it’s not about her, it’s about Jesus and me and the relationship that I’m cultivating with Him. That’s always going to be a product of time and thought. It’s like any relationship that we want to have flourish. We have to give attention to it. That’s the way it works.
Jesus says to Peter, “Don’t worry about John.” Jesus goes on to say, “What is it to you if he remains until I come again?” Which had led some people to speculate that John would not die before the Lord returned, as he said he would someday. Whenever I think of the return of Jesus, because Jesus said, “The same way that I’ve left, I’m coming back again,” I think that when the Lord comes, whether it’s in my lifetime or somewhere down the years, it’s going to be the ultimate extra-terrestrial. The ultimate E.T. moment will be the second coming of Jesus. Wow, wouldn’t that be something when the timeless one steps into time again and changes the world as we know it?
John felt compelled to clarify, alluded to it. Look at verse 23. It says, “So the saying spread among the brothers that this disciple was not to die.” John wants to qualify. Remember, Jesus has said to Peter, “What is it to you if he remains?” It’s like, “That’s none of your business. What’s happening with you is different than what’s going to happen to him.” Some people misinterpreted what Jesus said as saying that he was not going to die. But John wants to clarify it, so look what he says in verse 23, “So the saying spread among the brothers that this disciple was not to die.” He was speaking of himself. “Yet,” he says, “Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die. But if it is my will that he remain until I come, what is it to you?” This is the disciple who is bearing witness. That’s me bearing witness about these things and who has written these things. “We know that His testimony is true,” John writes.
Now, there are many other things that Jesus did. I love this, by the way. Look at that verse, 25. “Were every one of them to be written? “I suppose, John,” and he breaks into a superlative, a wide-open space. He says, “I suppose the world, itself, could not contain the books that would be written if all the things that Jesus said and did, were put down on paper.” He’s saying, “Aw, this is just a small part, but it captures the essence of everything that we need to have.” It’s so good.
What is interesting, is that John had many wonderful years of service ahead of him. He really did. Eventually, we know that John’s preaching brought him to the church of Ephesus. There is a book called Ephesians that refers to the city of Ephesus. We know that John became the leader of the church at Ephesus at a certain point. It was there that he mentored many of what would be known as the ancient church fathers, the early church fathers, Polycarp, and Papias, and a name you’ll recognize, Ignatius.
It was during this period that most people believed that he wrote his general epistles. Just like the Gospel of John, the dominant theme of all the epistles of John is love. It’s the love of God and love for one another. It’s Christian love. That is a product of John.
The Roman emperor, was it Domitian, had John banished to the island of Patmos. We know that as well. It was in the Aegean Sea. One of the things that happened when he was exiled was that he had this vision of the victorious Christ at the end of the age. He ended up writing what we now call, as the cannon was put together, the final book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation. That was a product of John. It really is the revelation or the unveiling of Jesus Christ, the one He loved. That in the end, the Lord reigned supreme. The lamb has conquered all things death and hell cannot. Even the ranging of the nations cannot ultimately withstand the victorious Christ, the lion, and the lamb. It’s so beautiful.
We know also that John was pardoned in 96 A.D. by the emperor Nerva and returned to Ephesus. John died. Historically, we have a pretty good idea that John died of old age. That he was most likely the only of all the apostles, the original apostles, that died of old age. All the rest of them were martyred. Let that sink in the next time that we think somehow we should be spared from somethings. John was the only one. He actually had suffered. It was said that in the final years, in his late 90s, this is more now just tradition, that when he was old John could no longer walk. He had grown very old. He was carried bodily from his house to the place of worship.
Time and time again, they would ask John to share. The older and older he got, he finally reached a point where he would only say the same phrase over and over. He would say, “Little children, love one another.” That would be his prayer and exhortation. “Only that,” he would say, “and nothing more.” How good is that? That’s a pretty good goal for a time like now. “Love one another.”
On the one hand, don’t do what Peter was tempted to do. Forget that it’s really about us and the Lord. Don’t focus on John. But on the other hand, from John remember, that part of having an engaged faith is loving one another. Both are true. We are to care, but not compete. We are to care, but not compare. Let’s just have our own walk with Jesus and let that carry the day loving one another.
I’m going to come back around. I love just finishing this together. I like to pray, bless you, and send us into the week. I think it’s really important that we do this and finish well. First, I want to thank you, by the way, for your faithfulness. Just remember, that even though we’re not having a formal time of giving, as many of you have been doing, do your best to continue to be faithful and to honor the Lord, and keep allowing us to do what we’re called to do as a church. It really helps, everybody being as faithful as possible. Some of you are stepping up even more so because you know that everybody can’t give. But if you can, remember, you can give on the app. You can give online. Some of you have been sending in checks and that’s okay too, whatever God puts in your heart. That’s the main thing. Right now though, let’s go ahead and share this moment together.
I think about the Lord and what He’s wanting to do and what He does. How He transforms things. Interestingly enough, both Peter and John, as they follow Jesus, would end up being very transformed. Peter would become a man noted for his humility. He would have been very proud. But as he grew in Christ, he would ultimately become a man who understood humility. Peter would say, “Clothe yourself in humility. Submit to God.”
John, of course, I mean, started out with his passion. He was sensitive, but he was passionate. We know he had a temper. He and his brother were called the sons of thunder. Yet, John over time becomes the apostle of love.
Both of those examples are a reminder that the Lord transforms. As amazing and awesome as God’s artistry is, when we realize that there is much more in creation that we do not see, that’s really becoming apparent right now in this pandemic, there is much more that we do not see than what is actually seen. It’s true. How much more is there that we do not see?
Having said that, as amazing as God’s creation is in its complexity and delicate balance, how astonishing it is in terms of how God reveals His creative work in just this human body of ours. It’s astonishing, the power of the mind and the body. God’s creation is revealed in stunning ways. Yet to me, more than nature and more than this body are what God does in terms of changing a person’s life. The transformation of people’s lives may be His greatest work of all in Christ. It’s something else.
Never forget that if we follow the Lord, which is what we were reminded to do, “Follow me,” that we become in a sense God’s poems. His artistry on display for all to see. May what they see be, though not perfect, a sincere, authentic, genuine, follower of the Lord that is noted for their goodness and their good works. That we might let our light so shine before people that they may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven. That’s my prayer for all of us. I want to pray a blessing over you at this time. What would that transformation look like at this time?
Lord, maybe this is a season, this unique year in time, where you’re trying to do some of your best work in our lives. In this unwelcome place, we want to create space for your grace. We do so that you can do the work inside of us. In some cases, some of us need healing. In other cases, some of us need to be reminded of what’s really important. I suspect a lot of us have been carrying a decent amount of anxiety and stress. Maybe some of us are filled with fear even now when it comes to how we even reenter and how do we begin to transition, and all the different things that are connected to it? We just want to welcome you, Lord, to come. For you have not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of soundness of mind. Help us to be people of good courage. Help us to remember, sow good, sow God. Sow good. Sow God. Yeah, we want to be a part of your goodness.
So that’s my prayer for all of you. May your blessing be yours this day. In Jesus’s name, I love you all. Until we meet again.