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“You can shoot me if you want”

October 31, 1999 -

Topical Scripture: John 21:15-19

Jeremiah Neitz is a former football player who dropped out of high school, moved out of his parents’ home at age 18, and fell in with, to use his word, “gangstas.” He got his girlfriend pregnant and asked her to move in with him. Convictions on charges of theft and assault landed him on probation. Then he decided to get back in touch with God, so he called his former youth minister at South Wayside Baptist Church in Fort Worth.

He was sitting in the back of the auditorium at Wedgwood Baptist Church on September 15 as part of a youth rally, when Larry Gene Ashbrook entered and began shooting. Jeremiah said to Ashbrook, “What you need is Jesus Christ in your life.” Then he stood to his feet and walked to Ashbrook, who leveled his gun at Jeremiah’s head. Jeremiah said, “Sir, you can shoot me if you want. I know where I’m going—I’m going to heaven.”

Ashbrook looked at Jeremiah, stopped shooting, and killed himself instead.

Our church’s history and heritage prove that God has a plan and purpose for us. Now, how can we be as visionary as our founders? Can God use every one of us, no matter who we are or what we’ve done? Let’s find the answer, and see why it matters so much to your life today.

A breakfast which changed the world

Jesus has been raised from the dead, and now comes for Peter and his other disciples who were fishing on the Sea of Galilee. He makes them breakfast, for he knows they will be hungry. Just as he revealed himself to the Emmaus disciples at dinner (Luke 24:29-32), here he meets them at breakfast. God wants to meet with us, to relate to us, wherever we are.

Now he addresses his wayward disciple, the man who denied him three times.

“Simon, son of John,” he calls him. Jesus had nicknamed him Peter, which means “rock,” but now he uses his given name Simon, which means “sand.” For this is what he has been. His behavior has not lived up to his name.

A deserter named Alexander was brought before Alexander the Great, who thundered at him, “Change your behavior or change your name!”

Jesus has only one question for him: “Do you love me?”

Note that Jesus doesn’t ask Peter if he is sorry for what he did, or if he will promise never to do it again; he doesn’t ask for obedience, service, or vows, because he knows that when our hearts are given to him everything else follows as well. We serve Jesus, and obey him, and know about him—do we love him?

Jesus asks him three times, because Peter had denied him three times; thus Peter was hurt the third time he asked. But this gave Peter opportunity for public recommitment to Jesus.

“Do you love me more than these?” Jesus asks.

Do we love Jesus more than we love our friends? More than our fishing boats and nets? More than anything? Will we pay any price to love and follow Jesus?

When Peter says that he will, Jesus responds with two commitments:

“Feed my sheep,” he commissions him. They are his sheep, not Peter’s. His job is to feed and shepherd them—to reach out to the people Jesus loves, which is every person you know. People matter to God, and now they will matter to Peter. And they did—he became the preacher of Pentecost, wrote two books of the Bible, and helped lead the entire Christian movement. “Feed my sheep”—love my people.

And bear my cross. When old, Peter would “stretch out his hands” on the cross and die. Eusebius (d. 340) says that he was crucified upside down, at his own request (Ecclesiastical History III.1.2). Glorify God in life and death.

So Jesus’ ultimate call is clear: “follow me” (v. 19).

I must know Jesus before I can introduce him to you. Only that which happens to me can happen through me.

Authenticity and passion are the keys to ministry today. Follow Jesus, and help the people we know follow him. This is Jesus’ call to Peter, and to us.

Peter before breakfast

Now, where are you in our story? Every person in this sanctuary is either Peter before breakfast, or Peter after breakfast. Perhaps you’re where Peter was before his breakfast with Jesus. Maybe your life seems to have little real direction or significance, or perhaps you’ve experienced enough failure to wonder if you’ll ever really succeed in life.

Well, join the crowd.

We are lonely people. Mother Teresa said that loneliness is the greatest epidemic in the Western world. Look around, and you’ll see that she was right.

Surgeon General David Satcher recently released evidence that suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in the US. It claimed 30,000 lives in 1997, compared with fewer than 19,000 homicides. Since 1980 the suicide rate has doubled among children ages 10-14.

People are flocking to support groups, primarily along gender lines. They will apparently pay any amount of money to find someone who cares about them.

Even our families have lost a sense of community. Author Mary Pipher spoke recently at SMU on this subject. Dr. Pipher pointed out the fact that today we get our stories from boxes—television, computers, and stereos—not from each other. We only know the stories of make-believe people, so that violence, substance abuse, and extramarital sex are now the norms.

We are lonely people. We need a community which cares.

We are displaced people. When my grandfather entered the work force, he could anticipate changing employers three times on average during his career. Those entering the work force today will change their careers seven times. We don’t know who we are.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that nearly two thirds of the companies surveyed employ “virtual expatriots”—people who live in one country but work in another, using technological communication. Their number is up 44% in two years. People who don’t really know where they are.

And our technology has other limits as well. Paul Harvey reported this week that a man in Hong Kong is suing his surgeon. It seems the man operated on him with one hand, while negotiating the purchase of a car from his cell phone with the other hand.

We are displaced people. We need a purpose which matters.

Most of all, many of us feel that we are failed people. Nearly 60% of Americans think that declining moral values is the greatest problem facing our society.

Every one of us has a story like Peter’s—a time when we failed morally. And so we’re not sure God can use us, or even help us.We are failed people, and we need forgiveness and fulfillment.

Now, here’s the amazing good news: Jesus will forgive us, and use us. If he would forgive and use Peter, he will us. He has a call for us which will give our lives the community, purpose, and fulfillment we yearn to experience. How do we find it?

Listen to Jesus

First, see the sheep. Everywhere you look, you can see people who need Jesus.

Our culture is lost. This postmodern society has no sense of objective values or truth any more. A fashion photographer who worked for Playboy is auctioning models’ eggs over the Internet at up to $150,000 apiece, and we don’t know if this is right or wrong. We have no objective sense of truth or morality.

And we’re not seeking help in churches. 40% of Americans say they go to church, but only about 20% actually do. We’re not sure what they learn when they do go—four out of ten self-professed Christians are unable to name the four Gospels.

As a result, only India and China have more nonbelievers than America.

And our community and state are changing quickly. Do you know the most popular baby’s name in Texas this past year? Jose.

Look around you—what lost sheep can you name?

Decide to help them. We don’t know the future, so we must act with urgency today.

Whose future looked more secure last Sunday than Payne Stewart’s? Winner of the United States Open golf championship, multi-millionaire, recent convert to Jesus, with a wife and two children and the world on a string. After winning the US Open he said, “I’m proud of the fact that my faith in God is so much stronger and I’m so much more at peace with myself than I’ve ever been in my life. Where I was with my faith last year and where I am now is leaps and bounds” (from the PGA web site).

I’m so glad someone saw him, and decided to help him.

We will help you. In this church program year, Park Cities Baptist Church will be more apostolic than ever. More like the church of the apostles, where leaders were equippers, members were ministers, and the entire city was the field.

In this next year:

Our leaders are creating a disciple-making strategy for every age group. They will be evaluated not by how well they did the ministry, but by how well you did it.

We are developing our new member ministry, enabling every member to find and use his or her spiritual gifts, interests and passions.

We are creating a comprehensive strategy for personal ministry training—Bible study, historical foundations, theological and ethical issues, practical evangelism, ministry, and missions. We’ll use the Sunday school, Wednesday nights, Thursday mornings, and the Internet.

We are constructing a media ministry to take the gospel to our community. And we are forming a global missions strategy, helping to build and support apostolic churches across the world. Partnerships in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico are the start.

Perhaps the most exciting of all is Saturday Night, our new worship service which begins in less than three months. Then we’ll have both traditional and contemporary worship, each reaching people the other could not.

Now, know that reaching our community will come at a price. The best is always costly. Peter died upside down for Jesus; we will sacrifice to follow him as well.

Many years ago, Southern Seminary was nearly dead for lack of students and finances. The trustees met, and one said, “I move we let it die. But we die first.” There is sacrifice in following Jesus. But the result is worth its cost.


Are you Peter before breakfast? Jesus calls you to follow him. Are you Peter after breakfast, after a life-changing encounter with the risen Lord? He calls you to help people follow him.

Just one can change the world.

Consider Ron Bronski. Ron was a member of the Bel-Air gang in Chicago. He shot a rival gang member, and would have killed him except his gun ran out of bullets. So he and his girlfriend fled to Canada, and then emigrated to Portland. Ron got a job in a metal shop there, where Christian co-workers saw him and decided to help. Over time they led him to faith in Jesus, and his life was radically transformed. He married his girlfriend, and they had a little girl. Years passed; all was well.

But Ron knew that while he was right with God, he was not right with society. So the fateful day came when he left his family in Portland and returned to Chicago to turn himself in. An atheist Chicago Tribune investigative journalist named Lee Strobel heard about him, and checked him out. He was amazed at his life transformation and sacrifice.

So was the judge, who told him, “I could sentence you to twenty years in jail for what you did, but I’m convinced you’re a changed man. I want you to go home to Portland and your family.” Lee asked Ron what this freedom felt like, and Ron said, “Lee, the judge’s grace is a little like the grace Jesus gave me when he died for me.”

That witness deeply impressed Lee. In time he came to Christ, and then into ministry. Then one day he decided to check on Ron. He called his pastor in Portland, and was distressed to hear that Ron was no longer with his church. But then the pastor explained: he’s pastoring his own church today in the inner city.

Lee told us this story at the Willow Creek evangelism conference in Chicago two weeks ago. Then he invited Ron Bronski to the stage, where he led our closing prayer.

A fisherman can become a Peter; a lost sheep can become a Ron Bronski or a Jeremiah Neitz. What does Jesus want to do with your life?

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