Love Is Sometimes Extravagant

From what we learn in the Bible, how would you describe Jesus’ life?

He was a hard worker. We learn that often Jesus was very tired and could fall asleep even when others could not because of some precarious condition. Do you recall the story of Jesus and the disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee in a bad storm? The disciples were afraid they would drown, but Jesus didn’t have a care in the world. He was sleeping (Matthew 8:23). To sleep under these conditions tells us that his body was physically exhausted.

He once said, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4). But Jesus would also agree with the adage, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” so He also enjoyed some social life.

Our text tells us about the time Jesus and His disciples attended a party in the home of Simon the leper. He knew how to relax and enjoy a good time with friends.

They were in Bethany and Simon had just served them a good meal. While He was reclining at the table, which was the usual posture for eating a banquet meal, a woman poured a whole jar of expensive ointment on His head. John, in his Gospel, identifies the woman as Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha.

This brought criticism from some of those at the party. “‘Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.’ And they rebuked her harshly” (4-5).

But Jesus defended her by saying, “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her?” What some called wasteful, Jesus called beautiful. “The poor you will always have with you and you can help them at any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial” (6-8). Jesus made it clear that love can sometimes express itself extravagantly, and that’s

all right with Him.

Mary loved Jesus. He had been a frequent visitor in their home and when He made one of His visits, she loved to sit at His feet and learn from Him (Luke 10:38f). She knew what comfort Jesus brought to her and Martha when Jesus came to them after their brother Lazarus had died. It was wonderful that Jesus raised her dead brother, but His words, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live; and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25).

This love for Jesus moved her to act extravagantly. She must have thought, This might well be the last time that I will have an opportunity to show Jesus how much I love Him. There might be no “next time.” And there wasn’t. This was the last time they would enjoy His presence at their parties.

Don’t you have those times when love stimulates you to live extravagantly? Your actions could be criticized by family and friends, but you don’t care. You had to do it. When we were thinking about how we would celebrate our golden wedding anniversary, we chose to live extravagantly. We had been given a large gift of money and Eunice and I chose to spend that gift on a big, week-long party at an ocean house off the coast of South Carolina.

Our whole family (all fifteen of us) were together for a week. It’s one of those things that you do now or never. Love moved us to live extravagantly and we enjoyed every minute of it because we were pretty sure Jesus was saying, enjoy it. We don’t always have to be practical.

St. John writes, “We love because he first loved us” (I John 4:19). Have you experienced His love? If so, are there not times when you need to show Jesus that love, even to the point of extravagance? You had to say a strong word for Him in a crowd where some didn’t want to hear any of that “Jesus talk.” It might have cost you some friends, but there was nothing else you could do. That’s love that causes you to act extravagantly.

The only way a congregation will experience an ongoing stewardship program is when its people are challenged to give out of love for Christ. I know this to be true without question. The first years of my ministry found me using every trick in the book to raise enough money to keep the congregation going for another year. Members of the two congregations I served during those years would pay their church dues like they did to any other organization where they belonged. One could find little extravagance in their giving.

Then came the day when a man taught me the basics of true stewardship. It was summarized in one short statement. “You give out of love to Christ in relationship to your faith. You are giving of your time and money to Christ because you love Him. As your faith in Him grows, your love will grow and your giving will be more extravagant in the eyes of those who do not know the Lord. It was a love for the Lord that motivated the widow to give all she had. It was a love for the Lord that caused a congregation to yearly increase their giving until the amount given exceeded two million dollars and is still increasing.

Many of us have been raised conservatively and that is good. We must be responsible people and pay our bills, but there is a time when love shows itself in extravagance. And this is not only in the giving of money, but in the giving of our lives for Christ when it costs a great deal.

How wonderful it is to hear from our Lord, That which you did was a beautiful act.

Evading the Big Question

Human beings have an ability to avoid the big questions of life by asking less important ones. This is what Johnny is doing when his mother asks him if he ate the candy bar in the cupboard. He replies, “You mean the candy bar with a brown wrapper?” She answers, “I don’t know what color the wrapper was. Did you eat the candy bar?” Again Johnny asks, “Is that the candy bar we bought at Hy-Vee?” The mother gets more frustrated and says, “I don’t recall whether we bought the candy at Hy-Vee or Fareway. All I want is a simple answer to my question. Yes or no, did you eat the candy bar that I told you not to eat?” Johnny is almost as much a master at evading the big question as our politicians are in their campaigning for a high office in government.

Our text gives an excellent example of how the Sadducees evaded the big questions in their religious life. There were two main groups of leaders in Judaism — the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Sadducees were the aristocratic and wealthy Jews. They included most of the priests. The offices of the high priests were regularly held by a Sadducee. They were also the politicians who had the most contact with the officials of the Roman Empire. The authority for their religious convictions was the first five books of the Bible. They accepted the laws of Moses but not the oral laws that had been made by the Pharisees. They did not believe in immortality since there was no evidence for the teaching in these first five books of the Bible.

In a conversation with Jesus the Sadducees asked Jesus this question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

It was an interesting but not very important question. They were trying to make the teaching of the resurrection look ridiculous. This same kind of questioning is common in our day. I had an acquaintance who loved to ask ridiculous questions hoping to embarrass the Christian. One day at a Rotary meeting he asked me, “Where did Cain and Abel get their wives?” It is such a ridiculous question and he was not seeking answers. He was simply trying to poke fun at the Bible and make those of us who believe its teaching appear rather naive and ignorant. He didn’t want to deal with the bigger questions of the human beings’ fall into sin. I tried to ignore his question but he continued the conversation until the other men seated at the table became embarrassed and asked him to change the subject.

I believe this person was spiritually troubled about his relationship with God, for this was not the first conversation I had with him on theological subjects. He had not yet come to the place where he was willing to talk about the big question: Where do I stand in my relationship with God? He had been raised in a very legalistic Christian home, and while his past irritated him, he was also haunted with some of the basic teachings of the Scriptures.

Jesus answered the Sadducees’ question kindly, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!'”

Jesus wanted to confront these people with the Biblical truth that there is a resurrection. That is the subject of importance and not the details of whether or not we will be married to the same person who was our spouse on earth. Life in heaven cannot be thought of in terms of this life. That’s pretty important for us to understand.

It is sometimes humorous to hear thoughts regarding loved ones who have died. A daughter mourning the loss of her mother can be heard telling a friend, I am so happy mother is with Dad in heaven. I can just see her now inviting in some of the relatives and friends for lunch and a game of cards. Doesn’t that beat living in the nursing home where she was unable to walk and her mind was failing?

It would be cruel to correct this loving daughter who is trying to be her own comfort in adjusting to the loss of a dear mother, but how ridiculous to create a heaven out of our own experiences on this earth.

Jesus did raise some big questions that need to be answered. Here are a couple of them. “Who do you say that I am?” That is the question the Lord asked the disciples one day and it is the question He asks us. This is a question that needs to be answered by people who desire to live in a personal relationship with Jesus.

Here’s another question that Jesus asked Martha: He had told her that He was the resurrection and the life and that those who believed in Him, though they died, would live. Having given her that assurance, Jesus asked, “Do you believe this?” That’s one of the big questions that need to be answered if we want to live with the assurance that in Christ we have the promise of a heavenly home.

Here’s another big question: A Pharisee asked, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your god with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.'”

Do we busy ourselves with the less important questions so that we do not have to face the big questions dealing with our relationship with God and the mission of the Church? There is that danger. Let’s learn from Jesus’ visit with the Sadducees. The conversation is still relevant.

One Life – Many Chapters

I belong to a study group made up of professional and business men. As thought-provoking as the programs are, one of the most interesting parts of the evening for me is listening to these people tell about their experiences as doctors, lawyers, educators, farmers, and business people. It is easy to see how their lives have been shaped by these experiences, and they are anxious to tell others about them. I am no exception. Let someone ask me about my experience as a pastor and I am ready to talk. Yes,Êthere have been a few unpleasant times, but for the most part it has been a wonderful life as I have seen God at work in the lives of people.

Our experiences make us who we are. That is what Peter is talkingÊabout in our text today when he says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hopeÊthat you have.”

The Christian has many experiences that shape his or her life, but the experience that towers over all others is meeting Jesus Christ. This changes life forever. We live one life, but there are many chaptersÊand Jesus Christ has a place in each chapter. It is impossible to compartmentalize our lives and put Christ in one compartment, neverÊto affect the other parts. He is with us in our work, our play, our joys and our sorrows.

Peter writes, “For Christ died for your sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. For we know that it was not withÊperishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. . . . He Himself bore our sins in his body on the cross so that we mightÊdie to sin and live to righteousness; by his wounds we have beenÊhealed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you haveÊreturned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

If you have met Christ, your life is different. No matter what chapter of your life you are discussing, Christ has influenced it. Therefore, Peter says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that is in you.” Those who are not Christian will eventually notice a difference in the lifestyle of a Christian. When they ask about these differences,ÊChristians are admonished not to miss the opportunity to say it isÊChrist who makes the difference. He shapes every chapter of their lives.

I had a neighbor who was a strong witness for Christ. J. R.’s life was a success story, and I loved to hear him expound on its many chapters.ÊHis mother died when he was a child. While they did not attendÊchurch, J. R. could see how God gave his dad strength to hold the family together. The high school principal had a good influence onÊhim, which meant a great deal as he headed off for Europe to fightÊunder Patton in the Battle of the Bulge. Only on rareo ccasions would he discuss his war experiences, but I know J. R. was in the thick of the fighting.

Later in life J. R. knew he had beenÊspared to serve God, but little did he know what plans his Heavenly Father had in store for him. Returning home from Europe, J. R. became a good friend of the Congregational minister in town. He had emigrated from Wales and had a great heart for this veteran whoÊwas still suffering from the shock of seeing people killed. The twoÊof them spent time together as the Welshman used the opportunity to introduce J. R. to Jesus Christ.

About this time he rented a room from a woman who had neverÊmarried. It was not just by accident that he landed in her house.ÊVol became the mother J. R. had not had in an important periodÊof his life. She provided a room for him and fed him with some of the most delicious food known to humankind. But more than that, inÊher quiet way, she bore witness to her faith in Christ as Savior.ÊThough Vol never married, she knew that J. R. needed a goodÊwife, and one day she had the privilege of introducing him to the ladyÊwho became his wife. I had the joy of performing the weddingÊceremony. What a couple!Ê

Through the years, God blessed this couple with two wonderfulÊchildren who have brought great joy to their parents. J. R. joined our church after completing a course in the basics of theÊChristian faith. He not only got an understanding of what the Christian Church taught about the way of salvation, he met his Savior andÊentered into a personal relationship with Him, which thrilled this preacher’s soul. I loved to hear him pray at the men’s Bible study.ÊWith great confidence he offered the prayer many Tuesdays atÊthe Rotary Club.

Though J. R. had no formal education beyond highÊschool, he was very intelligent and had a keen business mind,Êwhich made him very successful financially. As his wealth continued to grow, we would often talk about the responsibility of ChristianÊstewardship.

J. R. gave thousands and thousands of dollars away. He was concerned about how these dollars were going to be used, sinceÊGod had taught him to be a steward. If he were not convinced

that his gift would be furthering God’s Kingdom, J. R. was not hesitant to say no. This was not to keep the money for himself, but to lookÊaround for a better place to contribute that would bring honor toÊthe name of Christ. He might give $10,000 to a nursing home ministering to people in the closing days of their lives and refuse to give $10 for some other cause. The name of Christ had to beÊhonored or J. R. was not interested in offering his financial support.ÊHe taught me much about giving.

One day a friend of mine, who was the president of a church college,Êasked if I knew of some business person who had a strongcommitmentÊto Jesus Christ, but did not necessarily have a lot of formal education. The president wanted such a person on the College Board of Regents.ÊWhen I introduced him to J. R., his mind was made up, and this was the beginning of J. R.’s long stay on the college’s governing board. ThinkÊof how God was using this man from the fox holes of Europe to theÊboard room of one of our finest colleges.

It was in the spring of the year, and J. R. hurried home to mow hisÊlawn before going to the college for its commencement activities.ÊHe was excited. It would be a marvelous weekend. However, somethingÊhappened: J. R. collapsed. He was rushed to the hospital and whenÊI arrived, his son spoke words that ring in my ears today, “It looksÊlike Dad is not going to make it.”

Impossible. This could not happen. He was only in his 60s. HeÊwas needed as a strong witness for Christ. His abilities were needed. But it was not to be. The Lord Jesus came to receive him into the heavenly kingdom. Had J. R. studied Latin, and if one could have heard his last words, he would have said, Soli Deo Gloria. “ToÊ

God alone be the glory.” It was one life with many chapters andÊin every chapter you saw the hand of God at work. J. R.’s life wouldÊnever have been as exciting without the Lord. His wealth would have brought him many luxuries, but not the peace which passes understanding that only Jesus Christ can give. Only Jesus Christ could give J. R. the satisfaction of knowing what life was all about.

If Christ has touched your life, you have a story to tell. It is this story that is your Christian witness, and that is what the Lord wants you to share with others whenever there is a chance.

But notice God’s instruction telling us how to share this testimony:

1. “Always be prepared to give an answer for your faith to thoseÊwho ask you. Let the person seeking to know more about the Christian faith begin the conversation. When the friend sees a difference inÊyour life, the question regarding your faith will be forthcoming.ÊIt is at that time you have the opportunity to point the person toÊJesus Christ. Your testimony for Christ takes Christianity out of theÊtheoretical and into everyday living and that is what some in our society are looking for today. They want answers and God’s Word has them.

2. “Do it with gladness.” Many well-meaning people have turnedÊrelatives and friends away from Christ by their abrasiveness.

3. “Do it with respect.” God has created us with a mind that is free to reject Christ if that be the person’s will. While our hearts may break in seeing the Savior rejected, it is still the freedom that God has givenÊto people.

You and I have one life to live. This life has many chapters. What isÊHe doing in your life today? How will this chapter read?

Don’t Lose Heart

These words come from the Bible. They are words which apply to us for who among us would not have to admit that life has its times of discouragement?

Replay a conversation with your friends. The physician laments the loss of a patient. The attorney resents being categorized as being in a profession that is accused of being dishonest when it polices its members far more than other groups do. The teacher is depressed because she can’t motivate her students. The parents can’t make their children accept responsibility and the preacher is sorrowed over parishioners who are unfaithful to God’s Word. Such a discussion can make your head hurt while it is going on, but in retrospect makes you laugh.

The problems of life that lead to discouragement are not new. Read St. Paul and you see that life was not easy in his day. In the midst of all this discouragement, what keeps us going? Part of the answer is that we have a mission to accomplish and this mission gives us the strength to keep going.

I have a distant acquaintance with Kurt Warner, quarterback for the St. Louis Rams. I don’t want to give the impression that Warner and I are close friends. He wouldn’t know me if we met face to face, but I met him when he played football at the University of Northern Iowa. I am a good friend of Terry Allen, the coach of the Northern Iowa football team at that time, and traveled some with the team. Kurt was the back-up quarterback for some of those years until the starting quarterback graduated.

Then he became the starting quarterback. The newspapers tell us how disappointed he was standing on the sidelines both in college and with the professional teams and was tempted to quit football land get on with life, but the young man had a goal. He wanted to play professional football. Kurt knew that if given the chance, he would be a success, so he couldn’t quit. And then he got his chance. Last year the starting quarterback for the Rams was injured and Warner got an opportunity to play, and play he did. He led the team to win the Super Bowl. He was voted the most valuable player in the National Football League and most valuable player in the Super Bowl. Today Warner’s story is considered a dream story that could well become a movie.

As his mission was a factor in Warner not losing heart, so a far greater mission to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentile world was the motivation that kept St. Paul going. He writes, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as the Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus Christ.” As Paul looked at these people with blinded minds, he had but one desire, which was that they could come to know Jesus Christ as he knew Him. What a difference it would make in their lives. You can be sure that as Paul lay in bed at night, he dreamed and prayed for a mass conversion in the Gentile world, and that Christ would be Lord in these people’s hearts.

People’s rejection of Christ was a terrible frustration to Paul, as it is to Christians in every age. Pastors despair over the unbelief found among some of the people in the congregation, but it is not limited to the clergy. When I was a kid, we had prayer meetings in our church, and though I was young and didn’t understand all that was going on, there was one old lady who prayed the same prayer each week. “Lord, I pray for the conversion of my son, John, for you know that he is not a Christian.” To the best of my knowledge, John remained a faithful son who cared for his mother, but did not have the conversion experience his mother prayed he would have. It was a burden on the old mother’s heart.

Though Paul longed for a great spiritual awakening where he went, the Apostle writes, “We do not use deception in trying to win someone to Christ.” There is a temptation to make changes in the Christian faith to make it more acceptable to people. Sort of the old salesman’s line: maybe we can make this Christianity a bit more appealing to you?

What are some of these changes? Perhaps we could changed John 14:6 making it read: I am a way and a truth and a life; I am one way to the Father. What Jesus said was very much different. He said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” For the unbeliever this reading is too harsh. It leaves out anyone who does not trust Christ as the way. The revised version would make all religions good, and that belief is so popular that we might just gain new members for our congregations if we would make the adjustment.

Updating the Ten Commandments would have an appeal for some people which might cause them to consider joining the congregation. The commandments as they stand are too confining for our society. People are demanding more freedom and if we are not willing to oblige by making some editorial changes in the moral law, they will not consider embracing the Christian faith. This is what society is telling the Church in our day. Dare the Christians distort the Word of God to make it more palatable? If this is done, the Word of God loses its power and its new converts will do little in building God’s Kingdom.

It is evident that where God’s Word is at work in the hearts of people in a particular congregation, great things are happening. When we use deception in trying to win the people for Christ, the success of that church is temporary. The gimmicks used wear out and the spiritual needs of the person are not addressed. How do we proceed in seeking to reach people with the Gospel? Paul tells us to keep on working. Teach the Word. Don’t lose heart. Be faithful. Our task is to plant the seed and let the Holy Spirit do the rest. Only He can lift the veil and open the sinners’ eyes. If we are faithful, God will use our efforts and people will be converted.