Mustard Seed Theology

Matthew 13:31-32

The parable of the mustard seed, which Jesus shares, teaches us precious truths that every believer can cling to with hope. Have you ever worried that your faith is wimpy and weak, not strong enough to do you any good? Have you ever worried that the questions percolating in your soul might undo you? The parable of the mustard seed, which Jesus shares, teaches us precious truths that every believer can cling to with hope. Have you ever worried that your faith is wimpy and weak, not strong enough to do you any good? Have you ever worried that the questions percolating in your soul might undo you?

Remember the man who brought his son, who was possessed by an evil spirit, to Jesus? The spirit would throw the boy to the ground causing him to foam at the mouth. He’d be struck mute and stiffen out in his body. The father pleaded with Jesus, “If you can do anything to help us, have pity on us.”

Jesus, almost with indignation said, “If I can? Haven’t I told you – ‘ALL things are possible to him who believes’?”

Then the father confessed this classic line, “I do believe. Help my unbelief.” Have you ever prayed that prayer?

Have you ever prayed,
Lord God, I do believe, but the day is so dark, and I’m struggling with doubt. 
Lord Jesus, I do believe your promises but I have questions that enter my mind. 
I do believe; help my unbelief.

Mustard seed faith knows it’s not the size of our faith that is most important, but the One in whom our faith rests. It is not the purity of our faith but the fact that our faith rests in the all powerful Lord Jesus Christ who loves us.

Jim Bjorge, an eloquent preacher, told the story years ago of a man traveling by foot in early winter in the state of Minnesota. In his travels, he came to a wide river. The man simply did not know if the ice was thick enough or therefore safe to bear his weight. His first few tentative steps on the ice, his heart was thumping in his chest. He was literally shaking in fear! Then the ice cracked under his feet, and he sprawled flat on his belly on the ice, afraid he would go through. While he was lying there cheek to the ice, he heard the sound of sleigh bells, and around the bend of the river came a team of huge horses with the driver guiding a sleigh filled with huge logs cut from the woods. Yes, the ice was thick enough to bear his weight.

Sometimes we’re afraid Jesus can’t take care of us. Sometimes our faith is shaky and wimpy, and we don’t know if we’re okay. It’s not the size of our faith that matters, but the fact that our faith trusts in the all-powerful Jesus, the Lover of our soul. So whatever measure of faith you have, invest it in Jesus.

The second truth from this parable of the mustard seed is, when faith trusts God’s power, God brings new life into our spirit. All of us, as human beings, need God’s renewal. He keeps His word. In II Corinthians 5 it says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

Radio preacher Vernon McGee once told a memorable story about a woman who lived in the deep South and had a close relationship with her childhood sweetheart, John. The woman found love with the man and ultimately married him. While their life together wasn’t perfect, they had many moments of wonderful joy in their marriage.

Suddenly, tragically, her beloved husband died of a heart attack. The woman simply couldn’t part with her late husband so she decided to have him embalmed. She placed him sitting up in a chair and sealed him in a glass case. Then she placed John immediately inside the front door of her large southern plantation home. This way she could be with her husband every day. She’d enter the door, smile and say, “Hi, John. How are you?” and then go about, pretending he still shared life with her. This went on for more than a year.

One day she decided to take a lengthy vacation to Europe. It would be a delightful change of scenery for her. While she was in Europe, she met a fine gentleman also on vacation. They had a whirlwind romance, fell in love, got married, and honeymooned all over Europe. All during that time, the woman said nothing about old John back on the plantation.

Finally, they traveled to the United States and journeyed into the woman’s plantation, which would now be their home. As they were driving up the winding road, the husband decided he was going to carry his new bride over the threshold. This would be the beginning of their home together and their new life forever. He picked her up, bumped the door open with his hip and walked right in. However, he almost dropped his bride when he saw old John sitting in his chair. “Who is this?” the new husband asked.

Well, that’s John, my husband from my former . . .

“He’s history!” said her new husband. “He is dead!” Then he buried old John, case and all.

Sometimes, in our faith journey, we continue to keep the remnants of our old nature, of our old life, and we rationalize its continued presence as if we need it somehow to comfort or sustain us. We develop what I sometimes call a “BC” mindset. A before-Christ lifestyle, a before-Christ attitude, a before-Christ behavior, rhythm in our life so that, even though faith has fallen in love with Jesus and we’ve come to believe in and take to heart all God has done for us through Christ, we’re still living BC – before Christ.

Jesus was raised from the dead so He might live in the hearts of all His people. The kingdom of God spreads when Jesus reigns in the heart of His believers. He gives us new life. Jesus gives us the power of the Holy Spirit who not only lives inside us, but also comforts, guides, and controls us in our discipleship journey. Mustard seed faith brings new life. It also teaches us that little becomes much, small becomes huge. A tiny seed like a mustard becomes a 10-foot high shrub tree that the birds of the air come and nest in.

Nancy Cornish, in The Upper Room devotional booklet, tells the story of when she was a child she heard the tap, tap of a cane on the sidewalk in a small community in which she lived. An old man in town, bent from years, his rough, knotted hand purposefully clutching his cane as he walked. This old man had a peculiar custom as he roamed the streets of this small town. When saw a child, he’d reach into his pocket and give them a picture of Jesus Christ. He’d thrust it into the child’s hand and continue on his way, not even saying a word.

The small act of this old man’s kindness made a world of difference to Nancy. She later came to a faith in Jesus Christ, and she realized in her adult faith that the small seed of kindness and witness the old man had done in giving her a picture of Jesus was the beginning of what God used to bring faith alive in her soul. That picture of Jesus, with a sheep and a river running through a pasture, with the old man’s shaky handwriting saying Psalm 23, was the foundation of her faith that came alive. Little can become much, and small can become huge.

Who would think a carpenter’s son, born to a young girl in the poor town of Nazareth, would be God’s Messiah? Who would think a band of twelve men and a few women would grow to become the beginning of the Christian Church and the message of the Gospel would spread to every country and culture and race in our world? And who would think the little seed of faith, when you and I first heard the message of Jesus, would come alive, take root in our faith, and grow to give a perspective of our whole journey of life, because Jesus is life.

Mustard seed faith also teaches us that we build the kingdom of God by faith. As we share our faith and our love for Christ with others, we need patience. We need to trust the Holy Spirit. We need to allow time for it to unfold, for those planted seeds to take root. Many of you are farmers, and you know you don’t plant your seed into the black soil of your fields one day and expect to harvest the mature crop a week later. It takes time.

I love a quote by Alfred Schweitzer, a missionary to Africa, “No ray of sunlight is ever lost, but the green it awakens takes time to sprout, and it is not always given the sower to see the harvest. All work, if worth anything, is done in faith.”

I know a father who prayed every day for his son over decades of time. His son, though a good young man, was a prodigal spiritually – defiant, rebellious against God and the Church. Many years later, after decades of prayer, the son came to his dying father’s bedside and said, “Dad, I want you to know, I prayed to ask Jesus to forgive me and come into my life. It’s not only the way you prayed for me daily, it was your authentic way of showing love to all people that convinced me Jesus is real and needs to be the center of my life.”

People of God, don’t give up. Keep praying. Persevere in doing good. The kingdom of God is built by faith.

The next truth from this mustard seed parable is the kingdoms of this world will eventually give way to the kingdom of Jesus Christ. When we look at world events today – war between nations, governments, political leaders, and powers, it sure does not look like the kingdom of Jesus Christ will be winning. But the Word of God promises us that, in the end, the kingdom of Jesus Christ will be the last. He will rule. Like it says in Revelation, the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of our Christ, and He will reign forever and ever. Jesus will rule the world – not by military might, nor by wealth, nor human intelligence. God’s power will rule the world in the name of Jesus in a kingdom founded on grace.

The final precious truth from the parable of the mustard seed is God’s presence and power become every believer’s safe place. It says in Jesus’ parable that the birds of the air all come to build their nests in the tree that began as the tiniest seed, the mustard seed. Jesus is our safe place, our hiding place. Remember how it reads in Psalm 61 – “Hear my cry, O God. Give heed to my prayer. To the ends of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock, which is higher than I, for you are my refuge. You are my tower of strength against my enemies. Let me take refuge in the shelter of your wings.”

Several years ago, National Geographic magazine provided an interesting story. After a forest fire in Yellowstone National Park, forest rangers began their trek up the mountain to assess the inferno’s damage. One of the rangers found a bird literally petrified in ashes, perched statuesquely on the ground at the base of the tree. It was an eerie sight. When the ranger knocked the bird over with a stick, three tiny chicks scurried from under the dead mother’s wings. That loving mother bird, keenly aware of impending danger had carried her offspring to the base of the tree and gathered them under her wings. Instinctively she knew the toxic smoke would rise. The mother could’ve saved herself. She could’ve flown to safety, but she had refused to abandon her babies. And when the blaze arrived and the heat singed her small body, the mother remained steadfast. She had been willing to die in sacrifice so her babies, under the cover of her wings, would live.

The birds of the air come and nest and rest in the branches of the kingdom of God. What God has done for us in Jesus Christ is our safe place, our protection. When I approach life’s challenges and problems, when I walk in a way that is dark, when I am filled with guilt and regret, I can run to the Lord my God for refuge because Jesus has gone to the cross. Jesus has died in our place. Jesus has taken our guilt and sin upon Himself, and now He spreads His loving power over us like a protection. Jesus is our safe place.

I pray you have mustard seed faith, and you know it’s not the size of your faith but the power of the Lord Jesus Christ that is our hope. Amen.

Rev. Lee Laaveg

Is Following Jesus Worth It?

Matthew 13:44-46

One of my most prized possessions is a 1965 Martin D-35 guitar. It is in mint condition and worth a lot! If I were to sell it today, I’d make thousands on it. One of my most prized possessions is a 1965 Martin D-35 guitar. It is in mint condition and worth a lot! If I were to sell it today, I’d make thousands on it.

This guitar has a fun story behind its purchase. About twenty-five years ago or so, my dad was listening to a morning radio show, kind of a swap shop. People would call in with things to sell or trade. That morning a voice came over the air announcing this individual had a Martin guitar for sale for $400. My dad was immediately interested! The guy brought the guitar over to the house. One look at it, and my dad had his checkbook out and was writing a check for $400. (It was worth 10 times that.) You see, my dad knew a bargain when he saw one.

Jesus, in our passage for today, told a couple stories to His disciples that have the same sort of feel to them. At an early stage in His ministry, Jesus was beginning to run into more and more opposition. This kingdom movement He was announcing was not quite picking up the momentum the disciples thought it might. Only twelve actually signed on and committed. There are rumblings of a conspiracy by Jesus’ opponents to kill Him and snuff out the ministry. The disciples had to have been concerned about their own welfare. They had left comforts behind to follow Jesus, and it might have had them wondering if following Jesus and serving Him was really worth it.

Jesus addressed the question with two parables. He said the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure, a valuable pearl. It was so valuable, the people who found it went after it for all they were worth in order to possess it. They knew a bargain when it was staring them in the face.

Some things in this story you can’t help but notice. Number one, the different ways these valuable objects were found. One person stumbled upon the treasure. The other person – a merchant – searched for the pearl. People come to Christ in a variety of ways, maybe He is saying. They may stumble upon Him, or they may go for a long search to find Him by examining other philosophies, and so on.

The second thing we notice is the people in these parables sold everything they had because they knew a bargain when they saw one. They couldn’t help themselves – they wanted to possess it.

These two parables basically serve as analogies about the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven means the kingdom of God. Jesus is not talking going to heaven so much, but about being under the rule of God. We know it will come in its fullness someday, and every knee will bow and every tongue confess Jesus is Lord. Everyone will love God, and love one another as God intended. We will live under Him in His kingdom under the Lordship of Jesus.

Jesus was talking about His rule and His reign, not just in the world to come, but in our personal lives as well. God wants to have a relationship with us, which only will come through Jesus Christ. When Jesus announces the kingdom, in all likelihood Jesus is also pointing to Himself. One theologian wrote, “Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God, and He was the kingdom of God.” It’s true! Jesus said God’s kingdom is the most valuable possession a person can ever own.

One might ask what makes this kingdom, this relationship so valuable. First of all, it is valuable because I am a sinner. I am separated from God and in need of forgiveness for my sins. I have a tendency to thumb my nose in the face of God, to think I can run my own show without Him. In Christ there is forgiveness for my sins.

The kingdom of God is also valuable because I am a mortal being. Someday I’m going to die. Jesus says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). This kingdom is the promise of eternity living with God.

Finally, it is valuable because I am spiritually dead without God in my life. Jesus said, “I came that you may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). He gives me purpose and peace. Jesus knows what makes life work. This spiritual wealth of the kingdom demonetizes all other earthly currencies because it’s eternal, it’s free, and it’s life-giving.

The most remarkable thing about this valuable treasure is it’s free for the receiving! I cannot earn it, only receive it like a beggar with empty hands. I have nothing to offer for it. It comes to us by God’s grace. Jesus Christ gave His all in order to possess me that I might have Him. I have been bought with a price at the cross. His holy and precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death have made it possible for me to have a reconciled relationship with the heavenly Father who loves me. Only through Christ, only through entry into His kingdom is it possible.

Jesus’ appeal to a sinner like me or you is to repent and believe the good news. That’s what Jesus said when He announced the kingdom. The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe this good news. It’s the response He is looking for from us. To repent, basically is to turn from the direction we have been going and follow Him. We entrust our lives and our futures to His care and His leadership. To repent is to surrender ourselves and step into His kingdom. To believe is simply to trust, to bet the farm, to build my life upon His promises. It just might be someone who is listening to this broadcast is in a place where he or she needs to do just that – repent and believe. It’s easy to get off track.

To all in our world who have lost their spiritual bearings, this Jesus Christ still comes and offers the treasure and the pearl, which carry with them the promise of eternal life – indescribable, imperishable riches. As of old comes His challenge to this person: Follow me; I am the true and living way to God. If I offer you a cross, I also offer you a crown. If I offer you struggle, I also offer victory. Look life in the face and look death in the face and sum it all up. Make your decision – come follow Me. 

If you have received Jesus into your life like those first disciples who originally heard these two stories, hear what He is saying, Yes, it is worth it! Trust Me. Enjoy your riches. Hang onto them. Grow in them. Praise God for them. 

If you are in the kingdom, if you are in Jesus Christ, you are rich. Just listen to some of these witnesses.

The Apostle Paul, looking back on his life before He knew Christ, described all these earthly things he had going for him. All those riches were set aside when he followed Jesus. And if someone were to ask him about this tough sacrifice, he would have responded, Sacrifice? What sacrifice? I count everything as garbage in comparison to knowing Jesus Christ! 

The hymn writer, Isaac Watts, wrote in his great hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,”

Were the whole realm of nature mine. 
That were an offering far too small. 
Love so amazing, so divine, 
Demands my soul, my life, my all. 

Jim Elliott, a missionary who was martyred at the age of 32 in South America, said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

Many years ago I was at a conference doing youth work. I was listening to a speaker, a young woman, say, “If you were to give your child anything in the world, what would it be?” Then she answered her own question, “It would be a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” She went on to explain that Christ has made all the difference in her life. So of course, she wants her children to know Jesus as well.

In 1987, the Minnesota Twins, who I cheer for, clinched the 1987 division and were getting ready to play in the World Series. Greg Gagne, the great shortstop on the team, was asked, “Is this the biggest moment of your life? It has to be!” by a news reporter. “No,” Greg replied. “The biggest moment of my life is when I asked Jesus Christ to take over my life.”

P. T. Forsyth, a great prophetic preacher of the past century, wrote these wonderful words: “I should count a life well spent in a world well lost if, after tasting all its experiences and facing all its problems, I had no more to show at its close or carry with me into another world than the acquisition of a real, sure, humble, and grateful faith in the eternal Son of God.” Beautiful words. Beautiful testimony.

In our church, we sing a song by a fellow named Dennis Jernigan, who has written some wonderful contemporary Christian songs. He says, “You are my strength, Jesus. When I am weak, you are the treasure that I keep. You are my all in all.”

Folks, if you have run into some rough patches in your life and are asking if following Jesus is really worth it, if you are facing the ridicule of people from whom you want respect and friendship, if you are having the same doubts those first disciples must have had and you are asking if it is worth it to stand up for Jesus and serve Him, Jesus’ word to you today is this: A relationship with Me is more valuable than anything this world has to offer. It’s more valuable than any object. 

I have a home that is worth, I imagine, $250,000 or so. Not bad. But being part of God’s kingdom is more valuable than my home.

I have a couple cars. They’re worth something too. God’s kingdom is more valuable than any car.

I have a great instrument to play – a D-35 Martin guitar. God’s kingdom is more valuable than any instrument you might possess.

I have a bank account and a pension to take care of me. More valuable than that.

A relationship with Christ is more valuable than any other relationship – even your spouse or your family or your friends. More valuable than any experience or adventure this world might have to offer you.

This is the message today. Jesus stands before you and says, Do you see a bargain when you’re staring at one? If you have never received Jesus Christ in your life, you are poor because you’re going to die and leave all your earthly possessions behind. Only through Christ can we become rich – truly, eternally rich.

My appeal to you today would be, ask Christ into your life today. Surrender yourself to His care, and direction. Begin to walk with Him. He alone holds the treasures God wants you to possess.

If you already are following Him, Christ is speaking to you today as well, my friend. He is saying, Keep following. Keep serving. It is worth it, because if you are in Christ, you are eternally rich. Amen.

Rev. Steve Kramer
Christian Crusaders

The Lord Works in Mysterious Ways

Luke 1:26-38

People sometimes use what they think is a biblical quote, but it really is not. It goes like this: “God works in strange and mysterious ways.” Though you would be hard-pressed to find this quote in Scripture, it is truth. People have been saying it about God for centuries.

Years ago a man named William Cowper wrote a hymn:
“God moves in mysterious way, His wonders to perform. 
He plants his footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm.”

Isaiah the prophet expresses amazement at the mysteries of God, when he says,  “Truly, O God our Savior, you work in mysterious ways” (Is. 45:15).

He also says,  “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Who has been his counselor?” (Is. 40:13).

The Apostle Paul stood in awe of God’s mysteries and wrote,  “How unsearchable are his ways!” (Rom. 11:33).

Such is the case as you consider today’s story about Mary. The Lord works in mysterious ways. Just think about it. The world needed a Savior from sin, so God devised a plan, which is rather mysterious and out of the ordinary. He decided to send His Son, Jesus, as a baby, God incarnate, God in the flesh, who will eventually die on a cross to pay for the sins of the world. Mysterious.

Even more mysterious is the reason why He would do that for me knowing the kind of person I am inside and the depths of my sin. This love of God is mysterious.

If you were in charge of sending this Savior, where would you choose to have Him raised? Surely a kingly palace would have been a smart thing. A place where He would be safe and secure and receive the best. After all, He is the Savior. Or perhaps a priestly, educated family could fill Him with knowledge and show Him the way around through Israel’s religious system. How about a mature family who is practiced in raising children, known amongst the community for how well they do with kids? They can make Him safe and secure and keep Him healthy.

It makes sense to us, right? But not to God. He instead chose Mary, a teenager – probably 14 or 15 years old – with little status in the ancient world. She was probably uneducated, from a little backwater town named Nazareth of which sophisticated Jewish folks would say, Can anything good come out of Nazareth? They’re a bunch of hicks! She was engaged to a carpenter who was barely able to eke out a living. One has to wonder how good he was at his business. After all, when they gave an offering after the circumcision of Jesus, they offered two pigeons, which is what only the poverty-stricken were instructed to give. Still God chose Mary to bring the Savior, the Son of God, into this world. God works in mysterious ways!

Why, you may wonder. First of all, the response would be because He is God. His thoughts are not our thoughts. His ways are not our ways. He sometimes chooses to use the weak to lead the strong. Perhaps His grace was behind this. He wanted to show us how He can take ordinary people and use them in great ways. Or it might be about His mind. As He does His way, we learn we can trust Him, and He really knows what makes things work. We give   the glory when it goes right instead of giving ourselves the credit.

Yes, God knew Mary’s heart, her faith in Him, her willingness to submit to His plan. We can’t know for certain. All we know is this – God called Mary. The rest is history. She responded with a few questions such as, How can this be? I’m a virgin. After it was explained to her, “Power from the most High will overshadow you,” she responded, “Here I am, your servant. Let it be to me according to your word.”

Have you ever stopped to think of how brave those words are? She did not know what difficulties and complications lay ahead for her, but still she said “Let it be to me . . .”

I love a little article in a book by Frederick Buechner about biblical characters. He writes about Gabriel the Angel who made the announcement to Mary. Listen to his words:

“Mary struck the Angel Gabriel as hardly old enough to have a child at all, let alone this child, but he’d been entrusted with a message to give her, and he gave it. He told her what the child was to be named, who He was to be, and something about the mystery that was to come upon her. ‘You mustn’t be afraid, Mary,’ he said. As he said it though, he only hoped she wouldn’t notice that beneath his great golden wings, he himself was trembling with fear to think that the whole future of creation hung now on the answer of a girl. ‘Let it be to me,’ Mary said. And it was.”

Jesus was born. The Savior of the world. It was not an easy call. She didn’t know, she couldn’t have planned for the things she would go through – how much rumor, innuendo, and castigation Mary would suffer in her village with this pregnancy since she was not married yet. How hard it would for her to deliver in Bethlehem as God planned. She surely didn’t know – no mother would be around to help, no room even to have this child. But Scripture says Mary pondered these things in her heart.

One time Mary and Joseph lost Jesus in Jerusalem. They had been at a festival with the family and thought He was with His friends. But once they were out of town, they realized He wasn’t with them. Can you imagine what Mary said to Joseph. “Honey, we lost the Son of God!” Searching, they found Him in the temple and after chewing Him out, Jesus said, “Didn’t you know I’d be here in my Father’s house?”

Scriptures say Mary treasured these things, and pondered them in her heart. What have I gotten into? she must have wondered. She wound up as a refugee, fleeing to Egypt to keep Him safe from Herod the king who ordered the death of all the infant boys around Bethlehem. She watched Him grow in wisdom, divine and human favor.

Then there was the heartbreak of watching Him leave home to go on the road to do this “Gospel ministry,” as He called it, about a kingdom. Or hearing people with authority talking badly about Him. He is a crackpot, a blasphemer, a troublemaker. At one point she was so worried He was cracking up, she went to fetch Him home only to be told His response to her arrival, “My real mothers and brothers are those who do God’s will.” How it must’ve broken her heart.

She watched Him die on a cross, “A sword shall pierce your own soul too,” was the line that must’ve gone through her head. It was the line from the prophet Simeon that she had heard when Jesus was a baby. She felt like a sword pierced her.

And the wonder of Easter! He’s alive! But why didn’t He come home first and show Himself to me, His mother! Afterward, the ascension and Pentecost in the Upper Room. What an amazing journey her life turned out to be as God used her in a most amazing way to work out His plan for salvation.

Mary drops out of the scriptural picture after that, and the Church was left to wonder what do with her. She’s never been forgotten over the centuries. She even made the Apostles’ Creed, and so we talk about her every week in worship. Somewhere along the way, the Roman Catholic Church saw fit to raise her to a status that Scripture doesn’t really support – to include her as someone to be worshiped. I don’t buy that option.

While I know God is the only hero in the Bible, Mary is quite heroic. She was an obedient, submissive daughter of the God who loves us, and while she does not deserve our worship, she deserves our admiration and applause and even our emulation. She deserves a “Well done, Mary!” She said yes to God’s call, and God used her in an extraordinary way. Mary, you are amazing! You are an amazing, godly woman, would have been our response to Mary.

Mary’s story also holds a valuable lesson for you and me to consider. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ listen closely: God oftentimes chooses to use the ordinary to do extraordinary things for His cause. 

This truth can also be found elsewhere in the New Testament. When Jesus began His ministry, He called to Himself twelve disciples who were very ordinary individuals. They had no theological training or great pull in their communities. He trained them, and then at the end of His ministry told them to “Go make disciples of all nations; be my witnesses” (Matt.28:19). Let your light shine before others, and you’ll change the world. And, by golly, here we are in 2017 talking about the same risen Jesus who gave that commission on the mountaintop.

I think of Saul who hated Christians and Christianity. He eventually became Paul when he was chosen by God to bring Christ to people who were not Jewish. He turned the world upside down.

All kinds of ordinary people throughout the New Testament were willing to say, Here am I – servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to Your Word. God used them to do extraordinary things for Him as well. You find even more stories like this in the Old Testament. God uses the ordinary to do the extraordinary in Scripture.

Now, according to Scripture, we believe God is unchanging. So obviously, He must still like to use ordinary people to do extraordinary things – those who will commit and submit to serving His cause when He taps them on the shoulder. It doesn’t matter what your age, your gender, your talent, your place in the culture or any other circumstance in your life for that matter. He can use you.

I’ve been reading a book called 7 Women and the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas. It’s about Christian women who had a big impact on the world. One of them was Rosa Parks, the woman in 1955 who refused to move herself from a seat in a bus and go to the back of the bus. She was arrested, and thus began the civil rights movement.

Did you know Rosa Parks was a committed Christian who had been taught the values of Christianity – that all people are valuable and no one should be treated like her people were being treated? When she did that great act of courage, she leaned on her faith in God.

I think of another story about a woman named Agnes who wanted to dedicate her life to God at the age of 12. She eventually became a nun at the age of 18 and was shipped off to India where she was teaching middle-class Indian children. Yet her heart was what she saw outside the walls of where she was teaching – in the streets where people were dying of starvation, nobody there to help them. One day she was in the street and saw a woman dying with rats gnawing at her. So she grabbed the woman and carried her around until she could find a place to give her attention and help her die in a dignified manner. Thus began the ministry of Mother Teresa.

But not just well-known names. I think of my friend Mary. She wanted to lead her friends to Jesus Christ, but she was a 10th grader and didn’t know how to do that. So she came to me and said, “Would you train me how to witness for Jesus with my friends?” She was my first trainee in Evangelism Explosion. She’s led many people to Jesus since.

Marin Pedersen was a junior high girl in my congregation who started visiting the elderly in a nursing home. She played music for them and befriended them. She has made an impact in the name of Christ.

I think of Jesse who is now a senior in high school this year. For the past five years I’ve watched her touch the lives of children in our Sunday school. She spends more time working with kids in this church than you ever could imagine. She’s making a difference.

I think of a woman named Krista Algore who has just returned to us after four years of working in Cambodia for a Christian organization called Agape, which fights sex trafficking of young women. At the sacrifice of her own health, she has impacted hundreds of young women for Christ by giving herself away.

The truth of the matter is, when you become a follower of Jesus Christ, you have a commission. You have a mission field, your own sphere of influence, your little corner of the world. And when you say, Hear am I, the Lord’s servant. Let it be according to Thy Word, you never know what might happen next. Extraordinary things. It might be a neighbor who lives next to you and needs a friend. It might be a lonely person you bump into at a nursing home, or a cause that strikes a passion deep within you – like kids, or feeding the hungry, or some other need in your community. Perhaps a troubled kid needs some guidance or a mentor. It’s not always going to be easy or convenient. In fact, it can be downright scary at times. I’m sure Mary had her moments when she was scared and tired and confused. But there was one constant – God was with her, still caring, still carrying her. The mission was accomplished. The ordinary did the extraordinary.

I have a personal question for you today. Would you describe your faith as exciting? Does following Jesus keep you at the edge of your seat in constant prayer, asking for help? Are you alive with anticipation as to what God is going to do with you next? If not, God would love to have a crack at your life beginning today. It’s a matter of simply submitting to Him and courageously saying, Here I am, your servant, Lord. May it be to me according to your Word. That is music to your heavenly Father’s ears. Amen.

Steve Kramer

God’s Vision for Your Life

Philippians 2:5-8

Recently, I heard a speaker ask this question, “What you want people to say about you at your funeral?” Two things came to mind when I thought about that question. First, an amusing story I’d read about a funeral.

The deceased’s wife and two sons were seated in the front pew at the funeral. The songs had been sung and the preacher began to talk about the departed brother.

“He was a man’s man!”

“Amen!” said the congregation.

“He was a man who worked hard!”

A few people said, “Amen!”

“He was a man the bottle could not control.”

“Amen,” said one or two mourners.

“He was a man who loved his home, and his wife and children.”

“Amen.”

“He was a man who paid his debts and told the truth.”

(No amens, this time.)

The poor wife couldn’t stand it any longer so she said to one of her sons, “Joe, go look in the casket and see if that’s really your daddy he’s talking about.” ☺

The other question that came to mind is, Is this really the right question to be asking? I propose to you, if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, that the most important question is not what I want people to say but what God wants people to be able to say about me. You see, God has a plan for folks like you and me when we place our trust in Christ. This God of ours is in the shaping business. We are His projects, His masterpieces when Christ steps into our lives.

Scripture tells us that those whom God foreknew, He predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son in order that He might be the firstborn within a large family (Rom. 8:29). Paul is telling us that God wants to shape us and conform us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. It’s kind of like a sculptor chipping away at us in order that we might be His masterpiece.

I am reminded of the story of Michelangelo pushing a big granite rock up a hill. Someone said to him, “Michelangelo, what are you doing? What’s going on here?” He replied, “I am pushing this up to my home. I want to chip away at it in order to free the angel within it.”

It’s kind of like that for us. We are God’s masterpiece, a work in progress.

This begs the question: What does Jesus look like? Paul gives us a good answer to that question in the book of Philippians. He quotes an ancient Christian hymn they used in worship as he says, Have the mind of Jesus. He goes on to say – here is what Jesus was like – “He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”

So what does Jesus look like? According to what Paul is telling us that Jesus is a humble servant.

By the way, the song ends reminding us that this humble servant was exalted by God.

Now where does Paul (or whoever wrote this song) get this idea? Perhaps from Mark chapters 9 and 10 where Jesus is speaking with His disciples on the question of greatness – how to be a great person in the kingdom of God. His disciples were arguing about who was the greatest. When Jesus came upon them, He said to them, “Whoever is great in my kingdom is one who is willing to be last of all, and servant of all.” Not long after that, two of His disciples, James and John, said,  Lord, we want to be your vice-presidents when you come into power. We want the recognition and the fame and the status. We want the title, Jesus.

Jesus, in correcting them, gives His own mission statement. He says, “I came not to be served but to serve and give my life as a ransom for many.” He came to serve!

At another time, Jesus was teaching a group of people who had come to take in His wisdom. He said to them, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28-30).

God’s shaping plan is to make us look like humble servants – like the servant King Jesus.

As we look at the word “humble,” we see humility is a big part of God’s plan for you and me. God knows pride is no friend of ours. It messes us up, and it messes up the relationships we have with those around us. Your real friend for real life is humility.

John Stott, a great Christian writer from the last century, wrote, “At every stage of our Christian development and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is the greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend.” How could Stott make this statement? Because the evidence is all around us in this world. Pride keeps me from loving God and having a close life-giving relationship with Him. It has been a human issue from the beginning of time as we read the story in Genesis of Adam and Eve hearing the promise from Satan, “If you eat from this tree, you will be like God.” Their pride gets the best of them, and they eat. Since that time, it has been a dominant impulse and instinct in every one of us. We’ve inherited it.

I insult God when I attempt to take control and live life my way instead of His way insisting I have better answers for living than God. Or believing, I don’t need God; He is a crutch for weak people. Maybe it’s okay to have some God in your life, but I don’t want Him running my life. Pride keeps God out as I turn my back on Him and try to take control. It is deadly stuff. It’s the top of the seven-deadly-sins list in Scripture – from it all other sins come.

God detests human pride. Why? Because pride is all about self-glorification, instead of God-glorification. You and I were created to enjoy glorifying God forever. Pride gets in the way, and our egos turn us in on ourselves.

Perhaps you’ve heard the acronym for ego – Edging God Out. That’s what we do: we edge God out of the picture with our pride. It separates us and keeps us from the close relationship He created us to have with Him. It’s what put Jesus on the cross – human pride! Not the pride of the Pharisees like we like to believe, but my pride, your pride put Jesus on the cross. He paid the debt for our pride in order that you and I could be restored to God. As I lay down my pride and put my trust in Jesus Christ, He promises me eternal life and restoration of that relationship.

As Jesus’ followers, He longs for us, then, to spend the rest of our lives learning to live totally dependent on God, totally trusting Him, totally praising Him, always giving Him the glory in everything we do and everything we might accomplish.
Pride not only keeps me from loving God, but it also keeps me from loving other people, because a person who is filled with self-interest, self-promotion, self-indulgence, self-sufficiency, and self-ambition for the purpose of self-glorification cannot truly love. He or she is more often able to use people instead of loving them. Pride leaves wounded people in its path as they get used for personal glorification and goal accomplishments.

Left unharnessed, pride has the power to ruin relationships in your family and in your church. It can make your athletic team ineffective and your work team totally unproductive.

It causes division. Pride keeps me from being at peace with others when I refuse to swallow my pride, say “I’m sorry” to someone I have wronged and admit I was wrong which is so hard for many of us to do. It does nothing but put up a wall between me and that individual. Sometimes we have too much pride to accept an apology, an olive branch of peace and say, “I forgive you.”

Left unharnessed, it can distort your personality. Did you know that? Have you ever been around someone who is always talking about himself or herself? They just can’t seem to get enough of it. Or they’re terrible at listening to others. They are always stealing the conversation back to themselves.

Sometimes people are even willing to lie in order to look good in front of others. We stretch the statistics a little to look better. Or we’ll do something to get attention, to make us feel important. We may even become a critic of others in order to make us feel better about ourselves. It elevates us. It can cause us to spend more money than we actually have to keep up appearances. It  causes the prideful person to fall.

You’ve heard the proverb, “Pride comes before the fall.” It can bring you down really hard. It has brought down a lot of leaders. We think of King David in the Old Testament who had an affair with Bathsheba. Why did it happen? It was all based upon pride. David had gotten too big for his britches; he should have been out with his army leading them in battle. Instead he chose to stay back.

Jesus Himself, when He saw people jockeying for the seats of honor at a banquet, said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matt. 23:12).

I’m reminded of a story about a college football coach from years ago. His team was having a great season. One afternoon, when He was outside mowing His lawn, His wife yelled for him. He turned off the mower, and she said, “Honey, come on in. It’s Sports Illustrated on the phone for you.” His pride immediately kicked in – It’s about time I’m getting some recognition! So he ran into the house, picked up the phone and said “Hello.”

“Sir, this is Sports Illustrated. We’d like to offer you a chance to get a three-year subscription for the price of one.” The coach took a fall that day and was humbled.

I don’t know about you, but I choose to do things according to God’s plans – to pursue humility. Humility is the friend God wants to place in your life. What does humility look like? It looks like Jesus. Humility is a healthy self-forgetfulness. Humility listens instead of always talking, stealing conversations. Humility is a willingness to stay in the background and not need attention and applause. Humility is giving God glory in everything, pointing to Him, rejoicing with others’ successes, and applauding them instead of attempting to one-up them all the time.

Spiritually speaking, humility is a realistic self-assessment that I am a sinner saved by God’s grace in Jesus Christ. I am no better than anyone else. There, but by the grace of God, go I. Humility isn’t seeking applause and the adulation of others. It plays for an audience of One – our heavenly Father, just like Jesus did. He was a servant, a humble servant.

What does it mean to be a servant? It is a willingness to pour out your life into other people. I think of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples on the night before He was crucified on the cross for our sins, and how He explained His actions. He said, “You call me ‘Lord’ and ‘Master,’ and I am. If I, your Lord and Master have washed your feet, I’ve given you an example. You should wash each other’s feet” (Matt. 13:13-15).

Be willing to be a servant. That is servant work. Even when no is gratitude expressed, or the person is undeserving, or the feet smell. Wash feet. Our attitude as servants is always asking What can I do for you?

God’s vision for you and for me, if you’re in Jesus Christ, is to be a humble servant. Have you ever seen the bumper sticker “Be patient. God isn’t finished with me yet”? When I do an honest inventory of my attitude in regards to humility and being a servant, I find I have a long way to go. I admit it.

Just recently at a graduation party, I was talking with a couple about some folks who left our church to join a big church down the road, and I found myself getting more and more irritated and angry about it. When I began to assess it a little bit, I realized it was my ego, my pride speaking. That preacher must be better than me. I felt hurt by their actions to leave our congregation.

I am a mess! But I’m a saved mess – God’s holy mess in Christ. Maybe that’s you, too. Don’t despair. First, let me point you to the cross, to Him who died on the cross to forgive you and me for our silly selfish pride. He humbled Himself and sacrificed Himself for you. As you lay down your pride and come empty-handed to receive His forgiveness, He will not turn you away. Instead, He will give you a fresh, new start each time. He never, ever gets tired of extending His forgiveness.

And remember, it is not possible to change ourselves. However, we have this power within, the power the Holy Spirit. It is a lifelong process. In Scripture it says, “All of us, with unveiled faces, have seen the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).

There you have it: The Spirit does it. The Holy Spirit uses various means to keep us moving toward that direction.

• Daily contemplating Jesus hanging on the cross, basically saying to us, This was for you! I am here because of you.
• Daily declaring dependence each morning to God and saying, I can’t make it through the day without you, Lord.
• Giving gratitude or praise for all God is doing in your life on a daily basis. Pride has a hard time growing in that kind of soil.
• Applauding people with your words as you look for the work of God in them.
• Serving others, especially in secret. Try this sometime. It is a key tool of the Spirit. Serve somebody, and don’t let them know it was you.

There you have it. What does God want people to be able to say about us when it’s all said and done? May it be said of us, There lies a humble servant of God. 

God be with you. Amen.
Steve Kramer