Knowing Jesus in Love

Ephesians 3:14-21

God by definition is infinite. Therefore, Our finite human minds cannot fully grasp or understand God, His thoughts or His way. It’s impossible for us to know Him. Or is it?

C. S. Lewis once talked about an author who writes a book. He loves the characters he has created so much, he wants them to know him personally. It’s impossible, right? The author lives in a different dimension. It is impossible unless the author writes himself into the book’s narrative. He must write himself into the lives of those characters he cherishes, so they encounter him in the real story of their existence.

God desires to know us. He has created us, but He wants to share life with us. He wants us to know His love. He wants us to know Him personally through Jesus Christ, and He wants us to share life with God by faith. That is what the whole of the Christmas story is about. Remember John 1:14 – “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

So, as you think about the God who created the world, the God who hung the stars in place, who sustains the orbit of the planets around the sun by His power, who holds the universe, He is also the God who wants to share love and life with you. That is why, when Paul writes to the Ephesians, he prays God’s power would be at work within us so Jesus Christ could dwell within our finite hearts and we would know God’s love in a way that is more than just knowledge. God can come to us, and we can experience His love. We can share a relationship of trust with Him.

In the ninth chapter of John is an interesting story about a blind man encountered by Jesus. The blind man wanted to see, so Jesus smears mud on his eyes and tells him to go wash. The man is healed and gets his sight back. Then there’s this humorous interaction as the people see the man walking around with normal vision and say almost as if the guy couldn’t hear them, This looks just like the man who used to sit in the dirt and beg. No! It couldn’t be him! All the while the man is saying, Yes! It was I. I’m the man!

The Pharisees also hear the story of this blind man now healed and say, Have nothing to do with Jesus, because He is not from God. The blind man simply says to them, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I do not know. All I can tell you is, I was blind but now I see!” (John 9:25).

Jesus later comes back to this blind man and says, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

The blind man answers, “Who is he that I might believe in him?”

Jesus says, “I who speak to you am he.”

Having experienced the miraculous restorative power of Jesus and able to see, the blind man says, “I do believe.”

Then, John’s story says, “The man worshiped Jesus.”

The reason I share this story in connection with the privilege of people knowing God through Jesus Christ is people will often encounter God or come to God at the point of our human need. We come to God when we experience pain or brokenness or some form of our limits as human beings. When we experience the power of God into our lives, there is a process of deeper and deeper revelation in knowing and understanding Jesus Christ. The more we know Him, the deeper our faith in Him becomes – from serving our need in a circumstance of deliverance to confessing Jesus as our Savior, as the Son of God, as the Lord of creation, which then leads to gratitude and worship.

As people live their lives, they have different ways of viewing Jesus – who He is or what it means to have a connection to God. For some it’s like a one-time trip. My wife Denise and I once took a trip to Niagara Falls in upstate New York. It was awesome! It was majestic. The raw power of those natural falls took our breath away. It was a wonderful experience. However, that singular trip to a momentous experience decades ago has little or no relevance to my daily life today.

Some people think about God in this way. It’s like a momentary experience, a trip long ago, yet not relevant to life.

Some people think of Jesus like a childhood acquaintance. We knew Him once. We, in fact, shared a lot of life experiences. He was a significant part of our life. But when we became an adult, we moved on. We’re no longer connected. We’re no longer in touch. We don’t have life with Him today.

Some people approach Jesus like reading the biography of a famous person. We might be tremendously impressed. We might learn a lot of detailed knowledge about this individual’s life – how they lived, what they accomplished, who they knew, what they do. But reading a biography is not like a personal relationship. We could know intellectual truth about the person. We might know conceptually about the person but have no relationship, no communication, no love shared, no trust.

Some people approach Jesus like they would a doctor. They hope they don’t have to visit one. When they have to go and ask for help, they think it costs too much. They resent the advice about how to live life, even though in the doctor’s wisdom he knows good health, and they hope they don’t have to go again.

It’s a preposterous understanding, but it is how some people think of Jesus.

Some people think of Jesus like a nice, friendly uncle who I see a couple times a year at a family gathering. It’s not bad, and while I’m there I’m not fretting. I have pleasant interaction. But when I leave that family reunion, I don’t share life with my crazy uncle on a daily basis. He has no relevance to my life goals or my daily needs.

The best way for us to think about Jesus in a relationship of love is, He is our best friend. He is not only supernaturally powerful, but also a friend who supports and encourages us in our journey of life. He knows our needs. He loves us, and we invite Jesus to share our life, live within us, to help us with our priorities of life. We ask Him to forgive us when we fail, pick us up when we fall, grant us wisdom and counsel for the journey, and be the one who helps us see our full potential as created human beings. He is all the while the companion who never leaves us or forsakes us. Jesus is the Son of God, and my Savior and Lord. He is, by faith, our best friend.

Why would we love Jesus? Why is He our best friend? First, Jesus uses His power to serve us in our brokenness. He leaves His position of infinite power and glory to come down to where I am and share my life.

By the way, Christianity of all the religions of the world, is distinctive in that way. All the other religions speak of living by an ethic to elevate the human being into a relationship with the divine, but Christianity speaks of God coming down to where we live to embrace us in our brokenness. What a beautiful expression of good news, Christian faith is.

Why would we love Jesus? I’ve been reading Psalm 103 as part of my daily devotions. This Psalm says God unconditionally loves each one of us. We read, “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is God’s loving kindness for us” (vs. 11).

God forgives all our sins. This is His promise in the name of Jesus who went to the cross for us and was raised from the dead to proclaim the forgiveness of sins to all who believe. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our sins from us” (Psalm 103:12).

John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” You are my friends, Jesus says. The cross of Jesus tells us He sacrificially loved us so He might transform us into being the people of God. In the cross, Jesus offers us a new beginning. The beloved twenty-third Psalm says, “God restores my soul.”

I don’t know where your area of struggle, melancholy, brokenness, or guilt is, but this I know: God in the name of Jesus comes to know us in love in a way that heals us from inside out. God restores our soul. As a result, I feel great gratitude toward Jesus as my friend, as my God. I love Him for all the ways He has blessed and continues to bless me.

I trust my life to Him – not just my eternal destiny someday when I die. I trust Jesus with my life every day now. His spirit gives me joy.

So my faith today confesses and confirms that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed One of God. Jesus is our Savior who delivers us from our sin, guilt, and shame. He lifts us up to new life.

Jesus is the Son of God. He has the power and authority to save us. If He were not God then His death on the cross could not have atoned for our sins. But Jesus is the Son of God the Father, who gave Him the glory and power of His position. He emptied Himself that He might rescue us. He is our Lord, the master of our lives. I turn my life over to His control.

Finally, to say it again, I know Jesus Christ as my friend. I trust Him. I trust His promises. I invite His Holy Spirit to live within me. For all these reasons I am grateful I can know God because of Jesus Christ, and His Spirit indwells me. May you know Him, too, as your friend and your God.

James 2:23 says, “Abraham believed God, and God reckoned to him as righteousness, and he was called God’s friend.” May your faith in our great God, who has revealed Himself to us in Jesus, give you peace and joy today. May you know that God calls you His son, His daughter, and you are the friend of God. Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg

The Message Matters

Romans 1:13-17

When I was at the seminary training to become a pastor, I had a mentor who had a big impact in my life. His name was Pastor Homer Larsen. As I was preparing to go to my first church, he said to me, “Always work hard on your message. Make sure you preach the gospel! Nothing else really matters in comparison to the message you give your people.”

Through the years I have followed his advice, and it has been a blessing to me. I have even said to my congregation, “This hour that you spend with me in church today could make a significant change in your life. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t stand up here in front of you like this and preach. I wouldn’t give my life to be a pastor or a personal witness.”

The apostle Paul would concur with the advice Homer gave me – The message matters; Work hard on it. As he is preparing to go to Rome, Paul writes a letter to believers there. In that letter, found in the New Testament, he shares a bit about himself. After he tells them all the good things he’s heard about them, he says, I am so eager to be with you who are in Rome in order that I may proclaim the gospel to you!

Paul is eager! He can’t wait to share! He says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel.” He was not embarrassed by it. People may have questioned the “odd” message he had. They may have looked at the cross as foolishness. They may have even thought the whole idea of grace was absurd, but he was not ashamed of the gospel.

Why? Because “. . . it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.”

The word power is the Greek word dynamis from which we get the word dynamite. The gospel is God’s dynamite! We all know the power of dynamite to change things all around it when it goes off. The gospel is God’s dynamite. It is a power that can and does change a person’s life. It’s not simply another philosophy of life. It changed the trajectory of Paul’s life.

Speaking from his own personal experience, Paul calls it the power to bring salvation. The word salvation means wholeness. The gospel makes us whole again! It restores us into a saving relationship with the God who made us.

“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith,” Paul says, “for faith.”

Through faith (meaning Paul’s faith, the one who is bringing the gospel) for faith so we might believe.

“In it the righteousness of God is revealed” – God’s righteous plan, His plan to make us right with Him through His Son Jesus. It is good news.

So we ask, What is the gospel specifically?

Let me first tell you what it’s not. It’s not the Golden Rule – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It’s not a form of music that makes us tap our toes. It’s not simply information we find in the Bible about the life of Jesus, and it’s not a tradition of good news we hear at certain times of the year like Christmas or Easter or when grandma and grandpa die.

Here is what it is: The gospel is the good news of what God has done for us calling us to a response. It is not simply good advice to men and women, but good news about Jesus Christ. It’s not an invitation to do anything, but a declaration of what God has done. It’s not a demand, but an offer.

The gospel is a story, which goes like this: I am a person who was created by God in His image for a relationship with Him. I am precious in His sight and the crown of His creation.

But I am also a sinner who has broken that relationship with my sinfulness. Ever since the time of Adam and Eve, a great gap between God and humankind has existed and needs to be taken care of. No matter how hard we try to save ourselves and look good in God’s sight, we always fall short. All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I can try to build my spiritual resume to get myself into a relationship with God and go to His heaven, but it’ll never be good enough.

Someone once explained it this way: suppose you have friends over for breakfast and you are to prepare an omelette for them. You have five good eggs and one rotten egg, which gets mixed in with the five. You surely cannot serve it up to your guests; it would be unacceptable.

In the same way, we might have all of these good eggs in our lives (according to what human beings calls good things, even though we know from Scripture that all of it is filthy rags in God’s sight.) But just one thing, one bit of rottenness in us, means we cannot serve it up to God and expect to be acceptable.

We have a problem. God is merciful – He loves us – but He’s also just. There are consequences for our sinfulness. It is death! Not just an earthly death when we take our last breath in this world, but also a spiritual death – life apart from God, the source of real life. This death reaches all the way into eternity. God loves us, but He is just.

So here is what our God did for us . . . Out of love for sinners like you and me, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die upon a cross and pay the debt, which I could not pay, for my sin. On the cross, He suffered the wrath and punishment for sin that I was supposed to receive. In some mysterious and wonderful way, it was like He became a sponge on that cross. He became sin who knew no sin, and God poured out His wrath on Him.

As we hear Jesus cry out – “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?” – He was experiencing the judgment day I am supposed to experience. As He says His last words on the cross – “It is finished” – He is announcing God’s plan to save us has been accomplished. The debt is paid in full.

Then God raised Him from the grave! Yes! He said “yes” to Jesus’ sacrifice. He opened the way to a restored relationship with Himself, which lasts for eternity all the way to heaven! That is the good news Paul is talking about today, which he is so eager to bring to those people in Rome.

John Stott, a wonderful Christian scholar and preacher, said one time, “Christianity is in its very essence, a rescue religion. The gospel is all about a rescue that has taken place through Jesus Christ.”

Tim Keller, a favorite author of mine these days, says, “Christianity’s basic message differs at root with the assumptions of traditional religion. The founders of every other major religion essentially came as teachers, not as saviors. They came to say: ‘Do this and you will find the divine.’ But Jesus came essentially as a savior rather than a teacher (though he was that as well). Jesus says, ‘I am the divine come to you, to do what you could not do for yourselves.’ The Christian message is that we are saved not by our record, but by Christ’s record.” We’ve been rescued by Jesus Christ – that is the gospel.

The gospel calls for a response. It’s not enough to simply know we have been rescued by Jesus Christ. It calls for a personal response from the individual, the response of believing in Jesus Christ and holding out an empty hand like a beggar to receive the gift God wants to give. To believe in Him is so much more than intellectual assent, like mouthing a creed of some sort. It’s trust. It is trust. It is betting your life on what Jesus has done for you and receiving the gift. It is entrusting your self to follow Him and trust Him all the way into eternity.

Have you received it in your life? I would be neglecting you today if I didn’t ask you this. Have you received the gift God wants to give you? Have you accepted the good news and put Jesus Christ at the center of your life? When you do, you will discover the gospel gives you assurance, forgiveness for your sins. You don’t have to carry around your past any longer. You don’t have to worry about what God thinks of you, for when He looks at you, He sees the righteousness of Jesus.

The gospel gives us assurance that even though I will die in this world someday, I know where I’m going. I’m going to be with Him in eternity in heaven because I am His child.
I also know He is going to walk with me throughout the rest of my days in this world. He is available to me in prayer. I can call out, Father. I can open His Word, and He is longing to speak to me. I have the assurance that I’m not alone! I’m His forever.

The gospel gives a new life with a new set of values to the person who receives Christ. It gives God’s values because Jesus shows me what God’s priorities really are and what God’s will is for my life as I live with Him in those Gospels.

God does not move us beyond the gospel ever. We don’t graduate from the gospel by saying yes to Jesus and then find some graduate-level work to do in my life. No, we stay with the gospel. It’s where life is for us. We never get beyond the gospel. Instead, Jesus moves us more deeply into the gospel because all the power we need in order to change and mature comes through the gospel.

We can’t change ourselves. Only the gospel can change us. The gospel ignites the Christian life, but it is also the fuel that keeps Christians going and growing every day. Real change in us cannot happen apart from the gospel.

I not only receive assurance and a new set of values, a new life, I also get a new purpose. I have a new motivation in my life. I’ve been loved by the God who created me through His Son Jesus Christ. I am rescued. I am saved. Therefore, I want to spend the rest of my days living for Him and serving Him, not because I need Him to love me but because He already has loved me through His Son, Jesus Christ.

There you have it! This message has blessed my ministry in my congregation, and it has blessed Christian Crusaders over the years and made us effective in our mission for Christ.

It’s so easy for the church to get caught up in the latest news stories, politics, or favorite social issues or get into doing how-to messages, which sound more like psychological jargon than anything else in order to attract people to the doors of the church. BUT THIS IS NOT WHAT WE HAVE BEEN CALLED TO DO. It is not what the Church of Jesus is to be about. We are in the business of calling people to a trusting relationship with Jesus Christ. Eager to share the gospel. Point them to Jesus who is saying, “Follow me!” Tell people that Christ holds the key to life for now and into eternity.

We are about the gospel! What’s been done for us through Jesus Christ. It is good news! This world needs good news, and we’ve got it! As we consider the future of Christian Crusaders, there are some things about us that must never change – the emphasis on the gospel. The message matters! It’s life for the individual.

We work hard to be creative and get attention so people will hear the gospel, but the bottom line is, Has the gospel of what God has done for us through His Son Jesus Christ been proclaimed? I hope our listeners will always hold my feet to the fire on that one, because it is really all we have to offer this world. It is what differentiates us from every other organization. Christian Crusaders (or the church) – we’re different. We have the gospel.

Over the years, I have learned that God blesses the faithfulness of His Church to proclaim the gospel. He uses it, and people get rescued. He blessed Paul’s ministry, didn’t He? What an impact Paul had on the world of his day and even into this day now as we read his letters and are changed by his message! God blessed Martin Luther’s ministry. Thus, the Reformation.

We know from experience God has blessed our ministry along the way. Many lives have been touched and changed by the gospel. In my own congregation, we recently had a couple stand up and share their testimony. The wife said something remarkable afterward. “When we came to this church, it was the first time we really heard the gospel, and it changed us! We committed our lives to following Christ. It changed us so much that Christianity for us is not a ‘hope so,’ but a ‘know so.’ I know where I’m going when I die.” They also talked about a new mission to bring the gospel to others around them. It was a very, very inspiring story they shared with us that day.

The rescue message of what God in Christ has done for us is the only life-giving thing we really have to offer this world. So let us commit ourselves not to be ashamed, but to be faithful and bold for the gospel – not only insisting it be preached, but also shared one-on-one by all of us who know Jesus with those whom God has put into our lives to reach so they might be rescued as well.

May this good news about a good story of Jesus Christ and what He has done continue to be proclaimed. Amen!

Pastor Steve Kramer


It’s a Hard Knock Life – Where to Find Comfort

II Corinthians 1:3-11

When my children, Sam and Martha, were little, my wife and I enjoyed reading to them. One of the books we especially enjoyed was Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. The story goes like this – from the moment this young boy named Alexander wakes up, things just don’t go his way. As he gets up, the chewing gum that was in his mouth the night before is now in his hair. He trips on his skateboard as he gets out of bed and drops his sweater in the sink while the water is running. His brothers, Nick and Anthony, find prizes in their cereal at breakfast time while Alexander does not. The whole day is filled with one disappointment after another for Alexander. Even at bedtime his nightlight burns out. He bites his tongue. His brother Nick takes back a pillow he said he could keep, and the cat chooses to sleep with his other brother Anthony.

A funny statement runs throughout the book after each disappointment. Alexander says, “I think I’ll move to Australia.” He thinks it’s perhaps better there. The book ends with his mother’s assurance that everybody has bad days – even those who live in Australia.

In our life, we know some days, some weeks, some months, and some seasons can have challenges, hardships, and suffering. Some days we will have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

The apostle Paul knew this firsthand. As we read some reflections of what he went through, it’s amazing the bad days he experienced. In 2 Corinthians, Paul talks about being whipped, beaten, stoned, and shipwrecked. He faced danger from bandits, enemies and dangers in the city and wilderness, toil, hardships, sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, cold, and even nakedness. He was under daily pressure over the churches he wanted to see grow. He talks of being afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. He mentions a thorn in the flesh, which many scholars believe was a physical ailment. In Philippians Paul told them, “For Christ’s sake, I have suffered the loss of all things.” He regarded all the things he had as rubbish.

In our text for today, he even talks a bit about despair while on his mission trip to Asia. He thought he was going to die. As you read the passage, you notice that affliction and suffering are keywords used redundantly. That is the biblical writer’s way of making an important point. No one goes through life affliction free or immune from suffering.

But here is some good news to hang onto during those times – We are not on our own. In the midst of our terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, we have a Father. Paul describes Him as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, as if to tell us, Remember what He did to make you His own, all the trouble He went through to make you His sons and daughters. Jesus suffered and died on a cross to save us from our sin and restore us to a relationship with the heavenly Father for eternity.

This God has gone all out for you! He is our Father, just as Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer. We can pray, Our Father, and know He cares for us more greatly than any earthly father can.

He is the Father of all mercies, which means He is filled with compassion. He has a BIG heart for us. He has care and concern. He gives, and He helps.

He is the Father of all comfort. Paul also tells us God comforts us in all our afflictions. When life is caving in on us, He comforts us.

The word “comfort” here doesn’t mean ease and relaxation. It basically means something like encouragement. The word doesn’t imply that God rescues us from discomfort but gives us the tools, the instructions, and the essential guidance to endure the problems of this life and keep us going.

In the final two verses of this passage, we learn that Paul is not just waxing eloquently here. He is speaking from personal experience as it relates to them about what happened on his mission trip in Asia – how he despaired. He thought he might die, but God took care of him and delivered him. He testifies, I am confident even now that He will continue to do it again. All of this has taught me to rely on my heavenly Father.

Suffering and hardship also brings good news. As we walk with Him, God comforts us, so we may be able to comfort others who are in any affliction with which we ourselves have been comforted by God.

God has a purpose for comforting us. It is not just for ourselves but also for others who comforting. Remembering the word “comfort” means encouragement, we encourage those around us as God has encouraged us.

Years ago Billy Graham, the great evangelist, said, “Our sufferings may be hard to bear but they teach us lessons, which in turn equip and enable us to help others.” I believe that! Suffering can help us become more empathetic with those who are hurting. It gives us a bit of a perspective, some sensitivity, and actually move us toward a person who is hurting.

I have friends who are involved in Alcoholics Anonymous. They know what bondage is from personal experience. They understand the disease and how it can take over a person’s life. As they come together in AA meetings, they encourage one another and say, You are not alone in this. You’re my brother/my sister. I’ve been there too, and you will get through this.

I think of a family in our congregation who lost a child. Another family who also lost a child came right alongside of them soon after and walked with them. They seemed to know the right things to say and the right things to do from their own experience.

Hardships can equip us, as Billy Graham says, to be encouragers as we share what has worked with us or for us with words, with actions, and with the Good News of the Father’s faithfulness and love for us.

I believe comfort and encouragement is one beggar showing another where to find food. It the healed one telling about the skills of their doctor. It’s passing on the good that we have received and allowing it to multiply by sharing.

We see this displayed in the life of a well-known figure in Christianity, Charles Colson, who wrote the book, BORN AGAIN. He was special counsel to President Richard M. Nixon, a position at the center of political power in the United States. His involvement in the Watergate cover-up led to his own arrest, conviction, and imprisonment. But the events of those days also led Chuck Colson to a personal faith in Jesus Christ.

Following his conversion, Colson was NOT miraculously freed from his convictions. To the contrary, he was sent to Maxwell Federal Prison. Yet God was able to use the experience of imprisonment to open Colson’s heart to the needs of prisoners and to give him a special ministry, a special calling to serve those men and women in the name of Christ. Colson puts it this way in his book: “God often uses what we least expect for His divine purposes. That has certainly proved to be true for me. Out of the depths of my prison experience came the vision for Prison Fellowship Ministry, which now involves thousands of volunteers and brings the hope of Christ to prisoners throughout the United States and abroad.” Chuck Colson’s difficulty became a source of blessing to thousands of men and women behind bars who have been influenced for Christ.

It’s a vivid example of Paul’s assertion in verse five when he says, “For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” Each of us will undergo suffering in life. Not one of us is immune from trials or difficulties. But if we allow Him, Christ can take even that suffering and produce from it blessings in our lives and in the lives of others.

Hardships also turn us into carriers of hope. When I say hope, I do not mean wishful thinking, but confidence. It is sure did for Paul. This passage, you see, was meant to instill hope and confidence in its readers.

Usually Paul opened his letters by telling them how he was thanking God for working in their midst. But this time Paul doesn’t do that. He instead launches right into holding up a picture of God being our encourager, our comforter. He seems to be saying right off the bat in this letter, Yes. It is a hard knock life. I’ve experienced it. But know this – you and I have a Father who has been faithful in the past, and He will be in the future. This Father wants you to have hope and strength for today, to rely on Him now, believing in the depths of your heart that He is with us. As the old hymn says, “Present to cheer and to guide. And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and the promise of Jesus is sure and true. Lo, I am with you always to the end of the age.” Let that be your confidence today, if you’re going through a hardship.

But this God, our Father, wants you to have a bright hope also for tomorrow knowing the future is securely in His hands. He wants us to be able to concur with the apostle Paul that this God who raises the dead as he did Jesus Christ will deliver us again and again, ultimately for eternity. We will live with Him in His heaven, and nothing can separate us from His love through Jesus Christ our Lord until we join Him in the place Christ has prepared for us. We know, from the bottom of our hearts, we are headed to that life where there are no more tears, no more sorrows, no more suffering.

We have a wonderful Father who is there to comfort us. If you are going through something now, He is there to comfort you. Call upon His name. Lean heavily upon His promises. Open His Word and let Him speak to you.

If you are not a believer, find a community of believers and tell them, Share with me your strength. What is your hope in Christ? Whatever you do, don’t go through this alone. You don’t have to. You have a Father who loves you. He gave His only begotten Son to die for you in order that you might become His own. He has gone to a lot of trouble to bring you to Himself and give you the life He desires for each and every individual He has created.

It’s great to have a Father who is absolutely perfect, don’t you think? Praise God. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

It’s a Hard Knock Life, But God Is Reliable

II Corinthians 9:6-15

I’d like to share with you a story I came across years ago about a little boy named Chad.

Chad was a shy, quiet young fellow. One day he came home and told his mommy he’d like to make a Valentine for everyone in his class. Her heart sank. Each day as she watched the children walk home from school, her little boy was always behind them. They laughed and hung onto each other, but Chad was never included. Nevertheless, she went along with his idea. So she bought some paper, glue, and crayons, and for three whole weeks – night after night – Chad worked on his thirty-five Valentines. 

When Valentines Day dawned, Chad was beside himself with excitement! He carefully stacked them up, put them in a bag and bolted out the door! His mom just knew he would be disappointed so she decided to bake his favorite cookies and serve them up nice and warm with a cool glass of milk when he came from school to ease the pain a little. It hurt her to think he wouldn’t get many Valentines, if any at all.

That afternoon she had the cookies and milk sitting on the table. When she heard the children outside the house, she looked out the window and sure enough! Here they came, laughing and having the best time as they walked down the sidewalk. As always, Chad was way back in the rear and walking a little faster than usual this day. 

His arms were empty, she noticed, and she fully expected him to burst into tears as soon as he got inside. When the door opened, she choked back the tears and said, “Mommy has warm cookies and milk for you.” But he hardly heard her words. Instead, he just marched right on by, his face aglow. 

“Not a one! Not a one” was all he could say. Her heart sank. 

Then he added, “I didn’t forget a one – not a single one!” 

I like Chad, don’t you? Do you know why? Because generous people are very attractive.

Would you consider yourself a generous person? When you pass away, will people say, “There lies a generous person”? The Apostle Paul today is making an appeal to some folks in Corinth in Greece to be generous toward the famine-stricken people in Jerusalem.

They had heard about the famine, the starvation, and the church starting to fall apart under hardship, and they pledged to help the poor. However, the offering was never taken, and now they seemed to be reluctant. We don’t know why. It could be there was financial hardship in their own lives. Perhaps the economy was not going well, or maybe they were caught up in the materialism of their day (Corinth was known for that), and they didn’t have anything left over to give. Paul is appealing to them to be generous givers – but not just for this offering. Their generosity was to be a lifestyle.

The dictionary defines generosity as liberal, magnanimous, openhanded. The Greek word for generous used here in Scripture means openhearted. You have a big heart and are pouring it out into other people’s lives. It’s just the opposite of fear and stinginess. We know Jesus liked the widow’s attitude as He watched her put two pennies in the offering. He even pointed to her and said, Now there’s someone special! For her, you see, giving was more important than a crust of bread or a sip of milk. God loves generosity.

The Apostle Paul offers us three pictures to consider when deciding whether we’re going to be generous or not, whether we’re going to live with open hands or a clenched fist through life.

The first picture is of God Himself.
God is very generous to us. Paul, at the end of this chapter, says “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift,” meaning Christ! In 8:9 he says, “You know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich!” God withheld nothing to save us from our sinfulness and restore us into a relationship with Himself. He is a generous God.

God is our Creator. He is able to do anything. He holds this world in the palm of His hands. He causes it to spin on its axis and sustains it. He provides all we need.

I love it when Martin Luther, in the meaning to the first article of the Small Catechism, says, “I believe that God has created me and all that exists. He has provided me with food and clothing, home and family, daily work and all I need from day-to-day.” Paul is basically saying the same thing. “He gives seed to the sower; he waters the fields.”

God is faithful. He will provide abundantly. You will have everything you need to continue to be generous, He promises, because God is faithful.

We have this generous, able, providing, faithful God held up for us as we consider becoming a generous person of God, one who has tasted of His grace through Jesus Christ.

The second picture Paul holds up is of the people of God – you and me. Scripture tells us, “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation” (II Cor. 5:17). We belong to God. We are people of God. Paul pulls this text from the Old Testament to give us a vision of ourselves as God’s people.

Whenever Paul quotes an Old Testament passage – and he quotes three here – you need to look at the whole passage. Go back to the Old Testament and look at it to get the gist of why Paul is using it. He is saying, You are God’s people. This is your goal in life now, and generosity is a vital part of it.

God’s people are, first of all, cheerful givers not grudging or grumpy or reluctant. God loves the cheerful giver. Paul gets this from Proverbs chapter 22 where it says this is how a righteous person of God acts. In the original Greek language, which the Corinthians used to study scripture, it does not say God loves a cheerful giver, but God blesses the cheerful giver. We’re not called to be stingy but cheerful givers. It is part of our makeup as God’s people.

Paul continues. You are all called to be righteous givers. He quotes Psalm 112:

“He scatters abroad; he gives to the poor;
His righteousness endures forever.”

This is not a reference to God, but to the person of God who acts generously and gives. It is a wisdom Psalm. Your giving is an act of righteousness. Your behavior reflects gratitude for God’s faithfulness in your life and the righteousness He has given you through Christ.

Paul also says we are faithful, obedient givers. He quotes Isaiah 55:10 as he says, “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread.” (I will supply and multiply your seed for sowing.) God is promising Israel to save them from exile and use them as a part of His mission. Paul seems to be saying, You are a called people.

Generosity is part of the calling. If you know the gospel of grace and you’re one of God’s sons and daughters through Christ. God wants you to be radically generous, trusting Him all the way. This is how I glorify Him.

The third picture is a vision of people who are receiving help in Christ’s name. They are giving thanks to God because of your generosity. The question, you see, is not what do I get out of this, but what does God get out of it when I’m generous? He receives thanks and praise as people give thanks for what has been provided to them.

It becomes apparent then, that Paul is telling us this: As people of God, living under a generous God, with the possibility of stirring their hearts to give thanks to God and glorify God, we are to be generous with what He has given us.

Now, there are a lot of obstacles to generosity, I know. One is worry, for instance. We play the “What if?” game. What if the economy tanks? What if I get sick? What if I live too long and eat up all my savings? What if I lose my job?

There’s not only worry, but also greed. We can become captive to greed without even realizing it. It sneaks up on us. We want it all! Jesus, on more than one occasion, cautioned His disciples to beware of greed. Be on guard! We can become overwhelmed by greed.

Another obstacle to generosity is expectations. We compare ourselves to others around us to define what is enough. It defines our happiness and our self-esteem. Someone once said Americans of forty years ago would be shocked to see what Christians today think of as necessities. We define the basics the way the consumer capitalist culture wants us to, which has always been upward and fast.

Of course, materialism is another obstacle – the excessive concern for and love of wealth and possessions. It is the thought that I need this and I need that in order to be secure or to have a sense of significance before others, to feel all right about myself. We trust in those things instead of God who says we are precious and important in His sight. We don’t want to admit our captivity to possessions or perhaps just don’t realize it.

A narrow world view, a lack of awareness of the needs around us in this world, is another obstacle. We’re kind of sheltered, when you think about it, living in our nice little world here in America. Did you know the rest of the world considers us quite rich? We have most of the wealth. A lot of needs are out there and a lot of starving people are not making it. We sometimes find ourselves not seeing it anymore. We think everybody is living like us.

Finally, our hard knocks of life. Maybe you are facing financial difficulties. A catastrophe of some sort has hit that you hadn’t planned for, and you’re thinking to yourself, I can’t afford to be a generous person.

Paul would say, I know where you’re coming from because, you see, I went through financial hardships myself. As we read about Paul describing his ministry, we see him again and again talking about how he has learned to live with plenty and to live with want. What it means to be starving, to be thirsting. He knew what it meant to live hand to mouth, without a roof over his head. But he always believed Jesus’ words – it’s more blessed to give than to receive – and he wasn’t disappointed by them.

Paul’s testimony to us today is God has seen to his needs, and He’ll see to ours as well. He’s not just blowing smoke or waxing eloquently with some philosophy or clichés about giving. He is talking about what he saw at work in his own life. God is faithful and generous and will provide for our needs. Paul believed it, and he saw this very promise fulfilled in his life. God is able to provide us with every blessing in abundance so that by always having enough of everything, we may share abundantly in every good work.

May I ask you a question today? How much do you really trust God? You might say, Well, I trust Him with my salvation. I know that without Jesus Christ and what He’s done for me, I’d be lost. So I trust God’s provision for my salvation. I trust Jesus. Wonderful!

Do you trust Him with your hurts and sorrows? Absolutely! I am a person of prayer. I come to Him first. 

Do you trust Him with your finances and your resources? It seems so much easier to trust Him with our eternities than with our daily living.

Today’s passage is an appeal to trust and share from what you have – no matter what your circumstances. Exercise generosity in your life. Our generous God is counting on us to be generous people in all circumstances.

Let me give you one last story about what this looks like. Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision United States, tells the story.

In 1987, the largest, single-day stock market crash since 1929 took place. In one day my wife and I lost more than one-third of our life’s savings and the money we had put aside for our kids’ college education. I was horrified and became like a man obsessed, each night working past midnight, analyzing on spreadsheets all that we had lost, and the next day calling in orders to sell our remaining stocks and mutual funds to prevent further losses.

I was consumed with anguish over our lost money—and it showed. One night when I was burning the midnight oil, my wife came and sat beside me. “Honey,” she said, “this thing is consuming you in an unhealthy way. It’s only money. We have our marriage, our health, our friends, our children, and a good income—so much to be thankful for. You need to let go of this and trust God.” Don’t you hate it when someone crashes your pity party? I didn’t want to let go of it. I told her I felt responsible for our family and that she didn’t understand. It was my job to worry about things like this.

She suggested we pray about it—something that hadn’t occurred to me—so we did. At the end of the prayer, to my bewilderment, she said, “Now I think we need to get out the checkbook and write some big checks to our church and ministries we support. We need to show God that we know this is His money and not ours.” I was flabbergasted at the audacity of this suggestion, but in my heart I knew she was right. So that night we wrote some sizable checks, put them in envelopes addressed to various ministries, and sealed them. And that’s when I felt the wave of relief. We had broken the spell that money had cast over me. It freed me from the worries that had consumed me. I actually felt reckless and giddy – “God, please catch us, because we just took a crazy leap of faith.” 

This is what Paul is appealing to us to do. Trust God in all things. He is reliable. Take a crazy leap of faith, and be generous. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer