God’s New Promise

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Grace mercy and peace are always for you from God and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Life is full of promise. In our human relationships on a daily basis, we make promises to one another. Especially in our love relationships, we speak promises that deepen the bond of our hearts. The deepened trust that fills us with joy and peace but also fills us with love, which defines the relationship of life we share.

The Bible also speaks of promises. It uses the language of covenant. A covenant is a mutual agreement between two or more parties, which binds them together and defines their relationship. A mutual promise is a covenant.

The Bible actually speaks of six covenants:
✡ The Abrahamic covenant.
✡ The Mosaic covenant made between God and His people at the base of Mount Sinai after He had delivered them from slavery in Egypt.
✡ The Priestly covenant and the whole vision of sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.
✡ The Deuteronomic covenant.
✡ The Davidic covenant: God promised King David that a Son of his would sit on the throne and rule in peace and glory forever. This is what gave rise to messianic hope.

And finally, as Jeremiah’s passage in this prophecy speaks of . . .
✡ The New covenant that God would make where all would know Him, His law would be written on their hearts, and He would forgive their sins. We believe this covenant is fulfilled in Jesus our Savior.

In Old Testament times, nations entered into Suzerain covenants. These treaties provided a relationship between a strong king and country, and a weaker king and country. The weaker would agree to pay the stronger the terms of a covenant in order to gain their protection or to appease them so that the stronger would not obliterate them. It was a covenant between unequals, a covenant of mutual accountability. If the weaker country and king did not pay up or keep the terms of the covenant, the stronger king and country would punish the weaker or even destroy them.

The Mosaic covenant made at Sinai is a covenant of mutual accountability. The language is conditional. If you obey the terms of this covenant, then God will bless you. If you do not obey the terms of this covenant, then punishment and curses will follow. This is the language of the Mosaic covenant. It is conditional upon the faithfulness of God’s people.

There are three covenants in the Bible where God guarantees the promise:
● The Abrahamic covenant
● The Davidic covenant
● The New covenant, which was fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

The New covenant is not just new in time, but also in quality. It is superior to all other covenants and, therefore, makes them obsolete. God has offered it, God has promised it, and God’s power makes it happen. The terms of the covenant cannot fail or change. They are fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God, our Savior. That is the Good News – that in the name of Jesus, every promise God has made to us in the Scriptures finds fulfillment. It is sealed and guaranteed in the blood of Jesus Christ.

In response to God’s new promise, we say to God, I believe your promise is for me. I gladly receive your Spirit in a relationship of trust. I am glad to be in a covenant with you, the living God.

Life is full of broken promises in our human experience. Ever heard someone say, “Cross my heart and hope to die”? People have a hard time keeping their word.
☞ “I’ll pay you back as soon as I can.”
☞ “I promise (even though I didn’t meet the deadline) to get it done for you by tomorrow.”

Maybe the most significant broken promises are those made between a man and woman on their wedding day where they say “I promise to love you forever” or, “I will always be faithful to you”, but as the months and years pass, something is broken and the covenant falls apart.

Why do people break their promise?
✗ Maybe they never intended to keep their word.
✗ Maybe they outright rebel against the terms of the covenant.
✗ Maybe they develop amnesia and forget.
✗ Maybe they betray the person they have entered into a covenant with.

Someone once said, “In our promises, we often write checks that our soul can’t cash.”

What’s the result of broken promises?
☹ Fractured relationships. There’s an immediate emotional turmoil. We’re upset by people who have violated their word. The relationship or partnership loses credibility.
☹ Trust is diminished. It creates a relational dissidence, distance, estrangement, and alienation that might never heal well of.

The Bible says that God’s people, Israel, broke their covenant with God. They were unfaithful, promiscuous and worshiped other gods. They oppressed the poor for their advantage. They disobeyed God’s law. And they lived as if God didn’t even exist, indifferent to Him.

Before we start poking a finger in someone else’s face and say, Yup! Give it to him. They were wrong. They were bad! we should look at ourselves. What about us? Paul succinctly says, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. . . . What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me . . . (Romans 7:19, 24). All too often we’re like the apostle Peter who to Jesus said, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will. I will die for you” (Matt. 36:33, 35). Then that very night he denied knowing Jesus three times.

Broken promises in human relationships.
Broken promises even between us and God.

So when Jeremiah is speaking this prophecy of a New covenant, it is in response to forty years of God’s people’s disregard for God’s pleas to come back into covenant fellowship with the living God. Eventually, because of their disobedience, God’s people are defeated by Babylon. All their loved ones are killed, and those who survived are hauled off into exile, enslaved to foreign people and wonder if they have a future.

Broken promises are significant, but sometimes life is broken beyond repair. Is that you? Has your life been broken beyond repair? One pastor said that we spiritually are broken and powerless. He said you could bring a pig into the house, put it in the bathtub, scrub it up, polish its nails, put a ribbon around its tail, brush its teeth, and douse it with Chanel No. 5, but what will happen the first time you open the door, and the pig sees a manure-filled mud hole? He is going to go straight to the mud hole and wallow in it. Why? It’s his nature, and he likes it.

I, as a man who is a broken sinner, have a shadow side that by the devil’s temptation always gets drawn away from the God I love and pulled to the mud hole.

This spring, I went north to our family cabin near Bemidji, Minnesota. As I turned on the water for the summer season, I discovered that the water pump in the pump house, which provides water for the cabin, had a cracked steel casing. Last fall when I drained the pipes, I forgot to remove the plug that would’ve drained the water so that when freezing temperatures came, it wouldn’t damage the pump. Now the pump was broken beyond repair. It no longer pumped water.

Jeremiah said in an earlier chapter (17:9), “The heart is deceitful above all else and desperately sick. Who can understand this?” In some measure, all of us can relate to that Scripture.

Is your life in exile? Are you enslaved, living in bondage to something that holds you captive and robs you of freedom, joy, life, and love? Have you lost hope? Do you feel powerless to bring about change in the essential matters of your life?

If so, I have really good news for you! God says, “I’m going to make you a New promise, and I will raise you up to new life.” Let’s talk about what this New covenant looks like.

This New covenant, first of all, is guaranteed by God’s power and action. Our response is to just believe the promise for us and gladly receive the Spirit’s blessing to live within us. We believe and receive.

Second, God’s New promise has been sealed in the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. When Jesus was on the cross, His blood sealed the promise. The blood sacrifices of the Old Testament – sheep and goats – were sacrificed to atone for sins and bridge the gap to reconcile relationship between people of God. The blood of Jesus Christ ran down the wooden beam of the cross at Calvary to establish this New covenant. It led to the universal proclamation in the name of Jesus that all who repent and believe in the name of Jesus are forgiven their sins, and we’re invited to live in an atmosphere of God’s favor, of God’s grace.

This New promise of God is also motivated to change our inner heart.

Our son, Luke and his wife Liv, have two beautiful Norwegian elkhound huskies named Gus and Elske. They are beautiful animals, and when they go outside with Luke or Liv, one – the female, Elske – is never on leash. But Gus always has to be on leash. Elske will stay very close to her master and immediately obey her master’s voice. Gus – though a very beautiful and good dog – will put his nose to the ground and be in the next county before he lifts his head if he is not on leash. He will not listen to his master call. Therefore, he has to stay on leash.

When God changes us in the New promise made in Jesus Christ, He touches the heart at an inner motivational level, and we wish to obey the Master. We no longer live under the law of a leash holding us so that we don’t do stupid things. Our heart is now given over in loyalty to God in the covenant of Jesus Christ.

This New covenant says that we will know God in a relationship of love. The relationship is no longer transactional where the sacrifice blood of the goat atones for my sins. We enter into a whole new relationship that is guaranteed by God and filled with His love poured out to us.

This New covenant is also eternal. God says in the name of Jesus, “I have loved you with an everlasting love. I have drawn you (to myself) with loving kindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3). Nothing will change it. “Nothing will separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ” (Romans 8:38).

So, again in Jeremiah 31, God says, “Pick up your tambourines and dance for joy” (vs. 4b). I have turned your mourning into dancing. I’m resurrecting you to new beginnings. Here is the beauty in this new promise of God: It’s never too late to start over with Jesus.
 Do you have difficulties you can’t fix? Jesus makes you a new promise in His love.
 Do you have impossible things in your life you can’t undo?
 Are you carrying guilt or shame?
 Do you have habits you can’t break?
 Are there temptations too powerful for you to control?

The answer is not to try harder. The answer, and the basis of our hope, is the wonderful promise of God. In the name of Jesus, you are forgiven. You belong to God. You are people of the New covenant. God has made you a New promise.

So Lord God, today again, I believe your promise is for me, and I gladly receive your Spirit that I might live in this covenant of love with you forever. Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg

Be Careful With Money and Possessions

Luke 12:13-21

There was a man who had worked hard all his life and saved all his money. He was a real cheapskate and loved money more than just about anything. Just before he died, he said to his wife: “When I die, I want to take my money with me to the afterlife. So I want you to place it all in the casket with me.” His wife promised do as he wished.

At the funeral, while he was stretched out in the casket, his wife was sitting there in black next to their best friend. When they finished the ceremony, just before the morticians were ready to close the casket, the wife said, “Wait a minute!” She took a shoe box she had brought with her and placed it in the casket. Then the funeral director locked the casket and rolled it away.

Her friend whispered, “I hope you weren’t crazy enough to put all that money in there with that stingy old man.”

She said, “Yes, I promised. I’m a good Christian; I can’t lie. I promised to put his money in the casket with him.”

“You mean to tell me you put every cent of his money in the casket with him?”

“I sure did,” said the wife. “I got it all together, put it into my account, and I wrote him a check.”

We are talking about money today. Some of us have a lot of it; some of us don’t. Most of us wish we had more. Many of us are kind of private about it while others don’t mind flaunting it. Many of us are uncomfortable talking about it or having someone approach us about it, especially in church. But Jesus talked about money a lot. Almost half of His parables were about how to handle one’s money and possessions. In the Gospels, one out of ten verses deals directly with the subject of money and possessions. Why do you suppose that is?

Jesus knew what a dangerous hold money can have on our lives. It can become an idol, a substitute god. We can be prone to pursue, worship, and serve it at the expense of our health, our relationships with family and friends, and, most importantly, God.

Money is probably God’s chief competition for our hearts. It holds the most potential to become a God substitute for us, because it offers us what we want so dearly in life – security, satisfaction, and significance. These are the very things God wants us to depend on Him for. So Jesus talked about it a lot.

A money issue was brought to Jesus in today’s passage. Two brothers were having a squabble over the family inheritance. (You know the old saying, Wherever there’s a will, there’s a family.) One of them said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” While Jesus refused to get in the middle of this squabble, He used the man’s request as a teachable moment.

First He offered some wisdom, a warning – “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

Then Jesus told a parable to illustrate His statement. “The land of a rich man, produced a bumper crop, making him even wealthier. He thought to himself, What am I going to do, for I have no place to store my crops. I know! I will build new and bigger barns to store it. Then I will sit back and tell my soul to eat, drink, relax, and be merry.

That night God spoke to him and called him a fool because his time in this world was now up, and who would get all his stuff? You have lived your life foolishly.

The Old Testament defines a fool as one who ignores God and makes unwise, destructive choices. So by using that title, God is pointing out to the rich man, This sums up exactly who you are and what you have done with your life. You have lived it foolishly.

Notice the words the rich man uses repeatedly in his statements to himself.

First of all, “I.” What should I do? I have no place to store my crops. I will do this: I will pull down. I will store. I will say . . .

Then there’s the word “my.” My crops, my barns, my grain, my goods, my soul.

Consider what was missing in this self talk – God. This is godless talk, godless thinking. He gave no thanks to God for the gift of the great crops. He failed to recognize his blessings as a gift from God. Actually, they are a loan. Everything belongs to God. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1).

What did the rich man miss in his questioning? God. He never asked, I wonder what God would have me do with all He has given me? He showed no accountability to God in his life, had no thought of sharing his blessings with others in need, as God commanded. He planned to keep it all for himself.

Something else is missing as well: humility. He sees himself in complete control of his life and his future. He thinks he has life by the tail. This man possesses a certain arrogance. He sees himself self-made, secure, a success in life.

But according to God, this man is delusional, for God alone has the final word over his life. This man doesn’t realize his life is a gift, which can be given and taken away. It is God’s to give and to take away. We may make our future plans and think we know what is going to happen, but who really knows? Only God. The rich farmer didn’t understand this.

The farmer also seems to be missing the big picture, like some people are prone to do. He acts as if this life is all there is to live for. He has no eternal perspective in his mind. Some day he will die, and then what?

The day is coming when all our 401(k)s, bank accounts, silos, buildings, and stock portfolios will be completely irrelevant. Titles will no longer impress. It won’t matter what clothes hung in our closet or cars sat in our garage.

I’m reminded of a bit of biblical wisdom.

For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field. Its flowers fall, and its beauty perishes” (James 1:11).

It is the same way with the rich. In the midst of a busy life, they will wither away. Instead of living for God, this man is living for his wealth and for himself. God calls this a foolish life and then asks a good question, “Your life is over. Now who is going to get all these things?”

You’ve probably heard the adage,

You can’t take it with you.

Or this one:

I haven’t seen any U-Hauls driving into the cemetery lately.

The parable of Jesus affirms this.

Jesus concludes to His audience, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves and are not rich toward God.” Now what does He mean by this, “Don’t store up treasures for yourself”?

What does it mean to be rich toward God? It means to have a relationship with God – loving, trusting, obeying, and serving Him with your whole heart, soul, strength, and mind.

All of what Jesus has told us today is an appeal to value God instead of treasures like money and possessions. We are to value God above all else and not end up living a godless life chasing after false gods like the rich fool. Do not let money and possessions become the purpose of your life, as it is prone to be sometimes. In and of itself, money is not evil. The love of it is, though, and what money represents in this world makes it dangerous for us. Pursuing money and possessions lead us away from God and can push God out of the picture in one’s life.

Jesus knows us all too well. He remembers the garden of Eden. As sinful beings, we can easily fall prey to wanting more, more, more for ourselves. Soon we’re off track and foolishly lost. This is why, for every verse in the Bible that tells of the benefits of wealth, there are ten that tell us of the danger of wealth.

Jesus is not condemning riches or rich people in this parable. However, He is illustrating how a wrong attitude toward riches can wreck your eternal relationship with God. Real life is not measured by how much we own. Rather it is about knowing that we come from God, we live to God, and we will return to God someday. So we should love God enroute, living and trusting in obedience. Real life is about having a rich relationship with God. So don’t play the fool, like the guy in the story.

I don’t know about you, but I find this passage of Scripture very challenging. There are three personal questions in particular that I need to be asking myself. I invite you to think about them as well.

What is your attitude toward money and possessions? As a follow-up question, do you live as if everything you have comes from and belongs to God? Do you know your place? Do you see yourself as the owner or the manager of what you have? What are you doing with all God has given you to manage?

Your attitude about money and possessions shows up in how tightly or loosely you hold onto it. Does it annoy you to be asked to give? Do you find yourself wondering about the least amount you could acceptably give or do you enjoy using your finances to help others? What percentage of your income are you giving away these days? Is God’s cause in the world better off because you’ve been entrusted with His money?

What place do money and possessions have in your life? Some people think about this topic all the time. They worry about it or figure out ways to get more money for themselves so they can feel secure and satisfied. They wind up sacrificing important things in life in order to have more. Does this describe you?

Some people struggle with finances, which can be a stressor and a focus in their life. If you are presently in a tough financial situation, do you continue to bring your burden to the Lord and ask for His help? Do you give thanks to God in all circumstances – in plenty and in want?

Finally, do you measure your self-worth by your net worth? I hope not. Some people are constantly comparing what they have or what they’re making with what others have or what they’re making. They covet; they get jealous; they resent those who have more; and they are miserable. They seem to believe that having more makes a person more important, more valuable. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Jesus encourages us today to consider all these kinds of questions so we might be wise, on guard, and enjoy real life with our God.

I love a testimony I came across in an eye-opening book, “Gods at War,” written by Kyle Idleman. It goes like this:

The god of money was almost irresistible. He spun tales of sports cars, luxury homes, and all the good things he was going to buy for us. Yes, we had heard the old refrain that money can’t buy happiness. We knew that. We had seen what it had done to people over and over.

But we were going to be different. We were going to know how to use that money without letting it use us. We didn’t want to buy happiness; we just wanted to rent a little pleasure. But somewhere it all went wrong. Somehow the god of money became a slave driver.

He kept us running, following him, trying to keep him from getting away. We followed the green brick road until we longed to rest. We put our hope in what we might find at the end of the rainbow. We thought money would provide us with security, significance, and some measure of satisfaction. But strangely even when we had money we still felt broke.

Then we met Jesus and discovered that he is our provider. He provides everything we need. He provides us with security because he never leaves us or forsakes us. He provides us with significance because our identity and value are found in his love. He provides us with satisfaction because our souls were made for him. We discovered that God would meet all our needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. What a wonderful testimony!

Friends, Jesus knows what makes life work. He loves you. He went to the cross so you could have the abundant life God intended for you. Jesus became poor so you might become rich with God. He rose as an affirmation that His word is life-giving truth for you and for me.

I appeal to you this day to trust Him on this subject of money and possessions. Jesus knows what He is talking about. Real life does not consist in money and possessions. Real life is about having a rich relationship with God. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Forgiven Much, Loving Much

Luke 7:36-50

If you want people to really listen to what you have to say, tell them a story. People love stories. Jesus knew this well, and so He told parables to puzzle people, to get them to think, to convict, encourage, and awaken them to kingdom truths. Each of His stories had a purpose and an intent.

It can be said that Jesus’ parables are an earthly story with a heavenly truth. Today’s parable, which has one of those heavenly truths, was told as a result of something that occurred at the dinner table at a home in the city of Nain. Earlier that day, Jesus had raised a young man back to life. He had also done quite a bit of teaching.

Simon, a Pharisee, was considered holy and very religious – a leader in his community. He invited Jesus to have dinner with him and his friends in his home. He had obviously heard talk around town about Jesus being called the prophet of God after raising a dead boy back to life. Simon may have gone out to hear Jesus teach that day and wanted to know more about Him.

Most likely, Simon probably wanted to test Jesus by asking Him some difficult questions. He was a bit skeptical of Jesus, and, in all likelihood, was probably threatened by Him as were the other Pharisees. Jesus did not teach like they did. Therefore His popularity and His teachings could erode the Pharisees’ influence and leadership.

In those days, people ate in a reclining position at the dinner table. Jesus would have positioned Himself on His side in front of a low-sitting table with His feet sticking out behind.

Typically, with a celebrity like this, the front door was left open so observers could listen to the conversation. One of these observers caused quite a stir. It was a woman from the community who had a soiled reputation. As she came up behind Jesus, she knelt down and, with tears rolling down her face, she washed His feet with her tears. Next she let down her hair, which was considered very inappropriate public behavior in those days, and dried his feet with her hair. She had brought an alabaster jar of expensive ointment and put the ointment on Jesus’ feet and kissed them without saying a word.

To the shock of others, Jesus let her do this. In fact, He even looked pleased about it. Simon, though, was horrified and critical toward Jesus. He thought to himself, Now I know, He can’t be a prophet. Otherwise, He would know her sinfulness and refuse to let someone like her even touch Him. She is a sinner with a capital “S”! He definitely is not a prophet from God.

Ironically, Jesus read Simon’s mind, which must’ve startled him. ‘Simon, I have something to say you.’

Simon replies, “Teacher, speak.” (Calling Jesus, ‘teacher’ might have been a bit of a put down, for it implies that Jesus is only a teacher in Simon’s mind, an equal at best.)

Jesus tells him a short parable. A certain moneylender had two debtors. One man owed him a little – a couple months’ wages; another one owed him a lot – 10 times that amount. When they could not pay, the lender canceled the debt of both of these men.

Jesus paused and then asked Simon, “Which one of them would love the moneylender more?” Simon said, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.”

Jesus replied, “You have judged correctly. Do you see this woman? You didn’t even do me the small common courtesy of washing my feet when I came in; she washed my feet with her tears. You gave me no kiss to welcome me as you would any other guests, but she hasn’t stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil as any hospitable host would do, yet she anointed my feet with her ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loves much, just like the greater debtor in the parable.”

Then Jesus added, “But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

Perhaps this was a jab at Simon. She recognized Jesus for who He was – the Son of God who has authority to forgive sins. She obviously had an earlier encounter with Him, heard His call to repentance, the promise of forgiveness of sins, and a fresh start. She maybe even had a private conversation with Him before He came to the dinner. Jesus was well aware of her background, yet He received her and told her she was forgiven. So, like the debt-ridden man in the parable who owed so much, we see her responding with a lot of love toward Jesus, an extravagant, worshipful love.

Why? Because she had been forgiven much. She now belongs to the “forgiven-much crowd”, and she is showing it. She believes she’s forgiven. She has faith in Jesus, so Jesus said to her in front of everyone, affirming her faith, “Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace. Your faith has saved you.”

Jesus’ grace led to inner peace in her life, and peace with God, which is something Simon does not have or understand. He kept Jesus and His message at arm’s length. He has his legalistic religious background telling him that as long as he keeps doing good things, he is okay in God’s sight. He’s a good, righteous man.

We see Simon’s true colors showing. He believes Jesus has it all wrong. Simon has shown little love and no faith toward Jesus. He serves as kind of a foil, as we say in literary talk, meaning one whose critical thinking allows us to see and hear God’s message of forgiveness, which Jesus has for each of us and His authority to give it. Jesus is the Son of God. This woman’s sinful debt has been canceled by Jesus, and she responds in faith-filled love, which is pleasing to the Son of God, Jesus our Savior, our Lord.

Luke doesn’t tell us how the meal ends. It must have been a little awkward. I can imagine red-faced Simon breaking the silence by saying something like, “Please pass the bread.”

Dear friends, this parable holds an important teaching for us. Jesus points out that we are all debtors in need of God’s forgiveness. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God with our thoughts, our words, our actions, and our inactions. Like in the parable, we are the debtors, helplessly, hopelessly unable to make things right with God, unable to pay our debt. God has every reason to throw the book at us – like the moneylender – and send us off to jail (to hell). Instead He is merciful. He shows mercy toward us and offers mercy and grace.

I’m afraid we sometimes forget God’s greatness and holiness. We kind of shrink Him in our minds, and we may sometimes forget about the depths of our sinfulness. We downplay it and leave out our wretchedness in His sight. We forget our debt before Him. We’re even prone to think God owes us something. But God owes us nothing! We are beggars in His sight, in need of His mercy. We need to pay attention to the words in John Newton’s old, familiar hymn,

♬ Amazing Grace,
how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me . . . ♪

I’m not okay, and neither are you. We’re not mistakers who need more self-help; we’re sinners in need of a Savior. I’m a self-centered wretch, spiritually bankrupt, unable to make things right with God. My good deeds are nothing more than filthy rags before this holy God. I break His commandments regularly, and I deserve punishment. I need help.

The good news for beggars like me is that, though we are sinful, God forgives our sins. He cancels our debt, but not without great cost to Himself. The cost is the suffering and death of His Son, Jesus Christ. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. On a cross, He paid the debt for our sins – for my sins and yours.

When Jesus took His last breath on the cross, He cried out, “It is finished!” which means literally, “Paid in full!” Someone has said the Gospel is like a banker walking up to us when we cannot pay our mortgage. Rather than foreclosing, he writes a check to pay off our debt. God is a spiritual banker who has paid our debt through Jesus Christ. We are forgiven in Christ. Like the hymn says, “Jesus paid it all!”

The Pharisees at the table question the authority of Jesus to forgive sins, because only God can do that. They said amongst themselves, Who does Jesus think he is? They will soon learn the answer as Christ’s authority to forgive sins is affirmed on Easter morning when God raises Him from the dead, thus endorsing His authority and His Word.

I want to stop for just a minute and ask, Have you placed your trust in Jesus Christ and what He has done for you? Have you joined the “forgiven-much” crowd? Because, friend, if you have been keeping Jesus at arm’s length, living with your own made-up theology about being good enough for God, I appeal to you today to give that kind of thinking up. It’s a dead end! Lay down those trophies you’ve been depending on and clinging to. Come to Jesus Christ who stands ready to forgive you and give you a new start and a place in His heaven. He knows your sin. No sin is too great for Him to forgive.

Christ’s grace is available to the debtor. A new life, which never ends, is what He is offering you. Come to Him and trust Him with your life.

If you have placed your trust in Jesus and what He did for you, you are part of the “forgiven-much” crowd – just like the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears.

The story is teaching us how to say, “I love you” to Jesus for the rest of your life in response to His grace and mercy. It’s really quite simple.

How do you say “I love you” to Jesus?

First, you say it as you serve Jesus. The woman served Him as she washed His feet. It was servants’ work. Jesus Himself would wash the feet of His disciples and say, “I’ve given you an example. If I your Lord and master have washed your feet, I want you to wash one another’s feet.” Serving others pleases Him.

We say “I love you” to Jesus as we serve others in His name. We remember His words, “As you did it to the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me.”

We say it with our giving. The woman in our story gave her ointment. She gave sacrificially. The perfume was expensive. Does your giving reflect your love for Jesus? Is it sacrificial or simply a non-thinking type of gift, a tip.

In my church at stewardship time, I have always taught my folks, we give out of love to Christ in the area of our faith. The giving of my time, my finances, my skills for the cause of the kingdom of God in response to Christ’s love for me – like the woman in our story. Maybe you’ve seen the bumper sticker, which says,

Tithe if you love Jesus.
Anyone can honk.

There’s some truth to this.

Finally, we tell Jesus we love Him with bold witnessing. The woman’s actions were public, bold, courageous, a testimony for Jesus Christ. She was in hostile territory, and yet, without a word, she boldly testified as to how wonderful it is to have Jesus forgive her and take over her life. This, my friends, is how one says, “I love you” to Jesus.

My fellow debtors and beggars in Christ who have been forgiven, this is our encouragement today from God’s word. We’ve been forgiven much. Hallelujah! Let us love Him much in grateful response today and every day. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Positive Stories for Christian Pessimists

Luke 13:18-21

This looks like a lost cause! Have you ever made or thought this statement? Maybe it was in the middle of a home project like remodeling or landscaping that wasn’t going well. Perhaps you decided to fix something around the house and now you’re in a fix. O, this looks like a lost cause, we think.

Maybe a project or a situation at work isn’t going well. It’s giving you fits and not coming together. I have that experience now and then in my line of work. Most pastors will tell you they can experience a sermon block – like a writer’s block. It sets in and the sermon just cannot get going or will not come together like you want. You feel like quitting and finding something else to preach. This sermon is a lost cause! Trust me; it happens to most preachers.

Perhaps you are struggling with a difficult relationship. No matter what you try, it is painful and does not work. So you sigh and think to yourself, This looks like a lost cause.

I’m sure you could add a few more ideas to my list, because we’ve all been there. When this happens, it brings on a sinking feeling of discouragement and makes you want to just give up and say, This is a lost cause. I quit! Jesus addresses this kind of thinking in today’s parable. Perhaps His twelve disciples look discouraged about this mission they’re on with Him, feeling it is a lost cause.

They have been on the road with Jesus for some time now and had bought into His message that the kingdom of God – God’s rule and reign over the world – was present and He was the bringer of the kingdom. They had left behind their professions to follow Jesus and were expecting some great things – maybe a political take over or a major movement of some sort, but it’s not happening. As they observe Jesus teaching and healing, the little faith they had in Him gets shaky. The disappointing results were not meeting their expectations, and it was looking more like Jesus’ ministry was a smalltime operation.

There were no fireworks except those from the rejection and hostility of the religious establishment as they criticized Him and His message. They didn’t like Him and even accused Him even of being of the devil when he did a miracle. He was misunderstood and rejected by outsiders like the Samaritans. Politicians were suspicious of Him and didn’t like Him. Threats against Jesus were made. Crowds showed up to listen to Him, but no one dropped everything and followed Him like they had done.

Some small steps were being made in the villages they visited – like healing miracles and casting out evil spirits, which brought a lot of speculation, amazement, and quite a following. But they seemed so insignificant in comparison to what they had in mind when it comes to kingdom building. They must’ve been wondering, What is going on here? What have I got myself into? We’re not doing so hot. This kingdom stuff isn’t happening like I thought it would. It’s not taking off. Very few of our hearers are repenting and few are following us. If God’s kingdom has come, why does it feel like we’re moving two steps forward and three steps back?

And where’s God in all of this? God, don’t you see what’s going on? Have I been on the wrong horse? Maybe I ought to just pack up my stuff, quit following, and go home. These thoughts had to have been running through the minds of the disciples.

If you are a follower of Jesus, maybe you’ve even fallen prey to this kind of thinking yourself. You look around at the condition of the world today, and it looks like things are getting any better. Or you observe the church of Christ – its workings and its failings. The news can sometimes be so dark and frightening that it can cause us, as Christ’s followers, to shrug our shoulders and despairingly say, Christianity appears to be a lost cause. Evil seems to be winning over good. Morality, mercy, and righteousness seem to be ignored or lost these days.

We see bad things happening to innocent people in general. The world looks dark, scary, and out-of-control some days. God’s people are experiencing bombings, cultural hostility, rejection, ridicule, criticism – even persecution – in parts of the world. The Church seems to be ineffective in bringing people into God’s kingdom. Those outside the kingdom seemed disinterested – even hostile – toward it. We hear few conversations about it in our little corner of the world. Some days, it feels like we are losing ground. All of this can cause us deep uncertainty. It can cause a faith crisis and cause us to wonder (along with the first disciples of Jesus) if it is a lost cause. It sure seems like it!

We may be tempted to quit serving Jesus in this world all together or even to change the Gospel message to attract people and keep the ones that we have all.

In response to this kind of wondering and discouragement, Jesus offers a reassuring word in these parables, which we read earlier. It is a pep talk, a positive picture for pessimistic Jesus followers. It’s about the kingdom of God.

We need to remind ourselves that when Jesus talks of the kingdom of God, he’s not talking about a geographic place. He is not talking about going to heaven so much. The kingdom of God is God’s rule and reign in this world, where His will is being done. People’s lives are being changed by the Good News of Jesus, and they’re loving God with their heart, soul, strength, and mind, and their neighbor as themselves. His will is getting done.

Jesus compares the kingdom of God movement to a tiny mustard seed, and a tiny bit of yeast. He makes the comparison to reassure and encourage Jesus followers to trust. He tells us, Look at the mustard seed when you’re thinking about the kingdom of God, because it’s the tiniest of seeds. It looks so insignificant! Yet when it’s planted, it eventually becomes a tree with branches that offers refuge to the birds of the air. This is what I want you to keep in mind! When you are feeling discouraged because things look bad and it seems like we’re stuck and losing, just think of the mustard seed and the tree that eventually happens. God’s kingdom will prevail! This is not a losing cause.

Jesus continues, Keep the big picture in mind as well. The kingdom of God is like a little bit of yeast in a big batch of flour. It soon penetrates the whole batch. So, too, will God’s reign and rule penetrate this whole world. Don’t give up! Don’t quit following and serving. The kingdom project looks small, unpromising, and powerless now, but it is just getting started. God’s rule will come. You are on the winning side!

Recently my favorite baseball team was getting trounced by another team. I turned on the TV to watch and looked at the scoreboard and said, “This looks like a lost cause.” Then I turned the TV off. Sometimes, like those first disciples, we look at the scoreboard of this world with all its problems and darkness, and it looks like evil is winning 12 to 0. All is lost, and like we want to just turn things off.

But Jesus tells us to not let the scoreboard fool us. The game is not over and God will win. Don’t quit. Keep serving Him and witnessing for Him in this world. God is at work. It may not appear so some days, but the kingdom of God is happening and will come in its fullness someday. Then every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, and all who have placed their trust in Him will live forever with Him. Don’t lose your hope and your confidence. This is the point of these parables today.

Even as we speak, friend, God is working in this world through His Holy Spirit, and amazing things are happening. Lives are being changed. This is the message for today, children of God, followers of Jesus. You saints of God who might be getting discouraged, don’t give into despair and pessimism. Take courage. Be confident! God has this! It is not a lost cause that you are a part of. Remember, in the end God wins.

By the way, we have already witnessed the truth Jesus shared with the disciples. It is not pollyannaish thinking about someday. Lest we forget, millions upon millions of people, since the day Jesus told these parables, have entered the kingdom of God by trusting in the Good News of Jesus Christ. Lives are impacted and transformed by a relationship with Jesus. The impact of the Christian faith upon the world is unmeasurable, e.g., educational institutions, hospitals, Christian aid organizations serving in Christ’s name, the fight against apartheid in South Africa, racism in America. The impact goes on and on all around the globe. Thousands of people are entering the kingdom of God right now as the Gospel is proclaimed in parts of the world.

Lest we forget, remember the cross of Jesus Christ. His crucifixion was followed by an empty tomb and a resurrection. Jesus is alive! He has already won the battle. Sin, death, and the devil himself were conquered by the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. God has had the last word!

Don’t forget what happened since Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is on the loose with His convicting and converting power all over this planet. He is working in people’s lives even before we have the opportunity to share the Gospel. God’s will, His plan for the sin-sick planet that He loves is still getting done. In the end, it will be done once and for all for eternity. And you are part of it.

I’d like to finish this message off with a word of encouragement today, you saints, you followers of Jesus. Yes, the world is full of problems. Many people need to be brought into the kingdom of God. It looks almost impossible and overwhelming to get the job done. It looks just like madness some days.

Instead of being overwhelmed by all the problems and the needs of others for Christ, why not step up and be a part of the solution in confident faith and hope. Continue to give yourself over to God’s purposes for your life. Let your light keep shining as you serve Jesus so people around you will give God glory and praise.

Or, let me put it another way: Instead of complaining about the darkness, light a candle and get in the game. Don’t quit. Servants of Christ, keep serving Jesus in your corner of the world, and remember: God is in control. History is ‘His story.’ God wins. Remember the end of our Lord’s prayer, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen!”

Pastor Steve Kramer