God’s Heart for the Lost

John 4:7-19, 24-30, 39-42The Woman at the Well

Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus who was born for us. Amen.

Merry Christmas to each one of you and God’s richest blessings in the year ahead.

In the celebration of Christmas, do you ever wonder why God the Father would’ve sent His Son Jesus to be born of a virgin? To be born of a girl in Bethlehem? Why would God send His angels to proclaim joy on earth, and peace in heaven because of this child’s birth to shepherds on a hillside? I believe it’s because God has a heart of passionate love for lost people. God loves those who don’t yet understand that He who created the world and hung the stars in place, (like the star over Bethlehem’s manger) wants to pour His grace into them and share the journey with them. This is why Paul said to Timothy, “God desires ALL to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:4). This is why there’s a Christmas – because God’s heart loves those who are lost. Is that you?

Many years ago I read an article in the Dallas newspaper of a woman whose son had been tragically killed in an accident. His heart was donated for transplant. Fortunately another young man was saved by receiving this healthy, strong heart. After a period of time, the woman who lost her son met the young man who had her son’s heart, and she said to him, “Would it be okay with you if I put my ear on your chest to listen to the heartbeat of my son one more time?”

In this Christmas season I want to ask you, If God were to put His ear to our chest, would He hear the heartbeat of Jesus within us? Jesus has been born to the world and hopefully born into our lives as we receive Him in faith. Does His heart resonate inside us with God’s heart for the lost of the world who need to know and understand Him?

In order to understand the motive of Christmas, I’d like to share with you again the story of the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at Jacob’s well. Many people described her as immoral. Immorality might be defined as deliberately violating accepted principles of right and wrong. A person of bad character, depraved, perverted, always deviating from the good. So I have two images of this woman at the well who Jesus reached out to.

One image is a woman who is flirtatious, coquettish in her behavior. She uses her sexual power to climb the ladder and gives herself away to profit personally. It is her ingrained method of conquest. Man after man is left discarded in her wake after she’s done with them. She uses her womanhood for personal gain.

Image number two of the woman whom Jesus met at the well has had a painful early childhood, which left her wounded. Her daddy was addicted to booze, and she had a tense, cold relationship with mommy. She was abused inappropriately throughout her childhood and now she views herself as dirt. So she has a skewed vision of relationships and has difficulty trusting anyone. Therefore, this woman sabotages every love relationship that gets too close.

Which image is the correct one for this woman at the well whom Jesus talks to? Whichever it is, for sure she is lost and lonely, an outcast who was rejected.

This story becomes a good picture of how Jesus has come to win the heart of the lost. Throughout the Bible, the Old Testament describes God pursuing His disobedient, rebellious people through the prophets, begging them, Come back to me. I love you. In Luke 15 we read a series of stories about God reaching the lost sheep whom the good Shepherd goes to find, the lost coin, the lost son in the story of the prodigal who wandered from the father.

The message of Christmas – Jesus born to us – is an image of God’s heart for lost and estranged people. He wants to win their trust and have them believe His love is for them. I find it beautiful how Jesus engages this woman at the well. He does not judge or reject her, but meets her where she is, as she is. He is open and flexible, not too busy to talk. He is not blocked by religious or racial differences. He is not concerned about His image as He would talk with a woman at noon, and He is not prejudiced against her, even though He knows everything about her.

Jesus finds a connecting point to build a bridge in the conversation using thirst to talk about the spiritual truth of living water in the Holy Spirit. He talks about Jacob’s well, and it becomes a segue to discuss worship of God in Spirit and truth. He reveals Himself ultimately as the Messiah. To take the conversation to a deeper level, a matter of the heart, He says, I’m the one who has come to the world to deliver all people in the saving love of God.

Are you lost? Jesus comes to find you where you are, as you are. As He pours His living water into your soul, the Spirit flows. In that living water, the heart of this woman was changed forever. Wherever living water flows the stagnant, polluted, foul souls of people are washed clean.

In Jesus’ love we are given a new beginning. Guilt and shame melt away. This woman becomes an unlikely witness to Jesus. Exuberantly and honestly she goes to the people of her village and says, “Come and see the one who told me everything I’ve ever done. Could this one be the Christ?”

Here’s the truth of Christmas for all who have embraced Jesus’ birth as our salvation. God wants for the presence of Jesus within us to turn our lives into a wellspring of living water for others. God wants us to listen to others with compassion, show the tenderness of love, and believe that when we engage people, the presence of Jesus within us will bless them.

I recently read the story of a man named Gib Martin in his book “A Theology of Personal Ministry.” When Gib was 27 years old, he was a schoolteacher. After each day teaching his students, he would unwind by stopping at a bar to have a beer and bemoan his life. He had a thirst of a different kind. He was a man who needed living water. Gib had come from a religious background, but now for three years had described himself as an atheist. He was going through a dark period of desperation and didn’t even feel like being with anyone.

Every day when Gib came to the bar, he saw an older man named Charlie. Charlie was a carpenter, and for many years had struggled with severe alcoholism. But then, not too many years before, Charlie had been led to Christ by Gib Martin’s great-grandmother. Charlie had heard from her that the love of Jesus could break the power of his addiction and free him to a new life, a life of grace. Through Charlie’s receiving of Jesus, he was set free.

Charlie was now so burdened for souls that after work each day he still stopped at this bar, but he drank coffee and shared his life with anyone who would listen. He told them how Jesus had redeemed his life.

Charlie could tell Gib was a miserable man. He tried to befriend him, but Gib was resistant. Charlie wasn’t even able to share about Jesus’ love with Gib because of his attitude. Eventually, though, Charlie invited Gib to go with him to hear a guest speaker coming to the community. Gib agreed to go with Charlie if they could discuss what the man talked about after the meeting.

That night Gib heard the gospel of Jesus for the first time. He was so convicted of the sin in his life and of all the rhythms of unhealthy living that he literally, by his description, vomited all night long and thought he was dying. The next day about noon, he dropped to his knees and gave his life to Christ. He invited Jesus to come into his heart. Gib later found out that Charlie and some others had spent the evening praying for him.

Isn’t that beautiful? God used Charlie, who had already been redeemed by Jesus’ birth into his life, to reach Gib, and yet another soul was cleansed in the living water of Jesus’ Spirit.

Dare we to believe that
✝ God desires to use each one of us to share His living water?
✝ Jesus would not want us to judge anyone, but love them?
✝ We are to keep our hearts open to every opportunity to share Jesus’ love?
✝ We would pray to be a blessing to each person we meet?
✝ We would learn to find the connecting point to engage people in a conversation that goes to a deeper level?
✝ We would listen to understand with compassion and
✝ Eventually we would hope to share why Jesus is a blessing to us as He lives in our heart?

Will you pray and believe the Spirit will use you? Then will our lives reflect the heart of our Father.

If God would put His ear to our chest, would He hear the heartbeat of His Son Jesus? The beautiful truth of Christmas is the Spirit of Jesus lives within us. As we sing in the hymn, “O come to us, O live with us, our Lord Immanuel.”

May the glorious truth of Christmas and the presence of Jesus within you, give you joy, and may God powerfully use your life to love people in His name. Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg

What to Give the One Who Has It All – You!

Matthew 2:1-12

Two young boys were spending the night at their grandparents’ house. At bedtime they knelt down beside the bed to say their prayers when the youngest one began praying at the top of his lungs. “I PRAY FOR A NEW BICYCLE. I WANT A NEW COMPUTER GAME. I PRAY FOR A NEW BASKETBALL. . . .”

The older brother leaned over and nudged him. “Why are you shouting your prayer? God is not deaf!”

To which the little brother replied, “No, but grandma is, and she hasn’t done her Christmas shopping yet.” The little boy was just trying to help his grandma out with her shopping. He knows how grandparents delight in giving their grandchildren what they want.

As you know, there is a big emphasis on giving and receiving gifts during Christmas. It can be a fun and delightful experience as gifts are exchanged between loved ones. We’ll open gifts at my home this evening and a little bit tomorrow morning as well. I’m sure many of you are doing the same thing.

The question I have is, Are we missing something? I’d like to invite you to use your imagination with me for a few seconds. Imagine a birthday party being held in your honor. All your friends show up with gifts in hands. They say, “happy birthday” to you as they come in the door, and they even sing it to you later on. But then they give their presents to one another — not to you. I wonder how that would feel. Yet this is what we do at Christmas. We give gifts to everyone but Jesus! But it’s not too late for us to consider what the birthday Boy might like to receive for His birthday.

When my children were young, we’d bake a cake and sing happy birthday to Jesus on Christmas Eve. Then we would have a devotion, but we never took it beyond that. We never got around to putting a gift of some sort under the tree for Him. Looking back, I wish we had.

Yet Jesus did receive gifts on His first birthday. Great gifts! Gifts fit for a King! Lavish, extravagant gifts. He was honored and treated like royalty. Why? Because He was and He is royalty. He deserved the special attention He received from the Wise Men, and He still does. After all, look at the gift He’s given us and what He’s done for us!

Jesus, the Son of God, entered our world leaving behind the majesty and glory of heaven and became one of us in order to rescue us. He is God’s gift to you and me. John 3:16 says it so well, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” You see, humanity was lost in our sinfulness with no way out. We were separated from God by our disobedience. The wages of sin is death, and there was not a blasted thing we can do to save ourselves. We were, as John says, perishing.

But while we were still sinners, Jesus stepped into our world. He humbled Himself being born as a human being, a helpless little baby. He grew up and in adulthood He emptied Himself out totally for us, ultimately giving His life to save us. He laid down His life to redeem us from our sin and give us eternal life. At the cross, our sin was paid for by Jesus, the Son of God. When He cried out in His last breath, “It is finished,” it was not a cry of resignation but a cry of Mission Accomplished! meaning paid in full. Jesus Christ has paid for sin in full. God raised Him up from the dead conquering death.

Jesus was exalted as well. He sits at the right hand of God the Father. Listen to this reading from John MacArthur:

The Lord Jesus Christ, whom we exalt at Christmas, is not just a baby in a manger. He is not a character in a children’s story. He’s far more.

✯ The first time He came, He was veiled in the form of a child. The next time He comes – and we believe it will be soon – He will come unveiled. It will be abundantly and immediately clear to all the world just who He really is.

✯ The first time He came, a star marked His arrival. The next time He comes, the whole heavens will roll up like a scroll. All the stars will fall out of the sky, and He Himself will light it.

✯ The first time He came, Wise Men and shepherds brought Him gifts. The next time He comes, He will bring gifts, rewards for His own.

✯ The first time He came, there was no room for Him. The next time He comes, the whole world will not be able to contain His glory.

✯ The first time He came, only a few attended His arrival – some shepherds and some Wise Men. The next time He comes, every eye shall see Him.

✯ The first time He came as a baby, soon He will come again as sovereign King and Lord.

Because of what Jesus has done for us, the door to an eternal, saving, personal relationship with God was opened up to us. Amazing grace happened that first Christmas when Jesus was born. This was the beginning of a rescue mission. I hope you know that you and I have been loved big time! I also hope you have received the gift of salvation, you have held out those empty hands of yours and received what God wants you to have – eternal life, and you taste of His precious grace and experience a new life. And when you have tasted of His grace in your life, a question will arise within your grateful heart: What can I give to Jesus who gave His all for me?

So what do we give the One who has it all? You might be wondering what we mean by has it all. Scripture tells us God has placed all things under Jesus’ feet. The image is taken from when kings of old would have a footstool made with the symbols of conquered enemies engraved on it. All things placed under His feet.

These Wise Men from the east help us out with the question What do you give? We don’t know much about them. Matthew refers to them as Magi, which could have been pagan astrologers or political officials from the courts of Parthia, Armenian, regions east of Judea. It doesn’t really matter, I guess. It’s what they did in response to the birth of Jesus Christ – they came to Him.

When Jesus was born, they observed this mysterious star shining brightly, and as they began to study it, they came to the conclusion that it was a sign the Jewish Messiah – the King – was born. They wanted to pay homage to Him, to honor Him, so they came. They took the journey following the star for many months. It took a year or maybe even longer.

Finally, they ended up in Judea and stopped in Jerusalem on their search for this newborn King. There they discovered a prophecy from the book of Micah that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem a few miles down the road from Jerusalem. So they hit the road again. The star reappeared and led them right to the spot where Jesus was. And as they entered, they knew how to act when they got there. They knew they were in the presence of royalty, a King. So they bowed before Him in worship and gave Him their best, not just some token leftovers. They gave gifts fit for a King – gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Some scholars have pointed out that gold was, of course, a very precious, valuable gift that only royalty could possess. Frankincense was an incense that was burned on the altar for the divine. Myrrh was used for embalming. It was a perfume. Maybe these were signs already of what was to come, of who Jesus was. He was a King. He was divine. He was going to be the perfect sacrifice for humanity’s sin. The Wise Men couldn’t have known that, but they gave Him their best.

What does one today give this King? The best thing you can give Him is you. He came for you, “To YOU is born this day in the city of David a Savior.” Give Him your repentance, which simply means turning around from what you’ve been doing and surrendering yourself to His kingship. It means recognizing you’re a sinner who can’t make it in this life or the next without Christ. It means to come under His leadership and follow Him instead of your own way.

Don’t just give Him your repentance, give Him your trust as well, your belief. When Jesus announced in His first sermon, “The kingdom of God is at hand,” He is pointing to Himself. He says, “Repent and believe the good news.” Believe He is the Son of God who laid down His life to rescue you. Know that if you were the only person whoever existed in His creation, He came and gave His life for you! Believe His promises that heaven is a sure thing for the believer in Jesus Christ. Trust that He will always be with you and lean upon Him. He says “I will be with you always to the end of the age.” Know in your heart of hearts that Jesus knows what makes for an abundant life.

How about giving Him your devotion? Place Him at the center of your whole life – not on the fringe. Play out your daily life for an audience of One – Jesus Christ. Study and obey His word. Continue in it and make it your aim to please Him by living life His way – not to get Him to love you, but because He loves you already and you love Him.

How about your treasures? Your time, which is so precious. Your financial resources, your energies, your skills. You can give Him these as well. Like the hymn says, this could be your prayer: “Take my life and let it be, consecrated Lord to thee.”

Finally, give Him your worship. The Wise Men gave this King from heaven His worth. That is what worship is – giving Him His worth.

How about you? Will you join me today right now in giving Him His worth?

“O come let us adore Him.
O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

“For He alone is worthy,
for He alone is worthy,
for He alone is worthy,
Christ the Lord.”

Happy birthday, Jesus! We’re so glad you were born. We’d be lost without you! Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

What to Give the One Who Has It All

Matthew 25:31-46

A question we oftentimes ask our loved ones this time of the year is, What do you want for Christmas? We typically will also spend a lot of time and energy trying to find the perfect gift that will delight them. Yet, I sometimes wonder if every now and then when we get so focused on gift giving, we need to be reminded whose birthday it really is. Christmas is not our birthday. It is Jesus’, our Lord and Savior’s birthday.

Have you ever asked yourself the question, I wonder what Jesus, the birthday boy, would like for His birthday? What do you give the One who has it all? Well, we are going to ponder this question for the next couple of weeks. Our text for today holds a profound answer to this question.

Jesus and the disciples are now in Jerusalem. Jesus is about to go to the cross to fulfill God’s salvation plan of paying for your sins and mine. In this particular setting in today’s text, Jesus is teaching His disciples that someday He is coming again and they must be ready for it.

These words were, first of all, meant to give us assurance and hope. During the Advent season, the church remembers the One – Jesus, who arrived as a baby in a manger in Bethlehem – is coming again in power and majesty. The first time He arrived, He gave us His all. He humbled himself and became one of us. He emptied Himself on our behalf, and went all the way – even to death – on a cross to pay our debt for sin, which we could not pay ourselves. However, the story does not end there. Jesus was raised from the dead and ascended to full power and authority over this world. The Lord has put all things under His feet.

The second time Jesus arrives, He’s not going to come humbly, but in power. On that day, everyone will bow before Him and say, Jesus is Lord. This is basically what we’re hearing in today’s passage as Jesus begins this parable of sorts. He describes a King who comes in glory with His angels and sits on a glorious throne with all the nations, meaning all the peoples of the world are gathered before Him. What a vision that is! What a glorious day that is going to be!

This good news for those of us who trust Christ is what we need to focus on, even when the world looks like it is falling apart and headed toward a bad ending. We know how the story ends – the King is sitting on His glorious throne.

But notice, the parable goes on to instruct the followers of Jesus as to what He wants us to be doing while we wait for His return. Jesus tells us that when the King arrives, He will separate people one from another just as a shepherd divides the sheep and the goats at the end of the day. The sheep will be placed at His right hand – the place of blessing and honor. He will tell them,

“Come you who are blessed of my Father and inherit the kingdom prepared for you. For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty you gave me a drink. I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to me. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you clothed me.”

What a very impressive list! He goes on with the story . . .

“They will say to him, ‘Lord when did we see you this way?’ And the King will respond, ‘I tell you, as you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’”

He came disguised in those who were weak and vulnerable. Jesus is identifying Himself with the weak and the poor, the forgotten and the vulnerable in society. He calls them His brethren.

I suppose it makes sense because, after all, Jesus was born without a home to poor ordinary folks. His family were refugees fleeing from a baby-killing tyrant as they headed to Egypt. As an adult, He had no place to lay His head. He was rejected by people, abandoned by His followers, beaten terribly by soldiers, executed for crimes He didn’t commit, and buried in a borrowed tomb like a poor, poverty-stricken person. Jesus knows what it means to be needy, vulnerable. It’s no wonder He refered to these people as His brothers. He says an amazing thing to the people who reached out to them: The King applauds for what you have done.

Some reading this portion of Scripture have wondered about its message. I thought we were saved by faith in Jesus Christ. Is Jesus talking out of both sides of His mouth? It sounds like He is saying we’re saved by good works in this story. Relax. That is not what Jesus teaching here. I want you to notice a couple of these phrases Jesus includes in His story. They are not throwaways, but important for us.

As He invites the sheep, Jesus refers to them as the “blessed of My Father.” This is an important phrase because they are people who are already in a right relationship with God. They are people of the Beatitudes, those who are described as Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom. These are the ones Jesus has called the light of the world. They are kingdom people, believers in Christ. And notice, He says, Come and receive an inheritance that has been prepared for you. An inheritance, you see, is not the same as a reward. It’s not something you’ve earned. It’s a gift because you are attached to the right individual – Jesus.

He also refers to them as “the righteous” ones. They are in a right relationship with God through following Jesus Christ. Remember, Jesus is talking to His disciples in this parable. These compassion-filled activities being described in this story are evidence of one who has salvation. Martin Luther, who made himself the champion of faith alone, wrote this statement:

“Faith is a living, busy, active, powerful thing! It’s impossible for it not to do us good continually. It never asks whether good works are to be done, but has done them before there’s time to even ask the question, and it is always doing them.”

Faith shown in acts of loveThis is what I want My followers to be doing, Jesus seems to be saying here. Showing mercy and compassion to others.

So we go back to our original question: What does Jesus want this Christmas? What do you give the One who has it all? Consider this passage an answer to that. This is on our Lord’s wish list for Christmas – for every day for that matter. While we wait for Him to come again, He wants us to show compassion for the weak and the vulnerable. Not just feel compassion or pity for them, but actually doing something, acting upon that compassion.

I find this parable rather challenging. Now that I know these things, what am I supposed to do with knowledge Jesus has just given me?

I want to ask you a personal question. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, if you trust Him and love Him as your Savior and Lord, what gift are you planing on giving Him in the next year? Someone might respond, I’m going to make a commitment to keep an eye open for hurting people this year and serve them for Jesus. That’s wonderful! It’s great! I hope you do. However, good intentions sometimes are forgotten and undone. At least they do in my life. I get busy and distracted. Sometimes we miss seeing Jesus. So here is my idea for you and for me.

How about taking a concrete next step on that gift right now. Take the initiative on what you know He would like for Christmas. For instance, how about deciding to sponsor a Compassion child this year. You give a monthly gift for a child in need to feed them, clothe them, give them an education, and teach them about Jesus. As you correspond with your child through letters, your encouragement makes a big difference in their lives. Julie and I have sponsored a couple of these kids ourselves. We’ve discovered it is a joy and not much of a sacrifice at all! It really does help them.

Remember how when we were kids, we’d look at the catalogs for Christmas. I invite you to do some shopping this year in the Lord’s Christmas catalogs. What I mean by this is organizations like Samaritan’s Purse, World Vision, and Lutheran World Relief have catalogs where you can pick a gift for a needy person. You could go right to their Web sites where they will give you all kinds of ideas of how to be a servant, to show compassion to someone.

Recently I came across a catalog from a group called Voice of the Martyrs, which I really think is a good thing. They offer you the opportunity to write letters to persecuted Christians in other parts of the world and to be an encouragement to them as they suffer for the faith.

Now, if you are someone who doesn’t have a computer, I encourage you to ask your pastor for some information. I have a pile of catalogs sitting on my desk, and I know all pastors get these kinds of mailings. They can help you. Or if you want to be more local, how about becoming personally involved with the food shelf ministry, working at a clothing center, Salvation Army, or a Gospel mission in the inner-city. Serve in one of their kitchens perhaps. I encourage you to call one of these organizations and ask them how you can do some hands-on helping for them. They’ll be glad to hear from you.

How about giving your clothes away to a Christian organization that can distribute them to people who really need them? You could give some clothing to help refugees. You’d be amazed at how many people I know in my area who are without coats and so on this time of year. And it’s cold in Minnesota! A group of women in our church make quilts for Lutheran World Relief, and oh what a difference it makes.

If you drive, how about delivering a meal to the homebound? We have a program called Meals on Wheels.

And don’t forget, material needs are not the only form of poverty. There is emotional poverty as well – people who are feeling forgotten and uncared for. I remember reading something by Mother Teresa who was talking about coming to visit the affluent West. As she visited a beautifully decorated nursing home she found all the residents sitting in wheelchairs facing the door. “Why all these people looking toward the door? she asked. “Why aren’t they smiling? I’m used to seeing smiling faces on all our people, even the dying ones.”

The nurse replied, “It’s like this every day. They’re always hoping someone will come and visit them, and their loneliness is eating them up.”

Mother Teresa then asked, “Who is staring at the door waiting for someone like you to come?”

How about a loaf of fresh bread or cinnamon rolls for an elderly neighbor who is spending their first Christmas alone having a blue Christmas, with a note saying, Just thinking about you this year during this season. Or going to a nursing home and adopting a grandparent, becoming a regular visitor.

Then there’s also spiritual poverty around us. You and I are surrounded by people who are functionally strangers to God. They don’t think God cares for them. Jesus is counting on us to take steps to tell them about Him.

I love it when my wife or kids tell me what they’d like for Christmas because I, in all likelihood, am going to get it. I really appreciate what Jesus is doing for us here. He has given us a big favor with this passage! He has given us a wish list. Any of these things will bring a smile to His face.

So I invite you to take action with me on one of these gifts for Jesus, or come up with something on your own to lift up and help someone who’s needing help. Merry Christmas to you. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat

Matthew 14:22-33

A few years ago Julie, my wife, and I went to see a wonderful movie entitled “We Bought a Zoo.” It starred Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson, and it’s the true story of a man named Benjamin Mee and his children who bought a 30-acre zoo. He had all kinds of animals, but was unable to open it because it was so rundown. Faced with a series of challenges, he attempted to get it open again for the community. Rat infestation, finding money to feed the animals, animals escaping – it wasn’t easy. Mee admitted at one point, “There were lots of times when I thought, ‘What have I done?’”

So why did Benjamin Mee buy and remodel the zoo? In the film he says, “Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just twenty seconds of embarrassing bravery, and I promise you, something great will come of it.”

That is about how long it took for the apostle Peter to get out of the boat in our story for today. Jesus has just fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fishes. They are ecstatic about the great powers Jesus has! The disciples are ecstatic as well. The crowd wants to make Him a king, and the disciples are probably nodding their heads saying, Why not?

So Jesus breaks up the party and makes the disciples immediately get into a boat, pushes them out into the sea, says He’ll meet them later. Then He dismisses the crowds and goes up into the hills to pray. While the disciples are out on the water, a fierce storm comes up. They are afraid they are going to go down. The disciples fought this storm for nine hours! Can you imagine? I can hardly take two hours on rough water when I’m out boating. About 3:00 in the morning, Jesus comes toward them, and they think it’s a ghost. He cries out to them, “It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

Then something really amazing happened – Peter in his impulsiveness opened his mouth and said, “Lord, if it’s you, bid me to come out on the water with you.” Of all things, as if to say, I dare you, Jesus replies, “Come on out!” And before anyone could stop Peter, he got out of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he noticed the threatening waves, he panicked and began to sink like a rock. But give him credit, he had the wherewithal to cry out, “Lord, help me!”

Suddenly a hand grabbed him by the collar and pulled him up out of the water. There was the face of Jesus saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they were back into the boat, the storm stopped and the disciples all worshiped Jesus saying, “You are the Son of God.”

Jesus’ statement – You of little faith, why did you doubt? – is a key statement in the story. I have a picture of Jesus pulling Peter out of the water on my wall. Below it are the words, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” I like it. Why? Because it describes me sometimes – little faith.

We learn something important in this story: Jesus loves it when we exercise daring faith in Him. Remember, Peter did walk on the water. Though it was brief, he stepped out in faith! Eyewitnesses saw it.

Perhaps Jesus was prepping Peter for bigger things ahead, bigger than a little walk on the water that day. One day after the resurrection, Peter would hear Jesus tell him, Feed my sheep and tend my lambs . . . You will be my witness in this world. I wonder if the other disciples were wishing they had walked on water like Peter. How did it feel? Is it possible that the story was saved to not only show us who Jesus really is – the Son of God who came to die on a cross to save us from sin and rise again – but also to encourage us and challenge us to step out in faith as followers of Jesus Christ.

If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat in faith. I think that lesson has been applied in various times in the history of Christianity. One example that comes to mind is Martin Luther. I just finished reading his biography that was recently released by Eric Metaxis. It’s the 500th anniversary of Luther – I imagine that’s the inspiration behind this new book. I recommend this good read.

But I wonder, if there were twenty seconds where Luther thought, Somebody has to speak up here and challenge what’s going on in the church. I guess if it is gonna be someone, it’s gonna have to be me, and so he wrote down the 95 theses to get the conversation started on how the church needed to be changed. Did it take him twenty seconds to say Yes! I think I’ll go and post them publicly with a challenge for a debate. Thus a new movement began and evolved into a full-blown reformation. As you read Martin Luther’s story, you know it wasn’t easy on him or any of his followers, but it was an adventure and it made a big difference for the kingdom of God.

This year my congregation, Shepherd of the Valley, is celebrating our 40th anniversary, and we learned that same truth. If you want to walk on the water, you’ve got to get out of the boat. Our beginnings as a congregation were like that.

Two women, Delores and Merle, believed God wanted a church to be formed in the valley in which we exist, a Lutheran Church. When they went to some of the powers that be in the denomination, they were turned down and told it wasn’t a good idea. However, they were insistent and went after it anyway. Soon there was a little church meeting in the City Hall in Lakeland.

This church began to grow and soon they needed to buy some land. Though they didn’t have a lot of money, they put up a building. The church continued to grow, and they soon needed to add on. Then we needed to relocate, so we picked up all our belongings and bought thirty acres of land a couple miles away so we could expand some more. Every time we took a step of faith, God seemed to bless it.

Now, here we are, years later, with another addition a few years ago, and we’re still being blessed as we take on new challenges for the cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ. When people ask what’s next for our congregation, my response is, Only God knows that, but we have learned a couple things along the way. God loves it when we exercise big faith. We also learned that if you want walk on water, you really do have to get out of the boat.

I love what Martin Luther King, Jr. said one time about faith. Faith is about taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase. Again and again I’ve witnessed this kind of faith happening in people’s lives as they step out in faith. When followers of Jesus sense Him calling them to do something.

My friend Amy, left a six-figure salary in the business world and a very promising career to go into ministry. Now she’s making a third of that and she loves it! She is changing lives through her work with outreach for Christ’s cause. When you talk to her, you sense no regret. What you do see is a growing, vibrant faith.

Another friend of mine, Dick, walked away from the teaching profession in which he was comfortably situated and doing excellent work when he sensed God was calling him to accept the challenge I had thrown out to him about leaving teaching to come and work on our staff. He is helping us develop a small groups ministry to change lives. Dick took the challenge and created this program for us. It has changed hundreds of lives. Not a regret does he have that he got out of the boat and walked on the water, and we were blessed because of it.

My friend Jim knows a man who was a really tough nut to crack when it came to spiritual matters. He definitely needed Jesus. Jim, being concerned for him, stewed about that and wondered how he could talk to Jim about Jesus. One day I received a call – it was Jim on the phone! He said, “You won’t believe what happened to me this morning. The door opened!”

I asked, “What door?”

“The door opened for me to share the gospel with Joe, and guess what? He asked Jesus Christ into his life!”

I said, “How do you feel right now?”

He said, “I feel like I’m walking two feet off the ground right now.” He was walking on water. He has had the same experience happen again and again with other people whom God has brought across his pathway.

I think of Julio and Suzette, friends of mine who left Haiti when they were young and came to the United States. They got a good college education and were headed toward a much more comfortable and promising life than they ever had in Haiti. But they sensed God calling them back to set up a ministry to their fellow Haitians. So they got out of the boat and went back to Haiti. Today, hundreds of people are glad they did, young men and women who were getting job training, being discipled, and becoming Christian leaders in their own communities. Lives are being changed in Haiti. When you hear Julio and Suzette talk about this, they have such passion, and they talk with such exhilaration about their experiences

I think of Larry who is skilled with tools and wood. He started volunteering at disaster locations around the United States and in Latin America. He works on teams doing reconstruction work, using his vacation time, spending is own money for travel expenses, and living in uncomfortable situations. When he’s home, he goes down to the gospel mission and serves homeless people. God is taking care of Larry. People’s lives have been touched by the gospel through Larry stepping out. When he’s not on the road, he’s helping somewhere. Now he’s talking retirement so he can spend more time doing what he sensed God is calling him to do – help people in Christ’s name.

If you walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat. We see it happening in lives like these.

I love what Oswald Chambers said one time. He said, “Beware of worshiping Jesus as the Son of God and professing your faith in Him as the Savior of the world while you blaspheme Him by the complete evidence in your daily life that He is powerless to do anything in and through you.” I think every once in while, we need to stop and check our spiritual pulse. Are we stretching ourselves past the boundaries of just being nice and pious?

We have a good reason to live like water walkers. We have a God who is trustworthy. He loves us. He gave His Son to die for us on a cross. Nothing can snatch us from His hand. We are safe in His arms.

Can I ask you a personal question? Have you gotten out of the boat lately with Jesus? Have you answered the calling He’s put out there for you? When was the last time you felt yourself stepping out, being excited, and growing in your walk with Jesus Christ?

By the way, you’re never too old or too young to get out of the boat and keep your faith growing and glowing. For instance, if you’re living in a senior citizen setting, is there someone you’ve notice who perhaps sits alone in the dining room? Someone who needs some attention and Christlike love? Could it be that you’ve noticed Jesus is calling YOU to step out toward that individual?

Maybe you see a need for a Bible study group where you live. You had one when you were in your old church, but now you’re missing that. You know of other people who’ve mentioned they’d like to be in a group like that. Or maybe you know people who are searching for some spiritual answers in their lives. Could it be Jesus is calling YOU to get out of the boat – to form a group, facilitate something in your present setting?

Perhaps you’re tired of listening to people you have coffee with each day gripe and complain and gossip about everything. You know in your heart it’s wrong. Could it be that Jesus is calling you to step out and gently speak up your friends, to be the person who brings some healthy conversation back into that group life? Is there a person in your circle of friends who needs to know Jesus Christ? Is there a ministry opportunity that looks challenging, and you wonder, “Should I get involved? I’m not sure I’m the one that can do that.”

My appeal this day is to have some faith. You are safe in your Father’s arms. He can use you to do some great things for Him and others as He works through you. You need only to exercise some daring faith, and believe this truth – that if you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat with Jesus. He’s calling you. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

How to Say “I Love You”

II Corinthians 8:1-12

A number of years ago, a popular book entitled The Five Love Languages was out on the market – the five love languages being touch, affirmation, quality time, acts of service, and gifts. Millions of these books have been sold to couples who are trying to learn how to say I love you to their mate. Today I thought we’d like to look at God’s love language. His language of love.

As you study Scripture, you learn again and again that when the Bible talks of love, it’s usually more than an emotion, or a feeling, or even a few words. It’s an action, an act of the will to do something for the benefit of another. We see that kind of love shown to us through Jesus Christ. We were lost in our sin but God proved His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Jesus Christ died for us on the cross as a sacrifice to pay for our sins. He went to the cross to pay for our sinfulness and rescue us from sin and death so we could be restored into a relationship with the God who loves us.

I love the way Paul puts it in today’s passage. “He who was rich became poor so that by His poverty we might become rich.” He was living in the majesty of heaven. He had all the benefits of heaven, but He became poor, became one of us. He went all the way to the cross and emptied Himself out so we might become rich in our relationship with our heavenly Father.

Jesus talked about love quite a bit. One time He was asked what is God’s favorite commandment. His answer: “It’s simple: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). We also hear Jesus in the upper room on the night before He was crucified for our sins giving His disciples what He called His new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34).

There’s the clincher: “. . . as I have loved you.” He had just washed their feet, which was the work of a slave back then, and He was about to sacrifice His life to rescue them. “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend” (John 15:13). The language of love attached to God is always something you do. It’s an act of giving of self for the sake of another.

In our congregation, the language of love is used every November as we discuss giving (or as some of us were raised to call it – stewardship). Giving is our expression of love to Christ. It’s a matter of the heart. We know God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

Over the years I’ve used a statement that sums up what Scripture teaches about the language of love and giving. It goes like this: We give out of love to Christ in the area of our faith. This statement has three parts.

We give to Christ. What we put in an offering plate is a gift to Christ. It’s not to pay the bills to keep the lights on, but a gift to the person of Jesus Himself.

We give because we love Him. We give it out of love in response for what He has done for us. It is our way of saying, I love you. Thank you for loving me.

Finally, we give with faith in God’s promises. As our relationship grows, our faith grows and typically our giving then grows.

This teaching is not something simply made up. It is based upon scriptural passages such as the one we have today. The apostle Paul is describing some folks in Greece called the Macedonians. Their extreme poverty and affliction actually wound up overflowing with joyful generosity toward a mission Paul was trying to fund – to take care of starving people in Jerusalem because of the famine.

In this letter, Paul is writing to the Corinthians, who were also Greeks. He says, You wouldn’t believe these people! They’ve been through so much and yet there was this joyful generosity from them. They voluntarily gave over and above what they could probably afford. In other words, they took an offering and then they took another offering. They pleaded to participate in the mission for the destitute in Jerusalem. They wanted to share what they had.

Those Corinthians, at this point, might have scratched their heads and asked, So, what’s behind this crazy generosity Paul is talking about?

Paul begins by saying, You’d be amazed at what the grace of God is doing! He then says in verse 5, “. . . they gave themselves first to the Lord and . . . (then) to us . . .” What was behind the generosity? These were people who loved Jesus Christ. They’d tasted of His grace and wanted to show love to Him.

We find a principle here when it comes to giving. The relationship always comes first. They gave themselves first to the Lord, then to us – the mission, Paul said. Their giving was in response to the love God poured out on them in Christ. Their hearts were captured by Jesus and what He did for them. If they had known the song, they would have been singing at the offering time, “O, How I love Jesus, because He first loved me.”

When Christ captures your heart, giving becomes a joy, a privilege. We love and want to show it. It’s the language of love to our God. Just think about it. If you’re married and it is your anniversary, you want to get a special gift for your loved one. Think of the joy that comes in finding just the right gift, and then watching their face as they open their gift. It’s almost more fun for you than for them as they receive it.

This is what Paul’s talking about here as he describes giving with love! Until a relationship with Christ happens, talking and thinking about giving of our resources is a very tender subject. It gets fairly uncomfortable for folks.

This is why Paul says near the end, I’m not trying to throw my weight around here with a command to give. I’m trying to teach you that giving is about expressing your love for Christ. This is your opportunity to do just that. He is testing the genuineness of their love. If you love Him, you’ll want to give to Him.

When I came to my congregation back in 1986, I was told they had not had an organized stewardship program their first ten years of existence. They didn’t talk a lot about giving, money, or pledging. They had no stewardship month emphasis. So when I suggested my first year to have a stewardship emphasis during the first three Sundays in November from which we would build our budget, I was told some people were very nervous about doing this and wondered what I was going to clobber them with.

I surprised them, I guess. I used Paul’s words from II Corinthians 8 the first Sunday of stewardship. Our theme was, “It’s a matter of the heart.” Giving is a matter of the heart. We give out of love to Christ in the area of our faith. I said, Giving, you see, is love language. It begins with a relationship with Christ. If you don’t have a relationship with Him, don’t pledge even a penny to this ministry, and don’t give a minute to serving. You’re not yet part of the missionary force, but part of the missionary field. You just keep coming. Jesus doesn’t want your money, He wants you first. The rest can flow naturally from you, because when we love, we want to give.

God blessed our study of Scripture that first year. We had a generous response on the part of the congregation. As it turns out, a lot of people love Jesus. After studying the apostle Paul’s teaching about giving as empowered by the Holy Spirit, it only made sense to them to bring their pledges as a way of saying, I love you, Jesus.

This is how we’ve talked about giving at our church ever since. We give out of love to Christ in the area of our faith. Every Sunday at offering time I tell them, “If you brought a gift for Jesus today, the plate is going to be passed around for you.”

As we talk about “in the area of our faith,” again I remind you we learn to trust God’s promises to provide for us as we are growing in this relationship. We are safe as we trust Him and give ourselves away.

Over the years, we’ve never run into financial difficulties. God blesses those who follow His Word. This’s what we’ve learned, and we have grown in our faith and in our ministry’s impact on people. Because giving to Christ actually brings His love into other people’s lives so they can find out how much they are loved by Jesus. Your giving allows your local church and organizations like Christian Crusaders to keep telling Christ’s love story again and again through words and through loving actions in the name of Christ.

At my own congregation, we support more than twenty-five Christ-centered local, national, and international ministries that we’ve carefully vetted, and they are impacting people’s lives with the gospel. We hear great stories of changed lives from these organizations on a regular basis. Your love gift to Christ makes a difference in the lives of others, which is exactly what Jesus wants to see happen.

We here at Christian Crusaders constantly receive mail from people telling us how this gospel ministry has been such a blessing in people’s lives. It’s great fun to read this mail and know listeners’ lives are being touched by the gospel of Jesus. This is what happens when followers of Jesus Christ give out of love to Christ in the area of their faith.

I am glad to tell you a whole lot of love has been expressed for Jesus over the years toward Christian Crusaders as people have given to this ministry. In fact, it’s been nothing less than inspiring and overwhelming as monthly gifts and memorials – even estate gifts – are given from people who are in love with Jesus. Those gifts have changed other people’s lives as the message is proclaimed all around the globe how our God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

This, my friend, is the whole point of what we are called to do as followers of Jesus Christ. We are to get the message out about Christ and what He has done. This message rescues and saves as it gets into other people’s lives.

I hope this message has been illuminating for you today as it has been for me in my congregation. Learning that we give out of love to Christ has been a real blessing to us.

To be honest, I didn’t know much about giving until someone early in my ministry named Homer Larsen shared this truth with me. He picked up this statement – we give out of love to Christ in the area of our faith – from someone else. As we follow this statement based on Scripture, giving has been a joyful, personal experience ever since! My faith in God’s promises to provide for my needs has grown and grown over the years, because I’ve learned God really is faithful, and He takes care of us.

So I invite you, if you have not already understood this great truth, to put it to work in your own life. May it be your guide as you live out your faith in Jesus Christ. We give out of love to Christ in the area of our faith. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer