What Is God Like?

Micah 7:7-9, 18-19

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

If someone asked you, What is God like? how would you answer? If you asked a stranger on the street, Tell me, sir, what do you think God is like? how would they respond? How can any of us know God?

There is a parable about some blind men who encountered an elephant and were asked to describe the animal. Each one gave a different answer.

The first one, feeling his trunk, said, “He’s like a snake.”

Feeling his white tusks, the second said, “No, no. This animal is like a sharp spear.”

The third man, feeling his huge ears, said, “It’s like a leathery huge fan.”

The fourth felt his legs and said, “He is like the trunk of a tree.”

The fifth man, feeling the elephant’s side, described him as a great wall. But the sixth man, feeling his tail, said, “The elephant is like a rope.”

Each man described the elephant based on their limited experience and exposure.

Likewise, God is invisible to human eyes. How can we know what God is like based on our limited experience and exposure? What is God like?

If we saw a glorious sunset, we’d say God is a master artist creating beauty with His power. If we saw a tornado rolling across the Midwest plains with destruction all around, we’d wonder, Although God is all-powerful, is He for us or against us?

The great renowned scientist, Albert Einstein, once said, “I dance to the tune of an invisible piper.” He stands behind the universe. He is God.

In C. S. Lewis’s book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Susan and Lucy are speaking to Mr. and Mrs. Beaver who are sharing all about Aslan the lion, a Christ figure. When they ask if Aslan is a man, Mr. Beaver replies, “Aslan, a man? Certainly not! I tell you, He is the King of the woods and the son of the great Emperor beyond the sea. Aslan is a lion. A lion. A great lion.”

“Ooooh,” said Susan. “I thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

Mr. Beaver replied, “Of course he isn’t safe, but he is good. He is the King, I tell you.”

What is God like?

The prophet Micah lived about 700 years before Christ. Like all the prophets, he spoke a word of truth and warned of possible doom and judgment to the people. He begged them that if they persisted in their patterns of immorality, unfaithfulness, spiritual arrogance, injustice and mistreatment of the poor, they would be in danger of suffering the consequences of their wrong deeds. But like all the prophets, he also spoke of God’s power to deliver, God’s love and mercy inviting them back. He is the basis of hope.

What is God like? How does He reveal Himself?

God wants us to know Him. Found in creation, He is the master designer of great, infinite intelligence. Think of the harmony of the universe, the planets in orbit around the sun, the rhythm of the seasons, the interconnectedness of the human body – between our intellect, our lungs, our circulation system, our muscles, and our skeletal system. Think of the glory of the birth of a newborn baby. He is worthy of our praise.

God also reveals Himself in miracles  We love miracles perhaps because they are an interruption of the natural order by a supernatural touch of God to restore lost health, protect us from danger, work for our good. We love miracles that come as a result of answered prayer or our deliverance.

It is also true to understand God revealing Himself when a person is going through great adversity or a dark period of their life. When God’s Spirit pours strength into the person to give them courage and peace to persevere when life is difficult, it speaks of God’s presence and power as well.

God reveals Himself in changed lives. We know many people who have experienced a radical transformation of life because of encountering God. Maybe they were living self-serving, self-indulgent lives. Their behavior patterns, attitudes, and speech punished and poisoned people around them on the journey. Then they met Jesus Christ, and they learned of the forgiveness of sins and the possibility of being raised to new beginnings. Their lives were radically changed, and they were transformed into people who love God, trust Him, and bless others around them.

The ultimate revelation of God is the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Scripture says,

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (I John 1:14).

Jesus came to our world in love seeking rebels.

What is God like? Look at Jesus, the perfect Son of God, without flaw, who was crucified on a cross. God raised Him from the dead back to life. Through these acts, we know God is holy but also just, fulfilling the Law. God is loving, merciful, and forgiving. He is a God of second chances. He invites us to be reconciled into a relationship where we receive God’s unmerited favor and grace.

The words of Micah in our text today give us some good spiritual insight into what God is like. The first truth is this: God has an enemy. Therefore, you and I do, too. Because of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we know these words are true.

“Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy. Though I fall, I will rise.”

Jesus said it this way,

“The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

In I John 4:4 we read,

“Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world.”

It’s appropriate to be aware of the Prince of Darkness – the enemy of God and therefore our enemy too. But always remember that in Jesus Christ he is already defeated. Even so, he tries to harass us, bring us down, and steal our faith.

The second powerful truth from Micah is God always hears our prayers. Because of the cross, we have unlimited access to God. In I Peter 3:12 it says,

“The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous. His ears are attentive to our prayers.”

I love what Psalm 116:1 says,

“I love the Lord because he hears my voice . . .”

Jesus says in Matthew 7:7,

“Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened to you.”

A powerful promise is found in II Chronicles 7:14,

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven.”

The third beautiful truth from Micah telling about God is God always picks us up when we fall, wherever we fall, no matter where we have fallen. God, in His grace, comes to find us where we are in the dirt and lifts us to a new beginning.

The fourth truth from Micah tells us that God enlightens our path out of the dark.

There is a story of a US naval battleship captain who requested over the radio frequency that the approaching light – presumably from a foreign vessel – should change its course. The other party responded that No. The naval vessel should change its course.

The captain of the naval vessel reiterated his command. “I am the captain of a US battleship, and I demand you change course or we’ll have to take drastic action!”

The other radio voice calmly said, “I am a lighthouse. It’s your call.”

Isn’t true that, although God is a light out of our darkness, we are stubborn in our attitudes and behavior patterns? We want to maintain control of our lives. But Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” If you are stuck or lost, Jesus says, “I am the way.”

Fifth, what is God like? According to Micah, God pardons all our iniquities whether done in weakness or willful rebellion. He passes over our rebellion and removes our sin from us. He casts our sins into the depths of the sea and tramples our sins underfoot. All our sins are overcome by Jesus who has gained the victory for us.

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our sins from us” (Psalm 103:12).

“I will remember your sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).

The sixth picture of what God is like, Micah says is this: God pleads my case. In I John 2:1 it says,

“If anyone sins, we have an advocate, a defender named Jesus Christ.”

He is the best defense lawyer to be found. Jesus rises to speak on our behalf and claims us in love. He tells our accuser, This child is forgiven.

The seventh most beautiful picture of what God is like, according to Micah, is this: God delights in unchanging love.

Just think of how a parent holds a newborn baby and looks with adoration and infatuation in that little child’s eyes. It’s more than being legally absolved of our sin. God invites us to know that we are the delight of His love.

How would you and I respond? God’s desire is for us to love Him in return and trust Him in life. Yet it is possible that we could openly reject God and be hostile in our defiance. We could mock all things Christian. We could also totally ignore God and live as if God does not exist.

A member of our church works in a business that provides oxygen to those who are struggling to breathe. When they are on oxygen, they feel better and stronger. They inhale and take life in.

God, in the name of Jesus, pours His grace, forgiveness, and Spirit out to you every day. Will you open your heart to the beauty of what God is like in His love for you? In the name of Jesus, God offers us life. Amen.

Pastor Lee Laaveg

When God Has the Last Laugh

Genesis 18:1-15

Christians have been referred to as “Children of Promise” in the New Testament. When someone receives Jesus Christ into their life, they receive a rich inheritance of promises from God. Here are a few of my favorites:

They who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles . . . (Isaiah 40:31).

I am the resurrection and the life.
He who believes in me, though he may die,
yet shall he live (John 11:25).

Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).

My list can go on and on. Maybe you have a few go-to verses of your own as well. God has given us some great promises to stand on and trust.

Sometimes, however, trusting in these verses is not such an easy thing to do. Our faith gets shaken. We find ourselves struggling over God’s promises and not trusting in His abilities. We can experience seasons of doubt, which bring questions demanding more than pat answers. We don’t feel close to God, and His promises sound empty. Many things can cause this doubting.
• Circumstances seem out of control.
• Trials, which never seem to end.
• Prayers, which seem to go unanswered.
• Impatience with God.
• Friends who question and even ridicule your beliefs.

If you have experienced doubt in your walk with the Lord, please know this: you are not alone. This is not unusual. Many of us go through periods of doubt and uncertainty when life throws us a curveball. I have had my own moments of crying out, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

During these times of weakness, I am especially grateful for the family album, that is, the Bible. It is where I receive encouragement and renewal of my faith in God’s faithfulness in His abilities. The biblical narrative shows me again and again that when my faith is small and I am filled with doubts, I am in very good company.

Our biblical ancestors were human beings just like you and me! They, too, faced many ups and downs in their faith life. They had days when they wondered if they could really trust God or if their problem was too big for Him to handle. Where is God? Does He see what’s going on down here? Can we really take Him at His word?

Such is the case in our reading from Genesis today. Abraham and Sarah struggled to believe in God’s promise given 24 years earlier to give them a son. He also promised them land and their descendants would become a great nation and a blessing to the nations of the world. Abraham and Sarah received the promise with joy and faith. When God told them to go, they moved to the Promised Land in Cana. They anxiously looked forward to having a son even though they were quite old and had given up on the idea of having children.

But as the years passed, they still had no child. And they weren’t getting any younger, either. Abraham was 75 and Sarah was 65 when they first received the promise. Now they were becoming more stooped over with age, losing some teeth and energy as well. Time passed by quickly, and they began to wonder if God perhaps had changed His mind. Maybe He couldn’t make this happen. So finally they took matters into their own hands. As was the custom of those days, they used one of their servant women named Hagar to bear Abraham’s child. This action on their part proved to be disastrous and caused conflict and heartache for all concerned.

Twenty-four years after God initially gave the promise, He once more said to Abraham, “You will have a son. You will have many descendants.” Abraham fell on his face and laughed – only this time it was a cynical laugh. Lord let’s be realistic, he said. I am almost 100 years old and Sarah is 90. I’m too tired to even keep trying to have this child. But God promised it would happen.

In today’s scriptural text, God visits Abraham and Sarah and gives them the same promise. I will come to you in the upcoming season, and Sarah shall have a son. This time Sarah, who was in a nearby tent listening in on the conversation between Abraham and the three angelic heavenly visitors, laughed. Her’s was a huge belly laugh – cynical and filled with disbelief. Outrageous! she thought. Now that I’m old and worn out, can I still enjoy pleasure? Can I still have sex? My husband is even older than me. This is impossible! It’s too late now. Lord, I doubt if even you can make this pregnancy happen!

It sounds like Sarah has given up on God’s promise. She felt God had let them down. Have you ever felt that way yourself? Abraham and Sarah struggled with doubts just like we do sometimes. But God responded to her laughter with a question of His own. Why did Sarah laugh and say she is too old? Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

How would you answer the last question, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” It only seems right to look at the ending of this story, because this episode leaves us hanging. How did it all turn out? When we get to Genesis chapter 21, we’re told the Lord did for Sarah what He had promised. She conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age. They named him Isaac, which means “he laughs,” and Sarah said, “God has brought laughter for me. Everyone who hears will laugh with me.”

Sarah’s laughter is different from before. It’s the laughter of wonderment and amazement in a God who keeps His promises and can do all things. It’s the laughter of one who has witnessed that nothing is too wonderful for the Lord. Abraham and Sarah laughed. But when you think about it, God had the last laugh.

Why do you suppose this story was kept in the Bible? To entertain us? No. Even though it is rather delightful, this story has a much deeper purpose than that. It was kept for people like you and me who have our own seasons of doubt and cynicism, who wonder about the faithfulness and the abilities of our God when life doesn’t seem to be adding up like we thought it would or should. It reminds us once again that God is faithful. He is all-powerful, and we can count on His promises. This story is meant to build and renew confidence in us as children of promise – confidence in our great and faithful God. It’s meant to strengthen the weary who are ready to give up on believing.

Maybe you are wrestling with doubts at this time. You believe in Jesus Christ, but you struggle with your faith. God’s word to you is simply this: Child of Promise – and you are my child in Christ – remember, I always have the last laugh. You can count on my word.

God’s people continue to learn this truth. For instance, when Moses’ and the Israelites’ backs were against the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army coming for them and it looked like God’s promise of freedom was going down the tube, the sea suddenly opened up and they crossed on dry land. God had the last laugh.

When thousands of Midianites were lined up to slaughter Gideon’s army, it appeared this little band of soldiers was as good as dead and the promise of God to set His people free was doomed. But Gideon attacked the Midianites with torches and jars at night in obedience to God’s instructions. The Midianites were so panicked, they were killing themselves as they ran. Gideon won the battle, and God had the last laugh.

When the giant Goliath threatened the troops of Israel and all were so afraid, David – armed with five stones and a slingshot – took him on in the name and power of the Lord of hosts. Goliath fell and the Lord had the last laugh.

When Jesus died on the cross as He said He would, He was laid to rest in a rich man’s tomb, it appeared that death had won. But up from the grave, He arose just as He had promised! He conquered sin, death, and the devil, and God had the last laugh.

Everyone who trusts in Christ shares in the victory and can count on eternal life.

Because I live, you shall live also (John 14:19).

God keeps His promises! He never makes a promise that is too good to be true. Trusting in those promises is your choice.

After God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah, they had a choice: They could give up, or they could keep on trying in faith for their baby boy. I’m sure they had some inner doubts and tough days, but they kept on trying. Finally, just as God promised, His word was fulfilled. The boy was born! Afterward, they laughed with God, not at God.

The big idea in this text is basically this: Children of promise, trust Him. Take Him at His word. He always does what He says He will do.

You might wonder if He still keeps His promises today. My response is yes. Even today.

Michael Ramsden from Ravi Zacharias ministries (an apologetics global ministry) shared this true story about a minister of the gospel in Iran.

As the minister and his wife were driving, they stopped in a small Iranian village to purchase some water. Before entering, the minister noticed a man holding a machine gun and leaning against the wall outside the store. The minister’s wife looked at the man’s face and the gun, then put a Bible in her husband’s hand and said, “Give that man this Bible.”

Her husband looked at the man, his menacing beard and his machine gun and replied, “I don’t think so.” But she persisted. “I’m serious. Give it to him. Please. Give him the Bible.”

Trying to avoid the issue, the husband said, “Okay, I’ll pray about it.” He went into the shop, purchased the water, climbed back into the car, and started to drive away. His wife looked at him and said, “I guess you didn’t give him the Bible, did you?” Looking straight ahead, he replied, “No, I prayed about it and decided it wasn’t the right thing to do.”

“You should have given it to him,” she quietly said and then bowed her head and started to pray. At that point, he turned around and told his wife, “Fine! If you want me to die, I will.”

When the minister returned to the store, the man with the machine gun was still standing against the wall. The minister approached him and placed the Bible in his hand. When the man saw it was a Bible he started of all things to cry. “I don’t live here,” he explained. “I had to walk for three days in order to get to this village. An angel had appeared to me and told me to walk to this village and wait until someone had given me the book of life. Thank you for giving me this book!”

The God who commissioned the disciples to make go and make disciples of all nations and promised, “Lo, I am with you always,” must’ve had Himself a good chuckle that day.

By the way, this minister became a courageous witness for Christ. Eventually, along with many other workers in the Iranian church, he was martyred for his faith, but not until he had led many people to Jesus Christ.

I want to conclude our service today with an old hymn, which declares we are going to stand on the promises of God. I encourage you to join me in the chorus as your personal commitment to trust in the promises of God because you really can take Him at His word. This is the good news. Amen.

The Importance of Standing Up for Jesus

Luke 12:1-12

A young man decided he wanted to work at a lumberjack camp on summer break. It was hard work but good money and would help him pay for college. However, his parents did not want him to take the job. They worried about what might happen to his faith and his morals. He is such a good boy, raised in the church to trust Jesus and follow Him. Can you imagine what might become of him in a rough place like that? What will he be exposed to? It could be so hard on him. They prayed and prayed for his spiritual welfare to stand up under the pressure.

When the young man came home one weekend in midsummer, his mother expressed her concern for her son’s faith and mentioned how she had been praying for him. When she asked how he was being treated as a Christian, he replied, “Don’t worry, mom, I’m okay. They still haven’t figured out that I’m a Christian.”

One of the hymns I love to sing in worship is, “Standup, Standup for Jesus.” It is so inspiring. Another song I love to belt out is, “I Love to Tell the Story.” The volume and enthusiasm of the singing in church go up when we sing those two hymns. But when the worship service is over, I wonder – do we actually stand up for Jesus? Do we really love to tell the story?

It’s fairly easy to do these things in a worship service when we’re with other believers, but outside of the church building, it can be a bit intimidating. Things can get in the way of standing up for Jesus. Things like,
• Fear. We fear being rejected and ridiculed by others, and losing precious relationships.
• Spiritual laziness. Why should I get so deeply involved with someone?
• Bad theology. It doesn’t matter. We all worship the same God anyway. We are all saved.
• Inadequacy. I don’t know what to say to that person. I don’t want to mess it up. What if they ask questions I can’t answer?
• Shyness. Some are very intimidated about sharing their faith around others.

You can probably add a few more reasons to my list.

Many of us cringe at the thought of speaking up for Jesus. But Jesus tells us in today’s passage, I’m counting on you to go public for me, to speak up for me, and share the news of what I’ve done for this world. Testify to the difference I’ve made in your life. Show my love and compassion to those who need to be touched by My love. Speak out against injustice and values that clash with my kingdom.

Jesus doesn’t sugarcoat the task in our passage today. He says it won’t be easy. In fact, it will be difficult. At times, you will be tempted to hide, run away, or hold your tongue from speaking on my behalf. You may even deny your faith in me before other people when the pressure is on. Some people will speak against me; others will blaspheme the Holy Spirit by calling this kingdom talk evil and opposing the gospel message. Therefore, they will be hard on you. You could be rejected by loved ones and persecuted for speaking up for Him. You could be brought before rulers, synagogues, and other authorities on charges of blasphemy for sedition against the government.

So Jesus lays out some important facts for His disciples to consider. His first bit of instruction is a word of warning, a heads-up. Remember whom you’re playing for, no matter how frightened you may be of others. Who is your most important audience?

At the beginning of this story, thousands of people were crowding around to listen to Jesus. But He speaks to His disciples first, not to the crowd. This is a teachable moment. Perhaps the disciples liked popularity too much. Maybe they were acting extra-religious before the crowds. Success can bring about pridefulness and it can become tempting to play for the crowds. When you find yourself willing to do anything or say anything in order to be popular, it can become a playground for Satan. Jesus knew that. So He cautions the disciples to beware of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.

In Luke 11, Jesus fearlessly takes on the scribes and Pharisees. He pointed out that they are shallow, religious showoffs who play for the crowd and for themselves but not for God. They may look good before others on the outside, but God knows the rottenness lying inside of them, which needs to be cleansed.

Jesus also told them that they are dangerous to other people’s spiritual health. They have rules but no relationship with God and no love for people. Jesus tells His followers, I know it’s tempting to be prideful when all these people are looking up to you as they come to me. But don’t fall into the trap of loving attention. Be on guard against hypocrisy and pride. Be more concerned about how you appear before God than how you appear to others. Commit yourself to humbly serve your audience of one who knows all and sees all – God. Make it your number one priority in life to honor Him and please Him.

Then Jesus points out that after all, He is in charge. History is His story. The day is coming – the final judgment day – when everything about you – every thought you’ve ever thought, or word you’ve ever whispered behind closed doors – will be revealed and brought into the open for all to see.

Remember who has the last word over you and everyone else. Make up your mind to be God-fearing – not people-fearing – followers.

People can scare us. They can make us miserable in this world but this is where it stops. There is an eternity, and God is in charge of it. He is the final authority over everyone. Only He can cast someone into hell for eternity.

These exhortations of Jesus are a bit unnerving for many of us. Understandably so. But He offers some encouraging words of assurance for his nervous, fearful witnesses.

First of all, remember, you are valuable to God and will never be forgotten by Him.
“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. Even the hairs on your head are counted! Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows (to your Father).”

Your heavenly Father sees you, knows you, and values you. Nothing can ever separate you from Him.

His promise to you and to me is this:

“If you stand up for me in this world no matter what,
I will stand up for you on the last day before the heavenly court of angels.”

When you think about it, Jesus has already stood up for you and me. He sacrificed Himself to save us from our sins.
• He stood before a kangaroo court and allowed Himself to be judged and executed by sinful men.
• He stood and suffered the beatings and humiliation.
• He stood and carried the cross up a hill called Golgotha where He was nailed to a cross and lifted up on it to suffocate to death.
• He stood in your place and mine before the wrath of God – all for you and me so we might have a restored relationship with God.

I will stand up for you, so you stand up for me.

By the way, the message we are speaking will be rejected by many. But Jesus reassures us that they are actually rejecting Him, the Son of Man, and the Holy Spirit. Some will turn and eventually believe in Him. They will find forgiveness and a place for them in God’s kingdom. I’m reminded of the conversion story of Saul – who became Paul – in the book of Acts. He was a very hostile opponent of the Christian faith but became a great apostle.

Those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. In other words, those who reject the gospel message, which is the tool of the Holy Spirit for conversion – those who call it a lie of the devil himself will miss out on receiving God’s forgiveness.

When the pressure is on (and it will come), you will be dragged before people who don’t want to hear and won’t like what you’re saying. But remember, you not alone. You are armed with the Holy Spirit of God. He will teach you what to say. He will be with you.

In the book of Acts, we find those inarticulate disciples becoming quite bold and eloquent. For instance, when Peter and John stand before the Sanhedrin council on charges, their opponents marveled at the bold eloquence of these uneducated men. And when they were told to be silent about Jesus, they said, “We cannot stop. We must obey God first. We play for an audience of one” (Acts 4:1-22). These common, Christ-following people, powered by the Spirit of God, turned the world upside down for Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, while a personal relationship with Jesus is important, it’s not meant to be kept private. Christ is counting on us to go public with the good news, to be God-fearing people who humbly play for an audience of One. Stand up and speak up for Jesus in a world of people who desperately need Jesus to rescue them.

Allow me to get personal. When was the last time you grabbed an opportunity to stand up and speak up for Jesus? If you can’t think of a time, it’s not too late. Let’s get started on some homework. God can use you in a great way.

First, I would have you think of three people in your life whom you question whether they have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Write their names down on a piece of paper and began to pray for them. Pray for an openness to receive Jesus.

The second thing I would have you do is to check out the website for Evangelism Explosion. It is EEworks.org. Get on their newsletter where you will find wonderful teaching and tips on being a personal witness right where you are.

Finally, start looking for opportunities and open doors to speak the name of Jesus and tell what He has meant for your life. Look for opportunities to stand up for the kingdom of God. When you see something that is wrong and needs to be made right, ask God to open those doors for you. By the way, I’ve learned He loves to answer this request.

I am reminded of a story that inspired me. It was written by Alec Hill in an article from “Christianity Today.”

At age 26, Ken Elzinga joined the faculty of the University of Virginia. After a tenured colleague warned him that being explicit about his faith could hinder his career, Elzinga was stunned to see a flyer with his face on it placed at a prominent campus location. A campus ministry had posted it to advertise a talk he had agreed to give. A relatively new believer, he worried. Would fellow professors think less of him? Might this harm his tenure chances? He experienced a dark night of the soul returning to campus and secretly taking the poster down.

But the next morning, Elzinga put the posters back up. After hours of soul searching, he concluded that his life was not about career ambition but about faithful discipleship. Being private about his faith was not an option for him.

In the four decades since, Elzinga has been named professor of the year multiple times and is still a speaker in high demand. He will be the first to tell you that serving only one master has been liberating for him. And why is that? Because pleasing an audience of one makes us less anxious, less sensitive to criticism, and more courageous. Because in doing so, we become more secure and compete less for our own honor.

My dear friends, Jesus is counting on us to go public for Him. Don’t make your faith a private matter. As you step out for Him, remember Jesus’ promise that you not alone in this task. You have promises to count on that reach all the way into eternity. You have a Father who is watching over you and will not allow anything to separate you from His love as you play for this audience of One.

Remember, you are armed and dangerous, filled with the Holy Spirit of God. He is with you, and He will teach you exactly what you need to say. He will give you the needed courage and strength to say it. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

What Have You Done With Jesus?

Luke 20:9-19

Recently, I was listening to an interesting yet disturbing interview on public radio. The interviewee was an author who had recently written a book about the rise of the “nones” in America. It appears that many, especially of our younger generation, are drifting away from the church and the faith. More and more people are marking “none” when asked about their religious affiliation on forms. “Basic tenets and doctrines (of the faith) are being questioned and set aside,” this author said, “in favor of establishing a more personal spirituality.”

A couple of years back I had my staff read a book that was similar to this one. It describes some of the thinking of these “nones”. It said that Jesus and His exclusive claims are sometimes rejected in favor of a more pluralistic outlet, of being more open-minded, tolerant. So when I heard this interview, I wasn’t surprised, just once again concerned, disappointed, and a little heartbroken.

I can’t help but wonder how God feels about all this. People are constructing their own spirituality, rejecting His Son, or treating Him merely as one of many great teachers, but no more. They take on more of a buffet-style of faith.

Jesus gives us a bit of insight when He tells this parable just a few days before He went to the cross. He’s in Jerusalem now. He’s been hailed as a King by many on Palm Sunday. He has upset the Temple and driven out the money changers. His journey to Jerusalem is over, and the shadow of the cross looms ahead. It’s Tuesday, and by Friday He will be nailed to a cross and suffering.

On Tuesday, we find Him teaching in the Temple. There is some hostile opposition to Jesus. The religious experts – Scribes, chief priests, Pharisees, elders, and other leaders now want to get rid of Him and kill Him. So they asked Him where He gets the authority to do the things He has been doing. There was a challenge in their tone. Who does He think He is to overturn the tables in the Temple and drive out money changers? In response, Jesus tells this parable, which is all too easy for them to understand.

The owner of a vineyard rents out his land to tenants. He’s to get a share of the fruit produce each year. But something goes wrong in this arrangement. Each year when the owner would send a servant to collect the fruit of the harvest, the tenants would treat that servant shamefully – even violently – and send him back to the master empty-handed. Year after year this happened. This gracious and patient owner finally said, “What should I do? I know, I’ll send my beloved son. Surely they will respect him.” But when the tenants saw the son coming, they plotted amongst themselves and said, “Here comes the heir. Let’s kill that son and declare ourselves owners of the vineyard.” So they drove the son out of the vineyard and killed him.

This story is a historical parable. It’s more of an allegory about the history of God’s relationship with Israel, His chosen people. He had chosen them to bear fruit to the glory of God. They were the vineyard. They had been called a blessing to be a blessing to the families of the world; to seek justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with their God. To be a light to the nations. Instead, they were rebellious and disobedient.

No first-century Jew of the time could’ve missed what Jesus was talking about in this pointed parable. God is the owner of the vineyard. The vineyard is Israel, blessed and called to be a blessing, to bear fruit for the kingdom of God. The parable smacks of the prophet Isaiah’s vineyard song in Isaiah 5 where God laments His vineyard, Israel, which was yielding sour grapes, and He’d have to destroy it. The tenants are the leaders of Israel, the kings, the religious elite.

The servants are God’s prophets who came to tell them that God was looking for fruit from His people, fruit of obedience and love. Each one of them was treated badly and sent away empty-handed with no repentance or fruit of repentance.

Of course, the son in the story is Jesus. We’re reminded of what God said about Jesus at His baptism – “This is my beloved, my Son, with whom I am pleased.” The son’s fate is described by Jesus and proves to be prophetic. Jesus knew what lay ahead in the next few days. He had told His disciples earlier He’d go to Jerusalem and be rejected, suffer and die, and be killed. Friday was coming.

At this point, Jesus stops, looks at His listeners, and asked them, So what do you think? What will the owner do after all the patience and grace He has shown these tenants? It was as if He was saying to the crowd. What would you do? Jesus answered His own question, “He will punish those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

He reminds us at the end of the parable that God is still in charge. It is His vineyard, and He has the last word over it. Heaven forbid! the crowd gasped. That can’t happen! In all likelihood, they were thinking about how they were going to lose their land. Jesus looked at them and said, “Then what we do with this Old Testament verse from the Psalms, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone?’ It was Jesus’ way of saying, You may reject me but I will be vindicated by My Father. I am that stone.

This became a favorite verse to quote in the New Testament church. Peter referred to it in his letter, “We’re all living stones built upon the cornerstone, Jesus Christ.” Paul would refer to it as a description of the Church: God’s temple built upon the stone, Jesus.

Jesus went on to say, “. . . and everyone who falls on that stone (me) will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” Jesus is saying, If you reject me, you will be rejected by God. Jesus alone is God’s salvation gift to us. He is the cornerstone. He is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through Him.

This parable in all likelihood was the last one Jesus told before the cross. It is an appeal to repentance, to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life. Jesus is saying, You want to know where my authority comes from? My authority comes from God. I am the Son of God. Repent. Surrender yourself to My care and My rule in your life, and you will live forever in the kingdom of God.

Jesus will be killed just as He said. But it is not a meaningless, accidental death. It was planned all along in the courts of heaven, even as Adam and Eve could be heard traipsing out of the garden of Eden. His death would make things right. His blood will pay for the sins of the world – for my sins and yours.

Jesus was vindicated by rising from the dead. He is risen; He is risen indeed. And all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. The future of the universe is under His authority. He has the last word over us.

The crowds left that day wondering about this warning. The religious establishment knew full well this parable was pointed at them. They were furious and wanted to arrest Jesus right on the spot but were afraid because the crowd was so taken with Him. Soon, however, they would have their way. They chose again to reject Him, just as so many have since then. It is to their own destruction, Jesus says.

Since then, millions have come to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior of their lives and had their lives changed when He steps in and takes over. They have received the rich inheritance of the forgiveness of sins, a promise of heaven, a restored personal relationship with God, a blessed life of friendship with Him, and a new community to enjoy, encourage, and love. He’s the true foundation upon which new lives get built and fruit is produced, which glorifies God.

What about you? What are you doing with Him, with His claims, with His calling? Are your rejecting Him or have you received Him? Because friend, there’s no middle ground with Jesus Christ. To reject Him is destruction, to receive Him as your Lord and Savior is life, a rich new life He does not want you to miss out on.

I recently came across this wonderful story.

Barbara Krensavage insists that clams are not a regular part of her diet. Yet one snowy evening in December she found herself craving an old recipe and so brought home four dozen quahogs—a clam particularly abundant on the eastern shores of the United States between Cape Cod and New Jersey. Mr. Krensavage was shucking the shellfish for dinner when he discovered one that looked like it was dead. It had a different color to it, and he thought it was diseased. As he was about to discard it, Mrs. Krensavage took a closer look.

It wasn’t dead. In fact, inside the live clam was a rare, possibly priceless, purple pearl. Experts estimate that roughly one in two million quahog clams contains a gem-quality pearl like the one found by the Krensavages. Some have estimated the pearl to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

He almost missed out on possessing this pearl – a pearl of great price. Don’t you miss out on the Pearl of Great Price – Jesus Christ – who came to bring you into His kingdom.

Coming to Christ carries not only an appeal to repentance but also a word of reality and reassurance for the Church of Jesus Christ and those of us who follow Him. Jesus once told the disciples, “A slave is not above his master. If they rejected me, they just might reject you. In fact, you will be rejected and ridiculed and even killed possibly for announcing my gospel message in the world” (John 15:20, 21). We think of the martyrs still today on which the Church is built.

His call to us is no walk in the park, we have come to discover, but a call to battle – even hardship – as He says, “Come, pick up your cross and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Why? So we might bear fruit to the glory and honor of God as we bring others into His kingdom.

While we may experience some hardship, we always remember, God is the owner of the vineyard of this world. He has the last word. The vineyard of this world is His! This is our hope and our confidence as we serve Him in this world, announcing that the King’s Son has come. He has done a great thing – paying our debt on the cross and rising again.

We serve Him by calling people to repent and believe in Christ because someday the Son will come again in victory and power and take His own to Himself that where He is, we may be also. He will judge the living and the dead and make all things new. All will be well, just as God intended.

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to the Son. Don’t miss out. Receive Him.

I conclude this message with a story by Pastor Craig Ryan Larson.

“The first summer that my wife and I were dating, she worked as a temp at a bank. In the first two weeks that she had the job, she quickly noticed some extremely unprofessional behavior among the team of four people that she worked with and their supervisor. The supervisor, who was a generation older, was very friendly with the younger staff, taking long coffee breaks with them. College-aged staff would sit on her desk to chat and gossip.

The supervisor and her team were so friendly that the group’s behavior toward one other new member of the team was a stark contrast. This person, a woman in her 30s who had come on staff just a week before my wife, was shunned by them. If she walked up and tried to join the conversation during a coffee break, the conversation ended. The group, including the supervisor, made jokes about her behind her back and laughed at the way she dressed. They rolled their eyes and winked at each other when she was around.

Two weeks into the temp job, my wife walked into the office on Monday morning and was surprised to find a much different scenario. No gossiping, no kidding around, no long coffee breaks. All the workers had their eyes riveted on their work. The previous supervisor had been replaced. The cliquish team addressed the new supervisor with formal, businesslike respect. My wife thought she even saw fear in their eyes.

The new supervisor was not a stranger. It was the 30-something woman who had been shunned and mocked. It turned out the bank had hired her to be the new supervisor from the first day she came on the job three weeks before, but the bank had concealed her true identity so she could observe the work style of the team.

In some ways, this situation resembles the coming of Christ to earth. In his first coming, Jesus Christ revealed his true identity and glory to his true followers, but to those who did not believe, his glory was largely hidden by his humanity. One day he is coming again to the earth to establish his glorious kingdom over everything. At that time there will be no mistaking who is in charge.

We know who is in charge as we serve Him. The time is coming when there will be no mistaking by anyone as to Who is in charge. Let us trust Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer

Rich Man and Lazarus

Here’s How to Be Rich

Luke 16:19-31

A subject Jesus liked to spend a great deal of time talking about was money and possessions. Approximately one out of eight verses in the Gospels deal with this subject. Of the parables He told, twelve of thirty-eight are about money. Jesus knew the dangers of money and possessions – how they can ruin our relationship with God and our neighbors when it becomes the focus of our lives. Whether we are rich, middle-class, or poor, money can blind us to that which is most important.

Today in our text, Jesus is telling a story regarding money. It’s about a rich man and a poor man. This story is divided into three parts, and the first part is about two men.

There was a rich man who lived an extravagant life. He had the best of everything: the finest clothes, the best food, a beautiful home with a gate out front to keep the riffraff out. He had it all, and he carried on a sumptuous lifestyle.

There was also a man named Lazarus who was very poor. He was a beggar and sought to live off the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. In other words, he was looking through the rich man’s garbage for his next meal.

Lazarus was suffering. He had sores all over his body, and the dogs licked the sores, which made things all the worse for him. He couldn’t defend himself. He was destitute.

The second part of the story is about the deaths and destinations of these two men.

Lazarus died and was carried away by the angels to Father Abraham’s side in heaven. The rich man died and was buried, in all likelihood, with all sorts of pomp and circumstance. It was an extravagant funeral. But he woke up in hell, Hades, a place of torment.

An interesting conversation takes place in the final part.

The rich man makes two requests of Father Abraham. First, he says, “Father Abraham, would you send Lazarus down here to cool me off with some water. It’s hot down here.” Interestingly, he saw Lazarus as less than him still, that he should be serving him. But Abraham responds, “No, you had it all before. Now things are different.”

Please note – Lazarus was not in heaven simply because he was poor. He was where he was because he had a relationship with God, and God had a heart for the poor.

Abraham went on to point out to the rich man, “Besides all this, a great chasm is between us, and no one can cross back and forth.” This is a permanent situation, so get used to the heat.
Realizing all was lost for him, the rich man then requests, “Then please send Lazarus to warn my five brothers who are living the same way I did.”

Abraham replies, “No, they have Moses and the prophets.”

“But a resurrected person would move them to repent and change their ways,” the rich man said.

“A resurrected person will not convince them to listen to God. They must listen to God’s word,” Abraham said.

It’s interesting to note that Jesus had already brought the widow’s son in Nain back to life. In John 11 He will also raise His friend Lazarus back to life. And He himself will rise from the dead. Still many would not believe, repent, and turn to Him.

This story has one main point. (Remember, a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly truth.) The main truth can be summed up with this theme, STOP, LOOK, AND LISTEN, just like we tell our children. It is not meant to be a treatise on what the afterlife looks like (though we do know from Jesus there is a judgment day, a heaven, and a hell). It is not intended to give us a view of how hot hell is, nor is it an attack on rich people (though it was told to the disciples with Pharisees, who were lovers of money, overhearing.) Jesus’ purpose was to move them to repentance and finally enter into God’s kingdom.

This parable is not teaching us that the way to heaven is by being poor. Nor is it teaching us that we can earn our way by doing right things. Scripture is clear that a person is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. So what then is the big idea?

This story calls us to a life of compassion and generosity with the riches God has given us. Notice the focus of the story is on the rich man. He does all the talking. Lazarus doesn’t have a line in the story.

The parable tells us, Don’t be like the rich guy. Stop and look. See the poor. See the hurting. See the destitute. Don’t ignore them. Have compassion for them and help them. It’s all too easy to not pay attention and not act on the suffering of others. It’s always been like that. It still is. Like this rich man who proudly considered himself a son of Abraham.

The rich man had a poor, suffering person right outside his gate, and he did absolutely nothing! This sort of thing still happens today with the likes of us. When we see someone like Lazarus, we might be prone to think, Let someone else take care of him. Let the government take care of him. Instead of asking, What can I do?

Media overload can make us less compassionate and more callous to suffering as we get used to seeing it all around us. People with cardboard signs stand at every stoplight, it seems, and one can’t help but be suspicious and skeptical. We hear news stories about how they’re a scam, so we stop looking at them. Besides, we are preoccupied with our own lives and our own problems and have no time for anyone else.

This is part of our sinful nature, which tells us we must take care of ourselves and no one else. The rich man’s blunder, his sin in this story, was to ignore the poor and focus on himself.

This parable also teaches us that it is important to listen to God’s Word, which tells us what God expects from His people who have the poor outside their gates. The rich man chose to ignore God’s desires for his life, which were revealed by Moses and the prophets in the Old Testament. Again and again, God’s Word points us to show compassion to the poor and helpless. For instance, in the book of Leviticus when Israel enters the Promised Land, Moses tells the people, on behalf of God, to leave parts of their fields for the poor to harvest.

In the book of Deuteronomy, as the people are about to enter the land of milk and honey (plenty), Moses instructs His people,

“Every third year you shall bring out the full tithe of your produce for that year, and store it within your towns; the Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work that you undertake” (14:28, 29).

Listen to God’s heart for the poor and the prophets.

“For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land’” (15:12).

Later on, when God’s people are under His judgment, the prophets tell them why God is so infuriated with them.

“What do you mean by crushing My people and grinding the faces of the poor?” says the Lord God of hosts (Isaiah 3:15).

“For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, because they sell the righteous for silver and the poor for a pair of sandals. They trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and push the afflicted out of the way” (Amos 2:6, 7).

“What does the Lord require of you? He’s told you to show justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

God cares for the poor, and He wants His people to care for them as well with the resources He has given us.

Zacchaeus, a rich man who had a life-changing encounter with Jesus, gave away half his possessions to the poor as a sign of repentance. Jesus affirmed his act (Luke 19:1-10).

Later on, the Apostle Paul wrote to some well-to-do Corinthian Christians:

“If you count yourself a Christ follower, remember that we follow One who was rich and became poor for our sakes, dying on the cross for our sins so we might be rich in Him, Jesus Christ” (II Cor. 8:9).

By giving to the poor, we show the genuineness of our faith in Him and our love for Him.

Picking up on this truth, James writes to an early congregation,

“What good it is, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works. Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food and one of you says to them: ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs – what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:14-17).

Church historians have shown us that early Christianity survived and actually thrived and grew in a hostile, pagan world largely because Christ-followers took this teaching of Jesus seriously. They showed generosity and compassion toward those who could not help themselves. They showed it not only amongst themselves but also toward those who were outside the faith. As a result, people were amazed and eventually attracted to the gospel being preached.

This story from Jesus is meant to teach us to stop and look. Notice the poor, the helpless, the destitute. Listen to God’s Word regarding them. Be compassionate and generous toward them, and share from what God has given you. Generosity and compassion are key marks of the Christian life.

God would also have us listen to Moses and the prophets who point us to the One who fulfilled their words – Jesus Christ. He fulfilled God’s plan of salvation, which began in the Old Testament. They looked forward to the day when the Messiah would arrive and fulfill all God’s plans. It happened in Jesus Christ. As we place our trust in Him, we count ourselves among those who are saved by grace through faith in the Savior Jesus Christ.

So the follower of Jesus Christ needs to regularly ask himself or herself this personal question: What am I doing with my riches?

By the way friend, you and I are rich. You may be thinking, Wait a minute! I’m not rich. If you are an American listening today, you are rich, far richer than most of the world. You are right up there in the upper percent.

Here’s a good question for us, as rich Christians, to ask, What is my attitude toward my wealth and giving? Does your attitude fall prey to the mindset that it’s mine; I earned it, and I’m going to use it for myself to enjoy. Be careful. Better your attitude is, How can I use this trust God has given me to help others in the name of Jesus?

Next, are you someone who is stopping, looking, and paying attention to the suffering going on around you? Are you listening to God’s Word and wanting to obey it? You don’t have to look far to see the suffering and the hurting. It’s all around us.

Are you listening to God’s Word to help the helpless? How much weight does God’s Word carry in your life when it comes to your riches? Needs and opportunities galore are all around us to help this hurting world such as,

Local opportunities and missions. We have a Union Gospel Mission in our community, and a Loaves and Fishes food closet to serve the poor. Give or volunteer to help.
National opportunities. Give of your resources to flood, fire, and hurricane victim organizations that are Christian. The Salvation Army is always on the front line working amid these disasters. Offer to volunteer.
International opportunities. Help support organizations such as Samaritans Purse and World Vision, which are serving the poor in Christ’s name. Adopt a child through Compassion International. Finance them for school. Write letters to them, and encourage them in their growing up.

I leave you with this quote:

“Every person possesses something of some sort, be it no more than a heart and a hand and a span of life; and to every person is given some ‘Lazarus at the door’, a test case as to whether he or she will use those possessions rightly or wrongly, with love or with self-indulgence, bringing God’s will into the matter or leaving it out” (The Message of Luke, The Saviour of the world, by Michael Wilcock).

Stop. Look. Listen. That, my dear friends, is Christ’s Word to you today. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer