Invest Your Treasure!

Last Judgment Sunday
Luke 19:11-27

To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His own blood and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father, to him be glory forever and ever, Amen!  In the name of Jesus, our King and Master, dear friends in Christ, they say driving a brand new car you just purchased off the dealer’s lot, on average the car has already depreciated 11 percent in value.  They say a timeshare bought on the primary market will resale for about 1/5 of the purchase price.  A new cell phone that can be purchased for $200 in one year is being sold for $.99 with a plan.  Some things in life just simply aren’t good investments.

And we’re constantly making investments in our life, aren’t we?  Perhaps we invest in our job, spend all our time and effort and energy in order to get a good position.  Or perhaps we invest in ourselves, spend our money, time, and energy into getting an advanced college degree or spending hours and hours at the gym in order to get fit.  Or perhaps we invest in travel so we spend our vacations and our savings going to different places around the world.  Or perhaps we invest in our family or our friends, and spend our time and energy improving our relationships.  Or perhaps we invest in deer hunting, so we spend money on a rifle and spend an entire days out in a deer stand.  We’re constantly making investments in our lives, aren’t we?  So, how do we know whether we’re making a good investment or a bad investment? What is the best investment that we can make in life?

In our text for this morning God helps us with our life investment strategy.  Jesus is on His final trip to the city of Jerusalem where He will be betrayed and crucified.  Our text happens right after Jesus has just passed through Jericho and is about to make the 18 mile rocky, desert trek uphill to Jerusalem.  Jesus’ words to the crowds around Zacchaeus are ringing in everyone’s ears, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”  And it’s the time of the Passover, the time when the Jews celebrated God’s amazing act of delivering their nation from slavery in Egypt.  Now they’re congregating around this popular miracle-worker from Galilee who’s on His way to Jerusalem.  “Could this be it?  Will God come to the aid of His people and free them from the hated Romans?  Will Jesus take back Jerusalem by force and turn Israel into a world-power like the good ol’ days under great king David?”  And Jesus knew that they were thinking all these things, so He told them a parable to refocus them on much more important things than dreams about some earthly kingdom.

A certain nobleman traveled to a distant country to be appointed king and then return.  At times this would happen in the Roman empire. Someone would travel to Rome and receive a kingdom.  Well, while he was gone he decided to entrust to 10 of his servants some of his wealth- 10 minas.  A mina was about 100 days wages – so in our day around 10 or 15,000 dollars.  He entrusted this money to his servants not for safe-keeping but that they might invest it or put it to work for him.  So off the nobleman went but his subjects hated him and didn’t want him to be their king.  But he was made king anyway and returned to find out what his servants had done with his money.  The first one came and said, “Sir, your mina has earned ten more.” A 1,000 percent interest!  The master was thrilled, “Well done, my good servant! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of 10 cities.”  The second came and reported a 500% interest.  The master said, “Take charge of 5 cities.”  Notice that neither of them said, “Look, I’ve gotten this with your money” or “Look at what I did with your money.”

Well, then comes the third servant, “Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth.  I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man.  You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.”  In essence, he told his master, “Take this back, I have no use for it.  I was afraid of you…but you know what, you’re the harsh one, you’re ungenerous, you’re ruthless, I’m much better off using my time and effort to get stuff for myself!  Why should I work for and serve you?”  So the master said, “I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant!  You knew that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow.  Then why didn’t you act on this knowledge and simply put my money on deposit and have someone else invest it for you instead of hiding it away?  Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten.”  Then he said, “Bring those enemies of mine who didn’t want me to be their king and kill them in front of me.”  Wow!

So what’s this parable talking about?  The certain nobleman is Jesus himself.  He was about to complete His work of salvation and ascend His throne as King of all the earth and on the Last Day He will return.  In the mean-time Jesus has entrusted His “wealth” to His servants.  He’s given His followers all kinds of spiritual and physical blessings: different skills, abilities, talents, time, treasures, interests, knowledge, etc.  And most importantly He’s entrusted with all His followers the number one blessing: the Gospel: The message of sins forgiven in Jesus, the gospel- the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.  And He wants that treasure invested.  He wants His Gospel treasure to be multiplied. How so?  In lives of appreciation.  He wants His servants to honor Him with their lives, to live lives with selfless kindness and care for other people, to share the gospel and spread it with others so more may hear it and be brought to faith.  He’s entrusted His gifts not just to Pastors, missionaries, and teachers, but equally to farmers, businessmen, salesmen, managers, nurses, in other words to you and me equally.  And we invest His treasure wisely when we live as His children and take advantage of whatever opportunities we have to spread His gospel treasure with others.

Well, in the parable there are 4 types of people.  First, there’s the subjects who hated their king and don’t want him to be their king.  Who’s that?  In Jesus’ day that was the majority of the Jewish nation who despised Jesus.  But those subjects are still around today.  Finally, it’s anyone who flat out rejects Christ and His kingship.  But when THE King returns on the Last Day, they’re fate is sealed- everlasting destruction.  Well, then, there’s the servants.  There’s one who makes 10 additional minas- that’s Christ’s follower who faithfully uses the many gifts God has given to him or her.  Then there’s the one who made 5 additional minas- that’s Christ’s follower who also faithfully used the gracious gifts God has given him or her.  But then there’s the 3rd servant.  Who’s that?  That’s the one who pretends to be Christ’s follower, but inwardly doesn’t really like what God says, doesn’t really want to use his or her life in service to God, in other words, its someone who pretends to be a Christian be really isn’t.

So, which type of person are you?  Am I?  At least we’re not the subjects who hated the king, right?  But which servant are we?  Are we the faithful servants who take God’s gifts – all of them: our time, our talents, our abilities, our skills, our knowledge, whatever it is that the Lord has blessed us with, be it materially or spiritually, and invest it for His glory?  How are we doing on the investment that God has given us?  Each of us has a priceless treasure in our possession: a knowledge of the gospel, a knowledge of Jesus as the world’s Savior.  But how do we use it?  What are we doing with the investment that God has entrusted to us?

Do we take God’s gifts and use them for our own selfish-gain?  Do we disown being our Savior’s servant because we risk being looked down on or marginalized?  Do we hide the gospel treasure so that on Sunday morning we look one way and during the week nobody could tell by our words or actions whether or not we are Christ’s servants?  Do our lives reflect the love of Christ in every aspect making God’s Word attractive to others?  Or do people see nothing different between the way we live and the rest of the sinful world?  Where have we invested our lives?  In service to ourselves or in service to our Master who bought us with His blood?  Which servant are you?  Which am I?  The fact is, Christ is coming, which servant is He going to find us to be?  If I’m honest with myself, and if you are too, we must admit that when Christ returns He ought to treat us all like that unfaithful servant, expose the hypocrisy that lies in our hearts and be rid of us once and for all.

But the master said, “Well done, my good servant!”  And God said that too.  To whom?  No, no it wasn’t to you or me, but to someone else.  There was one faithful servant, only one who’s ever walked this earth.  That faithful servant was always faithful with the Gospel.  He lived it fully in His life showing perfect care and concern for other people 100 % of the time.  He shared it faithfully with all.  His life had this one purpose: to seek and to save the lost.  He invested.  He invested His own life, His own blood on a cross, to make the greatest investment ever: the full payment for the sins of the world.  Jesus paid for your unfaithfulness!  It’s only by God’s grace for us in Christ that each of us can say, “No, were not that wicked servant, but the faithful ones.  Why?  Because Christ was faithful in our place.

And that’s the key.  If we’re lacking in faithfulness with the treasure God has entrusted to us, if we’ve made sinful investments with our lives, we don’t look inside ourselves, we aren’t motivated by our guilt, that we should be doing better! We’re not going to try and do better, rather, we look at what God has done for us.  In Christ God invested everything in you, He bought and paid for you fully that you might live with Him forever.  Knowing that, how can we not invest this gospel treasure He’s given us?  How can we not use it?  How can we not live life with joy- the joy of the Gospel that never fails us?  How can we not make use of the knowledge that is ours?

Jesus is coming.  What kind of servant will He find us to be?

Will He find people who have invested in the treasure of the Gospel?  People whose whole life shows the power of the gospel.   People who hear and study God’s Word regularly and eagerly, who receive the Lord’s Supper often, who influence their family with the gospel.  People whose personal conduct, both in private and public, honors Christ.  People who do their work “as to the Lord” doing it work faithfully as if they’re working for the Lord Himself.  Will He find people who as the opportunities present themselves are ready to confess their faith in the Savior?  Who support the work of the gospel and mission work.  Who pray for it regularly.  Will He find people who seriously want God’s kingdom to come to more and more people?

Jesus is coming.  You’re His servant.  In what have you invested?  Amen.

Who is Like our God?

1st Sunday of End Time
Micah 7:18-20

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins with his own blood and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father- to him be glory forever and ever Amen!  In the name of Jesus, who has forgiven all our sins, dear friends in Christ, the followers of Islam believe in a god who will give them paradise in exchange for a life of submission adherence to the 5 pillars of Islam, which include: reciting a creed, giving a certain amount of their wealth, praying 5 times a day, fasting from dawn to dusk during the month of Rhamadan, and if they are able, making a pilgrimage to Mecca.  The followers of Hindu have 3 paths to bliss: the first is by self-awareness meditation becoming “one with god,” another is through gaining more and more knowledge, and the last is through works of service.  The followers of the god of prosperity believe that if they just trust in wealth, it’ll keep them wanting more and more, and eventually they’ll have a few comforts for this life, which expire in this life, or at least they’ll die trying to get them.  The followers of the substance abuse god are promised a short time of ease or thrill in exchange for a massive physical, emotional, or material cost.  The followers of Baal an Asherah are promised rain and other necessities of life in exchange for a life of prayer, acts of service and sacred prostitution.  None of those just don’t even come close to a comparison, do they?  It was this incomparableness that the prophet Micah was pointing out in our text for this morning.

Well, who was Micah?  Micah was a prophet of God from the southwestern part of Judah, that is, the southern kingdom.  He lived during the 700s BC (so about 700 years before Christ, same time as Isaiah).  What was going on in the world at this time?  Well, remember that back in about 930 BC the kingdom of Israel split in two with a northern kingdom that quickly became a spiritual mess and a southern kingdom that was kind of mix of good and bad.  The northern kingdom pretty much ditched God for earthly stuff, mixed worship to God with worship of false gods like Baal or Asherah.  Well, it happens that the location of Israel was right on a major trade route connecting the eastern world with Egypt.  Which was both good and bad.  Good in that it brought a lot of people and their wealth through Israel, bad in that every other nation wanted control over the land.  Well, first God used the Assyrians to invade the northern kingdom in order to wake them up from the spiritual laxity, the northern kingdom was then forced to pay Assyria tribute.  Then the northern kingdom wanted to ally itself with the southern kingdom in order to rebel against Assyria, but instead, the southern kingdom decided to ally itself with Assyria, which brought Assyria to their doorstep and resulted in them having to pay tribute to Assyria as well.

Along with all this political intrigue going on was the result of the few years of economic prosperity that Judah, the southern kingdom had experienced.  And what typically happens during a time of economic prosperity?  A selfish materialism set it – people were only concerned with getting more and more stuff, the people became complacent toward worship and religion, the religious leaders told the people what they wanted to hear in order to earn a salary – in fact Micah even says, “If a liar and deceiver comes and says, “I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer, he would be just the prophet for you people!”, and personal, social, and moral values declined.  We’re told about Ahaz, a king of Judah during Micah’s time, who sacrificed his children in the fire to false gods, he set up altars to false gods in the temple, let injustice prevail, when God sent a foreign nations to oppress them and wake them up, they turned not to God, but to a different foreign nation for help, which forced them to have to pay tribute to that other nation.  Just a mess!

So, Micah’s prophecy focused on all these abuses.  His message was consistent with Moses’ message in Deuteronomy: If you obey God and walk in His ways, you will live long in the land, if you disobey, you’ll go into exile.  And since they didn’t stay faithful to God, they would face a humiliating destruction.  Micah prophesied both the destruction of Samaria (the capital of the Northern kingdom) and the destruction of Jerusalem “Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble.”  He preached God’s righteous judgment on those who rebelled against Him.

So, you can imagine trying to live as a faithful Israelite in this mess.  God’s judgment through the oppression of foreign nations is not a big surprise to you.  After all you have seen, why should God spare anyone?  And sure it might be easy to point out the sins of your fellow Israelites, but you also recognize the sin and corruption that lives right inside of you!  You’re not exactly a model Israelite believer either!  How much has the corrupt society in which you live have an influence on you?  So, as Micah foretells, God’s judgment is coming, devastation and destruction are on their way and it would make perfect sense if God came and just decimated everyone for their sins and took back His promise of a Savior.

But perhaps we live in a world not too distant to Micah’s world.  Do religious leaders today tell people what they want to hear in order to make a salary?  Have people grown complacent to worshipping God?  Are people more focused on themselves than helping others?  Are false gods worshipped on every street corner?  And can we say that this hasn’t had an effect on us?  Are we children of our times?  Have we erected altars to ourselves in our own hearts?  Have we grown complacent toward God?  Do we trust in human things for our safety and security in an uncertain and tumultuous world instead of God?  Perhaps our world isn’t much better than the world of Micah.

But woe and destruction isn’t how God’s message through Micah ends.  Our text for this morning is the very last words from the prophet Micah.  And what does it say?  “Who is a God like you?”  God has the attribute of incomparability.  God does what no one else does or can do.  What is it that makes our God, the one true God, stunningly different from every false god of the human imagination?  Our God intervenes in human history as not a Judge or Law-giver, but a  forgiving God.  He “pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance.”  The word translated “sin” really means perversity or wrong-doing and the guilt associated with it- both the wrong deed committed and it’s resultant guilty conscience.  And “transgression” is really conscious rebellion against what is right and good.  And what does God do?  He literally lifts the burden off the guilty conscience and He literally passes over sin.  The verbs “pardon” and “forgive” are both participles describing someone in continuous activity.  He is the God who “daily and richly forgives all sins to me and all believers.”  Who is a God like ours?

And he goes on: He doesn’t stay angry, but delights in showing mercy.  It pleases God to love His people.  “You will again have compassion on us.”  Have pity, sympathy as a mother for her child.  Here the Hebrew verb stresses the recurrence of this, in other words, God will again and again and again have compassion again and again and again, just like the waves of a sea roll against the shore again and again, never stopping- that’s God’s recurring compassion!  “You will tread our sins underfoot.”  Here God is pictured as a warrior going to battle against our sins.  Think about all your sins that you have amassed your entire life – the thousands upon thousands, millions upon millions of sins that are standing up to accuse you, that make you doubt God’s full and free forgiveness for those sins, that pester your conscience.  Here God is pictured as a warrior taking all of those sins and hurling them to the ground and trampling them under his feet.  He will not let them accuse His forgiven children anymore.  And if we yet have any doubts, what does he say, “and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”  Here is the picture of Pharoah’s army charging at God’s people and God washing them under the Red Sea.  They’re buried in depths of the sea!  God’s so determined to forgive us that He has wiped all of our sins from His memory and He doesn’t want us to even remember them!  Spurlos Versenkt is what German U-Boat commanders used to say when they sunk and enemy ship and it means “sunk without a trace” – that’s what God has done with your sins!  Who is a God like ours?

Why does God do all of this?  “You will be true to Jacob, and show mercy to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our fathers in days long ago.”  God is faithful, He cannot lie, when God promises something it is true no matter what.  What did God pledge to Jacob and Abraham?  Do you remember?  “All nations on earth will be blessed through you.”  In other words, He would send a Savior through Judah.  How has God given us such forgiveness?  By doing what no false god of the human imagination would or could ever do: God fulfilled His ancient promise by sending His Son Jesus.  For about 33 years Jesus lived perfectly, trusted in God perfectly, never once gave into sin’s temptation.  Why?  So that His perfection might be credited to your account.  Jesus came to seek and to save the lost.  Jesus died on the cross becoming the lightning rod for all of God’s wrath and anger and judgment and punishment for all of your sins and mine.  And he did all this while we were still sinners!  While we couldn’t earn it or deserve it!  Why?  All so that your sins may be forgiven and you may live in heaven forever!  Who – is –  a – God – like  – ours?!?!

See what a forgiving God you have!!  So what do you do with news like this?  First, relish it.  Yes it’s true, the Lord could return at any moment as the Sovereign Judge of all the earth, but that’s no reason for you to be scared for you are forgiven and God wants you to know for sure that your sins have been forgiven in full- if you have any doubts, look at what God, who cannot lie, tells you here!  Second, reflect it.  Yes, we live in a world full of sin and corruption, maybe just as bad as Micah’s day, and yes, as faithful Christians we are a small remnant, as the faithful few at Micah’s time, and yes as such our lives won’t be a bed of roses, we will be wronged, we will be mistreated, we may be harmed, even fellow believers may do us wrong.  But remember, who is a God like ours?  Who has pardoned all your sins, forgiven all your iniquities, and cast them into the depths of the sea so they’re gone forever?  And it’s His amazing forgiveness that allows you and me to reflect it by forgiving and forgetting in our lives!  Amen.

What’s in Your Heart?

21st Sunday after Pentecost
Ruth 1:1-19

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,

A while back a company started running some ads in which they used a certain phrase that’s kind of become associated with them.  The company was the credit card company, Capital One, and their ploy was to convince you that with all of the extra fees, penalties, and high interest rates of so many credit cards out there, their card was different.  And the phrase they coined was “What’s in your wallet?”  The point, I think, was to make you stop and think about what kind of credit card you have and how their Capital One card was so much better.  So, they asked the question: What’s in your wallet?

Well, there’s something that God cares about far more than what’s in your wallet.  And the question that our text for this morning leads us to ask ourselves is: What’s in your heart?  And particularly a time when we must ask ourselves – consciously or not- about what’s in our heart is when we have to make decisions.  We make decisions all of the time, don’t we?  And often our decisions have really little consequence, like, “What am I going to eat for dinner?  Green beans or carrots?”  “Should I watch this movie or that movie?”  But then there are some decisions that we make that are much more important, like, “Whom should I marry?”  “What college should I attend?” “What career should I pursue?”  Those decisions may affect the direction of our entire lives.  Well, interspersed throughout all of the decisions we make in life are the decisions we make as Christians.  Decisions like, “Should I serve God or not?”  “Do I do what is God-leasing or not?”  “Do I do what God wants or what feels good?”

And then add to all of that a further dimension to the decisions and the choices we make day after day: hardships and trouble.  It can be even more challenging to God-pleasing decisions when we’re in the midst of heart-ache and trouble.  We just heard about the 10 lepers.  They were in misery- forced to die a miserable death ostracized from society, yet, in their trouble they cried out for mercy from the only One who could do something for them.  But after Jesus healed them, they had another decision: Do we return to thank Jesus or keeping going on our way and get back to our lives?  Well, the same is true for us.  Do I blame God for the troubles and problems of my life?  When I face hardship is one of my first thoughts, “How could God allow this?”  “When I meet trouble do I become bitter and angry and upset or continue to serve God and trust in Him?”

Well, in our text for this morning, a lady named Ruth was faced with a very important decision.  The time of our text is during the point in Israel’s history when the nation was ruled by “judges.”  This was a time of shocking religious and moral degeneration, we’re told, “Everyone did as he saw fit,” foreign nations invaded Israel, it was a mess.  But there was one God-fearing family who because of a famine in Judah moved to Moab in order to find food and survive.  Now Moab was a neighboring country to Israel, probably about a 70 mile walk, so about the distance from here to Grand Rapids.  But while they were there the family’s dad died.  Then the 2 sons married Moabite women.  This wasn’t something directly forbidden by God as was marrying Canaanites.  The Moabites were actually a cousin people of the Israelites as they were descended from Abraham’s nephew Lot.  But, unfortunately, they had abandoned God and for the most part became unbelievers and enemies of the Israelites.

Well, after 10 years of being in Moab, Naomi’s two sons also died- leaving 3 widows.  In our day it’s hard enough to lose a child or lose a spouse, but in these days it was even more difficult.  The men were the ones who were expected to take care of and provide for the family, with them gone their lives would have been very difficult.  But then Naomi heard that the famine had ended in her hometown in Judah and decided to head back.  It was common courtesy for both of her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, to accompany for a little while, but then turn back.  So after a while Naomi encourages them to go ahead and return home.

This situation led to an important choice Ruth and Orpah had to make: return home or remain with Naomi.  Consider what this meant for the ladies.  Going with Naomi would mean that their hopes of getting married as foreigners in Israel would have been very slim, going with Naomi would have meant leaving their family and probably never seeing them again, going would have meant leaving behind their culture, their home, their nation, their friends, pretty much everything they knew.

Orpah chose to return to her home.  Notice Naomi’s apparent disapproval.  First, when addressing Ruth she refers to Orpah no longer as “daughter” or even “daughter-in-law” but now it’s “your sister-in-law.”  Besides that, when Naomi points out that Orpah has left she’s pointing to an example Ruth could logically follow, but not one she’s encouraging her to emulate.  Finally, we’re not told that Naomi kisses Orpah, but Orpah kissed Naomi and then left never to be heard of again.  What happened to Orpah?  Finally, we don’t know.  But from Naomi’s words that “she has gone back to her people and her gods” gives the impression that she went the way of the world and not only turned her back on Naomi, but turned her back on the Lord she had come to know and likely died an unbeliever.

But Ruth’s actions were different.  She chose differently.  “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you.  Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.  Your people will be my people and your God my God.  Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.  May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”  Remember too that she is speaking to Naomi.  Naomi who has been trying her faith by seeming to permit her to go back to her family’s home and her nation’s gods.  Add to that how Naomi – in her frustration and despair- has spoken about God!  The God to whom Ruth is committing herself to continue to follow is the God whom Naomi has in essence described as a harsh judge and executioner!  Who has caused all of her troubles and emptiness who’s “hand has gone against” her!

So, not only did Ruth know that the true God is the God of the Israelites, but she also saw a fellow believer who was struggling, struggling under the ways of God, doubting God’s goodness and grace.  So in loving the Lord her God above all else and loving her neighbor as herself, Ruth set aside any personal goals, any marriage prospects, an “easy” life, any worldly gain, and chose to live as a poor beggar and take care of her mother-in-law.

Well, what about you?  Would that have been your decision?  I guess we won’t likely face a decision like this, but we do face decisions of the same nature every day, don’t we?  Do I let this conversation with my spouse escalate into an argument or deal with patience and love and kindness?  Do I join my friends and do something I know is wrong or do I show my faith in God and stand up for what is right?  Do I complain about my life and harbor a resentment against God about how things are going or do I joyously forsake all things for Him and gladly help others who are struggling?  If we’re honest with ourselves, each of us here has to admit we’re guilty.  We don’t deserve to be included among God’s people.

In self-less love Ruth chose to remain with Naomi and give up her life to help and take care of Naomi.  Why?  Well, it all goes back to where we started, doesn’t it?  What’s in your heart?  Finally, our decisions are made from what is in our hearts.  So, what’s in your heart?

A self-less, faithful love that Ruth showed Naomi didn’t originate or come from her, did it?  Really, it came from the God whom she had come to know and love.  The God of faithful promises, the God who remained faithful to His covenant people, the God who would fulfill every promise that he made and bring into this world the promised Messiah, the promised Savior of the world, the one whom God had promised to Abraham would be a blessing to every nation on earth, the God who promised Ruth’s first parents Adam and Eve that He would send a Savior to crush the devil’s head, the God who described Himself to Moses as the Lord the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness, forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin.  This is the God whom Ruth came to know and love and serve.

But, do you know any less about the love of God than Ruth?  Actually, you know even more!  You know how God kept His promise to send a Savior, you know how at just the right time this very Ruth’s great, great, great, great, etc grandson was born!  Jesus came to this earth and had a heart perfectly devoted to God, Jesus came and made every right decision, including the decision to go the cross.  Why?  Because at God’s very heart is a love we’ll never get to the bottom.  At God’s heart is an incredible desire to see you in His paradise.

The love of God that transformed Ruth’s heart is the very same love of God that you and I know.  This love of God transforms our hearts.  It’s the love of God in our hearts that moves us when we have a choice to keep going on with our own lives or to thank Him like the one leper, to thank him.  It’s the love of God in our hearts that moves us when we are faced with trouble and trial –even as the apostle Paul was who faced death- to choose to rely on God rather than become upset and bitter and frustrated.  It’s the love of God in our hearts that moves us when faced with the choice of doing what’s good for me or doing what’s good for someone else, to serve others just like Ruth did.

And knowing this affects so much of your life!  Instead of facing decisions from a self-centered standpoint, face decisions by asking yourself first, “Who is my God?  What has my God graciously done for me?  How can I use this decision to thank Him and live for Him?”  If you’re a young person, I’m so glad you’re here to hear this.  You’re being faced with more and more decisions in life and it may be tempted to base your decisions on your own wants or desires, or your feelings, or on what other people think, but instead of allowing the bad decisions of the people around you influence you, think about how your God-pleasing decisions and choices might influence the people around you!

In the end, of course, God shows himself to be the very God who does all things well.  In the end God uses His faithful servant Ruth for His work.  He showers even further grace upon Ruth by using her in His plan of bringing the Savior into this world.  In the end?  Boaz becomes the Kinsman-Redeemer.  As a close relative he could buy Naomi’s family’s land and marry her oldest son’s widow.  Then as Kinsman-redeemer his first born son would carry the name of the family he redeemed.  God blessed them and Ruth had a son who would later become the grandfather of great King David who would be the great, great, great, etc. ancestor to the Redeemer, the Savior.

So, yes, in the end God does all things well.  But the question remains: what about you?  In what ways might God work through you?  How might God use your godly decisions for working good and bringing His grace to more people just like Ruth?  What’s in your heart?  Since it’s the amazing love of your Lord may you live and make decisions out of faithful love and thanksgiving to Him!  Amen.

Faith Follows the Father First!

20th Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 17:1-10

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, the one in whom we place our trust, dear friends in Christ,

“You just have to believe!”  “You just gotta have faith!”  Ever heard those words before?  Perhaps you’ve found yourself going through a difficult time and someone told you, “Come on, you just gotta believe.”  But, what does that mean?  It can actually be a rather frustrating thing to hear when you’re in the midst of trying circumstances.  Faith, faith in what?  And doesn’t that stem from the way that our society often views this concept of faith.  There was a professor at college who kind of liked to paint this soap-opera-like picture: The guy comes home early, having just been fired from his job and finds that his wife has run off with another man.  He decides to find some comfort in his favorite thing – his bowling ball – and as he reached to take it down off the shelf, it fell on his head, and then dropped onto his foot.  As he limped into the kitchen to get some ice, he stumbled against the stove, where he had unknowingly left a burner on with cooking oil in the pan, and it flew into the curtains, which burst into flames.  Then he stumbles outside to watch his house burn to the ground, and his best friend says to him, “Come on, you just gotta have faith.”

Have faith?!?!?  Have faith in what?!?!?!?  His job was gone, his wife was gone, he was hurt, his house had burnt to the ground and his most cherished possession (the bowling ball) was gone.  And he should “have faith?”

Sure that’s kind of a bizarre story, but doesn’t it illustrate the way that our society often uses this word “faith”?  That “faith” is just some sort of irrational hope-for-the-best sort of thing?  That faith is just some sort of a wish or a hope that things will just sort of all work together no matter what’s going on or what the reality actually is.

While that might be the way our culture views faith that’s not really how God deals with faith in His Word.  In this text we notice that the apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith, and Jesus doesn’t rebuke them for that rather He addressed it.  In the Bible faith is something that is connected to God’s promises and connected to God’s works.  Generally, when the Bible talks about faith or believing or trusting it connects it with an object.  John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes IN HIM will not perish but have eternal life.”  Jesus said, “Trust in God.” (John 14).  In Proverbs, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart.”  Again and again the Bible connects faith to its object which is God.  So the question isn’t so much “How much do I trust?”  The better question is, “How strong and reliable and trustworthy is the One in whom I trust?”  If I ask, “How much do I trust?” The focus is on me.  But when I ask, “How strong and reliable and trustworthy is my God?”  Then the focus is on God- who he is and what He’s done.

Jesus addressed that in our text.  After Jesus had given some instructions in the first few verses the apostles seemed to be shaking their heads thinking, “How is this possible?  We must need more faith!”  Then in verse 6 Jesus said, “If you had faith as small as a mustard seed…”  He’s addressing them as a group and pretty much saying, “You know, if you knew who your God is, you wouldn’t even be asking the question.”  After all, God does have the ability to do absolutely anything including uprooting mulberry trees and plant them in the sea if he wanted to.  And he would do so if it was necessary for our salvation.

But that’s not what God wants us to focus on.  Rather he wants us to focus on his words.  Here, He was instructing His apostles to watch out that they didn’t cause others to sin and if someone sins, rebuke him.  If he repents, forgive him.  If he sins 7x in a day, and comes back to you 7x and says, “I repent” forgive him.  And why would we do that?  Because that’s the way that God deals with us.  But really?  We don’t commit the same sin 7x in a day, do we?  Well, how many times today have we failed to fear, love, and trust in God above all things?  A dozen, a hundred, a thousand times?  And that’s just today!  How many corrupt and evil thoughts have come into our minds?  How many times have we led someone else into sin?  How many times have we failed to confront someone politely who’s acting in a sinful way?  How many times have we refused to forgive?  But what does our God do?  He forgives us again and again and again.  Jesus paid for every sin with His death on the cross.

So faith looks at what God has done and listens to what God has said about it.  Jesus really did come, Jesus really did live, Jesus really did die on a cross, Jesus really did rise from the dead – those are real historical facts.  And what does God say about those things?  He says, “Because Jesus died and rose your sins- all of them- are forgiven.”  Faith simply looks at that, listens to that and goes on.  Does that sound like a wishful, hopeful, just-gotta-believe sort of feeling?  Not at all!

Now we have to remember that the fact that we believe in Jesus is a miracle.  By nature each of us was dead in our sins, incapable of doing anything on our own, until God worked a miracle in our hearts to bring us to faith.

But once God has given us faith, faith simply looks at what God has done, what God has said, what God tells us that means and responds.  So, since God has forgiven us and God has instructed us to forgive, faith simply forgives.  Since God loves us and since sin leads away from God and since God instructs us to watch out that we don’t lead someone into sin, faith simply takes care not to lead anyone into sin.

And that’s the point Jesus made in the last part of our text.  We’ve got to transport ourselves into a time and culture of servants to get the point.  It was the servant’s job to serve his master, to work in the field and then prepare the dinner, and since it was simply his job to do it, he didn’t deserve a pat on the back from his master.  So it is with faith.  Faith doesn’t look for a pat on the back, good job.  When we’re careful not to sin or we take care not to lead someone else into sin or we forgive others or serve others, we don’t do so for a pat on the back.  That’s just what faith does.  It doesn’t look for praise.  Faith simply serves.  Faith simply forgives.

Why?  Because of what God did for us.  Finally, God is the ultimate Master.  He didn’t need to lift a finger.  God doesn’t owe us anything.  But in amazing love the Master became the Servant.  He served us in the most amazing way by coming into our world as a child, by lifting the burden of our sins and putting them on His shoulders and carrying them to the cross, it was His service of blood and pain that opened heaven’s doors to you and to me!  And so faith simply looks at what God’s done, listens to what God says, trusts what God says all of that means and faith simply responds by doing what God wants.

“Just have more faith?”  No the question is not, “How great is my faith?”  The question is, “How great, how reliable, how trustworthy, is my God?”  And looking into His Word I see that, “Yes, God’s trustworthy, so I trust in Him.”  You know, I’m always amazed at my little Lucas’ trust in me.  It doesn’t matter what height he’s standing on be it a bunk bed or on top of the playground or the top of the steps if he sees me no matter the distance, he just jumps and falls into my hands.  He knows me, he trusts me, I haven’t dropped him (yet!) and everything’s ok.

And in a way there’s a 2 year old in each of us.  Our God is with us, our God has been faithful, we see what God has done for us in His Word, He’s proven His love and faithfulness to us, and so no matter the outward circumstances He is faithful so we trust in Him!  Faith looks at what God has done, looks at what God has said, trusts what God says all that means and responds.  So, when God says, “Be careful not to sin.”  Faith says, “Yes Lord!” When God says, “Be careful not to lead one of these little ones to sin.”  Faith says, “Yes Lord!”  When God says, “Rebuke someone who sins politely.”  Faith says, “Yes Lord!”  When God says, “Forgive someone, forgive someone 7x if you have to.”  Faith says, “Yes Lord!”  That simply what faith does!  Amen.

I Know I Can!

17th Sunday after Pentecost
Philippians 4:13

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, it makes you do things you never thought you would or could.  There was a time in my younger years when I thought something like, “’Real men’ don’t hold girls’ hands!  ‘Real men’ have much better things to do than sit and talk to a girl for hours!  ‘Real men’ would rather hang out with the guys than go for a walk with a girl!”  But then…IT happened.  You can’t really explain it either.  All of a sudden holding hands with a certain girl was fun, all of a sudden sitting and talking for hours with a certain girl was enjoyable, all of a sudden everything else seemed just not as much fun as hanging out with a certain girl.  What happened???  All of a sudden I was doing things that I once said only “sissy” boys would do, things I never thought I could or would ever do!  So, what happened???  There’s one explanation, one little word?  Love.

You see, a person who is “in love” is willing to do just about anything for the person whom he/she loves, right?  From posting “will you marry me” on the big screen at the packed Metradome in front of millions of people to hand delivering a large bouquet of flowers to their lady at work to holding hands and hugging without any care who’s watching.  Love is powerful, isn’t it?  And, of course, love isn’t just some ooey gooey feeling inside of you, is it?  Love is something that can’t remain hidden in the heart, it has to show itself in loving words and loving actions.

Love changed the apostle Paul’s life.  Our text for this morning is one short verse near the end of the letter to the Philippians.  Remember the situation: Paul is sitting in house arrest in Rome for about 2 years, he can’t roam around freely, he can’t simply do whatever he wants, and he’s writing this letter to encourage the Christians in the church that he started in Philippi, Greece.  And here Paul said, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Now, it’s important that we don’t simply pull this verse out of context in order to make it say something that God clearly did not intend it to say.  We’ll hear many people in our world say things like, “I can climb every mountain” or “The sky is the limit” or “There’s nothing you can’t do when you put your mind to it.”  Is that what Paul is saying here?  No.  Paul isn’t saying that you have a certain strength or power that’s inherent inside of you that you can draw upon to achieve your dreams and accomplish your selfish heart’s desire.

Rather, Paul is talking to Christians living their Christian lives to God’s glory.  With confidence Paul said, “I can do everything” that is, everything God-pleasing “through him who gives me strength.”  You know we could look at the apostle Paul and ask, “How do you do it?”  Prisons, flogging, exposed to death again and again, forty lashes minus 1 five times, beaten with rods three times, stoned, left for dead, shipwrecked, constant danger, cold, hunger, thirst, naked, the concern for all the churches, the battling against his sinful nature.  And yet, Paul still says, “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”

But the question stares us in the face today: Do we have that same “I can” attitude toward serving God?  We face the harsh realities of everyday life, the frustrations that come into our lives every day, and it’s depressingly easy for us to say, “I can’t.”  I can’t control my temper, I can’t control my jealous thoughts, I can’t get to church or Bible class, I can’t pray, I can’t love my spouse unconditionally, I can’t be kind to all- what if they stab me in the back or take advantage of me?  I can’t simply forgive someone after what they did to me, I can’t help but hold a grudge.  I can’t quit that pet sin; I can’t fight that temptation that comes again and again and again.  I can’t remain positive or joyful with all this garbage going on in the world.  I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.  And worse yet, do we not often inwardly nurse a resentment against God for allowing these things or leading us into so many difficulties?  But finally, when we say, “I can’t” to leading the God-pleasing life God wants us to lead, is it not the sobering evidence of our lack of love for Him?  I’m guilty, you’re guilty, and if God were fair, He ought not love any of us.

But here Paul says, “I can.”  How?  Where did Paul’s “power” come from?  How could he have this untiring patience under suffering, this amazing courage in the face of danger, be able to do so much work for God’s kingdom, and through it all maintain a joy and confidence even when facing death?  Where did his power come from?

There’s this legend that a wealthy merchant on his travels in Paul’s day wanted to go and meet Paul while he was in prison in Rome.  So Timothy arranged a meeting.  He went into Paul’s room and saw him looking old and frail but noticed at once the strength of Paul’s faith.  After several hours and on his way out he asked Timothy, “What is the secret of this man’s power?  I’ve never seen anything like it.”  Timothy said, “You don’t know?  Paul is in love.”  “In love” he asked.  “Yes, Paul is in love with the Lord Jesus Christ.”  The merchant was surprised and said, “Is that all?”  Timothy smiled and said, “No, that’s everything!”

Paul was in love.  First, it was God who won his love.  God did the unthinkable, the absurd.  There isn’t a love-sick boyfriend or infatuated husband who could do something so unthinkable, so bizarre, so humiliating as what our God in love did for us.  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  It was God’s love for us that moved him to do the unthinkable.  Our God came into this world to take the spit, the mockery, the beating, the humiliation, the pains of hell that we deserved for our sins upon Himself.  He willingly bore our shame and guilt on the cross, willingly shed His lifeblood to cleanse us.  Willingly died that we might live eternally.  That is the love of God for you!

Paul knew the love of God for him.  It was the power of God’s love in the gospel that gave Paul the strength to live.  He knew no circumstance could ever come up that would be too much for God, and therefore no circumstance could ever beat Paul.  Paul rested “in him who gives me strength.”  You could say back in the first Passover when the Israelites sacrificed that lamb that they were “In the lamb.”  They were nourished by the lamb’s meat and they rested under the protection of the Lamb’s blood.  In a similar sense we are “In the lamb of God, in Christ.”  By faith we are sheltered by His blood and are nourished by His Word.  As we grow in our relationship to Him we consciously and constantly enjoy the protection and power of being “in Him.”  The more we grow in our faith, the greater our trust in Him becomes and the greater strength he gives us to face every situation.

It is the power of knowing God and His love for us in Christ that makes us not only just “make it through” every circumstance or situation of life, but actually moves us to find joy in whatever situation God places before us.  It is the burning love God has created inside of us that moves us to do everything God-pleasing in our lives.  God has won our love.  His love has changed our lives to not say, “I can’t,” but to say, “I can!”  Not “I think I can” but “I know I can!”

Empowered by Christ I can quit that pet sin, I can sincerely forgive, I can love my spouse unconditionally, I can be kind to all, I can face any situation, be content in any circumstance, face whatever difficulty, continue under any cross that God asks me to bear, and finally to live my life joyfully because I live with the strength of Christ.

Love, it makes us to do thing we thought we never would or could.  And it’s the love of Christ that moves us to say, “I know I can!  I know I can do everything through him who gives me strength.  Amen.