Todd lacked nothing his entire life. Growing up, mom and dad met every need. New clothes replaced old, outgrown ones. Spring break took the family to Hawaii, Cancun, Miami, New Orleans. On his 16th birthday, Todd received a new car. His parents covered most college expenses. When he graduated, his parents even offered him part of the family business.
So of course, Todd gladly took that offer. On the first day of work, dad says: “I want you to start in the warehouse and understand our shipping and receiving.”
Todd thought for moment. “No thanks, dad. Warehouse is pretty dirty work.”
“Alright then. Why don’t you join the sales team? See how we gain new business and keep accounts.”
“Nah, it’s too hard forging new partnerships.”
“What about accounting?”
“Too many numbers.”
“Then manage our network.”
“Eh… that’s takes too much time.”
Dad rattles off areas for Todd to contribute and Todd turns down each one. Finally, dad asks: “What would you like to do?” Todd stopped, mulled the question over for moment, stared straight at dad “Why don’t you buy me out?” (taken from: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/7279494/ns/business-us_business/t/when-kids-feel-entitled-family-business/).
Todd’s parents built this company from their poverty. They worked the long hours. They drove to make new clients. They took reduced salaries. It took decades for the business to become self-supporting. Todd’s wealth came from their effort. Yet, Todd fails to appreciate that hard work. Because he does not value their achievements, he feels entitled, he feels automatically worthy of deserving good things.
Forget the past and you will not value the present. That is why God repeats the past. The book of Deuteronomy repeats much of what is found in the book of Exodus. Here’s the reason why: God’s love is scorned if you do not understand why he loves you in the first place. So, go back. See your heart’s dire condition. See God’s undeserving affection. Then you clearly grasp how Grace Drives the Christian Life.
That’s why Moses, the long-serving Israelite leader, says: And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? Before you being taking mental notes, thinking: “Alright, here’s what I need to do to love God better…” stop. Look at the first two words of verse 12: ‘And now…’ Those words do not present an order of events. (For example: (1) I woke up, then (2) I got dressed, and now (3) I am eating.) No, those words point back to an earlier event and then give cause for the present action.
So, what happened earlier? Well, Israel worshipped a golden cow. (Visit Deuteronomy 9:7-29 and Exodus 32:1-35) Understand, they are not praising a barnyard animal. Instead, they believed another god-like being existed and this being’s true image is a cow. Israel credits this made-up god with rescuing them out of Egypt, feeding them, and leading them. God looks down absolutely mystified. He unleashed ten powerful plagues. He held back the walls of the Red Sea. He literally led this group— a cloud by day and fire by night. He did not hide from them; everyone witnessed these events. His mighty power clearly revealed his mighty love. God has every right to wipe these ungrateful brats off the face of the earth. He could abandon them in this desolate desert, crying out to a god that does not exist. God does none of that. Instead, he forgives. That [event] is what happened forty years ago. Israel could look back and see life spared; they did not receive the punishment they deserved.
That remains a vitally important truth to remember. We— people called ‘Christian,’ literally identifying with ‘Christ’— receive what we do not deserve. Do you remember that? Your God lays out his high, holy commandments not only for these Israelites, but also for you (and me) to keep without fault. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ (Matthew 22:37). Love God by wanting to be here, not complaining how inconvenient worship is today. Love God by giving him your honest offering without holding back because you love what money can buy. Love God by doing what he says because it is right. God desires absolute obedience from every fiber of your being every waking second.
We have not done that, have we? In fact, we usually admit quite quickly: ‘Well, no one’s perfect.’ That carries consequences! Forget that and we think God owes us good things! Of course, we would never come out and say that, but we embrace the thought. The heart likes to think that God will give you a good week because you’re in church. I mean, those not in church, well, they’ll probably get hurt or receive bad news. It makes sense that God rewards you for being here. You earned it! You deserve God giving you good because you did good. Your arm might get tired patting you on the back. You gave some groceries to the needy next-door neighbor. You waited at the bank entrance a little longer and held the door open. You complimented the cashier even when it took her 15-minutes to complete your order. No one else acts like that! God must see your outstanding behavior! So, you deserve God giving you good because you did good. Or, if you want to know if you are saved, just stare at you. You went to Sunday School. You memorized Bible teachings. You live sincerely devoted to God. Why would you not go to heaven? You behave good. You may even think you chose good. You deserve God giving you good because you did good.
Do you know what God would say to that? “You forgot the past.” To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. God Almighty created every single organism on earth, even brought you (and me) into this world. If God expects you (and me) to serve, to fear, to love him above all things, why would he reward you for doing what is expected? What does God owe you? Honestly, nothing. Just in case our hearts take issue with that, in case we want to point fingers and cry out: “God, I’m so much better than those skipping and driving around right now!” God says: the Lord set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you… God makes it explicitly clear: You did not choose him. You do not earn perks because of how you live. You are not entitled to heaven! Even this Israelite nation is not entitled to be God people.
So, why does God choose them? Because God chooses to. Yes, the heart argues: “Well, that does not make sense. Surely, they did something!” God says, “No. I chose them. I chose you. That is grace— love not deserved.”
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. God does not want your best, he wants your ‘perfect.’ He wants hearts that obey not out of necessity, but out of desire. He wants hearts that find him to be life’s happiest joy! He wants a heart like that of Jesus. A heart that worships, not to fulfill an obligation, but because the heart delights in hearing God speak. A heart that gives offering, a heart that gives healing, a heart that gives away food because that heart does not consider earth to be real treasure. A heart that loves God by correcting wrong because it is wrong.
Inside of Jesus beats a heart that fears, loves, and trusts in God above all things every waking moment. No wonder God looks at Jesus and cries out: “With you I am well-pleased!” (Matthew 3:17) No wonder God takes that innocent life and wraps it around your (and my) rebellious heart.
Dear friends, God’s command to love him above all things is certainly meant for us to obey. When we fail and guilt crushes us, look at Jesus, our Substitute, the One who obeyed for your (and my) benefit. Because Grace Drives Christian Living.
That is the reason Moses says what he does. He is not challenging the Israelites to be ‘real’ Christians. No, he points back to God’s undeserving love. See God hand you the forgiveness not deserved. See how he chose you first (John 15:16), meaning, faith does not depend on your behavior. God cannot love you more than he already does!
So, what do you do? Nothing! There is nothing you need to do to make God love you more. Maybe question instead is: How, then, do I gives thanks?
To that, Moses says: Fear the Lord your God and serve him. (Now, that word ‘fear’ does not mean ‘be afraid, be terrified, be scared of God.’ No. To ‘fear’ means ‘to respect.’ Give God respect, treat him with dignity, honor, and trust.) How do you treat with respect? Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. Live unafraid because you can. Jesus promises, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me… And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:18,20). Live unafraid because God invites you to approach him in need. Call on me in the day of trouble, I will deliver you, and you will honor me (Psalm 50:15). He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. Gather in worship, thank God for his love. Gather in worship, take in hearing of God’s love—and delight in that. See the baptismal font where he made you his child (Galatians 3:26-27). Approach the altar and take his forgiveness (Matthew 26:26-28). Leave here at peace with God. He will not condemn you. He will not forsake you. He will clothe you (Matthew 6:24-35). He will give strength in sickness (Psalm 103:1-3). He will turn troubles into blessings, he will increase your trust in him through challenges (Romans 8:28). What do you do? Nothing. You (and I) owe God nothing! What joy to simply look up at a God who loves us. What a privilege to have that love sink in and Motivate Christian Living!
Forget the past and you will not value the present. That’s why Todd felt entitled. He failed to appreciate his parent’s that hard work. Because he does not value their achievement, he feels automatically worthy of deserving good things. That led him to be ungrateful of what he received. That is why God repeats the past. Deuteronomy repeats much of what is found in Exodus. Here’s the reason why: God’s love is scorned if you do not understand why he loves you in the first place. So, go back. See your heart’s dire condition. See God’s undeserving affection. Then you clearly grasp how Grace Drives the Christian Life.
Many of you know I fought a head cold last week. So, after worship, I just wanted rest. Got home and melted into the couch. The kids had brought out all these board games and were playing them. Very soon Clara asked me to play Chutes ‘n Ladders. I did not to play; I wanted rest. So, I said, “We’ll play after supper, ok?” She agreed and went back to playing.
Supper came. Ate. Finished. Sunk into the La-z-Boy. Felt a pretty good nap coming on. Suddenly out of nowhere, Clara’s standing right in front of me, board game in hand. “Do you want to play?” “No, not now. I’m tired.” What she said next was probably the wisest and the most hurtful of words, the kind of words that just nail parents. “But you said you would play after supper.”
She’s right. I said those words. I had every intention playing the game, but I broke my word. She told me that. She reminded me to do what I said I would do. She even came back with my word in hand. She wanted to play, so she persistently asked. She relied on my promise. She trusted that in the future my actions would match my words. I proved myself unreliable.
If I, like so many, cannot keep my word, then what a privilege you (and I) have in approaching an always-reliable God for anything, anytime, anywhere. Do you? God invites you (and me) to Wrestle with God in Prayer! As you do, you uncover three key truths: You (1) Confront your own limitations. You discover what you are and are not capable of doing. You (2) Take hold of God’s powerful might and see what God is capable of doing. This wrestling match always produces good results. You will (3) Prevail with God’s blessings.
Consider how that wrestling match changes Jacob’s confidence. Here stands a man who always schemes to get what he wants. His older brother, Esau, stood first in line for the family birthright. (That ‘birthright’ is the line of Jesus; God would come through this person’s family tree and be the blessing for the world! [Genesis 12:1-3]). Yet, Jacob wants the birthright. So, he schemes. He watches Esau take off hunting— off into the wilderness, without much food or water, shelter or safety. Jacob knows that. So he cooks this thick, hearty stew. When Esau barges in exhausted, hungry, he demands a helping. Jacob gives some— only if Esau trades his birthright first. Esau quickly agrees and Jacob remembers (Genesis 25:29-34). When his blind, elderly father, Isaac, prepares to pass down the birthright, Jacob goes back to work. While Esau works out in the fields, Jacob steals his identity. He puts on Esau’s smelly clothes. Hair covers Esau and so Jacob wears animal pelts. He even brings Esau’s signature stew to Isaac— and Isaac buys the lie! Jacob tricks his handicapped father! (27:1-30) It finally looks like Jacob meets his match in his uncle Laban. Laban lets Jacob work for him in exchange for his daughter. Jacob completes his service; Laban marries off his daughter— the wrong one. So, Laban agrees to marry away the right daughter if Jacob works longer. So Jacob works— and schemes. He works this time, not for women, but for sheep. Laban would keep the solid-colored and Jacob the spotted. Since Jacob worked the flocks, he only bred the spotted— and not Laban’s flock. Jacob’s herd flourishes and Laban’s struggles. Before Laban could catch the trick, Jacob runs away (30:31-43).
For his entire life Jacob could scheme his way out of any situation— except this one here: Esau found Jacob. He marches with 400-men (32:7). Jacob’s trapped. No sly, smooth-talking can get him out of this dilemma. He cannot flee under the cover of dark. Every passing second hammers home the dreadful reality that he cannot escape. So, he took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. Jacob was left alone, confronting his own limitations. He stands absolutely powerless to control Esau, to mold the future, to guarantee personal safety.
That is not a truth we care to admit. You (and I) tend to think we control many aspects of life, but we do not. You cannot make someone love you. You can buy her flowers, you can make him food, you can be nice to the group, but you cannot force hearts to love you. You cannot puppeteer the future. You cannot make that university accept you. You cannot make classmates worship you. You cannot make co-workers be kind to you or receive that dollar-figure salary on the perfect day each month. You cannot even control you. You have a body, but you cannot flush the flu away. You cannot cure cancer by thinking real hard. You cannot even hold back a cough or a sneeze. When you (and I) reflect on relationships, finances and health, goals and dreams, you realize how little you do control.
That leaves an impact. You (and I) get stressed because you cannot solve financial woes like you want; you cannot pour money into your bank account by thinking about it. That is why you get scared— because you cannot stop the gunman from appearing in a school or make your cancer shrink away. That is why you grow nervous for the future— because you cannot guarantee retirement, you cannot make politicians enact every single idea in your mind, you cannot force the teacher to give you ‘As.’ So we worry. We worry because we do not control what we think we control. We worry because we cannot control what we want to control. We worry because we confront our limitations— and we care little to admit that.
For a moment, ponder what that fear says about your God. Worry says that God will not keep his promises. Worry says that I have more power to control life than the almighty God. Instead of wrestling with God, we wrestle against him. We either demand God to give us what we want (because we think this is the tool we need for successful living) or we try to handle life cares and concerns on our own.
For a man who tries controlling so much, one simple touch demonstrates just how little control he has. A man wrestled with [Jacob] him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Even though Jacob could still wrestle, he realized this Mystery Man was mighty powerful.
In fact, this Man is so powerful that two thousand years after this wrestling match, he would wrestle again. This time not against Jacob, but against the penalty we brought on ourselves. God had draped on Jesus your self-reliance (and mine). The arrogant self-reliance that thinks we can hold the power to handle any trouble in life. The arrogant self-reliance that thinks we know better than God. The arrogant self-reliance that thinks God does not care what we confront. As Jesus kneels in the Garden of Gethsemane, he confronts the hellish consequence for our self-reliance.
What does he do? He Wrestles with God in Prayer. He cries out three times: “God, if possible, please take this suffering from me. Do not do what I want. Do your will” (Matthew 26:36-43). God’s will is that Jesus be our Substitute. That Jesus stands under God’s wrathful waterfall against self-reliance. Do you see how God punishes the self-reliant heart? He lets it have its wish! God leaves Jesus alone. The self-reliant heart considers itself so reliable to rescue and deliver itself from any trouble— except it cannot. This is the best it can do: fall before God.
Jesus, the One who wrestled against Jacob so long ago (read Hosea 12:2-5), takes on flesh again to wrestle self-reliance, struggle against its punishment, and win. Yes, Jesus conquers our greatest foe: death itself. Even if we could handle all of life’s worries, stresses, and accidents, we could never add another day to life. Jesus can and he does. He extends your life forever.
The man said to Jacob, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” This wrestling match teaches us that God can do what we cannot! Jacob does not try to defeat this man, but looks to this man for help. He Takes hold of God’s powerful might and prevails with God’s mighty blessings.
[The man] said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” God did not forget Jacob’s name; God has Jacob think about his name. He had always schemed, but now no more. [H]e said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” From now on, any time ‘Israel’ rings out, Jacob would remember God his Rescuer. Anytime ‘Israel’ wrote his name, he wrote down God’s protection. Anytime ‘Israel’ saw his name, he would see God’s blessings of property, family, and faith. The name change brought blessing; it re-centered Jacob’s reliance in God alone. That’s how this wrestling match ends— prevailing with God’s blessing!
Maybe prayer feels much like a wrestling match. Asking, pleading, struggling, crying, day and night— but never receiving. Where is the blessing in that? How does this benefit you?
God makes clear: Wrestle with Him in Prayer and prevail with His blessing. That blessing may be (1) increased awareness of God’s will. Yes, the heart aches for your spouse. You miss the companionship. You miss the activities, but they’re gone. Why didn’t God heal them? Remember what you (and I) admit as true: ‘I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.’ Heaven is our final stop, not earth. A spouse leaves for heaven because God promises heaven to every believer. That is their final stop and soon, you (and I) will arrive there too. You (and I) might think that we will benefit if God just grants our request. A few more dollars will provide contentment. A little more healing allows you to volunteer … to babysit …to worship— and those are good things! Doesn’t God see the benefits of giving what you ask? God also knows no earthly wish completely satisfies the heart. If you get, you can worship the object. If you get, you only want more. If you get, you can forget the Giver. Going to God again and again and again leads you to revisit his promises and rely on his Word. ‘Cast your anxiety on me for I care for you.’ (1 Peter 5:7). ‘Call on me in the day of trouble, I will deliver you and you will honor me’ (Psalm 50:15). ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding’ (Proverbs 3:5-6). Wrestle with God in Prayer and prevail with God’s mighty blessings of peace.
Wrestling with God in Prayer gives a chance to reflect on your real need. You may not need the cruise; you may instead appreciate the quiet day off. You may not need the smartphone; you may instead appreciate talking to friends. You may not need the car; you may instead appreciate the friend God put into your life to drive you. Jacob did not need escape, he needed God’s protection. Prevail with God’s blessing of living under God’s powerful might.
The next morning, Jacob did meet his brother. For the first time in twenty years they hugged (Genesis 33:1-17). As each went his own way, God kept protecting Jacob— just as promised.
Because God is not me—a parent who says and then breaks his promises. God does not let you down. God does not forget you. You (and I) will confront limitations. We cannot handle so many troubles. God can. Take hold of God’s powerful might and Prevail with God’s blessings. Anything, anytime, anywhere Wrestle with God in Prayer!
One word keeps appearing throughout United States history. One word that seizes your attention. One word that anchors your emotions to a cause. One word that demands action. ‘Remember!’ Remember the Alamo! Think back to the hundreds of Americans fighting for Texas independence. Envision ruthless Santa Ana slaughtering these innocent men. Put yourself into that setting. Feel their fear. Feel their helplessness. Let rage drive you to grab your weapon and get justice! Remember the Maine! The American warship innocently sitting in Cuba’s port— until Spain blew it up! So many sailors crying. Shrieking. Drowning. Remember the needless violence and let emotions move you to act! Remember Pearl Harbor! Hear the wailing warplanes unleash their explosive loads on unsuspecting sailors. Picture the trapped burning and drowning! Let anger drive you to act! Remember September 11th! Replay the horrific images of hijacked planes and burning towers. Think about the frightened Americans and heroic firefighters sacrificing their lives. Recall the terrible aggression thrust on so many unsuspecting and take action! ‘Remember!’
That powerful word drives purpose. You recall an event. You identify its impact on life. You respond with action. So no wonder that same word appears in our reading from 2 Timothy: Remember Jesus Christ! That resounding theme calls you (and me) to action. The struggles we confront, the depression we endure, the frustrations we carry can blind us from life’s ultimate goal. So, remember! Remember Jesus Christ! and you will (1) Remain focused on your eternal goal. You will (2) Receive strength from his trustworthy promises.
So bring to mind the greatest life-changing event in the history of the world. Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. Keep those two key truths firmly planted in mind. See Jesus and see someone raised from the dead— which means, he once was dead. Heart stopped, no blood pressure. Breath gone, no oxygen to the brain. No twitching muscles, no talking, no hearing. Just wrapped in a burial cloth, placed in a tomb, grave sealed. Jesus died— but now lives! Heart beats! Lungs gasp, oxygen flows! Legs stand! Ears hear! Eyes twitch! Burial cloths removed, grave broke open—and never again in it! See Jesus and see someone descended from David. He has parents— just like you (and I). He has flesh and blood. Ten holy commandments rest on his shoulders (Galatians 4:4-5). He constantly confronts temptation. See Jesus live in your same difficult world. Remember these two tremendous truths about your Savior. Remember Jesus Christ, (1) raised from the dead, (2) descended from David.
Why? Out of God’s many uplifting promises, why remember this simple statement? Paul the apostle writes these words. At the time, he suffer[s] even to the point of being chained like a criminal. Understand, Paul does not sit in some musty, damp castle dungeon. He’s not behind bars watching the sheriff polish his six-shooter. No, soldiers drop him into a cistern and then leave. No windows. No doors. The only light trickling in comes through the hole in the ceiling. No sight of guards. No visitors. Paul basically sits chained up inside a big septic tank. Why? Because he taught Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David and people wanted that teaching silenced.
That does not sound fair, does it? I mean, what danger does that message bring? It is not violent. It does not kill. It does not bully. Still, some want God’s teaching silenced. Their rejection will make your life uncomfortable. Your government will not consult the Bible when crafting laws. So, leaders may label your ‘Man/Woman-Only Marriage’ ‘Hate Speech.’ You could be fined, shut down, jailed, or killed. Many refuse to admit that life begins at conception. So, you will have teachers and professors who label the unborn ‘a mass of cells’ that can be aborted. Others let the pursuit of pleasure steer life. Friends may pressure you to abuse your body, to sleep around, to divorce and move on, to believe what you think is ‘right’ and ‘fair,’ to let greed guide your decision-making. Still others treasure time outdoors instead of time with God on Sunday mornings. People will oppose your Christian faith.
How does that make you feel? Ashamed to speak up for what God calls ‘right’? Embarrassed to repeat God’s teachings? Afraid of insults? …jail? …injury? You (and I) may not be tossed into a prison-hole, but expect opposition because that Word is in your heart and spoken with your mouth and seen in your actions and many do not want to confront it.
That’s where even our hearts can grow hostile to God. You (and I) confront God’s ‘right,’ but the world’s ‘wrong’ feels so much better. You could make the effort to repair strained relationships, but you want to be selfish. An unmarried child lives as though married, but it’s easier to say nothing so that no one gets angry. If you change [so-called] offensive Bible teachings, then no one would hate you. You see, sometimes others will make life miserable because they reject the Word. Sometimes we feel miserable because our hearts push against the Word. Do you see the common denominator? Your God. It may feel as though you will be happier, more popular, and less at odds with yourself if you only dump God from your heart. If you stop speaking up. If only you stop believing everything the Bible says. If only you push the Word out of your heart— and then what? Live without God and how will you enter heaven?
That is why Paul says: Remember Jesus Christ! That powerful word drives purpose. Remember the purpose for clinging to Jesus. Your Jesus, descended from David, stood in your world. He exposes the world’s absolute inability to please God— but few wanted to hear that. Massive crowds literally dwindle down to just a handful of disciples (John 6:66). Many call Jesus ‘demon-possessed,’ ‘Satan’s helper,’ a ‘fraud’ (Mark 3:22). Even Judas, one of the twelve, trades Jesus for money. The world so desperately wants God’s convicting Word silenced that they kill Jesus. Understand, as David’s descendant, Jesus is tempted too (read Matthew 4:1-11). He is tempted to change parts of the Bible people do not want to hear. He could stop correcting sin. He could just say nothing— but then, he would be as sinful as you (and I). His crucifixion would be meaningless.
Jesus clings to the Word because only obedience to God’s teachings brings life! So, Remember Jesus Christ, tempted like you, but never stumbling. The world throws him away, but God raised [him] from the dead. God makes Jesus alive again! He does that because he is pleased with Jesus’ life, with his behavior! (Romans 4:25) You who have heard this wonderful news, you who know that Jesus has filled you with his complete adherence to the Word have obtain[ed] the salvation that is in Christ Jesus.
Remember Jesus Christ! Call that marvelous truth to mind! Remember the purpose for clinging to the Word even when facing discomfort! You cling to the One who has opened heaven! Remember Jesus Christ and you will (1) Remain focused on your eternal goal. Remember Jesus Christ and you will (2) Receive strength from his trustworthy promises.
Here is a trustworthy saying… Completely reliable. Absolutely unable to be broken. God will not lie (Numbers 23:19). If we died with him, we will also live with him… Notice the tense of that first verb? If we died… Past tense, action happening in a previous time. God points you back to your baptism, where water covered your head, covered your love for status and love for worldly pleasures. Just as Jesus died covered in our guilt, but rose again guilt-less, you (and I) also come out of that water without guilt (Romans 6:2-11). Rotting in prison because you repeated God’s expectations may leave you feeling as though God abandoned you. He has not. He cannot. You died with him and therefore you will live with him. [I]f we endure, we will also reign with him.
If we disown him, he will also disown us… You (and I) will face pressure to act first and then use the Bible to justify behavior. Cover up divorce by saying, ‘God wants me to be happy.’ Say nothing to the child who has not worshipped for a long time. We will face the temptation to change the Word to conform to what we want to hear. Maybe we disown God by shaking a fist at him. Assume God has forsaken you. After all, you prayed and you have not seen an answer. You shape your life according to the Word, but people still mock you. It might be easier to join the unbelieving group. God makes it clear: if you consider him too much a burden and dump him, he will let you have your way. He will let you have life forever without him.
Even if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself. God keeps his Word; he will punish those who turn from him. He threatens punishment when we challenge his care for us. He threatens punishment the instant we deliberately set aside God’s commandments for the opinions of the heart. He threatens punishment when we plug our ears to his saving Word. He will do what he guarantees: punish the stubborn and forgive the sorry (Exodus 34:6-7)— including you (and me). Jesus points us back to our baptism, back to his promise of making us his children (Isaiah 43:1; Galatians 3:26-27). He guarantees: ‘You are mine.’ Even when we stumble, God faithfully forgives. Remember Jesus Christ and Receive strength from his trustworthy promises.
It might not be fair when the world labels you a ‘threat.’ It might not be fair when leaders teach ungodly stances on life and marriage and refuse to present God’s teachings. It might not be fair when you share Jesus with your son only to receive resistance. It might not feel fair that you fight to restore a relationship, but the other person does not try. For Paul, it is not fair that he rots in prison because of a harmless teaching. Yet, our reading does not say: ‘Gripe! Complain! Even the score!’ No! It says: Remember Jesus Christ!
That powerful word drives purpose. Recall an event. Remember Jesus who suffered. Identify its impact on life. Jesus suffers because people hate his Word. Jesus suffers because we resist the Word. Jesus suffers so that will suffer forever. Respond with action. Your Jesus lives exalted. Myriads of angels shower him with endless praise. No worldly outranks him. He even hands this status to you—and what a title it is!
The struggles we confront, the depression we endure, the frustrations we carry can blind us from life’s ultimate goal. So, remember! Remember Jesus Christ! and you will (1) Remain focused on your eternal goal. You will (2) Receive strength from his trustworthy promises.
Chuck handed his Pastor the keys to a brand new John Deere X739 Signature Series Lawn Tractor. The V-Twin, liquid-cooled iTorque power system with electronic fuel injection puts out twenty-six horses. The 60-inch Edge High-Capacity mower deck with MulchControl effortlessly chews through the thickest grass and soggiest leaf piles. The hydrostatic four-wheel drive with TwinTouch control pedals powers this mower uphill, downhill, and side-hill, through swampy low-spots and over dried out ruts. The 20-bushel Click-N-Go Material Collection System can devour every leaf on the 4-acre church property and spit out the waste at the touch of a button. Make no mistake about it, this beast would keep the outside of God’s house immaculate.
Everyone saw the advantage. Actually, they had no choice. Chuck stood at the front doors of the church just beaming. As worshippers filed through those doors Sunday morning, Chuck made to point out the new tractor. “I spent $20,000 on that for the church.”
Impressed? Probably not. You can see past the object given and pinpoint the motivation for that generosity. Chuck did not care if God received the honor, respect, and praise owed him. That thought never enters the mind. No, Chuck bought expensive equipment in order to buy praise for himself.
The heart’s endless quest for attention hinders Christian service. That is why God asks you today: ‘What is your motivation for serving?’ Because Christian service has only one starting point: God’s grace. The reason we serve is because God’s Grace Motivates Christian Service. We are unworthy servants. So, We only do our duty.
You could summarize Luke 17:1-10 with those words: ‘Christian service.’ In fact, that single thread connects each verse together. Jesus said to his disciples: Temptations to sin are sure to come… Temptation, that is, a desire to do what God forbids— and you (and I) encounter no shortage of temptation. Think about the powerful craving to get revenge when that careless driver cuts you off. Or revisit the strong, greedy impulses to hold back money from God. Temptations surround you (and me), hoping to drag our attention and hearts away from the Word of God! (Revelation 12:9)
Understand, being tempted is not wrong. Telling the devil, ‘No! I will not do evil. Go away!’ is not sinful. Jesus makes it clear: [W]oe to the one through whom they come! Acting on temptation is wrong. So, Pay attention to yourselves! Temptation can suddenly seize you and steal you away from serving God with your life.
Do you see where temptation can appear? Jesus highlights two areas in life. Two areas where you (and I) are called to serve each other, but can serve for the wrong reasons. If your brother sins, rebuke him… Serve by approaching him out of heartfelt care and concern. Identify how this action drags him away from God and closer to death. Identify the evil so that he turns away from it and turns to life! [I]f he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” If he keeps trespassing on your property and he keeps coming to you, tears in eyes, heart torn, pleading: ‘I am so sorry, forgive me!’ then forgive. Release him from guilt. Assure him of a restored standing between you and him. If she keeps trashing your reputation you and keeps returning saying, ‘I am so sorry! I am trying hard to speak nice. Please forgive me!’ then forgive. Do not hold a grudge; do not seek revenge. Put the offense in the past; consider it: ‘Paid in full.’ You serve by bringing the forgiveness of Christ into life.
Is that something you want to do? To be honest, If [my] brother sins, [I will] rebuke him. I can point out faults. “Hey! You cussed! Don’t do that! …And you— you hit your sister! Stop that! …And you think no one saw your car at home last Sunday morning? I did on the way back from church.” I love rebuking people because pointing out someone else’s failures makes me look superior— like I’m a better Christian than my fellow believers! And forgiving— well, that’s a little more difficult. After all, that no-good, trespassing neighbor keeps spooking away my deer and I have to deal with it. I have no deer for deer season, and he will still have something to hunt. It hurts when my friend does not appreciate my help. It makes me feel unimportant. Her attacks are not showers of heaping praise I want to hear. The sister who always argues? Well, why forgive her? She needs me, I do not need her. So, let her taste what life is like without my kind advice, my help, my encouragement. Let her suffer.
Do you see it? Right beside selfless service stands the temptation for pride. I rebuke the sinner, not to protect a soul, but to exalt my moral superiority! I refuse to forgive because I consider that weakness and my pride will suffer. People will consider me ‘a push over’ and think that I can absorb abuse. I do not want pain, I want praise. Even when I put the encouragement of Christ into action I am tempted to gloat! “I forgave the bully! I am so strong!... I still speak to my brother and he drives me nuts. I am so loving!... I brought back that member who has not been in church for a while!... Look at me! I am such a great Christian!” If you think your Christian living is one great big gift to God, then you have fallen into pride.
Do you know what Jesus gives pride? A nice pillow-sized stone. It would be better… if a millstone were hung around [the] neck and cast into the sea so that no one else imitates your self-centered living!
Which makes it quite strange that God does do that. God does not hang your pride around your neck and watch you sink straight into the depths of hell. Instead, he takes your pride, ties it around Jesus’ neck, and lets it drag his own Son into death.
You see, Jesus stands in Luke 17 not as a Teacher or a Taskmaster. He stands a servant. He deserves all praise because he withstands temptation (Matthew 4:1-11). He deserves all praise because he forgives sin (Mark 2:9-12). He deserves all praise because he literally comes to rebuke the sin that was killing us (Luke 19:10). Yet, instead of praise, he receives insults. He receives an untruthful death-sentence. He receives our punishment. Jesus comes not to be served, not to stoke his pride, but to set aside his crown as King and fill you with his innocent life! (Mark 10:45).
That is called ‘grace.’ Love not deserved, but love God chooses to shower on you (and me)! Just think: do you deserve God punished for your pride? Are you so awesome, so wonderful that God desperately needed to trade Jesus for you? By no means! You (and I) deserve death, but God gives us life! Jesus lives to give you (and me) the greatest title of all: a servant in the household of the almighty God!
God’s Grace Motivates Christian Service. What makes us even want to care about someone else? God’s Grace. God has changed you from a death-row rebel into unworthy servants. Servants who seek no self-praise. Rather, servants who ponder this gift of love and see only opportunities to do our duty.
“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? Obviously, we do not have slaves, but we do expect people to carry out the responsibilities associated with their jobs. Do teachers thank students for doing their homework? No! A student is expected to do his work. That is part of learning, that is literally what a student does; he learns. Do you thank your [grand]children when they finish their chores or brush their teeth? No! If you command a [grand]child to clean her room, that child (who lives under you authority) is expected to obey you. Do you praise parents for staying up all night with an infant and then going to work tired and later cleaning the house and running errands? No! Parents have a responsibility to raise a child at any cost! We do not give credit to someone who merely does their job. Those with a title are expected to complete the responsibilities of that title.
In the same way, God has prepared you (and me) for Christian service (Ephesians 2:10). ‘Christian’— because the Holy Spirit has put Christ in our hearts. ‘Service’— because your (and my) actions address needs. If you (and I) belong to the household of God, then God expects us to live as people who are part of the household of God. God will not shower you with bonus points because you approached your son about living with his girlfriend outside of marriage. You will not earn extra credit because you forgave a stubborn father. God does not fist-pump the air because you made it to worship today. You already belong to God. You are not doing him favors. You are not earning extra slices of heaven. You only do your duty; you live as God expects a Christian to live.
That might be difficult to do. Perhaps you find it difficult to forgive. She accused you of some horrible things, when, in reality, you gave her money, spoke up for her, and helped her. Maybe you wrestle with pride; you really want self-praise for sharing faith in public or giving $5.00 to the homeless on the corner. I mean, you did something no one else did. So, where do you turn to keep pride in check? The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. Here’s the point: God gives strength to do difficult tasks.
How does he give strength? You focus on him. You do not see a stubborn sister or homeless man. You see Jesus. You see Jesus forgive you—even though you approached him seven times for the same act. He never brings up that shame again. That’s what you see in front of you. So, you can say: ‘I forgive you. I forgive because I have been forgiven much more free of charge.’ You see Jesus on the street-corner. You look at the money that is always there because God always makes sure that it’s there. So, you give. You lose nothing; you give because God has given you much more than $5.00. You give to the financial needs of your church. You give prayers for those far from God. You only do your duty because God has adopted you into his household.
The heart’s endless quest for attention hinders Christian service. That is why God asks you today: ‘What is your motivation for serving?’ Because Christian service has only one starting point: God’s grace. The reason we serve is because God’s Grace Motivates Christian Service. So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”