May 18, 2008

UnGoogleable

Part 6: Discovering the unsearchable riches of His kindness

 

Opening:

ILL: Let me tell you a story about Mark and Mitch.  Mark was a kid who was invited by friends to a Young Life camp.  Bob Mitchell, also known as Mitch, was the main speaker that week at the camp.  Mitch also called most of the shots-including when meals would be served. So Mitch was often talking with the cook.

The cook loved her work, but it was exhausting. She always looked tired. Whenever she talked to Mitch, he got up and gave her his chair-and a moment’s rest-while they discussed meal plans.

Nobody noticed Mitch doing this, except Mark. Mark hadn’t been real interested in Jesus, but when he saw that simple act of kindness by the camp speaker, he began to listen to Mitchell’s talks. Later that week, Mark asked Jesus to be his Savior.

When asked why he became a Christian, Mark said it wasn’t because of the messages, but because of the kindness he saw in Mitch. “If that’s what it means to be a Christian,” Mark said, “I want to be one.”

Mark was drawn to Jesus by kindness.  Today, we’re going to talk about the unsearchable riches of God’s kindness, and how it draws us to God.

 

Introduction:

In this series of talks, “Ungoogleable”, we’re talking about the unsearchable riches of Christ.

Ephesians 3:8 “Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”

This was Paul’s message: the unsearchable riches of Christ.  We’ve been looking at some of those riches: the riches of His love, His power, His provision, and His wisdom and knowledge.  Today, we’re going to talk about the riches of His kindness toward us, and how we can share it with others.


1.  His kindness attracts us to Him.

Jeremiah 31:3 “The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” 

How does God draw us to Himself?  With kindness.

Romans 2:4 “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” 

What leads us, what draws us to repentance?  God’s kindness.  His kindness attracts us, draws us, leads us to Him.  He woos us and wins us with kindness.  How many of you know the old proverb, “You attract more bees with honey than vinegar“?   This is pretty easy to understand.  God draws us to Himself with the honey of kindness.  We see it all the time in human relationships.

ILL:  A little over 10 years ago, when Rick and Janine and Laina and I went to Israel, a young Jewish woman who worked for the tour company spent two days with our group as an observer.  On the second day, Laina had a long talk with Irit as we sat together on the bus.  Irit told Laina, “All of you are different.”  There were two things that caught her attention.  One was our worship-she had never seen anything like it.  At the start of our tour, our leader told us, “We’re going to worship our way across Israel.”  And we did.  Almost every place we visited, we took time to worship and pray.  Irit sat in on those worship times.   “We pray on holy days in the synagogue.  But you pray everywhere, every day.  And we never sing like you do.”  She was impressed and intrigued by our worship. 

          The second difference that attracted Irit?  She said, “You are so kind to each other.  You treat each other with respect.  It’s obvious you love each other.” 

Kind people attract others to themselves; unkind people drive them away.  We all know that.  Kindness is magnetic!

          So we shouldn’t be surprised that God attracts us, draws us to Himself with kindness.  I believe that one of qualities that made Jesus so magnetic was His kindness.

ILL:  John 4 tells a wonderful story of Jesus’ kindness.  Jesus and His friends were traveling from Jerusalem back to Galilee, about a 4-day walk, when they stopped at noon for lunch and a rest.  The disciples went into a nearby village to buy food at the local market, leaving Jesus to rest by the well.  A woman coming to draw water at noon interrupted his rest. 

          Why was a woman coming to draw water, and not a man?  Water is heavy, and carrying it is hard work!  So why a woman?  Because, in that culture, women did the work.  Men had to make the decisions, and needed time to think, so women did most of the physical labor.  It was a very advanced civilization!

          Why was she coming at noon in the heat of the day?  Usually, the women came to draw water in the cool of the morning; they gathered at the well to draw water, and talk with their neighbors and friends.  Why was this woman coming alone in the heat of the day?  Later in the story, we discover that this woman had been married and divorced 5 times, and now was living with another man.  She came at noon because she hoped no one else would be there; she didn’t want to face the cold rejection of the other women, or listen to their hateful slurs.  “Slut!  Draw your water somewhere else!” 

          But someone was there.  A man was sitting by the well, and he asked her for a drink.  She was surprised: first, because men didn’t speak with women in public; and second, this man was a Jew, and Jews didn’t talk with Samaritans.   He had two good reasons for not speaking to her; of course, she knew another reason he should snub her, but thankfully, this stranger couldn’t possibly know about that.

          “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman.  How can you ask me for a drink?”

          The stranger smiled.  “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”  Suddenly the tables are turned.  The stranger was offering her a drink!

          “But sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep.  Where can you get this living water?” 

          He smiled again and pointed to the well.  “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 

          She wasn’t sure what he meant by living water and eternal life, but she liked the idea of never thirsting, and not having to trudge out to the well every day.  “Ok.  I’d like some of this living water you’re talking about so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water every day.” 

          Jesus saw that she didn’t understand him, so He tried a different approach.  “Go home, get your husband and come back.”  Perhaps there was an edge of defensiveness in her voice when she answered, “I have no husband.”

          The stranger smiled again, “I know.  You’ve had five and you’re not married to the man you have now.”  He knew her secret!  She had to wonder, “How did he know?  How does this Jewish stranger know my past?”  And now he had three reasons not to speak with her-but there he was, still smiling, waiting for her answer.  She wanted to change the subject.

          “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.  So I have a question for you.  Where should we worship?  You Jews claim we ought to worship in Jerusalem.  My ancestors worship here on this mountain.  What do you think?”  His answer surprised her.

          “Neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  The place for worship isn’t out there; it’s in here.  It’s time for the true worshipers to worship the Father here–in spirit and truth.  They are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”  What could she say to that?  It was unlike anything that she had ever heard, a new idea.  This man was different.

          “I believe the Messiah is coming, and when He comes, He will explain everything to us.” 

          The stranger leaned forward and looked straight into her eyes.  “I am he.  I am the Messiah.” 

          She dropped her water jar, and ran back to her village, thinking all the way, “Could it be?  Could the Messiah be sitting by our village well?”  She arrived breathless in the village, and wasted no time telling anyone who would listen, “There is a man at our well who knows my history-a stranger who could tell me everything I ever did!  Come and see!  Perhaps he’s the Messiah!”  And a whole village came and saw…and believed.

          It all started with a simple kindness: Jesus talked with a woman who believed he had every reason not to talk with her.  That simple kindness attracted her, and she became, as far as we know, the first person Jesus ever told that He is the Messiah. 

“I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”  “God’s kindness leads you toward repentance.”  Can you see it?  What drew you to Christ?  What led you to repentance?   The threat of judgment?  The fear of hell?  For some.  But for most of us, like Mark in my opening story, it was His love, His kindness that drew us in.  Perhaps, like the woman, you think that God has every reason for shunning you, for not speaking to you, for ignoring you.  Look again-not at your failure, but His kindness.  And let His kindness draw you to Him.

 

2.  We don’t deserve His kindness.

          The second thing to notice about the riches of His kindness is that we don’t deserve it.  Someone said, “Kindness consists in loving people more than they deserve.”

Genesis 32:10 Jacob prays, “I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant.”  

Jacob got that right!  He was a rascal!  Twice he had hoodwinked his brother, cheating him first out of his birthright, and then his father’s blessing.  When Esau vowed to kill him for revenge, Jacob ran for his life.  Now, 20 years later, he is returning home a rich man with a large family.  When he hears that Esau is coming to meet him with a small army, Jacob begs God to protect him.  His prayer begins with this admission: “I am unworthy of all the kindness you have shown me.”  And he was right!  He had been a slime-ball, but God had been kind anyway!

          I look at all of God’s blessings in my life, and I can pray this prayer too: “Lord, I am unworthy of all the kindness you have shown me.”  I haven’t been a slime-ball like Jacob-never cheated anybody that I know of-I’ve been a nice slime-ball!  But I know that I don’t deserve God’s kindness to me.  And neither do you.  We don’t deserve His kindness. 

This is God’s nature: to be kind to the undeserving!  Jesus put it this way:

Luke 6:35 “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”

God is kind to evil and ungrateful people.  He gives us better than we deserve. 

ILL:  Years ago, Ted Williams, the Splendid Splinter, was closing out his career with the Boston Red Sox.  He was suffering from a pinched nerve in his neck that season.  It was so bad that he could hardly turn his head to see the pitcher. For the first time in his career he batted under .300, hitting just .254 with 10 home runs.  Yet, he was the highest-paid player in sports, making $125,000.

          The next year, the Red Sox sent him the same contract.  When he got it, Williams sent it back with a note saying that he would not sign it until they gave him the full pay cut allowed.  “I was always treated fairly by the Red Sox when it came to contracts,” Williams said.  “Now they were offering me a contract I didn’t deserve.  And I only wanted what I deserved.”  Williams cut his own salary by 25 percent, raised his batting average by 62 points, and closed out a brilliant career by hitting a home run his final at bat.

          Kind of refreshing, isn’t it?  You don’t see any of today’s stars volunteering for pay cuts!  Ted Williams realized that he was getting more than he deserved.  Do you?

Do you realize that every gift from God is undeserved, an expression of His grace and mercy?

Titus 3:4-5  “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” 

John Wenham, in his book, The Goodness of God, makes an interesting observation:  “Because sin deserves death and we are all sinners, it means that all our mercies are undeserved mercies. Any apparent unfairness in God’s treatment of us arises not because some have too much punishment, but because some of us appear to have too little. None of us will ever receive harsher judgment than we deserve. The marvel is, in the biblical view, not that men die for their sins, but that we remain alive in spite of them.”

          God is kind to you and me…and we don’t deserve it! 

 

3.  His kindness is expressed in many ways. 

          A third thing we discover about the riches of His kindness is that it is expressed in many ways.

Isaiah 63:7  “I will tell of the kindnesses of the LORD, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the LORD has done for usyes, the many good things he has done for the house of Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses.”

He has done many good things for us, shown us many kindnesses.  What are some of those?

 

          A.  He saves us. 

Genesis 19:19 Lot prays, “Your servant has found favor in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life.”

Lot recognized that God has shown him a great kindness by rescuing him from Sodom before He destroyed it.  God spared his life.  God sent someone into Sodom to find Lot and lead him out before the destruction began, and God did it despite Lot’s resistance and foot-dragging!  That’s kindness. 

          When Christians talk about “being saved” or “salvation”, we mean that God has rescued us-just like He rescued Lot.  He sent Jesus to find us, and lead us out.

ILL:  Back in December, 1997, there was an article in our local paper entitled, “Hostage saviors”.  John Armstrong, a drug-crazed murderer held 2 small children hostage for 3 days.  A SWAT team surrounded the house and waited for an opportunity to rescue the children, two little boys, 4 and 2.  Police eavesdropped through a button-sized microphone snaked through the venetian blinds and dropped on the floor.  Finally, they heard snoring.  The SWAT team locked hands in a circle and prayed.  They picked the lock on the back door, and tiptoed through the house to the bedroom.  When they kicked in the door, they found Armstrong in the middle of the bed, with the two kids asleep on either side of him.  He had a gun in his hands, his finger on the trigger.  Scott Perkins leaped on top of Armstrong so he couldn’t point the gun at the kids.  A shot tore through Perkins left hand.  In seconds, it was over: Armstrong was dead, and the children were safely in the arms of their mother.  Perkins’ commander praised him, “He was willing to sacrifice himself as a shield” to save the children.

That’s what Jesus did.  He sacrificed Himself to save us.  We were hostages to sin, and He came after us and sacrificed Himself to rescue us, and set us free.  This was a great kindness.

          Jesus has rescued us from sin.  He has rescued us from the guilt of sin in our past; from slavery to sin in our present; and from the eternal consequences of sin in our future. He has rescued us from judgment and death.  We don’t have to suffer the agonies of hell.  He has spared our lives-now and forever!  What a great kindness!

Titus 3:4-5  “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” 

When the kindness of God appeared…he saved us!  What a kindness!

 

B.     He provides for us.  

          God’s kindness is expressed in His provision for us.  I’m not going to take much time on this one because I did an entire message in this series on the ungoogleable riches of His provision, so I’ll just share one verse.

Acts 14:17 “Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” 

How does God show His kindness?  By providing what we need: rain, crops, food and shelter.  So often we take these basic necessities for granted; but they are gifts of kindness from a loving Father.

Do you have a roof over your heads?  Food to eat?  Clothes to wear?  Don’t take them for granted; thank your Father for His kindness! 

 

          C.  He cares for us. 

          Closely related to God’s provision is His care.  God cares about you. 

1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your cares on the Lord, for He cares for you.” 

God cares for you, and that care is an expression of His kindness.

Genesis 39:21 Speaking of Joseph, it says “the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.” 

How did the Lord express His kindness to Joseph when he was in prison?  God gave Joseph favor with the warden.  God was there, caring for Joseph.

          I wonder how many of you feel like you’re in prison.  It might be a prison of loneliness, or a prison of debt, or a prison of discouragement, or a prison of pain.  The Lord is with you.  He is there, in your prison, just like He was with Joseph in his prison.  He is there to care for you.  And He has shown His kindness to you in some specific way there in prison.  Think about it.  He is with you and showing kindness to you.  How is He doing that?  He cares for you as an expression of the riches of His kindness.

          In His great kindness, God saves us, provides for us, and cares for us.  To really appreciate the riches of His kindness, we need to know one more thing.

 

4.  His kindness is everlasting!

          Listen to these verses.

          1 Samuel 20:14 Jonathan says to David, “But show me unfailing kindness like that of the LORD as long as I live.”  Jonathan describes God’s kindness as “unfailing”. 

          Psalm 18:50 “He gives his king great victories; he shows unfailing kindness to his anointed, to David and his descendants forever.”  David describes God’s kindness as “unfailing”. 

          Isaiah 54:8 “In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD your Redeemer.”  God describes His kindness as “everlasting”.

          Jeremiah 31:3 “The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”

          Some of you have experienced the agony of divorce.  You were drawn into the relationship by love and kindness, and you shared vows of permanence, confident that the relationship would last a lifetime.  There are few things more painful than the dissolution of a marriage, the death of a love that was supposed to be everlasting.  Those of you who have experienced that pain can probably appreciate more than most the everlasting kindness of God.  God will never turn on you.  He will never leave you or forsake you.  His commitment to you will never end; His kindness towards you will never cease.  His love is forever.

ILL: Richard Armstrong, in Make Your Life Worthwhile, tells this true story.  A man in Wales fell in love with his neighbor, but they had an argument, a spat, and she refused to reconcile.  For 42 years, this persistent, but rather shy man slipped a weekly love letter under his neighbor’s door. But she refused to respond.

          Finally, after writing 2,184 love letters without ever getting a spoken or written answer, this single-hearted old man summoned up enough courage to present himself in person. He knocked on the door of the reluctant lady and asked for her hand. To his delight and surprise, she accepted. The couple, both 74, became husband and wife.

          Now that’s unfailing love!  Everlasting kindness!

And that’s how God loves you.  He’s loved you forever, and will keep on loving you, even when you refuse to respond.   Of course, the tragedy in that story is that the lady was so stubborn for 42 years, and missed out on 42 years of love and happiness.  I hope you won’t do that.  God is drawing you with His kindness, an everlasting kindness.  Please don’t be stubborn and refuse to respond.  In fact, I want to give you the chance right now to open the door to Him. 

Revelation 3:20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

Just like that man, Jesus is knocking on your door, the door of your heart, asking you to let Him in.  Pray.

 

5. What do we do with all these riches?  Share it!

          God has been kind to you; be kind to others.  Share the kindness.  In fact, we want to start a kindness wildfire in Spokane this week. Inside your program you’ll find five kindness cards.  Here’s what we want you to do.  This week, do something kind for someone, and give them a kindness card and tell them to pay it forward and do a kindness for someone else.  See if you can start a kindness chain reaction! 

ILL: You’ve all heard stories, like the one of the customer at a Starbucks drive-through in Greensburg, PA, who wanted to pay for the drinks in the car behind her, and just asked that they pass it on.  Two hours later, over 100 cars had received a paid-for drink and in turn voluntarily paid for the drinks behind them.

ILL: My friend, Jim Millard, who trains pastors in Asia, shared this story with me.

Bob Moffitt taught pastors in Mongolia to reach out to their communities and to express the love of Christ practically by meeting people’s needs.  He encouraged each of the Mongolian pastors to do a “Seed Project.”  A Seed Project is just a small project to meet a specific need in the community. 

          One church decided to clean the snow and ice off of the streets and sidewalks in their community.  The story of what happened through this small act of kindness is amazing.

          Someone was very impressed that they would clean the streets and gave them a large quantity of flour.  The church distributed the flour to people in need.  Someone else saw this act of kindness and gave them some coal…5 tons of coal!  The church distributed it to people in the countryside who burn coal to heat their yurts.  These people were touched and gave the church 5 pigs. The church is raising these pigs and will sell them in the spring, and use that money to help others. 

          One small seed of kindness has the potential to produce fruit that reproduces itself again and again.  This is how the Kingdom of God is spreading in Mongolia!

It’s a wildfire!  A kindness chain-reaction.  If all 4000 of us do one kindness a day this week, Monday through Friday, that would be 20,000 acts of kindness.  We could start 20,000 chain reactions all over town.  Can you imagine what that would do in our community?  What kinds of things could you do?

ILL: A pastor who was encouraging his church to use small acts of kindness to demonstrate Christ’s love phoned several neighborhood grocery stores and laundromats for permission to do specific services.

On one call, the employee who answered the phone hesitated, then said, “I’ll need to ask the manager, but first, let me make sure I understand: You want to clean up the parking lot, retrieve shopping carts, hold umbrellas for customers, and you don’t want anything in return.”

“Yes, that’s right,” the pastor replied.

After a few moments, the employee returned to the phone. “I’m sorry,” he said, “we can’t let you do that because if we let you do it, we’d have to let everyone else do it, too!”

That’s the idea!  So each day, do something kind for someone, and ask them to pass it on, pay it forward.  One a day…and let’s see what happens in our community!