Sunday, October 11, 2015
Pastor Joe Wittwer
The God I Wish You Knew
God is generous
ILL: Len Sullivan was a church planter in northern Saskatchewan, and like most church planters, money was tight. He writes:
One week in April, we were down to only a few dollars in the bank. Our usual reaction to that need was to look for our own solution. This time, however, in a stroke of faith, I went before God and told him that we needed eggs, bread, and milk. I would wait upon him.
That afternoon, a man came to my little fix-it shop with a leaky teakettle. He said, “I know I could get another, but it’s my favorite kettle. Please fix it.” In a matter of minutes the job was done, and I didn’t even charge him for it. But he pulled out a $10 bill and insisted that I take it—just enough to buy a gallon of milk, a dozen eggs, and a loaf of bread.
As he left, with a bit of pride in my faith, I thanked God, to which he replied: “Don’t you wish you had asked for a half a beef?”
Have you ever done this? Prayed a small prayer and wished later you had prayed a big one! What’s behind our small prayers? Often it’s because we believe we have a small God, a stingy God, a God who is reluctant to give. But that is not the God that Jesus knew and revealed.
In this series, “The God I Wish You Knew”, we are looking at God as Jesus revealed Him. We want to know the God whom Jesus knew. This God is good. This God is Father. And this God is incredibly generous. This is the God I wish you knew. Here’s:
The Big Idea: The God I wish you knew is scandalously generous! You can never out-give God.
I hope that you leave here with a new boldness to give big grace, to dare big things, and to pray big prayers!
Here are three stories Jesus told about God’s generosity:
- The Generous Boss: give big grace.
Jesus told a story about God’s generosity, a generosity so lavish that it offended people—it was scandalous. Here’s the story:
Matthew 20:1–16 For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, “You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” 5 So they went.
He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, “Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?”
7 “Because no one has hired us,” they answered.
He said to them, “You also go and work in my vineyard.”
8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, “Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.”
9 The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 “These who were hired last worked only one hour,” they said, “and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.”
13 But he answered one of them, “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.
How many of you are thinking, “No fair!”? If I had worked all day—12 hours through the heat of the day—and was paid the same as the guys who worked an hour, I’d protest too! At first glance it seems unfair. But in reality, the boss paid exactly what he promised, which was a full day’s wage for a full day’s work—it was fair pay. No one was treated unfairly—it’s just that those hired later were treated generously—so generously that it offends our sensibilities. It’s scandalous!
What’s going on in this story? It follows the story of the rich young ruler, a man who had done all the right things, but loved his money more than he loved Jesus. So when Jesus said, “Give all you have to the poor and come follow me,” he couldn’t do it. He walked away from Jesus.
Matthew 19:23–24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
The disciples were astonished, and asked, “Who then can be saved?” In their theology, riches were a sign of God’s blessing. If the rich—God’s favorites—will have a hard time getting in, who can be saved? Jesus turned their whole theology upside down!
Peter asks, “We’ve left everything to follow you. What will there be for us?” Peter points out that they have done what Jesus asked the rich young ruler to do: left everything and followed. What’s their reward?
Matthew 19:28–30 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
Jesus tells Peter that he will be rewarded, but warns him that the reward system in God’s Kingdom is different than we’re used to. The first will be last, and the last first.
That thought is repeated again at the end of the story of the generous boss. The last will be first, and the first will be last.
The religious people of Jesus’ day were upset that He offered salvation to undeserving people, to tax collectors and other sinners. They believed that you had to earn it. You had to be good enough. You had to work 12 hours through the heat of the day to earn your salvation; Jesus was giving it to folks who showed up at 5 PM. God’s salvation—a place in His Kingdom—is a generous gift of grace.
Who is the boss in Jesus’ story? God. What is the lesson Jesus is teaching? That God is generous. He gives us more than we deserve. Here’s the reality: no one deserves to go to heaven. No one is good enough. If we got what we deserved, we’d all go to hell. But God is scandalously generous and offers salvation as free gift of grace for everyone, whether you show up at the first hour or the eleventh hour.
Just like the religious people of Jesus’ day were surprised that He was letting the sinners in, I think we’ll be surprised when we get to heaven! “You made it?”
ILL: A taxi driver and a pastor were standing in line to get into heaven. The taxi driver approached the gate and St. Peter said, “Welcome, I understand you were a taxi driver. See that mansion over the hilltop? It’s yours.”
The pastor heard this and began to stand a little taller. He said to himself, “If a taxi driver got a place like that, just think what I’ll get.”
The pastor approached the gate and St. Peter said, “Welcome, I understand you were a pastor. See that shack in the valley?”
St. Peter had hardly gotten the words out of his mouth when the irate pastor said, “I was a pastor, I preached the gospel, I taught people about God. Why does that taxi driver get a mansion, and I get a shack?”
St. Peter said, “Well, it seems when you preached, people slept. When he drove, people prayed.”
I think we’ll be surprised when we get to heaven! There will be people in heaven who have lived righteously all their lives, done all the right things, and worked hard. They were the ones who worked 12 hours through the heat of the day. There will also be people in heaven who showed up at the eleventh hour, an hour before quitting time. They wasted their lives doing nothing, they didn’t answer God’s call until the last possible moment. But they are welcomed into heaven just like the guys who did it all right. Why? Because God is generous and gives us more than we deserve.
I’m counting on God’s generosity towards me—I need it. And I’m counting on it for my dad. I told you last week that he was an alcoholic who was a good dad sober, and a terror when he was drunk. My dad finally dried out and came to Christ just a couple years before he died. He was one of those 11th hour guys. I’m counting on seeing my dad in heaven because of God’s generosity and grace.
Our response to God’s scandalous generosity ought to be to give big grace to others. The fact that we identify with guys who worked all day and cried “no fair” shows that our hearts are still cramped. Wouldn’t a better response be to say, “That’s cool! I’m glad God was generous with them.” Shouldn’t we want others to receive generous grace? I hope God’s scandalous generosity will move to you to give big grace to others.
God is generous. So give big grace to others. This is the God I wish you knew.
- The Three Wealth Managers: dare big things!
Don’t raise your hands on this question: how many of you have a wealth manager? This is a fairly new term that includes financial planning and investment counseling. You may not have a wealth manager, but you are one! Here’s the story Jesus told.
Matthew 25:14–30 Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. “Master,” he said, “you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.”
21 His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
22 The man with two bags of gold also came. “Master,” he said, “you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.”
23 His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
24 Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. “Master,” he said, “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.”
26 His master replied, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28 ”So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
This is another story about the Kingdom of God: “Again, it will be like…” In the story, three men are entrusted with another man’s wealth, and it is clear that they are expected to manage it wisely.
One was given 5 bags of gold, another 2 bags of gold and the third one bag of gold. The NIV has taken the liberty of translating the Greek talenton as “bag of gold.” Usually it is translated “talent”. The word referred to a measure of weight (58-80 pounds) or coinage (equal to 6000 denarii, or 20 years wages for a working man).
That gives you an idea how generous these gifts were. One man was given 100 years wages to invest, another 40 years wages, and the last 20 years wages. The owner gave them these gifts according to their ability. We have a tendency to feel sorry for the 1 talent guy—the one bag of gold. But he was given 20 years wages to invest! How many of you would like 20 years wages to invest? Even at today’s minimum wage ($9.47/hour in Washington), that would be $380,000! How many of you would like $380k to invest?
The man who got the least still got a lot to work with!
Who is the master in the story disbursing his wealth? It is God—God who is extravagantly generous. God has generously entrusted you with His wealth to manage. This obviously includes money—that’s the currency Jesus chose to use in the story. I just pointed out that 20 years at minimum wage is $380,000! If you worked 40 years, it would be $760,000—3/4 of a million dollars working for minimum wage! Most of you will earn far more than minimum wage, and in the course of your lifetime will manage millions of dollars. Whose money is it? God’s. Everything we have is His; we aren’t owners, we are managers. We are God’s wealth managers, and He has been generous to us. What are you doing with God’s money? One day, we will each answer for how we used God’s wealth.
But it’s not just our money. God has generously entrusted us with so much else: time, talents, influence, things. God has generously equipped you to serve Him, to make a difference in the world. What are you doing with what God has given you?
Back to our Big Idea: God is generous. In this story, Jesus clearly teaches that God has been generous with each of us. Use what God has given you and dare to try big things for God. Rather than comparing yourself with someone who has more, be thankful for what you have and make the most of it. Rather than feeling down about what you have—“I don’t have much—I’m just a one talent person”—why don’t you thank God for what you have and make the most of it. Use what God has given you and dare to try big things for God.
ILL: I just finished a wonderful book, A Dream So Big, by Steve Peifer. Steve was a marketplace guy, working for Oracle, making big money, when their third son was born with terminal disabilities. His death rocked their world. But rather than running from God, Steve ran to Him, to a Father who loves him, and offered himself in a new way. Steve and his wife and two sons ended up in Kenya as dorm parents at Rift Valley Academy, a boarding school for missionary kids from all over Africa.
On a visit to a local Kenyan primary school, Steve noticed that most of the kids in the classroom were lying on the dirt floor, listless. He asked the teacher why, and she said, “This is Thursday; most of the children have not eaten since Monday.” It made Steve mad, and he decided that his goal for that year was: “Don’t make peace with the fact that there are hungry children.” So he worked out a simple plan to provide lunch—corn and beans—at that school every day. Soon, other schools were begging him to bring the feeding program there. Now, they serve lunch every day to over 16,000 kids at 25 primary schools! And they have designed and built computer labs so that these kids can become computer literate and get jobs.
Steve is a computer geek who is simply using what God gave him to dare to try big things.
God is generous. So dare big things! This is the God I wish you knew.
- The Midnight Emergency: pray big prayers.
The disciples watched Jesus praying one day, and then asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus gave them what we call “the Lord’s Prayer” and then told them this story.
Luke 11:5–13 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ 7 And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
“Suppose,” Jesus says. He wants them to imagine a situation: “What if…” Suppose you went to your friend at midnight with an emergency. Here’s the emergency:
In Jesus’ culture, hospitality was a sacred duty. When guests arrived, you were expected to feed them. So an unexpected guest arriving in the middle of night combined with an empty cupboard created a crisis, an emergency.
Suppose this happens and you run next door to your friend’s house, and bang on the door and ask for help. Will he tell you to get lost? Of course not! It’s not even a question of friendship. He will give you what you need simply because you asked. The fact that you had the shameless audacity to wake him in the middle of the night means this is a true emergency, and of course he will help.
ILL: Think of it this way. Suppose you and I were neighbors and friends. Let’s imagine that Laina is pregnant! (It would be a miracle! I can only hope!) She is full term, her bag is packed, she is ready to go. She awakens me in the middle of the night: “It’s time.” I grab her bag and head to the car…and it won’t start. Crisis! So I come bang on your door, and when you answer, I explain, “Laina’s water broke, the baby is coming and my car is dead. Can you drive us to the hospital?” What would you say? “Of course!” Or, “Here’s my keys.”
The point is that you would do it just because I asked. It’s not even a question of friendship. You would probably do it even if we weren’t friends, just acquaintances. It’s an emergency and I had the audacity to ask for help in the middle of the night—of course you’ll do it!
Then Jesus says: “So ask, and it will be given you.” The point of the story is to just ask and God will answer. Have the shameless audacity to ask God for what you need! Ask and you’ll receive. Then Jesus illustrates.
11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
We read Matthew’s version of this last week, and Jesus said, “how much more will your Father in heaven give what is good to those who ask him.” Notice the “how much more”. How many of you parents love to give good things to your kids? You’re generous, and you’re imperfect, broken, selfish. How much more will your perfect Heavenly Father give what is good to those who ask him! God is more generous than the most generous parent. That is why I say that you can’t out-give God. No matter how generous you are, how much more generous is God! It’s “how much more” generosity!
So ask! Ask boldly! Ask shamelessly! Ask audaciously! Ask for half a beef, not just milk, bread and eggs. Make the Big Ask—because God is generous. How generous? Much more than any of us!
God is generous, so pray big prayers! This is the God I wish you knew.
Conclusion: The Ultimate Generosity
I hope you will forever banish any ideas that God is stingy and tight-fisted, and instead I hope that you will know the God who is “how much more” generous. That generosity found it’s ultimate expression in Jesus.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Here is the ultimate measure of God’s generosity: He gave His Son for us, His one and only Son. I can’t imagine. I can’t imagine giving my son—I would rather die myself. Isn’t that how you feel about your kids? Parents love their children with a love that is fiercely protective. So we can understand dying to save a child. But giving your son to save others—that is an act of sacrificial love beyond comprehension. I can’t imagine it—so I can only stand in awe that God would love me enough to give that generously.
Please don’t think that God gave His Son and the Son had no choice. Jesus willingly agreed to be given, and as such, gave Himself.
Ephesians 5:2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Jesus gave Himself for me, for you. Staggering generosity! It is “how much more” generosity. And so much more than you can imagine is wrapped up in the gift of Jesus.
Romans 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
God gave the biggest and best gift possible—His Son. Everything else is wrapped up in the gift of Jesus.
ILL: When I was given the gift of an Amazon Prime membership, I didn’t think much of it. Then I learned that it included free 2 day shipping! That’s cool! Then I learned that it included free books each month. Then I learned that it included free music and movies—thousands of them! Then I learned that it included free space in the cloud to store and share photos. Then I learned that it included free Kindle library lending privileges. Then I learned that it included free all you can eat at a hundred local restaurants. Ok, I made the last one up! But all those others are included.
This is Jesus Prime! When you receive Jesus, you get everything else wrapped up in Him. You receive eternal life, grace, forgiveness, love, a new family, a new identity, hope, peace, joy—and the list keeps going. “How much more!”
God is generous! This is the God I wish you knew.
Prayer to receive Jesus.