Is God a Thief or a Life Giver?


            I am very honored and very humbled to be sharing at EBCC this morning.  I want to start off my sharing by asking you all a question.  Do you remember what was preached at this pulpit last week?  Do you remember what or who was preaching two weeks ago?  How about a month ago or even a year ago?  Since becoming a Christian many years ago, I’ve heard many, many messages, but there are few that have really stuck out.  These few sermons are the ones that God has used to seize me with the truth.  Today I want to share with you a message I heard a while back that really changed my life and change the way I view God.  It’s message by a Pastor in Philly by the name of Paul Kim.   He gave a message entitled “Do you believe that God is good?”  What was funny was that I have never been to Pastor’s Paul’s church, nor have I ever met him in person.  I actually heard his message in a small group I was attending on a small, dinky, stat-icky boom box with really bad speakers.  But the truth is the truth, and God used that message to speak truth to me.  Today I simply want to share with you the simply yet profound truth that I learned and pass it on to you.


            Last week, Pastor Jim Ohm talked about the difference between knowing and believing.  And he shared how knowing about something is not the same as believing in something.  He gave this example:  If we were on trapped on the fifth floor by a fire, and the fireman pulls out a trampoline for you to jump into you may KNOW that the trampoline will catch you, but KNOWING that won’t save you.  You have to BELIEVE that it will catch you and actually jump.  I want to apply this same idea to what we know and believe about the goodness of God.  Many of us KNOW that God is good?  But how many of us truly BELIEVE that God is good?


            In John 10:10, Jesus reminds us of His character of His goodness.  He says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  Jesus says that He wants to give us life and not just a mediocre life, but an abundant, full, and satisfying life.  But why is it that so often we treat God as the thief, as the one who wants to take life away from us?  Why is it that so often we treat God as if He is the one that wants to rob us of life?  What do you believe about God?  Do you see God as a thief who wants to rob us of life or is He a good God who wants to bless us and give us real life?  Do you believe God is good?


            There are many reasons to why people doubt the goodness of God.  There are far too many Christians who see God as a thief than a life-giver.  Sometimes bad things happen and we want to blame Him?  Why is the economy this way?  Why did I lose my job when I have a family to support?  Why is there illness in my family?  Why is this person I love suffering from this illness?  Brothers and sisters, the real enemy is sin and Satan, but a lot of times we want to blame God, who actually wants to heal us and redeem us from all these things.  He’s the one that promises us that those who follow Him will one day be at place where all these hurtful, painful things would be completely wiped away.  In fact, there wouldn’t even be death.  Do you truly believe this?  Those of you who are Christians, who do you blame when bad things happen to you?  Do you blame sin and Satan?  Or do your blame God?  Who you blame oftentimes reveal what you truly believe about God?  Do you believe that God is a thief who purposely want to make your life harder or do you believe He’s a life-giver who wants to heal you and lead you through the hardships of life?  Do you believe that God is good?


            What comes to mind when you think about the job of a pastor?  I know it’s a strange question, but I promise you it’s relevant.  When you see Pastor King, what do you think about his job?  When I meet new people and I tell them that I’m a teacher, typically the conversation would go something like this: “Oh, you’re a teacher?  Great!  What grade do you teach?”  To which I would answer, “I teach middle school.  8th grade.”  To which their tone would begin to change and they would respond like this, “Oooooo... middle school.  That sounds rough.”  There is this feeling that I’m being pitied.  And I think I’m being pitied because middle schoolers have a bad stereotype.  People think that elementary school kids lack maturity but at least their cute.  High school kids lack cuteness, but at least they are mature.  I think a lot of people pity me because they think middle school kids lack maturity AND cuteness. So, I get pitied a lot because I teach middle school.  That’s MY job.  What do you think about the job of a pastor?  Do you pity the pastor?  Being a pastor is not easy.  You need to prepare messages for Sunday.  You need to visit people who are sick or have family issues.  Sometimes you might have to see a family in the middle of the night because of an emergency.  You definitely don’t get paid a lot compared to other professions.  You have to deal with conflicts in the church and conflicts between members of the church.  You get criticized when something doesn’t go right and at church, where there are a lot of sinners, a lot of things donít go right.  And on top of all that, your life is under a microscope.  The whole church is looking at you and seeing how you behave.  All eyes are on you.  Do pity the pastor? OR  do you envy the pastor?  Are you thinking, “Wow, being a pastor is such a tough job.  Thank goodness he was called and not me!”  OR, are you thinking, “Yes, a pastor’s job is tough, but he has the greatest job in the world because his boss is God.”  Do you pity the pastor or do you envy him?  How we view the servants of God gives insight to what we believe about God.  Are we to pity the servants of God?  Are we to pity the servants of the King?  Are we to feel sorry for those who serve the Lord of the Universe?  Or are we to envy them, because they serve the Author of Life?  Are we to envy them, because they serve the Master of the Universe?  If you find yourself pitying the pastor or any servant of God, not just the pastor, I think you need to ask yourself the question: “Do I believe that God is good?”  Because if you pity the pastor, aren’t you viewing God as a thief who steals and robs away the pastor’s life.  Poor pastor, God keeps making his life so hard.  I’m so glad I’m not him.  But if you envy the pastor, aren’t you viewing God as a life giver?  Yes, the pastor has a tough job, but He works for the good Shepherd!  His boss is God!  And He has come to give the pastor life to the full.  Praise God!  What kind of a god is the pastor serving?  A thief or a life-giver?


            How do you read your Bible?  I think our attitude toward certain verses give insight to what we believe about God.  Jesus says some pretty radical and shocking things, including those statements to the Pharisees and teachers of the law that we just looked at.  In Luke 14:25-33, Jesus says some pretty radical things to his followers.  It says here that “Large crowds were following Jesus.”  I imagine Jesus walking and there is a large group just crowding around Him and walking with Him.  All of sudden Jesus turns around and says to this crowd, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple.  And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”  This is a radical, in-your-face, kind of statement.  Now one would think if there were all these people following Jesus, he would give them some sort of encouragement, but instead he says “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”  Basically, Jesus is saying to them that if they wanted to follow Him, they must love Him more than they love anyone else--more than they love their mom or dad, more than their family--their wife or kids--more than anyone else AND... there’s more... you have to die.  That is what carrying the cross means.  Today we see the cross and we think peace and love because God has used the cross to redeem us and save us.  But back then, before Jesus went to the cross, the cross was a symbol of painful, torturous death.  So love me more than you love anyone else and you have to die or else you can’t be my disciple.  When you read this passage, what’s going on in side your mind?  Are you thinking, “Wow, being a disciple of Jesus is so hard.  There’s so much sacrifice.  There’s so much to give up.  It seems so impossible.”  Is this a passage of despair to you?  OR, is this a passage of hope?  “Yes, being a disciple is hard.  Yes, it’s difficult, but there is a way to God and I have found it!  There is a way to life and I have found it!  There is a way to glory and I have found it!  How do you read your Bible?  Is this a passage of despair or is this a passage of hope?  Because if it’s a passage of despair to you, aren’t you seeing God as a thief?  All God wants to do is take things away from me.  All God wants me to do is for me to give up things for Him.  God just wants to take, take, take.  But if this is a passage of hope, aren’t you seeing God as a life-giver?  Yes, it’s so hard, but I have found the way to life!  How do you see God?  As a thief or as a life-giver?


            There are three things that happen when we lack faith--when we begin to see God more as a thief than a life-giver.  The first is we become grumpy.  Have you ever met a grumpy Christian?  Are you a grumpy Christian?  These are people who may serve at church or at some ministry but they seem so burdened.  That when you see them or when you talked to them you begin to feel the weight of their burden all the time.  Is this the Christian life?   Are they serving the same God who said “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”?  Are they serving the same God who said “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.”?  When we truly believe that God is a life-giver we gain joy when we serve regardless of its hardships because we believe that His tasks for us, no matter how difficult, are meant to give us life.  Think of a grumpy Christian in your mind right now.  Now think of a joyful Christian.  The difference between the two is that one sees God as a thief and the other sees God as a life-giver.  Which one are you?


            The second thing that happens when we begin to see God more as a thief than a life-giver is that we begin to see that monster in us called pride and self-righteousness.  Do you know people who come to church grumpy?  Do you come to church grumpy?  Do you come to church begrudgingly?  Do you come to church thinking, “I know I have better things to do, but I want to come to church to be a good Christian.  So, I’m going to come to church but I canít wait until I finish this obligation so I can do other things.”  Do you come to church with a sense of sacrifice?  Look at me.  Look what a great Christian I am because I come to church every week without fail even though there are better things for me to do back at home or at work.  Or do you serve at church or at a ministry with a sense of sacrifice?  Do you begrudgingly serve the church?  Yes, there are better things for me to do, but because I’m a good Christian I will serve.  If this is how you feel, don’t bother.  Don’t do God any favors.  Don’t do God any favors because you won’t be serving God with any joy if you think you’re always giving up better things for Him.  If not now, eventually you will become a grumpy Christian because deep down in your heart you believe there is something else that is better but God and His work keep preventing you from that better thing.  You’re going to get grumpy!  You’re going to get bitter.  You’re going to get angry at God.  “Why God, do you always call me to do these things?  Why?!”  When you feel like you’re sacrificing for God all the time, that’s spiritual pride.  When you start seeing God as a thief who takes away from your life, that’s spiritual pride.  Look at what I have to sacrifice for Him?  If that’s what you are thinking, don’t bother.  Don’t do God any favors.


            Imagine that my mom won the lottery and she decides as a gift to buy me a new car--a new Mercedes M-Class M55 so I chauffeur kids around in luxury.  It’s got leather seats, power everything, V8 engine, the works.  The only thing is that I have to trade in my 2001 black, crayon-scented Jetta.  So I do it.  Are people going to say to me, “Gerald, what a sacrifice youíve made?  You’re amazing.”  Are they going to say, “You are so godly for giving up your Jetta for Benz?”  No, they are not going to say that because I’ve simply made the BETTER choice.  I simply chose what is better.  No one is going to compliment me or praise me for choosing what is obviously better.  It is the same with the Christian life.  God doesn’t ask us to make any sacrifices.  God doesnít ask us to be noble.  God doesn’t ask us to be virtuous.  God doesn’t ask us to be heroic.  God simply asks us to believe that He is good and He is better than anything else.  Don’t make any sacrifices for God.  If you’re coming to church, come to church because you believe worshipping the Lord of the Universe is better than anything else.  If you’re called to serve, do it not out of a sense of obligation, but do it because you believe what you are doing is BETTER than doing anything else because you are serving a life-giving God.  When we believe God is good, we bring about humility and we eliminate pride because we no longer feel a sense of self-sacrifice.  We are simply choosing what we believe is to be better.


            For the past couple of months, I’ve been trying to attend the Tuesday night prayer meetings here at church.  I haven’t been there every week, but I try to be consistent.  A lot of people have come to me and asked me, “Why do you go?”  I think they are shocked because my Chinese isn’t that good and they pray in Chinese on Tuesday nights, and also because I’m by far the youngest member of that prayer meeting so there’s this generational gap.  And I think a lot of people think that it’s this big sacrifice for me to go to this prayer meeting.  They treat me as if I’m making this big sacrifice to come to this prayer meeting.  And I find myself explaining this a lot to people, that it’s not a sacrifice.  When Tuesday night rolls around, I actually look forward   to going to the prayer meeting.  In fact, Tuesday nights at church has been a tremendous blessing to me.  Yes, there’s a language issue.  Yes, it’s awkward being the only young adult there sometimes, especially when they start praying for the young adults to get married.  But when I go, I am so blessed by it.  I love being the youngest and I love learning from the older brothers in the church.  I can’t express how much I have learned from watching them pray for their wives, for their children, and even for their grandchildren.  I am so blessed by what happens here on Tuesday nights.  And when I go, there are no sacrifices.  I’m not making any sacrifices.  I’m not going because I’m godly, or because I’m virtuous, or because I’m a good Christian, or because I’m noble.  I go because I simply believe it is better to go.  Going gives me life.  I believe that going to church on a Tuesday night to fellowship with other brothers and sisters and with God is better than any other thing I could be doing.  It’s that simple.  I’m not a good person.  I just believe.  What do you believe about God?  Is He a thief or is He a life-giver?


            The third and last thing that happens when we doubt the goodness of God is we grieve the Spirit of God.  We hurt God.  Isn’t that a scary and humbling thought--that we can hurt God and that we did hurt God on the cross.  I want to share with you a story about me when I was in middle school.  Back then, I was a student, not a teacher yet.  And to appreciate the story, you really need to know a little background about my family.  My family came over to New York City in the mid-80s and my dad actually came here first.  He worked as a waiter at a restaurant.  And then my mom, my sister Jenny, and I moved from Taiwan to New York City.  We lived in Jamaica, Queens and also Jackson Heights in Queens, both places are very different from Tenafly, New Jersey.  Because my parents wanted a better life my Jenny and me, they worked really hard.  I remember my dad working at the restaurant in the morning and then at night he went to night school to learn about computer programming.  And my mom, I remember her doing all sorts of odd jobs.  One of the jobs I remember her doing that so incredible tedious was the job of a seamstress.  She would get these dresses and she would have sew these tiny little beads--hundreds of them--onto the dress.  But my parents did those things out of their love for me and my sister.  Eventually they saved enough to move to Cliffside Park in New Jersey and opened a laundromat.  My mom ran the laundromat in the morning while my dad worked at a company doing computer programming.  At night, my dad after his day job would go to the laundromat to work so that my mom could come home to take care of Jenny and me.  So my dad worked a lot!  Both my parents worked a lot.  But they did it because they wanted Jenny and me to have a better life.  Eventually, they saved enough and moved to Tenafly so that my sister and I can go to a good school.  So the reason they even picked Tenafly was because of Jenny and me.  And as I think back to all that they did, I just feel very, very thankful.  BUT, I want to share with you a day, back when I was a middle school kid--when I was neither cute nor mature--about when I doubted my parent’s goodness--when I doubted my mom’s goodness.


            I use to be very fearful of the water and so I didn’t like to swim.  My mom wanted me to be healthier so she wanted me to be more comfortable swimming.  One day she came home from the laundromat and announced that she was taking Jenny and me to go swimming.  I refused.  We argued and she and Jenny went off to the pool.  Now usually, mom my has to go back to the laundromat at 5:00pm so I figured she would drop Jenny back home before she went back to work.  But she didn’t.  So at 5:15pm, I started calling my mom at the laundromat and the phone kept ringing and ringing. No one picked up.  I kept calling for the next ten minutes and so but still no one picked up which was strange.  Finally, after the tenth try, my twisted adolescent mind began thinking, “maybe my mom is not picking up the phone on purpose because sheís still mad at me.”  The more I thought about it, the angrier and angrier that I got.  And finally, in a moment of brilliance, I decided that I was going to march all the way from my home in Tenafly to Cliffside Park to argue with my mom.  “How dare she refuse to answer my calls,” I thought to myself.  So I left my house and started walking.  And so I walked from Tenafly, to Englewood Cliffs, to Fort Lee, and finally to Cliffside Park.  The distance, I checked on Google maps is 9 miles, and there were up hills.  I finally got to the laundromat, but it was about 10:30pm at night.  My mom already went home back to Tenafly much earlier.  My dad was working there now.  And I realized I was in big, big trouble when I saw my dad talking to two police officers in front of the laundromat.  My anger turned into fear.  And my dad looked at me and he didnít say anything.  He wasn’t mad, he just didn’t know what to say.  And as the police officers left, I saw them chuckling, probably because they were thinking, “Wow, that is a stupid boy.”  So my dad closed up the laundromat and started driving me home.  And we sat in the car in silence, but my mind was going into overdrive.  I was dreading what punishment I would receive from my mom.  Is she going to yell at me?  Is she never ever letting me out of the house ever again?  I can’t lie; I was scared.  And so we drive past Fort Lee, Englewood Cliffs, and now back to Tenafly.  Finally, we pull up in the drive way and I get out of the car.  I was ready to get yelled at and punished.  When I opened door, I saw something much, much worse.  There was no yelling, there was no punishment--all I saw was my mom sitting in the living balling.  She was just crying, and crying, and crying.  And it was at that moment I realized I really hurt my mom.  And she was crying not because of what I did, or because I was mad at her; my mom was crying because her own son doubted her goodness.  You see, when I called my mom earlier that day, it wasn’t because she didn’t pick up; it was because the laundromat phone broke so she couldn’t hear the ring.  But I didn’t even think that as an option.  Immediately, I thought the worst of my mom, I doubted her goodness.  And all that time as I was walking to the laundromat angry at my mom, she was worried about me because when she came home I wasn’t there.  For three hours or so, all she did was worry about me... “Where is Gerald?  Why is he not home?  Did something bad happen to him?”  While I was out there doubting her goodness, being angry at her, she was worried sick about me.  And my mom was so hurt.  She said to me, “Why did do this?  Didn’t you think I would be shing tun (tender hearted)?”  Why did you do this?  Don’t you know that the thought of you walking all that way would cause my heart to ache.  That is how much my mother loved me.  And I doubted her goodness.  She was so hurt.  “How can you doubt me when I gave birth to you?  How can you doubt me when everything I do is for you?  How can you doubt my goodness when all I do is care about you?  How could ever think I would refuse a call from you?  That I would be that hard hearted?  Why do you treat me like the enemy when all I do is love you?”  My mom was so hurt.  Brothers and sisters, the same way that my mom felt is the same way that God feels when we doubt His goodness.  Why do you doubt my goodness when everything I have done is for you?  Why do you doubt my goodness when I went to the cross and died for all your sins?  Why do you doubt my goodness when all I want to do is bless you?  Why do you treat me like the enemy when I want to give you life and life to the full?  Why don’t you believe that I am a good God?  Why do you treat me like the thief and not the life-giver?


            Jesus said, “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10).  Brothers and sisters, do you believe God is a thief who wants to rob you of your joy, rob you of fun, rob you of life?  Or do you believe that our God is a good God who give good things to His spiritual children?  That He is a God that we can never ever out-give, out-sacrifice, or out-love.  That He is a God who wants to give you joy and life to the full. 


            Let me end by reading to you a letter by a man who was in prison.  Due to the unstable political climate of the time, He wrote to his friends pretty much while he was on death row.  He lived in uncertainty.  He could have been executed at any moment and a couple of years after he wrote this letter, he was.   But while he was still alive and still in prison, this is what he wrote in his letter to his friends:


I’m glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess--happy that you’re again showing such strong concern for me.  Not that you ever quit praying and thinking about me.  You just had not chance to show it.  Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally.  I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. I don’t mean that your help didn’t mean a lot to me—it did. It was a beautiful thing that you came alongside me in my troubles. ” -Philippians 410-14 (MSG)


Does this sound like a man who was in prison?  Does this sound like a man who’s on death row?  Why is he saying this?  The is the Apostle Paul writing to his friends living in the city of Philippi.  And he is able to write such a beautiful, encouraging, confident letter while in prison, with the possibility of execution hanging over his head, because He saw God as a true life-giver.  Paul knew that no matter what He gave up in this life was nothing compared to what God has for him in eternity.  He knew that God was no thief, but the greatest giver the world has ever seen.  There is no grumpy-ness.  There is no spiritual pride.  There is no grieving the heart of God.  The Apostle Paul was not a good person.  He was not virtuous.  He was not noble.  He simply believed?  Brothers and sisters, what do you believe about God?  Is a thief or is he a life-giver?  Do you believe God is good?