The House Stands Firm - Luke 6:48

The House Stands Firm

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” – Luke 6:46-49 ESV

In Luke, Jesus tells a parable about two people who heard His words. The first stood and the second fell. This parable can give us insights into not only how we should live, but what to expect of life. The imagery in this parable about the flood is especially timely as we pray for our friends across the state and country that are dealing with rising flood waters. We can learn much about spiritual preparedness from seeing the troubles with the rivers.

The key thing about the parable of the two house builders is that both of them heard Jesus. Imagine with me that they both went to church as kids, went to VBS in the summers, and lived fairly decent lives for the most part. This is the part about hearing. We are so blessed to live in a place where churches are common (at least, here on the north edge of the Bible belt, anyway), and we can associate freely with others who share our faith.

It’s easy to assume that all the people in our circles are making the same choices we are, but it’s not true. Not everyone who is hearing is building the foundation as we are. Christian culture is wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but Christian culture itself isn’t what we should be striving for. Without the foundation of obedience, it’s just a nice place to live, at least till the waters rise.

Back to our imagining, we see the two house builders again. However, one has been actively finding ways to incorporate the teachings of Jesus into his daily life. He doesn’t just smile and nod when the preacher makes a good point and then sleep through the rest of the week. Instead, he digs into the word himself and finds ways to make it real in his day. He chooses habits that are founded on putting the Lord above everything else and loving his neighbor. There’s no hypocrisy here, but honest living and seeking God.

The second builder is living a nice life as well. It’s the same suburbs and similar lifestyle as the first builder, but something is different here. This builder didn’t bother with making habits that incorporated what he learned in the Word. He barely reads the word himself. After all, why bother when he sits through a sermon every week? He wants good things in his life, and he tries to raise decent kids, but there’s no daily searching for God. Instead, it’s more about maintaining status quo and not creating ripples in his world than any kind of devotion to living his beliefs.

At this point in our journey, there’s little difference. On a sunshiny day with grass and flowers all around, builder two might look like the better option to go for. He isn’t so disciplined about dull religious things, seeming to have more fun the first guy, overall.

Then the waters rise. Trouble comes, and it doesn’t hold back. The houses are being tested and tried. Any weakness will be discovered as the rushing, powerful waters surge around the dwellings that have been build day after day.

The difference in the builders suddenly matters more than they could have known. The first one leans into his habits. Troubles rise around him, but he leans on the truth that’s he learned. His habits carry him through when his feelings of goodness have abandoned him. The darkness doesn’t cause him to fear because he has practiced the knowledge of the God’s nearness. His house stands, firm and solid. It will outlast the storm and stand as the waters recede. The foundation is firm and the day to day living created a haven in times of trouble.

The second builder isn’t so fortunate. As the waters pour around his house, it immediately begins to crumble. Doubt rushes in and anger at his situation. He can’t believe God would let this happen to him! He didn’t miss a Sunday morning service, and he loved and cared for his family. Why did his house have to face troubles? Realizing that the problem lies in the very foundation of his house, he tries desperately to build walls and stack sandbags to keep the trouble at bay. Surely, the last ditch effort will be pitied by God and the house will stand. But, no, the troubles come anyway. The water rises, no matter the effort and the small walls raised too late can’t keep the torrent away. As the powerful surges break against the house, it begins to cave and float away.

Jesus’s parable reminds us that troubles aren’t a sign of believing or not believing. Troubles come at all of us. The book of Matthew says that it rains on both the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45), meaning that life happens to all of us, no matter our standing in the world.

How we weather the troubles of life is dependent on our habits, our thoughts and focuses in life. How much time do we spend experiencing the Lord in our life, versus simply learning about the Lord in church? Are we really building habits that mirror his teachings, or are we fitting in to the culture around us, some of which happens to line up with his teachings?

The storm is real and it’s not just one storm. Little things every day wear at us and threaten to wash away part of our foundations. With the words we say and our reactions and our choices, we either build up our house to withstand the waters, or we are ignoring our foundation for small walls that wash away. Let’s focus on choosing our foundation to be in the Lord Jesus Christ and building habits that reflect our devotion.

Becoming the Clay - Isaiah 64:8

Becoming the Clay

But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. – Isaiah 64:8 ESV

In Christendom, there are many scripture verses that we like to quote that sound so nice and pretty. They make us feel good and encapsulate some idea that seems above us somehow, like Isaiah 64:8. The imagery of being the clay and God being the potter seems right in line with a pretty Kincaidian view of Christianity. However, there’s a way that we become the clay that’s mentioned earlier in the chapter and it’s far less flattering and pretty. We must take the whole picture, though, if we truly want to experience the joy of giving ourselves over to the potter.

The potter verse comes near the end of Isaiah chapter 64. That chapter opens with another beautiful, but slightly more terrifying verse, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence–  as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil– to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence!” (Isaiah 64:1-2). Isaiah is seeing that people don’t know God or remember His greatness. Others who haven’t experienced God are unaware of the awesome power He holds and the fear of Him that we should keep in our hearts.

Isaiah goes on to remember the works that God has done and the promise to the righteous, “When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways.” (Isaiah 64:3-5a) Beautiful reminder! However, there’s more to this chapter than just a promise and reminder of God’s goodness.

Isaiah speaks honestly with the Lord in the next section, “Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. …for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.” (Isaiah 64:5-7 partial) Uh oh, not so good news in this sentence. Isaiah is talking about the sins of the people and the damage and loss that comes from disobeying the Lord.

Now, we finally get to the feel-good verse. After remembering who God is and abject humility because of honest confession of sin, then we talk about being pliable and willing to be formed by God into His design.

We become the clay by always remember who the Lord is and keeping His glory and power in the front of our minds. We become clay through honest assessment of our heart’s condition before the Lord and being willing to admit when we’re sinning. Only then can we become transformed into a useful vessel for God’s service, designed and made by His hands.

Are you willing to become the clay? Or are you still in the mindset of just assuming that you are the clay? God wants to work with us and save us and create us into His image. He is calling to us to become the pliable servants who are humble before Him.

In fact, the next chapter gives us the promise for those who choose to become the clay. In this passage, the Lord is talking to those who refused to listen to Him, “Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, my servants shall eat, but you shall be hungry; behold, my servants shall drink, but you shall be thirsty; behold, my servants shall rejoice, but you shall be put to shame; behold, my servants shall sing for gladness of heart, but you shall cry out for pain of heart and shall wail for breaking of spirit.” (Isaiah 65:13-14)

Compare the promises to those who humble themselves to the promises to those who refuse: servants eat, drink, rejoice and sing. The others are hungry, thirsty, ashamed and in pain. I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to become clay to be able to trust in God and be filled with Him and His goodness.

God Announces Himself - Isaiah 48:4-5

God Announces Himself

Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass, I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you, lest you should say, ‘My idol did them, my carved image and my metal image commanded them.’ – Isaiah 48:4-5 ESV

God is doing a work in this world since creation and He won’t be stopping now. God wants us returned to Him so we can spend eternity with Him. As He’s working with us, He is shining His light on us so that we will know it’s Him. Our inability to hear Him is based on our determination to keep pride in our lives.

In Isaiah 48:4-5, God is saying that He knew His people would be stubborn and difficult and only hear what they wanted to hear. It didn’t throw Him off, or make Him give up, though. Instead, He planned for it. He knew that prideful nature of our hearts and our minds and He made sure to tell us about Himself and what He would do so we’d know it was Him.

Jesus, the Messiah and Savior of the World could have come without announcement and He still could have died for our sins. But, by having prophecy that came before we could see that God had a plan. We couldn’t say anything about the wisdom of the Greeks and the power of the Romans and the piety of the Jews combined to make Him. No, we could see that God had a plan from the beginning and that He was working it out to bring salvation to His beloved and lost children.

The temptation in these situations is to take the credit to our choices, or our lifestyle. Today, not many of us worship idols the way they would have been in Isaiah’s day (referring mostly to the Western Hemisphere, here. There are still many idolatrous religions in the world, but not many are predominate in the United States). Instead, we try to take the credit for ourselves straight up. We say it’s because I’ve worked so hard for so long, or it’s my money that bought it or my connections in the world. All these things disappoint and lie, because it wasn’t any of them to begin with.

God’s promises to us in His Word and true and real. He tells us about Himself and what’s He doing so that when we see promises fulfilled in our lives we can be sure to honor Him and recognize Him. God wants us to know Him and He is actively working for us to hear Him.

God Knows You - Psalm 139:3

Grateful for What You Were Made For

Of David. Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle; he is my steadfast love and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me. – Psalm 144:1-2 ESV

Psalm 144 opens with David talking about preparing for war. I struggle with this analogy because there is nothing in my life that involves fighting or anything like that. (Thank you to all the servicemen and women who do have in their lives! I’m grateful for you!) So how do I relate to this awesome psalm of praise?

To help understand some of what David writes, we have to understand who David was and what God had called him to be. David fought under King Saul, then he was appointed king and he had to run for his life from Saul and that often meant fighting. After he finally did become king, he had to fight again to protect his people against the Philistines. David was a fighting man, and, we can see in the opening of Psalm 144, we see that David considers his talents and skills with fighting to have come from the Lord.

I’m not a fighter, but there are many gifts and talents I have to return to the Lord. I write and I raise my family and I love to create and make, especially with fabric and yarn. I can turn my hands to those things and praise God for who He has made me to be.

My gifts may seem insignificant, especially since we’re talking about King David who was one of the greatest kings of Israel. But that’s not the perspective that this psalm shows me. This psalm isn’t King David bragging about how much better he is than other fighters. Instead, it’s David acknowledging the gifts that he does have and glorifying God for the blessings that go along with walking in the way God created for David to walk.

I’d like to write my own psalm, if you will extend me the grace for it. I’m going to use King David’s as inspiration to help me to remember to celebrate my gifting and walk with the Lord in that way.

Blessed by the Lord, my source for creativity, who makes my hand ready to serve my family and my fingers ready to sew and create. He is my steadfast love in a fickle and false world. He is my protection from the darts and slings of the evil one. I choose to put myself under His protection so He can lead me and guide me in all my ways and choices.

What are your giftings? How can you offer thanks for the ways that God has made you? Believe in His plan for you and accept the way He’s made you; it wasn’t by accident.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. – Psalm 139:16 ESV

Fearing God the World Around - Isaiah 59:19

The Heart of God For Us

Isaiah 59 is a beautiful section of scripture that shows us that the heart of God is justice and love and the blessings through the grace of Jesus that He wants to shower on us.

For the sake of this discussion, I’m dividing up these two chapters into these sections:

  • 59:1-2 – The problem
  • 59:3-8 – The sins
  • 59:10-15 – The consequences
  • 59:16-20 – The response

The Problem

The passage opens in 59:1-2 with a clear statement of the issue. God doesn’t mince words or make us wonder what the issue is; He spells it out clearly and tells us exactly where the struggle is from: sin. He says our sins is what have separated us from God and kept Him from responding to us. God is just and He must deal with our sin. There is no way around it. He can’t ignore it or minimize it or excuse it. He must deal with it.

Because this is the root of the trouble, we must be willing to deal with sin. We have to be able to admit that we’re in trouble (separated from God) and that we are unable to come back into His presence on our own (Romans 3:23). Later on in this passage, we will see what it takes to deal with sin, or more accurately, who will take it.

The Sins

The next few verses (59:3-8) go more in detail about what sins are being committed. Often in our lives a simple, “I’m a sinner” admission won’t help us understand the depth and the seriousness of our actions. We need to be able to talk about what the trouble is, specifically. The more specific, the more aware we are of the separation and the more thoroughly the grace of God can come in and clean out are hearts and mind.

This passage is showing here the depth of the sin that Isaiah was seeing. God is about to promise some amazing things and we need to know that these promises weren’t born out of amazing obedience or the goodness of His followers. These promises came from the darkest of moments when sin was more prominent than not.

The Consequences

God doesn’t sugar coat and try to make us feel better about making wrong choices. He knows that His way is life and all others ways are death. He makes that clear in the next section (59:10-15). Every choice has consequences and we need to understand that our sin brings harm to others around us and our obedience blesses them (Job 35:8).

Reminding us of the depth of the consequences is also setting the stage for us to see the beauty of the height that He will lift us. Sin is a compounding mess of struggles and troubles, sometimes for us, sometimes for the people we’re hurting. Either way, when God lifts us up, He lifts completely out of it and grants us blessing outside of anything we could earn.

The Response

The next section shows us what happens when it’s time for God to deal with the trouble (59:16-20). He’s seen the innocent suffering from the disobedient, He’s heard the overly pious giving lip service, and the list of sins is only growing. How He responds show us deep truths about God’s nature.

In verse 16, God saw that there was no one to intercede for the sinning and the suffering. Did He yell at them and tell them to get their act together? Did He say, “Too bad for you! Should have listened to me!” No! He saw them lacking and He stepped in Himself to save them. In verse 17, we see God as a passionate protector and defender. He didn’t just do this out of obligation and because He didn’t have anything more interesting on His schedule. He puts on righteousness and salvation as armor and zeal and vengeance are wrapped around Him like a cloak. In verse 18, those who sinned and caused suffering will be repaid, God will deal with those who have fought against His name.

Why is He doing this? Because we must be taught a lesson? No, He isn’t that kind of petty god. He is doing this for one reason: so that the world will see His glory (v. 19).

As if justice and salvation aren’t enough, God takes it even one step further: He promises a future of salvation and a covenant of remembrance. Right here, in the midst of the sin and the troubles and the problem, what God gives as a gift is that He will send a Redeemer (Jesus!) and His words and His spirit will not leave the people.

Mind. Blown.

What a great and loving God to not just throw out all the troublesome people and just leave this place to the bears, kangaroos, and elephants. He renews His promise that the children of Israel will be His people for always, and does it right when He has no reason to do so.

This is our message of hope: God saved us by the blood of Jesus Christ because of who He is and for that reason alone. We have done nothing to earn our salvation, and we never will be able to. God offers salvation to us freely and completely and the word of this news will never leave us forevermore. To Him and Him alone be all the glory and praise.

Jesus Brings Life - John 6:35

Facing His Words

John chapter 6 shows us an example of what happens when God calls us into a deeper relationship with him. Some will respond and come closer to him, but some will leave because of the very truth that’s calling them. In this passage, we see the reason that many Christians get stuck in their walk with the Lord and we see the only way that we can climb out and walk in new paths with Him.

In John 6, Jesus does two major miracles and preaches an intense sermon. The first miracle if the feeding of 5,000 people with 5 barley loaves and two fish (vs. 1-13). Then, after escaping the crowd that wanted to king Him, He walks on water to the boat His twelve disciples are in and transports it instantly to the far shore (vs. 16-21). After the crowd finally finds Him, He preaches them an intense sermon promising them eternal life if they believe.

The response to this intense time is summed up in verse 66, “After this many disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” There it is. They left Him. He turned fives loaves and two fishes into a meal for 5,000 people, walked on water, instantly transported a boat with people on it, and gave a powerful sermon. As a result, he loses the devotion of many of His followers. What about what he said that drove many away? Why did they so quickly vanish when Jesus had just demonstrated his power over nature, food and sea alike?

There are three things combined in this passage that we need to understand the impact of in order to be able to better understand the struggle and to apply this truth to our lives.

  1. Our motivation

First we see the people’s motivation. In verse 15, they were all ready to take Jesus and make Him be their king. But less than a day or so later, they not only have backed down from that, they have given up following Him as well. What changed is this: they realized that Jesus wasn’t going to be a hand-out all the time kind of leader. They had just had their bellies filled with no work and with a miracle! I’d love to have that kind of blessing all the time, too. However, Jesus wasn’t coming to fulfill our selfish desires.

We want God to give us what we want when we want it. When we feel like God is pouring out blessings on us, we are in a great mood! We feel “close” to Him and feel holier and more loved. Then, the blessing stops. Does our devotion stop as well? Does taking away the blessings show ugly spiritual selfishness?

The people in Jesus’s time were motivated by the wrong things. We must know our motivation for having a relationship with God. Do you love remember what God will give you or do for you? Do you focus on what you’re going to be getting out of this relationship? Do you feel anxious when you can’t see the end of a struggle or don’t get a result you want? Be careful, you might be treading in the land of selfish spirituality.

God loves to bless his children and He knows how to give good gifts. But receiving those gifts shouldn’t be the motivating factor for why you are in this relationship. You should be in this relationship because you know the one true God and are willing to serve Him and nothing else.

This is a position that we grow into. When I first committed my everyday life to the Lord, I did so because He was pouring out His love for me. Like a newborn baby that required everything to be done for it, my spirituality was very needy, requiring help from both God and from the people around me. But, if a thirty year old, fully-capable adult demands to be treated like a newborn, we consider them delusional.

Spiritual growth is very similar. It’s alright to be needy and seek blessings when we are first learning to walk with the Lord. But, please, don’t stay there. Grow and learn and try to accept that God is a great and powerful leader who knows what’s best for all people, not just you. Let go of your need for blessing and step into the grown up spirituality of accepting God’s work in you, no matter how it may look or feel.

  1. Our knowledge

Some in this crowd knew Jesus, or at least knew His earthly family, and they doubted because they couldn’t accept the incarnate, divine truth of Jesus. We do the same thing many times when God is calling us to go deeper in Him. We take His call and we apply our personal experience and knowledge to the situation and try to understand it. We are finite and small and have only one small perspective on everything. We very often don’t have the knowledge we need to accept and walk in all the truth that God calls us to, at least at first.

We often have to step outside of what we are comfortable with and can easily define and learn to believe in a deeper way. After we’ve experienced it, we can articulate it and understand it. It’s only when we are inexperienced in an area that we feel uncomfortable with it.

Walking with God is a path and we are traveling down it daily. We have to be willing to keep moving forward and trusting Him as our guide. Second guessing your navigator when you’re deep in the woods and you don’t know how to get out is not a wise decision. This doesn’t mean you accept anything that contradicts the Word, of course, but don’t let your belief in your own experiences trump your belief in God’s guidance and call.

  1. Our limitations

By spelling out Himself, His work and the cost of following Him (eating His body and drinking His blood, v. 56), Jesus found out the limitations of His followers beliefs. Often in life we have intentions of what we’ll believe. We say, “I’ll follow Him forever!” but then the road gets rough and we want to sit down by the side of the road and nap, not follow Him forever. We say, “I believe every word of the Bible” but when it contradicts our friends, we fudge it and ignore the bits we don’t like.

Every time we are called by God to walk deeper, He puts us in a place where we have to live what our words said. We have committed our lives to Him in word and in intention, but He calls us to commit in action. Being loyal is easy when things are good. The team is winning, so you’re a fan. The team hasn’t won in a decade, and you wouldn’t admit to even owning a t-shirt, let alone attend a game.

Loyalty happens no matter whether things are good or bad, but loyalty is strengthened when you choose to stay true when it would be easier to quit. This is what Jesus’s words showed in His followers. They intended to be loyal, but the first challenge broke their intention and they found an easier route.

The Ones Who Stayed

Jesus’s twelve disciples didn’t fall away when Jesus’s words became difficult to understand or accept. The difference in their response is this, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” They had known and experienced the truth of who Jesus was. Their loyalty to God came from a place of experiencing the truth of Jesus and choosing it no matter what. They weren’t swayed by the mass exodus of the other followers, because their loyalty was based on the experience of the truth of Jesus, not their hope for personal comfort.

Do You Value a Trusting Relationship With God?

Disrupting Traffic – 4 Steps to Sin Removal

Then I confronted the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day? Did not your fathers act in this way, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Now you are bringing more wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.” As soon as it began to grow dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and gave orders that they should not be opened until after the Sabbath. And I stationed some of my servants at the gates, that no load might be brought in on the Sabbath day. – Nehemiah 13:17-19 ESV

Nehemiah was an Old Testament prophet who went back to Jerusalem and helped to begin rebuilding the wall and temple there. It was far more than just a physical restoration, however. The people hadn’t kept up on what the Law said and didn’t follow it, sometimes even when they did know what it said. Nehemiah came in to build the physical city, but also to begin restoring the spiritual state of the people’s hearts. One example of how he does this can teach us a great deal about what it takes to make Godly change happen in our lives.

  1. Calling a spade a spade.

When Nehemiah came back, he found that there was a thriving market happening in Jerusalem on the Sabbath. They were working and selling as if it were any other day of the week. Upset, Nehemiah challenged the leaders about and called them out on it. He reminded them that their fathers had done this and they had been punished for it.

Often we are afraid to challenge things in our lives, especially things that have gone on for a long time or are in some way bringing us benefit. Jerusalem was a wreck and while there was some returning of the economy, it was hardly the thriving city it had been. While the scriptures don’t tell us what the reaction to Nehemiah’s cleansing was, it is not difficult to image that there were many people who didn’t want to lose the market and the money that went along with it.

Nothing about the situation or any seeming benefit from it caused Nehemiah to see sin as anything other than sin. He knew that God wanted His people to keep the Sabbath holy, and he could also clearly see that they weren’t doing that. Instead of pandering or trying to convince people to agree with him first, he came out and talked about the sin.

In addition to this being a way of life, many of the merchants weren’t Jews. They didn’t have to follow the laws the Jews did. It might have been tempting to say that they could stay. But, since the non-Jews selling to the Jews was profaning the Sabbath just as much, Nehemiah didn’t even let that argument stand. Nothing would profane the Sabbath as long as Nehemiah had something to do about it.

  1. Disrupting everyday living.

In order to make the changes happen, Nehemiah locked the gates at the beginning of Sabbath (sundown on Friday). No one could come in to sell for the full Sabbath day. This is the crux of the change. Nehemiah didn’t start a petition or a committee to talk about ways to phase out the profaning of the Sabbath. He drew a line and said, no more. He found a way to stop the sin from continuing on.

We must be willing to do this in our lives. Unfortunately, it’s not often as obvious or as easy as locking a gate to keep merchants out. Our troubles usually are more entwined with people and circumstances. No matter how complex the situation or how much we really like what we’re doing, as soon as we are enlightened to the sin, we must be willing to draw lines and make changes. What do you value more: the benefits of sin in your life, or a relationship of trust built with God through obedience?

  1. Protecting our interests

This also isn’t just a once and done event. After locking the gates, Nehemiah saw that some of the merchants had set up camp outside the city. How often does this happen? Just as we feel we’ve made progress on getting sin out of the center of us, we find that it’s set up a place right outside the door. It’s waiting right nearby to tempt us and try to take advantage of the first slip up we make.

Nehemiah knew that wasn’t a good option either. He went to the camped out people and threatened them if they didn’t move along. Sounds extreme, but Nehemiah knew that concession to temptation, even if in and of itself it isn’t a sin, is the first step toward failure. The camping out merchants had to go because they only reason they were there is to take advantage of a mistake.

We need to protect ourselves with as much wisdom as Nehemiah. Don’t allow a backup plan to exist for if you mess up. Don’t keep a temptation close at hand for when you mess up; by keeping it close, it becomes a guarantee of your failure! If your heart wants your troubles nearby, it’s most likely because transformation hasn’t truly happened. Guilt may have happened, even conviction might have happened. However, transformation hasn’t.

Transformation happens when we encounter God and His presence alters our very being to make us want Him more than anything else. Transformation makes us take precautions that protect our best interests: obedience. No more fudging or hiding a reserve supply of whatever it is that we’re into in the back of the closet. We draw clear lines and we find ways to remove the lingering temptation. Accountability with others who love us and want the best for us is one way that we can do this.

  1. In it for the long haul

Just because they finally got the Sabbath issues ironed out when it came to the merchants, there were more Sabbaths ahead. We can’t just get things right for the day and congratulate ourselves on a job well done. This is about establishing habits that set us up for a deeper relationship with God. It doesn’t mean striving for perfection, that’s not the goal. The goal is a real relationship with God and real relationships require give and take and showing up day after day, messy or dirty or late or whatever. Show up to be with God as you are day in and day out and watch the power that He allows to flow into your life.

A White Christmas, Part 3 – Sermon Notes

[These notes are from a sermon given at Church of the Four Corners in Independence, MO, as a part of the series “A White Christmas”. If you’d like to see the full message, you can watch it here.]

Christmas time magnifies everything, both the warm, fuzzy ones as well as the negative ones. Suicides between Thanksgiving and New Years are more than in the rest of the 11 months of the year combined. This series is to help people experience forgiveness and have a truly white Christmas.

“Come now, let’s settle this,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool. If you will only obey me, you will have plenty to eat. – Isaiah 1:18-19 NLT

Previously, we reviewed the myths of what forgiveness is. We also talked about how much God has forgiven us and we must always remember to forgive as generously. Last week, Connor talked about viewing others through the lens of Jesus so that we can understand how to be willing to forgive.

Twisted Ways We Deal with Our Past

  1. We believe that time will remove our mistakes. Time doesn’t heal wounds. We know it’s the Holy Spirit that heals and helps us deal with them appropriately.

People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy. – Proverbs 28:13 NLT

We all need a community of others where we feel safe enough to share our past without the fear of feeling judged.

  1. We beat ourselves up over our past. We feel that we owe it to carry a heavy burden because of our choices, but it’s not true. King David tried this as well and here’s what it made him feel like.

My guilt overwhelms me–it is a burden too heavy to bear. My wounds fester and stink because of my foolish sins. I am bent over and racked with pain. All day long I walk around filled with grief. A raging fever burns within me, and my health is broken. I am exhausted and completely crushed. My groans come from an anguished heart. – Psalm 38:4-8 NLT

When we beat ourselves up over our past mistakes it can actually affect our physical bodies.

  1. Blaming others. We try to move the responsibility of the choice made of to other people instead of owning it ourselves. The first man and woman on this earth pulled this same thing when God talked to them about the forbidden fruit they’d eaten.

The man replied, “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.” Then the LORD God asked the woman, “What have you done?” “The serpent deceived me,” she replied. “That’s why I ate it.” – Genesis 3:12-13 NLT

How do we get past our past?

How do we genuinely give ourselves permission to forgive ourselves and find healing?

Apostle Paul would have the right than anyone to beat himself up over the choices he’d made to kill Christians. Here’s what he thought on the subject.

Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. – 1 Timothy 1:13-15 NIV

If we want to truly find freedom this morning, we need to stop trying to earn our forgiveness. This is easier said than done, because everything in the world teaches us to do the opposite. To have good friends, be a good friend, for example. To have a good marriage, or to have a good career, we have to earn it and work for it. It’s even more deeply engrained in our American ideal. Because it’s so deep in our culture, it’s even permeated into our Christmas tradition. Think about Santa and all the ideas of being good to get gifts from him.

Because we so used to operating this way, we transfer this idea to the forgiveness of Jesus. But that is the opposite of what the Bible teaches us about the grace of God through the sacrifice of Jesus.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. – 1 Peter 3:18 NIV

He died once, not over and over. God took on flesh and was born in a manger for this reason: so we could be brought back to God. He was put to death in the body, but He was made alive by the Spirit. When He died on the cross, he paid the price for our sins: past, present, and future. If you struggle with this temptation to try to earn the right to forgiveness, you don’t have a sin problem; you have an unbelief problem. If you believe on the name of Jesus, you will be saved. Do you believe what He is, what He’s done. Do you believe there’s a God who sent His son for your sins?

The next time your reluctant to worship because of your week or your choices, remember that it has nothing to do with you. It’s about Him, that’s why we’re acceptable to Him. You need to allow God to turn it around for His good. That’s not to say that bad things in our lives happened because of God, but it does mean that any situation in our lives can be redeemed by God.

What is that sin or situation in your past that you can’t seem to forgive yourself for? Pray for the belief to accept God’s forgiveness and accept that it comes freely and fully.

Folly's Guests Are in the Grave - Proverbs 9:18

Folly Seduces and Kills

The woman Folly is loud; she is seductive and knows nothing. She sits at the door of her house; she takes a seat on the highest places of the town, calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” And to him who lacks sense she says, “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol. – Proverbs 9:13-18 ESV

The book of Proverbs in the Bible is known for talking about how to be wise. Many of the proverbs talk about how to be wise, recognizing wisdom, etc. Many others talk about it from the perspective of warnings: what the foolish do and how not to respond to fools, things like that. In one particular case, it talks about folly (which means to have a lack of good sense or to be foolish) and gives us a story about what happens to those who listen to folly. It’s not a pretty one, but those who are wise can learn to avoid folly-filled behavior in others.

First off, it says that, “the woman Folly is loud.” I don’t think there’s any significance to it beiung a woman as Wisdom is also called a woman in Proverbs. What’s important here is the volume. Foolish people are drawn to hoopla. This can be in the form of exciting entertainment; it can just be drama, television or real life. The next line of that verse says, “she is seductive and knows nothing.” So not only is she loud, but it’s empty words. Foolishness is hot air and emptiness. This is doubly dangerous because, to keep from realizing there’s nothing behind the entertainment, it must always be getting bigger and larger and louder (Vegas, anyone?).

Wise people can see value in all ranges of moments of life, and don’t always seek out the high moments in life. In each and every moment of our days, there is beauty and joy and purpose, if our eyes and ears are attuned to it. The may not be exciting or seductive, to use Proverbs word, but it is far better to be filled with joy over real life than seduced by the joy of nothing real.

The next thing Proverbs tells us about Folly is that she likes to be seen. She not only is out of the house (aka: not being productive, think about it, back then, women weren’t known for working outside the home…), but she’s also put herself in the place of the most conversation. She takes a seat on the highest places of the town. Places to be seen, places to see. She wants to be involved and chatting with anyone and everyone.

Once she’s put herself in an obvious place, she tries to pull in (remember, folly is seductive) anyone she can. She starts with, “I know the easy way to do things! Come with me!” I’m all for finding better, more efficient ways of doing things, but Folly is asking for people who aren’t willing to work hard to pay attention to her. They want simply easy answers.

Once she has them interested in that, she takes it to the next level, straight up lies. She encourages stealing and secrets. If you won’t work for it yourself, the next easiest answer is to take it from someone else. In addition, she fosters interest in secrets and secrets revealed (tabloids, yuck!).

Finally, we have the plot twist at the end. All these things are bad, but we haven’t seen the cost of them yet. Now we see where all this is leading: death. She has lured them in with entertainment and easy answers and doing whatever you want to. What she doesn’t show them is the basement full of bodies. Her words are sweet and tempting, but her inevitable end is a slow death.

We know that this sometimes means a physical death. Crime doesn’t pay and in-fighting among criminals ends up in their own deaths sometimes, think Jimmy Hoffa or Al Capone. More often, this is referring to a spiritual death. As we listen to foolish advice and seek easy, selfish answers, little bits of the parts of us that make us able to love and connect with others begins to die. Slowly, the love of ourselves takes over and we die to love with others. Because connection and relationships with others is what brings deep and long-term happiness, this eating away at the core of us is what finally leaves us empty shells of what we could be.

Wisdom learns to avoid the alluring voice of folly and the temptation for easy and simple answers. Life is hard, good answers can sometimes be complicated. That’s ok. Let’s find the best way to life, the most connected and least selfish way to live. If there is folly driving your decisions, you must turn to the Lord and let fear of Him fill you. It is by knowing him that we can be wise and live long, healthy, lives.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. For by me your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life. – Proverbs 9:10-11 ESV

Fill My House - Luke 14:23

The Invitation Alone is Useless

When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ … And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.'” – Luke 14:15-18, 23-24 ESV

In Luke chapter 15, Jesus tells a parable about a great banquet. In it, he tells us about the wonderful feast that God has prepared for those who come to Him. He also warns us about things that might keep us from being able to attend. Actually, there’s only one thing that can keep us from attending: our own choice. Jesus wants us to choose God over all the concerns of life. In this parable, Jesus shows us the heart of God regarding those who come to Him. Let this story remind you of your value to God and God’s closeness to you.

This story of a banquet was told at a banquet, cleverly enough. Jesus had been invited to eat at a Pharisee’s house one Sabbath (v. 1) and He was not being the most polite of guests. In fact, this was the second parable, the first one insulted their habit of vying for the best seat in the house (vs. 7-14).

This second parable is said about something another guest said. In response to Jesus’s first parable, a man says, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Sounds pretty nice, right? I can say that I agree with that sentiment, on the surface at least. Jesus, however, sees deeper than that and knew what the man really meant. So, in His usual round-about way, Jesus responds with a parable.

The story opens with a man sending out servants to invite lots of people to come and eat with him. Instead of jumping at the chance for an amazing feast, they one by one turn the invitation down with excuse after excuse. So, the man sends out his servants to find the poor, crippled, blind, and lame. Then, as he still had seats left, he sends the servants out again, farther out, to find every person who is willing to come. He also adds at the end, “For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.”

How do you think that guest felt with that kind of response? It probably felt like the shutdown it was. Jesus was responding to the cultural ideal that you were invited based on your status or your value. At this very party, the Pharisees were trying to raise their own importance by fighting over where to sit. Yes, those who get to eat at the banquet of the Lord will truly be blessed (and happy and full!). However, we need to make sure we know why we’re being invited.

We are invited to God’s feast because He wants a full house of guests. He isn’t going to check credentials at the door. In fact, if you’re worried about not only your credentials but the credentials of the people you’ll be rubbing elbows with, you will be sorely disappointed. You may end up kicked out of the feast.

God accepts everyone who shows up to the party. He doesn’t like being turned down (really, who does?) and he will reach out to everyone. Don’t say you aren’t good enough, don’t say you should have lived a different life. Wherever you are when you hear God’s invitation, take it! Take it right then and know that you are just as much an honored guest as anyone else at the party. God doesn’t play favorites, because it’s not about us; it’s about Him.

Jesus was warning the Pharisees to get their heads on straight about what the point of religion was. It’s not about theological knowledge or position within the church. It’s absolutely not about gaining importance within the eyes of any person in this world. It’s solely about showing up when God invites you to do so.

The first (and possibly most important) invitation God offers you is the invitation to be saved through His grace. We need to acknowledge we are sinners and choose to make Him the Lord of our life. Everything else in life falls second to this choice.

This isn’t the only invitation though. We have offers from Him daily to be close to Him and walk near Him. He wants to get to know us. After all, he’s our friend. Please, don’t let the busyness of life or the feelings of inferiority interfere with accepting God’s invitation to be together each and every day. He’s very, very real and wants to spend time with you. Let each day be a banquet in His presence and choose to response to His loving call. How does God want to be with you today?