Faith Basics: You Gotta Have Faith!

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[If you’d like to listen to the audio recording of this message, Click the Spotify player at the bottom of this post.]

If you’ve got a bible handy, turn to Hebrews chapter 11. We are continuing on with the series “Faith Basics.” But one thing occurred to me this week. 

All we talked about last week and all we will talk about in the coming weeks are pointless…until you embrace Faith itself. Faith is not a structure of religious practices. Faith is not the manual of the Church of the Nazarene. Faith is believing in what you do not see…what you hope for. What you trust in. All the other basics can be tossed out the window if you don’t have faith. So We need to talk about Faith today. Hebrews 11 is known as the “Hall of Faith.” It’s a grand retelling of the Heroes of the history of the Israelites, but it is framed in such a way to highlight a few things: Who they were (as if the audience didn’t know), what they believed in without seeing, and what was the result. 

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Hebrews 11:1 NIV

The New Living translation puts it this way:

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.” 

Hebrews 11:1 NLT

The reality of what we hope for. It’s the truth that is truth, even if we don’t believe in it. But when we do believe in it without seeing it, that’s what faith looks like.

  1. Faith is the Evidence/assurance of things unseen.
    1. What were the unseen things in these verses?
PersonUnseen ThingResult
AbelGod’s acceptance of his offeringRighteousness
EnochPleased GodTaken without death
NoahFloodFamily Safe
AbrahamFuture home (didn’t know where he was going)Inheritance (land/children)
SarahFaithfulness of GodChild
A Chart of the people, what they believed in without seeing and the result of that.

4 By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.

Hebrews 11:4 NIV
  • Abel had faith that his offering was going to the God who would accept it. It was a good offering, a better offering than his brother’s. He believed God was worthy of this offering – (“fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock” Gen 4:4b)  

5 By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.”[a] For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God.

Hebrews 11:5 NIV

We’ll look at verse 6 in a moment or two, but let’s skip down to verse 7 and Noah.

7 By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen (Flood), in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.

Hebrews 11:7 NIV

Let’s look at verse 8 and Abraham:

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 

Hebrews 11:8-10 NIV

Even Abraham’s wife, Sarah, gets in on this Faith thing. Hebrews 11:11

And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 

Hebrews 11:11 NIV

The Hebrews author paints a much nicer picture of Sarah than Genesis, as the Old Testament records that she laughed when she heard that she would have a child. Somewhere down the line, this became the view and the observation of the Hebrews writer. Even though she thought it so funny she giggled, she still hoped and believed and then she had a son.

These are some examples of historical heroes having faith and God blesses the results. Presumably we want to please God, but the more and more we try, it doesn’t seem to add up. What do we need ?    Let’s look back at verse 6 to learn what it takes to please God. 

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6 NIV

Hebrews 11:6 NIV

To please God, you must believe God and seek God.

Believing in God and seeking him are essential to pleasing Him.

Let’s look at this verse from the Amplified Bible. Essentially, the Amplified bible gives commentary-like context to the text as you read it. So it has those notes in brackets, clarifying the deeper meanings behind certain words. It says:

“But without faith it is impossible to [walk with God and] please Him, for whoever comes [near] to God must [necessarily] believe that God exists and that He rewards those who [earnestly and diligently] seek Him.”

Hebrews 11:6 Amplified

Try as we may, as we illustrated last week with the drawing of the chasm of sin that’s between us and God, we can’t jump high enough, run fast enough, use things to propel us to him…Hebrews says we must believe he exists…(and it doesn’t stop there.) And that He rewards those who diligently seek Him.

Sinner’s prayer or “A,B,C’s of Salvation” are perfect examples.

  • Admit – I am a sinner. You aren’t really pursuing help if you don’t think you need it. Recognizing you are a sinner is the first step to salvation. 
  • Believe – Believe Jesus died for my sins and I ask for forgiveness. I accept his gift of Salvation. I believe he saves me now.
  • Confess – Confess your faith before others, tell the whole word of what God has done for you!

It’s that “Believe”, the “B” in the A,B,C’s of salvation we are talking about. It’s the trust in someone you haven’t seen, but yet believe…in faith. It is essential. Otherwise it looks like this.

  1. I’m a sinner
  2. I’m kinda trying some stuff to fix my sin problem. I hope one of them works
  3. I don’t know if my life has changed yet, I’ll get back to you on that.

It’s like trying different diets to find out which one will give you the best results. Then when you find that one, can you actually stick with it? That’s what we are doing when we fit ANYTHING else into the spot where Belief in Jesus, dying for our sins, and that he saves you now. We are rolling the dice, leaving it up to luck…but we are NOT placing our trust in anything. In Anyone.

3. Believing and Seeking

Person/PeopleBelievedHow they sought God
Abraham (again) (v17-19)His Son back from the DeadTrusted God’s directions even when it sounded crazy.
Israelites (v29)God’s Power to keep red sea partedStepped out onto the place where the Red Sea had been.
Israelites (v30)The conquering of JerichoFollowed their literal marching orders.
another chart

Let’s look at a few more examples. This chapter has tons. It has so many examples, the writer even lumps some folks all together at the end, big names like Samson, David, and  Samuel. Let’s look at Abraham again in verses 17-19.

17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

Hebrews 11:17-19 NIV

Abraham Believed God. He believed God existed and was living and active. He believed he wasn’t going crazy when he heard words of direction straight from God. He believed it so much, He trusted in God so much that he sought God through his obedience. He went to sacrifice his only son, believing –as the Hebrews writer points out, he believed God would resurrect Isaac. Otherwise God’s initial promise wouldn’t be fulfilled!

There are several other examples of Joseph and Moses, but let’s skip down to verse 29 and see how a general people group, the Israelites, Believed and Sought God. How they trusted him by faith.

29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.

Hebrews 11:29 NIV

Have you ever been to an aquarium before? There in Jenks, Oklahoma there is the Oklahoma Aquarium. It’s got stingrays, sea turtles, shrimp, starfish, an octopus and so much more. One of the highlights of the Aquarium is the Shark Exhibit. This Shark Adventure houses the world’s largest collection of bull sharks. Now this is not just a tank you walk around, but through. There is a glass tunnel that leads you underneath the shark exhibit. It’s something you have to experience for yourself to get the full effect. But even though I did not know it, I had faith in something, walking through that tunnel. I had faith that the glass wouldn’t break and sharks would come flooding down the tunnel to munch on me and my family. I had faith in the engineers who designed and the workers who built it. I showed that faith by walking down the tunnel.  I imagine something similar to those crossing the Red Sea. Moses was holding up his staff. He was following directions by faith…but the people could have been all wiped out that day, just as the Egyptians were where they tried to cross after them.

The Israelites showed they sought God by…Stepping out onto the place where the Red Sea had been.

 Let’s look at the next verse, verse 30.

30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.

Hebrews 11:30 NIV

If you don’t know the story, here’s the summary: Joshua and the Israelites were given some very strange battle plans by God: March around Jericho once a day for 6 days. Don’t shout or play your horns or anything. On the 7th day, march around it 7 times, blow trumpets and shout at the conclusion of the last lap. They believed. They were seeking God to do the impossible and the city of Jericho was delivered into their hands. They couldn’t have done it without faith.

They Believed God would deliver Jericho into their hands.  They sought God through obeying their literal “Marching orders.”

4. Everyday Faith

The best and most tangible demonstration I have ever seen concerning faith looks like this. This is a stool. I can look at that stool, I can investigate it “Sure looks like a sturdy stool!” I can maybe push on it a little, give it a kick like people do with tires for…whatever reason they do that for. I could go so far as to look into the stool’s history, “Who bought this stool? What material is it made from?”    

But it all comes down to this one question: “When I sit on it, will it hold me up?”

[At this point in the message I got a volunteer to help me with this demonstration.]

Now you know that I wouldn’t want you to fall and have everyone laugh at you, right?

You also don’t know if I messed with this stool before the service. It could be wobbly or it could be sturdy.

The interesting this is, you will NEVER know until you sit down.

You will never know for sure until you put your whole weight on this stool and see if it will hold you up. 

Perhaps you’ve seen other people sit on other stools before, much like our Hall of Faith from Hebrews 11, but you’ve never sat on this stool before.

[Hopefully the volunteer sits down. Stool stays in one piece.]

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Though you couldn’t know for sure that the stool would hold you up, you hoped it would. You had enough confidence in that hope that you sat down and risked falling. Now, go ahead and stand up. Ok, now sit down on the stool again. Did you believe it would hold you up?

Why?  (Because you’d already experience the stool’s faithfulness as you put your trust or full weight on it.)

Dismiss volunteer

Wrap up: What’s this have to do with the other faith basics?

Without faith, without actually sitting down on the stool. Without trusting God, his word, how He’s revealed himself throughout history…all you are left with is doubt. And when you stay there, you can even doubt the most basics of the Christian Faith. And so, we needed to address the very topic of Faith…putting your whole trust in something you can’t see, but you’re hopeful for. 

Do you want to be free from addiction? The first step is to believe it is possible for you to be from that addiction. What about worries? Do you enjoy being stressed and terrified all the time or do you want to live life in a state of calm and peace? You’ve got to have faith that’s possible. 

No matter what anyone pursues in life, they must have faith that it is pursuable…or else they wouldn’t pursue it!

No matter what anyone pursues in life, they must have faith that it is pursuable…or else they wouldn’t pursue it!
What about God? Do you have faith that he loves you? His Son died for you…to fix the sin problem we talked about last week? Do you trust God’s word? These are the questions, but we have two choices, to stand there looking at it “I wonder if that will hold me up or if it will collapse…” and the other choice is to trust in faith and simply…sit… down.

Faith Basics: Salvation

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Sermon Sept 3, 2021

Today we are going to begin talking about the Basics of the Christian Faith. If you are a Christian or if you are not, this series entitled Faith Basics is for you. If you don’t know anything about the Christian faith, I assume you are open to learning more about it since you are listening to (reading) this message today. Perhaps you come from a background where religious groups have distorted the message of the bible. Maybe you came from a family or church that preached things that it didn’t live out. My hope is that at Viroqua Nazarene you will find that not only do we understand and believe what the bible says about God, Jesus, Sin, and salvation…but you see it reflected in the love and fellowship of believers who gather regularly here.

If you are a Christian, these messages are still for you as well! I find the toughest thing that most  Christians deal with is being bogged down by discouragement when it comes to sharing their faith. So the methods I’ll use each week to share the message about the Faith, you can use them as well. 

I’ll try not to over complicate things with big words, but know that if I do use these words I will define them for easy use. I went through numerous courses in college and kept forgetting what the meaning of this one word ment. The word was “Soteriology.” Any time you hear the ending “ology” it means “to talk about or the study of.” But what does Soteri mean? (Bible.org source)

It comes from the Greek word “sorteia” which comes from another Greek word “soter” (σότερ) meaning savior. So Soteriology is the study or the talk about Salvation or the work of salvation.

Whether you grew up in church or this is your first time, you’ve probably heard Christians talking about the need to “get saved.” Today, that’s what we are going to talk about and I hope to illustrate it in a way that this act of God (Salvation) is clear enough that we could easily share it with someone else.

Mankind’s main problem in Life is SIN.

Sin separates us from a relationship with God. Sin says, “I want what I want…even if it’s not what God wants.” Sin Says, “I know what is right, but I’m doing otherwise because It’s convenient.”

Around here, our beliefs and teachings are guided by God’s word, the bible. So don’t be surprised if I quote it to support each week’s Faith Basic. We look to The Bible because we believe it is the authoritative Word of God and the only perfect guide for all things concerning salvation. We’ll talk in more detail about the Bible in a different week, but I think you need to know this…before we go any further today: Christians believe in the authority of God’s Word. In God’s word we find all the details for God’s perfect plan of salvation. 

And God’s word tells us that mankind has a problem and it’s called SIN.

James, Jesus’ brother once wrote:

 “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”

James 4:17 NIV

Former persecutor of Christians, Paul of Tarsus wrote about how all mankind has had to deal with this sin problem.

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—”

Romans 5:12 NIV

So not only do we have a sinful condition because one man (Adam) sinned…it leads us to make sinful choices which ultimately lead to death. 

One day, Jesus was trying to explain to some people that what comes out of a person, their words and actions – that’s what defiles them and makes them unclean…rather than eating or drinking the wrong thing. Gospel of Mark chapter 7:20-23 NIV

He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Mark 7:20-23 NIV

Jesus spells it out for us, just in case we didn’t know what some prime examples of sin were. So we’ve all got this sin problem. We have desires to live in ways opposite of what God’s best is for us. But that’s not the worst part about sin.  

Sin Separates us from God

I know, forgive this very rudimentary drawing. We’ve got a cliff on either side. God’s on one side and we are on the other. I’m going to tell you right now, no illustrations are 100% perfect. So go with me on this one, if you will. 

Sin gets between us and God. 

A very good example of this comes from Isaiah 59. Isaiah was a prophet of God. God would tell him what to say to the Israelites and he would tell them. What he said wasn’t always pretty or even encouraging. He tells them:

“But your iniquities have separated

    you from your God;

your sins have hidden his face from you,

    so that he will not hear.”

Isaiah 59:2-3 NIV

You might say, “I didn’t do anything wrong!” “My mama says I’m perfect! My Granny says I’m perfect.” Maybe you just say, “Well I’m a good person, I don’t know anything about this ‘sin’ stuff of which you speak…”

I’ve got news for you. Romans 3:23 makes it very clear:

“23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”

Romans 3:23 NIV

Not only are we born with the desire to put our desires before others’, especially before God’s desires, but we practice it regularly!

It’s that sin that creates a chasm…between us and God. Our Sin…His holiness. And the thing we dislike most about this situation is that…

We can’t fix this problem ourselves.

Are you an Olympian or a track and field star? No? Awesome. No one can call me out for not knowing what I’m talking about. 

So, in Track and Field there are various events with similar goals:

With the Long jump it’s all about who can go the farthest. With the High Jump and Pole vault, the goal is to get over the bar without knocking it over. They keep raising the bar to see who can get the highest jump or vault.

With our illustration here, we try things to get to God. We try “being good” or being a nice person. We back up really far, we take off in a dead sprint, we jump forward with all our might and all our goodness and niceness…and we fall short. We can’t get over that Sin pitfall by being nice or “good.” 

What if we jumped and put an extra little flourish to our jump, jumping higher. What if we said this was going to church…maybe saying “I’m religious” or even “I believe in God.”  These are things we might say that look like we are putting in a bit more effort to reach God…But just like before, we fall short. The pitfall of sin is what we can’t get past through being religious or being a church-goer.

What if we used a tool like pole vaulters use a pole to get over that super high bar? This might be doing good things: “I volunteer at a (fill in the blank). I DO lots of good and nice things. I teach Sunday school.” What about “I’ve dedicated my life to being a missionary” or “given it to religious service? I always recycle. I help clean trash on the side of the road. I encourage others to do good and nice things. I don’t just say I’m good or nice, I do nice things!”

OSLO, NORWAY – JUNE 28: Jeff Hartwig of the USA comes second in the mens Pole Vault during the IAAF Exxon Mobil Bislett Games at the Bislett Stadium in Oslo , Norway on June 28, 2002. (Photo by Christopher Lee / Getty Images )

This is that Pole in Pole vaulting. Have you ever seen a vaulter who fails to cleanly get over the bar? It’s disheartening. It’s sad. It’s embarrassing. It is the same with people who equate good works with a way over or past Sin. If that is their method, rather than the fruit of a tight relationship with God, they will knock that bar off everytime. They will not make it.

So believing we’re good enough isn’t enough. Being religious isn’t good enough. Doing “good” things isn’t enough. What’s it going to take to get over sin and to God? 

Fixing our sin problem takes an act of God 

God wants us to be close to Him. He wanted it so much that he took steps to help us cross that ravine. In the middle of the night, Jesus is teaching a religious leader, Nicodemus, about the Kingdom of God and the extent that God has gone to get us to him. He tell Nicodemus in John’s gospel, chapter 3 verse 16-17:

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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:16-17 NIV

Jesus was of course talking about himself. What was the Son supposed to do to save the world?

He was to lay down his life as a sacrifice to fix the sin problem in our lives. That pesky thing that drives a relational wedge between us and God.

21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Cor 5:12 NIV

Peter, an early leader in the Christian faith proclaimed this boldly:

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Acts 4:12 NIV

This is one of the most challenging pieces for some folks. 

  • I want to be saved, but I’m going to get it by being good
  • Or I’m all good for the “afterlife” because I believe in this god or that god. I pray three times a day to that god.
  • Oh my salvation is found at the bottom of a bottle.
  • I’m part of a secret society that does good stuff for the community. I can’t tell you anything about it, but I’m sure that’s enough to get wherever I’m going.

There are countless other examples. 

So fixing our sin problem takes an act of God. God sends his Son, Jesus… 

And Jesus lays down his life as a sacrifice for you and me. He makes a way for us to get to God.  That bridge comes by his sacrifice on the cross. 

John 14:6 paints a clear description of what we see here today in this illustration.

6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6 NIV

The Key point to this message of salvation is this: JESUS is the only way. This is an essential basic piece to the Christian Faith. If someone believes or acts as though they believe something other than Jesus fixes the sin problem and restores our relationship with God, they are incorrect. 

36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

John 3:36 NIV

Jesus also describes himself as the gate in John 10:9

9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.

John 10:9 NIV

There is only one way to:

  • God
  • Heaven
  • Salvation
  • Forgiveness
  • Redemption
  • Wholeness
  • Holiness
  • Restoration

That is through Jesus Christ.

The question is, where do you see yourself in this illustration? Firmly planted on your side? Trying to run and jump over the chasm? A couple inches onto the bridge? Half way? All the way?

31 days of Blogging – What I learned and experienced

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From August 31 to Sept 30 I made an effort to post to this blog at least once a day. I had a specific focus in mind: look over the Proverb that corresponded that particular day and write a devotional thought off of a verse or two from within it.

1. Just starting is an accomplishment. I have tried writing on a regular basis before, but this was a challenge. However it had a time line and a clear idea of what I wanted to do. That sure helped.

2. Life goes on. I experienced A-LOT of life without those 31 days. My family went camping twice. It was wonderful to take my daughter fishing for the first time. We also dealt with a sick pet (Guinea Pig) and many vet appointments to help address what was going on with him. Feeding him, giving him medicines. Ultimately, he passed away at home. This as a family, was our very first pet to have died. Just typing those words brings it all back up again. It was (and still is) hard on us, but we are glad he’s not struggling to live anymore and we are not exhausted physically and emotionally by trying to keep him alive. In the midst of this time, I wrote a sermon every week and tried to publish those here to this blog soon after it was preached. My daughter started horseback riding lessons and I have even writing a blog post in the barn while waiting for her lesson to finish (I am currently doing this as well.) This taught me that I can’t wait for life to “slow down” in order to do something I want to do or need to do. Life will go on. Just how much will I get to experience withhold I’m here? That’s up to me.

3. Writing short posts and regularly scheduling them is probably the best bet for me. I’m normally a “I want publish this thing! I just finished!” Kind of guy. But having it done the day before you want to frees up so much head space.

What would I do more of? Read other people’s work. It can inspire me and get better thoughts and even help me realize that presentation (the format) matters to the reader. If it’s difficult, bulky or confusing, people are going to tune out. I hope you stuck with me through this one.

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Proverbs 30 – I didn’t do that!

Back to my silly roots! So many things in scripture remind me of movies I’ve seen. This passage reminds me of that elderly gremlin from Hotel Transylvania. If you’ve seen this wacky movie, you’ll know see seems old and feeble, but in a quick moment…she’ll eat something larger than herself and then give a sly look all around. She’ll then proclaim, “I didn’t do that!”

The clip from the film, the scripture point out our real life excuses. We are prepared to sin, make the wrong choice. When we do it, the first thing we do is deny doing it. We might point the blame on others.

Why? Because taking responsibility for our actions is the first step to reconciliation. As long as as a person denies they did nothing wrong, relationships stay broke and forgiveness and healing can’t take place.

Proverbs 28 – That turned real quick

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“Anyone tormented by the guilt of murder will seek refuge in the grave; let no one hold them back.”

Proverbs‬ ‭28:17‬ ‭NIV‬‬

I was considering a few other verses to write on until I came across this one. The thing I like most about proverbs is that most of them are “common sense” commentary. However when we say some of these things out loud, some might be taken aback! We know these things happen…but we don’t talk about such things in polite society.

This verse is like so on the nose. It’s in your face. It’s an observation that the writer may have had personal experience with.

People who are guilty, especially of murder…find no relief from their guilt until they find their way to their grave.

The good news for us is that we can be free of sin, shame and guilt. Jesus can provide that freedoms for the liar, the thief, and even the murderer. Earthly consequences still stand, however the guilt that drives people to kill themselves…doesn’t have to stick around or lead them to a self imposed ending.

Smashing Pottery

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Sermon – Jeremiah 19

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

If you’ve got your bibles, go ahead and turn to Jeremiah 19, we will be looking at this whole chapter and then toward the end of the message we’ll fast-forward to see what happens down the line in the story of Jeremiah. 

Today, at some point in my sermon, I’m going to break something. I’m not going to tell you when. And right now, I’m not going to tell you what I will break. But I’m going to break something and I hope you will be caught off guard by it. If you want to prepare yourself, that’s fine…just know, it’s coming.

That being said, have you ever had a dish or a bowl you really liked, and it breaks? I mean really broken beyond repair. And I mean you really liked this bowl, cup or plate. It had sentimental value.

About 4-5 years ago, in all the hustle and bustle of life, we broke a few bowls and plates in our good dish set. We purchased this set of dishes when we were first married. We didn’t really have people over for meals, so 16 plates and 8 bowls lasted us a long while before having to do dishes. Then for some reason we started having more dishes to wash…something to do with having kids and that they enjoy food like adults…I guess. Somehow dropping two of these bowls into a sink with soapy water can lead to breakage. At least that is what happened with a couple of the bowls. It’s a bit sad when you look at something attached to memories and know it’s destined for the dumpster. You pick up the pieces and no matter how good you are at glueing things, you probably wouldn’t want to eat Christmas dinner off it. 

Other breakables, such as nick-nacks, can be repaired with glue and maybe some touch-up paint. Such as my little Garfield the cat figurine. Decades ago, his arm needed to be glued back in place. Unless you look very carefully, you probably couldn’t tell. 

not my real nick-nack

Breakable things. Some breakable things can be put back together when they are broken. Others, such as jars and cups, really can’t or should not be put back together. They no longer can serve their intended purpose. We end up replacing them or living without them. 

Something similar is presented to the leaders of Jerusalem and Judah. Last week’s illustration of the potter breaking down the clay and making a new jar…that didn’t sink in enough for the people Jeremiah told it to. Let’s look at the first few verses of Jeremiah 19.

“This is what the Lord says: “Go and buy a clay jar from a potter. Take along some of the elders of the people and of the priests 2 and go out to the Valley of Ben Hinnom, near the entrance of the Potsherd Gate. There proclaim the words I tell you,”

Jeremiah 19:1-2 NIV

I can’t tell you how jealous I am of Jeremiah. Well maybe not so jealous of how well his message is received, but seriously! Coming up with object lessons and visual aids to help drive home the message that God is trying to get across? That can be like 50% or more of sermon prep! I have learned that not everyone is a visual person or needs the visual aids to assist in communication. However there are just some people who just WON’T concentrate or listen unless you do something tangible, something to connect the spiritual realities you’re talking about with their physical every-day life. I know, because I’m one of them!

God tailor makes these object lessons for Jeremiah to present. Jeremiah records “God told me to go to a place…and I did. God told me to buy a thing…so I bought a thing.”

He even tells him who to get to listen to the message.

“the elders of the people and of the priests.“ He tells Jeremiah, “this is for the leaders among you. They are the ones who need this message.” The judgement that will flow from the message also means that the leaders are responsible for leading the people astray. Their veering so far off course should have been corrected by the leadership if they had also not been caught up in the same sinful acts Jeremiah is about to call them out on.

If bad things happen within the organization, it’s the leadership who will be looked at, questioned and potentially fired.

It’s so true. Leadership of any group, religious or otherwise, are responsible for their organization’s direction. If bad things happen within the organization, it’s the leadership who will be looked at, questioned and potentially fired. Let’s keep reading…

“There proclaim the words I tell you, and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, you kings of Judah and people of Jerusalem. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Listen! I am going to bring a disaster on this place that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle.”

Jeremiah 19:2c-3 NIV

I want you to stop and think of a sound that makes your ears tingle. Perhaps, sets you on edge. When I’m working at the store and my head is buried in the cooler, all I hear are the humming of the fans. That is until someone, from out of nowhere calls out my name or starts talking to me without me knowing what’s going on. Each time, I startle a bit, but then I figure out what has happened. Maybe for you, you’ve been out to a restaurant before and through the normal noise of plates, cups and mumbled conversations of about 50 different people, a loud CRASH coms from across the room. It seems everyone stops and looks, trying to find the source of the frightening sound. Perhaps a waiter or waitress dropped a tray and all the plates and glasses are on the floor. Other employees come to aid their colleague in cleaning up the mess. As adults we know that is about as far as we respond to this startling noise. When you are a highschooler and someone in the cafeteria has just dropped several plates making a tremendous amount of noise, you stop and look and then you clap and hoot and holler. It can be extra embarrassing for the person who dropped their stuff.

This is the tingle that God’s talking about. A sudden, shocking disaster that will get the attention of all who hear it and cause some sort of reaction. My guess is shivers up and down their spine or at least some goose bumps.

Why is God bringing this calamity? Let’s read on.

“4 For they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned incense in it to gods that neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah ever knew, and they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. 5 They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind. 6 So beware, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when people will no longer call this place Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter. 7 “‘In this place I will ruin[a] the plans of Judah and Jerusalem. I will make them fall by the sword before their enemies, at the hands of those who want to kill them, and I will give their carcasses as food to the birds and the wild animals. 8 I will devastate this city and make it an object of horror and scorn; all who pass by will be appalled and will scoff because of all its wounds. 9 I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh because their enemies will press the siege so hard against them to destroy them.’“

Jeremiah 4-9 NIV

God is Calling them out for their ungodly behavior.

For their choices, including but not limited to:

  • Making their land a place for foriegn gods
  • Burning incense to “new” gods
  • Filled the land with the blood of the innocent (This is a reference to child sacrifices.)
  • Building high places on which to do the sacrifices

Essentially, by their actions Judah and Jerusalem’s allegiance had switched. They were the people of God, of Yahweh. Now they are the people of whatever god feels good at the time. They might call themselves the sons and daughters of Abraham. But they are not holding up their part of the promise. They are unfaithful and have broken trust and relationship with the one true God.

So God (through Jeremiah) pronounces terrible doom upon them. Disgraced deaths, horrible living conditions requiring them to survive through cannibalism, and their “great city” will be reduced to something to scoff at.

Then Jeremiah reaches into his brown paper sack and brings out a baked potter’s jar. This isn’t metal or wood. It’s made from expertly formed, hardened clay.

10 “Then break the jar while those who go with you are watching, 11 and say to them, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter’s jar is smashed and cannot be repaired. They will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room. 12 This is what I will do to this place and to those who live here, declares the Lord. I will make this city like Topheth. 13 The houses in Jerusalem and those of the kings of Judah will be defiled like this place, Topheth—all the houses where they burned incense on the roofs to all the starry hosts and poured out drink offerings to other gods.’”

Jeremiah 19:10-13 NIV

HULK Jeremiah SMASH!

This is the abrupt, shocking, physical representation to the people he is speaking to. CRASH! BANG! BOOM! He breaks this item in their viewing and hearing. It’s a message of condemnation. It represents:

  • The broken relationship between God’s people and God
  • The sudden and shocking nature of the consequence (tossing a plate or jar to scare and frighten)

I know I’ve said this a time or two, but one of my favorite Old Testament characters is Gideon. During one part of his story God gives Gideon instructions for overthrowing the Midianite camp. Thousands of Midianites and only 3 groups of 100 men each. Just 300 men armed with their voices, torches, jars, and horns to sound a battle call on. They smashed the jars, all at the same time. The midianites heard they were surrounded by a great noise. It only grew worse as shouts of “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” followed by noisy trumpet like blasts came from groupings of flaming torches on the hillside surrounding them. This was psychological warfare! The noise was the weapon and it worked. The Midianites panicked and began to turn their swords on one another.  Sudden, shocking noises can make us realize how much trouble we are in. This was true for Midian. It was also true for Jeremiah’s audience. When something breaks, very rarely can it be properly repaired. Which leads me to the last point of the smashing of the pottery. It represents the…

  • The finality of the judgement – It’s going to happen. It can’t be repaired (like the potter’s jar can’t be repaired.) We learned last week that before a jar is fired in a kiln, or the clay is completely hardened, there is still hope for tearing it down and making something new out of it. It can be rewetted, merged together with other pieces of clay and the potter starts all over again with a hunk he or she shapes into a new item.    In the hearing of THIS particular pronouncement, it was final. But here is why:
  • Not because God had given up on the work of restoration. He’s still open to doing his part. He sent Jeremiah to warn the people before it was too late. No, not because of God but because of the hardened hearts of man. The people had already made up in their hearts and minds who they would serve. God saw and knew this. He knew the path they would take. It broke something. God’s heart.

The last two verses of this chapter are what we hear from Jeremiah before the people begin to retaliate against his message. Remember, they already did all they could to discredit his warning in chapter 18. They attacked his character instead of debating and considering the message he brought.

“14 Jeremiah then returned from Topheth, where the Lord had sent him to prophesy, and stood in the court of the Lord’s temple and said to all the people, 15 “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Listen! I am going to bring on this city and all the villages around it every disaster I pronounced against them, because they were stiff-necked and would not listen to my words.’”

Jeremiah 19:14-15 NIV

They didn’t waste much time after this pronouncement by Jeremiah. I talked about it a bit just a couple weeks ago. Pashhur, the official in charge of the temple of the Lord…had Jeremiah the prophet beaten and put in the stocks at the Upper Gate of Benjamin at the Lord’s temple.

There were much more severe consequences for Jeremiah, yet he continued to speak what God had called him to speak.

In Chapter 24 exile begins to happen. And later, in chapter 26 it seems we have a flashback to the early days of King Jehoiakim, King Josiah’s son, happening before the exile. Jeremiah is giving yet another warning:

‘This is what the Lord says: If you do not listen to me and follow my law, which I have set before you, 5 and if you do not listen to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I have sent to you again and again (though you have not listened), 6 then I will make this house like Shiloh and this city a curse among all the nations of the earth.’”

Jeremiah 26:4-6 NIV

For this warning, the prophet received a death threat and a semi-formal request to the religious officials for his execution.

At this point you might think Jeremiah was toast. Though the fact this is a flashback chapter AND that we still have 30 more chapters in Jeremiah help us to relax a bit. The Officials finally get their heads on straight. They reason that someone who has brought messages from the Lord shouldn’t be executed, especially just because we didn’t like the message! 

18 “Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah. He told all the people of Judah, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: “‘Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.’

19 “Did Hezekiah king of Judah or anyone else in Judah put him to death? Did not Hezekiah fear the Lord and seek his favor? And did not the Lord relent, so that he did not bring the disaster he pronounced against them? We are about to bring a terrible disaster on ourselves!”

Jeremiah 26:18-19 NIV

It’s the ultimate, “don’t shoot the messenger” scenario. We’ve heard this one before! They didn’t kill the prophet in the past, why start now?

Conclusion

This passage from Jeremiah is about one main thing: a warning. The abrupt smashing of a pot. The shock to the system. Danger Will Robinson, Danger! And like any other passage, head knowledge is great and all but it’s got to apply to us today. So, how many warnings will it take before “the jar” is smashed in our lives?

In our families?  Community?  County?  State?  Country? World?

How many loud, abrupt, irreverent crashings need to happen before we turn back and make a change? Only you can answer that for yourself.

And it’s true because the solution is you making a change. It’s taking personal responsibility, something the people of Judah and Jerusalem were not doing. It’s personally removing idol worship in your life. Sure you probably don’t have household gods (although you might have a Ganesha or a Budda statuette on your mantel), but there are plenty of other things we worship in this life that need to be knocked down to size. Cell phones, news and TV, career ambitions and how we look in the mirror. All can be idol worship that needs cleaning up. 

Judah no only had a problem with idol worship…by giving time and attention to gods other than Yahweh, they would sacrifice their children. This was literal, but children figuratively stood for a person’s future. Your legacy dies with you when you don’t invest it into the next generation.

Today we literally and figuratively sacrifice children at the behest of our own benefit.

  1. Literal child sacrifice today – abortion, abandonment, absentee parents (provide financially, not there relationally)
  2. Caring more about your career, making money than caring for your family
    1. I don’t think it would surprise you to know that pastor’s families are not immune from this. The pressure to perform, achieve goals, or just keep things afloat…can get in the way of ministry leaders being there for their spouse and children.
    2. If we succeed in business, in growing a large church but sacrifice our families to do so…we’ve already lost.

So we remove sacrificing our future, our children, the next generation, for the immediate benefits that might come our way if we do.

Judah, in their worship to other gods, burned incense. I see this as a reliance on something other than the God of all the universe and everything. People still do this today.

They rely on whatever it is to fix all their problems.

  1. Technology – better phone, car, computer…
  2. Money (touched on career and money earlier)
  3. Status…We don’t have Lords, Ladies, Dukes and duchesses but you know when you see someone with status. They generally look down their nose at those without status.
  4. Politicians – Looking to laws and rules and funding to fix the woes of society.
  5. Medicine/Science
    1. Have you ever listened to those commercials that say, “Ask your Doctor if medicine “so and so” is right for you?” They legally have to list off all the potentially harmful and unwanted side effects of taking the drug in order to deal with another problem in your body. The funniest ones (not really funny) but happen to be anti-depressant meds with side effects of potentially suicidal thoughts!
    2. Medicine has given us some wonderful things, but we often rely on it to be our “magic bullet” and solve our medical problems.
    3. Science and scientific data is another one that we can cling to…yet eventually, if you wait long enough…you’ll be let down. New, better discoveries will be made. Scientists might rush things in order to be first and most famous.

We might find out that in 1883 the Paleontologist, Charles Marsh “discovered” the Brontosaurus. He actually had a nearly full skeleton of a dinosaur he dubbed “Apatosaurus” but it lacked a skull. He then included a skull from a different dinosaur in order to make the discovery first. Later a skull was found and he declared that one to be from a “brontosaurus” but it was actually a more complete skull for the skeleton he already had. (Source)

So even science can let us down and mislead us.

So what do all these things have in common? Fully trusting in, worshipping, and obeying God solves it all. Trust, Worship, Obey. The very things the people of God needed to do were the very things they ran from. Let’s run to these things and not end up smashed. Not end up broken like a jar. It no longer serves its purpose of holding liquid. It no longer can be repaired and be of any use.

Let’s Trust God. Let’s Worship God alone. Let’s Obey God.

To hear what I broken during this sermon…listen to the recording. It’s best to hear it for yourself.

Proverbs 27 – Iron Sharpens what now?

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As iron sharpens iron,
    so one person sharpens another.

Proverbs 27:17 NIV

Have you ever worked with a dull knife? The Deli I worked in had a rule: a dull knife is an unsafe knife. You tend to chop or push harder when you knife is dull. This can lead to accidents. If you lose control over the item you’re cutting and you’re pushing down real hard with you dull knife…you might soon lose a part of you.

The deli I worked in had a knife sharpening service. All of our knives would be collected every 2-4 weeks and the service would bring us freshly sharpened and polished knives to work with. We could all tell how smooth and easy it was to cut a loaf of bread or dice vegetables after receiving these freshly sharpened knives.

As I understand it, sharpening any metal tool takes a took of a denser toughness. You scrape the blade along side the harder tool and it shaves away bits of imperfections in the blade. You may have seen butchers or deli workers use a honing rod. In between knife sharpening, we would need to smooth out those bumps on our own by using the honing rod.

What does this have to say about people “sharpening” each other? Mad props to God’s Chemistry Set blog. I was looking for some insight and scientific info on what happens in this process of metal sharpening and they pointed me in the right direction.

Mentoring frequently comes to mind when we talk about helping others grow. Mentors challenge their mentees to try new things. They use their own experience to shave off some of the bumps and nicks in the person they are mentoring. They then also rely on someone else, stronger, tougher and more experienced than themselves to do the same for them.

Ultimately we need to let God’s word and his Holy Spirit correct and shave off those bits in our life that are displeasing to him (or at least not as useful as they could be if they were sharpened.) But we need fellowship with others to guide and help us discern these things. I hope you find that here in this blog. I also find that doing a YouVersion bible study with others is beneficial. You can join me there. “What If” Reading Plan by Matthew West.

Proverbs 26 – Bad Archery

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“Like an archer who wounds at random is one who hires a fool or any passer-by.”

Proverbs‬ ‭26:10‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Have you ever hired an employee before? More likely you’ve been an employee. Perhaps you’ve worked with someone that you just wonder why was that person hired?

I can imagine being Human Resources at a business is a hard job. But, sometimes you just need people who might not be the best skilled or experienced at the job they are hired for (but hey, you got to get experience somewhere and sometime.)

This passage stresses the importance of hiring the right person for the job. Don’t hire fools. (Hopefully the interview process weeds out the fools) and passerby’s just might not be faithful.

I think as a person who has been hired for jobs (you probably can relate) I want to be the kind of person who isn’t a fool. And I want to be wise (and not harm my team) when I hire new people.

Question for you: have you ever worked with a person and felt, “did HR fire at random?” What was your experience?

Proverbs 25 – Refreshing News

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“Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land.”

Proverbs‬ ‭25:25‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Have you noticed that we live in a world saturated and obsessed with bad news? When I was a kid, I always wondered why my parents read the newspaper at night or bothered to watch the evening news. Now I’m an adult with a family of my own and I find myself drawn to news and info. And 99% of it is bad or at least sassy news. YouTube news videos and news article frequently have “so and so destroyed this person who has bad ideas and does bad stuff!”

If we start to drown in all that bad news, it can make us weary. We need to be refreshed. Enter: Good news. Good news from afar doesn’t care about your cynicism. It just is good.

I felt at church we were focusing on negative and sad news. We needed a counter balance. I found some by looking at Nazarene News. I found news stories there of encouragement. People and churches who were learning to care for their community in new an desperately needed ways all across the globe.

Perhaps you need some good news today. Here is a link to their site so you can see for yourself how God is refreshing people with His good news all over the world.

https://nazarene.org/news

Proverbs 24 – Home Improverments

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“By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.”

Proverbs‬ ‭24:3-4‬ ‭NIV‬‬
(Not my actual house)

We recently had “some” work done on our house. Air quotes on the “some” because it was actually many major things that needed updated and it was decided to go ahead and take care of them all now. Our immediate issue was a leaky basement, however the updates started on the outside and worked their way into the house.

I didn’t tell the contractor what he had to work on. His experience, his expertise far out weighed my own. He did a fabulous job. It reminded me of how little I personally know about updating or repairing things the best way possible. A few years ago I installed a new sink and vanity in our main bathroom. Google and YouTube videos helped me install a functioning sink, but it wasn’t a “quite right.”

The wisdom and experience of our contractor proved there were areas of improvement (like having the sink flush up against the wall…I guess that’s important). So now I know the sink is secure, working properly and will be there for years to come. I’m thankful for his wisdom that established these actual repairs to my home.

In our own hearts and lives we can try to “do it ourselves” and we can even get by with our versions of “good enough.” However, for our lives to be established we’ve got to trust the wisdom of the Lord. We need his word to be our foundation. Otherwise all we are doing is trying to get by through patch-work.

Proverbs 23 – “Sorry to inconvenience you…”

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“Do not eat the food of a begrudging host, do not crave his delicacies; for he is the kind of person who is always thinking about the cost. “Eat and drink,” he says to you, but his heart is not with you. You will vomit up the little you have eaten and will have wasted your compliments.”

Proverbs‬ ‭23:6-8‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Have you ever had this happen to you? (I know I sound like an infomercial). You are invited for dinner or a party, but the host only talks about how much it is costing them?

I can picture this being something the father of the bride who is paying for a wedding reception might say. They love their daughter, but begrudgingly fork over the cash to pay for various guests at the wedding meal.

Only advice I have: don’t be like that guy. If you give something away out of love (or any reason, really) it’s not longer yours to control or be upset with how it’s spent. Essentially, if you’re going to be generous, don’t attach strings. If you’re not going to be generous, don’t pretend like you are. Or your guests will sarcastically reply, “sorry to inconvenience you…”

Proverbs 22 – Tornado Ahead!

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“The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty. In the paths of the wicked are snares and pitfalls, but those who would preserve their life stay far from them.”

Proverbs‬ ‭22:3, 5‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Alrighty! We’re back to movie inspired devotional thoughts! Have you ever seen “Twister?” Yes, the movie about tornado chasers, not the party game with colored dots.

In Twister (spoiler warning) there are of course the main crew of chasers who we are suppose to relate to, care about most and root for. The there is a groups of chasers who are trying to beat our heroes to collecting the scientific data first…making the breakthrough discovery on tornadoes first. (Sounds childish if you think about it that way, but competitive adults can be childish.)

In the film there is a time where our heroes sense that a tornado will easily shift directions, so they don’t choose the obvious route to the tornado. They turn off a different road. The leader of the competing team sees this and decides to stay on course with the tornado, pushing to make the scientific breakthrough first, no matter the cost.

Our heroes do the right thing and try to warn the other team of the impending danger but the leader of “team corporate” doesn’t listen and tells his driver to keep going. It ends up getting the two of them impaled and exploded.

When we are cautious about something, that’s not a bad thing. But it is very unwise to not heed the wisdom of others. You might be taking others along with you up into a tornado.

Proverbs 21

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The horse is made ready for the day of battle,
but victory rests with the Lord.

Proverbs 21:31

Recently my daughter started taking horse riding lessons. She’s learning a lot and so am I. Horses can be stubborn. They want to be the boss in any situation. If the rider has not gotten confidence in handling the horse, the horse will know it and control the rider.

These horses are not battle horses, but the horses referenced in this passage would have been put through rigorous training to not only listen to their rider’s directions, but also not fear the noises of battle.

The verse reassures us that even through all this battle training, the victory rests in the Lord. You can train and prepare a horse (or a rider) as much as you want, but the victory belongs to God.

Proverbs 20

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“Ears that hear and eyes that see—
the Lord has made them both.”

Proverbs 20:12 NIV

How many times do we take for granted our ability to hear and see? Perhaps right now you can’t see and you are using a screen reader to participate in this blog devotional. Maybe your eyes work just fine but you are deaf or hearing impaired, making it difficult to focus in on concepts that people tell you about.

This verse just simply tells us of the creator of these wonderful things: eyes and ears. They are complex parts of the body and they serve different purposes but both deal with information gathering and perception.

When we see something good God made, let’s praise him for it. When we hear good things God has done, let’s give him praise.

Pottery Lessons (Jer 18:1-12)

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This morning we are continuing on with our Sermon from a Sack theme. Visual aids can be helpful in connecting physical concepts, tangible things…with spiritual things. We see the physical all day long, but behind it, there is the spiritual. There are the greater, deeper things that God wants to get across to us. So each message I’m pulling out an object that relates to the story at hand. We’re also continuing to look at passages in Jeremiah. God was so good to give Jeremiah explicit instructions on what object lesson to use. He didn’t have a book on creative sermon illustrations. He just had God and his willingness to do what God told him.

Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

Today we will read the scripture as the story unfolds. 

Let’s begin with verse 1-2

1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.”

Jeremiah 18:1-2 NIV

Jeremiah receives a direct message, a personal message from the Lord. “Go to this specific place.” God doesn’t tell Jeremiah everything. The only other detail is that that location is where he will get the Lord’s Message.

Have you ever gotten a sense you needed or wanted to go to some location?

Maybe you knew it was a place you could draw near to hearing from God, maybe you didn’t until you were there. What was that place? __________________

For me, there were various places. In college, I would go to the small music practice rooms in the Fine Arts Building. I am not skilled at piano by any shape of the imagination, but I know notes well enough to play a little by ear. So in my times of stress, distress, and confusion I would go into that closed room, lock the door and pluck away at those keys. It opened my heart and gave me time to deal with whatever I was facing.

Maybe the place you go is your favorite chair or couch, with bible and notepad in hand. Maybe a pen and paper to write down what you hear from God. Maybe a cup of coffee, tea, or soda by your side as well. I think we all need some time alone with our thoughts and with God. Surely he can speak to us in the midst of a crowded area, but there is just something clarifying about being isolated from distractions. It can help take away the question of “Is God really saying that to you?” In the quiet stillness, there is very little doubt when God speaks.

So Jeremiah is told to go and  in verse 3 it says:  

3 So I went down to the potter’s house,

Jeremiah follows those instructions. The interesting thing about a word from God is when he gives you specifics, i.e. where you will receive a word from Him…you CAN’T force it anywhere else. I know this as it relates to me and sermon writing. I know when I’ve plowed on with a theme passed when God has said “That’s enough” or “Your choosing entertaining topics over biblical ones. Not a great call.” I find I hear that when I hit “A Wall.” I can’t seem to go any farther with a topic and the instruction or information from the passage doesn’t even make sense to me…the communicator! Why should I pass it along and make others even more confused. That’s usually when I stop, pray some more and try reading other passages.

We find clarity when we go where God wants us to go.

Verse 3 continues with Jeremiah’s observations:

“…and I saw him working at the wheel. 4 But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

Pottery 101

Here’s the moment you probably saw coming. I have in the sack today: clay. We found several fun colors of oven baked clay at Hobby Lobby the other day. They have all kinds of clay for different artistic pursuits. Air Dry, Never dries out clay, oven baked and the kind that we are most likely familiar with when we see pottery at the store is kiln-fired pottery. We will talk about baking the clay here in a few minutes, but let’s start where the potter starts: A plain hunk of clay.

There’s nothing really special about this clay. Sure it has color, but other than that…if I put it in the oven right now, it could become a paperweight, and that’s about it. But if I pitch, and squish, and smoosh…I can form it into something other than a paper weight. Jeremiah sees the potter making a pot. There are a few techniques in making a pot or a dish. You can get a wheel to spin the clay on, get it nice and wet and hold your fingers and your hands just right so the pot begins to form through pressure and centrifugal force. Another technique is the coil method. You roll long strands of clay, (like a snake or french fry) and you use some of your other clay to make a flat, round base. Then you start wrapping the coil along the outline of the base, going back over the previous piece of coil as you get to it. As you go along, you’ll want to score (or make hash marks on the clay so it sticks together, also applying a little moisture.) This helps bond the pieces together when they are baked. 

The Key thing about pottery is that you are making something useful or pretty out of something that is not.

Sometimes when you begin making a piece, you discover “Something’s not quite right.” I would venture to say that most times when this happens is because something structural has gone wrong. The problem with a structural problem in a piece of pottery is that no matter how much you work with it, shaping it to counterbalance that weakness in the structure…the weakness still remains. 

Clay has some amazing properties. Until it’s dried and hardened, it still has hope of being remade. The potter Jeremiah watched working in this chapter takes that pot he was working on…this shaped, unfired clay, and smashed is back down into a hunk of shapeless clay. Then he makes something new. He doesn’t try to make the same pot, but a new one! And the scripture says he shaped “it as seemed best to him.” 

That’s what potters do. They pull the potential of a pot or cup or container out of a lifeless hunk of clay. Let’s look at verse 5…it says: 

5 Then the word of the Lord came to me. 6 He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.

Jeremiah 18:5-6 NIV

Israel…can’t I do the same with you? Remake you, make you a new as it pleases me? It’s important to note: He says “…clay in the hand of the potter.” In the Hand. A hunk of clay just sitting there isn’t going to become anything except dried out. But if the clay is in my hands, I can do something with it. God says the same to Israel. If you are in my hand I can make you and mold you how I see if. If you are just sitting there, outside my will? You’ll just dry out. At best, you’ll be a paperweight. Let’s read on starting with verse 7.

7 If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8 and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. 9 And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.

Jeremiah 18:7-10 NIV

We need no more evidence of this than the story of Jonah and Nineveh. Jonah knew God would be merciful, that’s one reason he didn’t want to go to Nineveh. He wanted the people to be destroyed for their great wickedness. But when Jonah finally declared to the city that they would be destroyed, they repented and God relented. He didn’t bring on the destruction he’d planned. The flipside is very evident in scripture as well. Israel and Judah didn’t honor God. They worshipped useless idols and sought after gods rather than Yahweh. Though God had planned and proclaimed good things for them, they were led into slavery, captivity, and exile. Everytime the people of God don’t follow God’s plans, they are like a pot telling the potter, “No a little more off the side.”

The Potter doesn’t need feedback from the pot he is forming.

He can smash it to a formless hunk and start over again.

11 “Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the Lord says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you.

Jeremiah 18:11 NIV

WE’RE TOAST

STOP. So if that’s all the people Jeremiah spoke to heard, they’d say “OH NO! We’re doomed. Let’s just keep on sinning. Keep on getting deeper into evil. However, If they actually listened to the previous statements concerning how God operates…Being merciful to those who repent, reconsider giving out promised blessings when blessed nations go sour… They would not be surprised by his next words. Let’s continue with verse 11.

So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’

Jeremiah 18:11c

God is telling each individual: You need to change. Not some systemic, societal thing…but each individual taking responsibility to say “I’m sorry. I was wrong. I will change my ways and actions.”    Sometimes knowing the inner workings of the heart is a blessing and a curse. Here God knows exactly how they will respond. Verse 12:

12 But they will reply, ‘It’s no use. We will continue with our own plans; we will all follow the stubbornness of our evil hearts.’”

Jeremiah 18:12 NIV

Ok. This is God being very “on-the-nose.” Nobody proclaims they are stubborn. Stubborn people usually say, “I’m not stubborn, you’re stubborn.” Or “It’s not being stubborn because…I’m right and you’re not!” Here, God wants to make a point. By their actions and attitude of their hearts, they are saying “I desire what I want and nothing’s going to change that.”

13 Therefore this is what the Lord says:

“Inquire among the nations:

    Who has ever heard anything like this?

A most horrible thing has been done

    by Virgin Israel.

Ask around! Have you ever heard of a people so stubborn they would say “I’m so stubborn, I’m not going to change my ways, even given the chance!” He continues ins verse 14: 

Does the snow of Lebanon ever vanish from its rocky slopes? Do its cool waters from distant sources ever stop flowing?

Jeremiah 18:14 NIV

If you didn’t figure it out, there are a LOT of rhetorical questions by God in the Bible. This is one of them. “Do mountains have snow? Does water flow?” Basically asking, “does the water cycle in Lebanon cease?” The answer: NO. It’s Consistent. Dependable. If that force of nature is dependable…what is it compared to? Let’s look at verse 15.

15 Yet my people have forgotten me; they burn incense to worthless idols, which made them stumble in their ways, in the ancient paths.

They made them walk in byways, on roads not built up. 16 Their land will be an object of horror and of lasting scorn; all who pass by will be appalled and will shake their heads. 17 Like a wind from the east, I will scatter them before their enemies; I will show them my back and not my face in the day of their disaster.”

Jeremiah 18:15-17 NIV

This last part really hurts. “Show them my back” makes me think of the expression to “turn your back to someone.” It’s this idea of disowning them. Perhaps the more important element here is what they are missing out on:“I won’t show them my face.”

God’s Blessing

When I was at Olivet, I sang in Orpheus Choir. It was our tradition to finish each and every concert with the song “The Lord Bless You and Keep you.” It’s based on Numbers 6:24-26.

24 ‘“The Lord bless you and keep you;

25 the Lord make his face shine on you

and be gracious to you;

26 the Lord turn his face toward you

and give you peace.”’

Twice in those 3 verses God’s face being toward or on someone was a GOOD thing. Something to bless someone with.

You know the feeling of disrespect. Someone looks away from you when talking to you. Perhaps mutters something as they leave the room and you just know it was about you. God’s great grace and peace come through the venue of his wonderful face upon us.

The people Jeremiah delivers this message to receive no such blessing. Jeremiah 18:18

18 They said, “Come, let’s make plans against Jeremiah; for the teaching of the law by the priest will not cease, nor will counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophets. So come, let’s attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says.”

Jeremiah 18:18 NIV

The first part is easy enough to digest. Let’s plot against Jeremiah. We disagree with him and the judgement he’s heaping on us. But that last part:

“Let’s attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says.” It’s a bit confusing to think of someone verbally attacking another because of the things they say…all the while ignoring the things he said.

Here’s what I think there saying: 

Let’s not give credence to his warnings and judgement. They can’t be real because they just can’t…   Let’s instead attack him personally. His Character. Not the ideas or the word from the Lord, but Him personally.

I’m sad to say, ladies and gentlemen, the world hasn’t changed much since these hooligans struck back against Jeremiah. 

It seems most people are not able to properly, intellectually debate ideas, but rather they attack the people with the ideas. They attack the people themselves. They attack their character. We see perfect examples of this every election cycle and it has gotten into our daily thoughts and procedures. Always thinking the worst of people.

Conclusion

Well Jeremiah’s story doesn’t end there. We will look at another passage next week and another item from this brown paper sack. But I wonder how it must have felt to be Jeremiah. Here’s God calling you to give an important message to the people He loves…and the message is not heeded? In fact, instead of responding to the message with repentant hearts…they take extra effort to destroy Jeremiah with their words. And these are religious people leading the charge!

It was true in Jesus’ day too. He was well received by people far from God because he presented a message that would draw and graft them into His promise. But those who did not think they needed to repent, the religious folks whose practices and rituals would “save” them…They more often than not…missed the boat.

We will see how this further plays out next week, but I want you to ask yourself this question:

On a scale of 1-10 how much do I trust the Potter with my life? (1 being no trust at all, 10 being complete trust) God is the Potter whether we approve of his craftsmanship or not, however we do have a role to play.

“…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

2 Chronicles 7:14

Proverbs 19 – The Judge

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Photo by EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA on Pexels.com

“A false witness will not go unpunished,
    and whoever pours out lies will not go free.”

Proverbs 19:5 NIV

Boy do we wish this was a passage that clearly describes all legal systems in the world. More often than not, we see false witnesses (and false accusers) walk away with little to no prosecution. However the Bible isn’t a book that’s interested in our concepts of justice. God is the ultimate judge and that judgement is final.

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”

2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV

It may be no comfort to us now, we who want the liars to pay now for the lies they’ve spread. But we’ve got to remember that God is not only the ultimate judge, He is patient. He is patient with them and with you and I. He is waiting, patiently for us to come back to him and stop pouring out lies.

Proverbs 18 – Man Caves and She-Sheds

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“The name of the Lord is a fortified tower;
    the righteous run to it and are safe.”

Proverbs 18:10 NIV

Did you ever have a club house or a treehouse when you were a kid? Maybe you still do. I’ve heard of “Man Caves” and also more recently “She-Sheds” when people can unwind and enjoy things like video games or working on their hobbies. (I have NO idea what goes on in a She-shed. I’ve never been invited.)

In this passage the imagery is likening the NAME of the Lord (Yahweh) with a fortified tower. A tall, secure structure that grants safety to those it lets in. The verse says, “The righteous run into it…”

Righteous means being in right relationship with God. If you are in right relationship with God should be clear who you can trust in, in who’s name you will be safe. (Hint: it’s God’s!)

What did you bury under there?

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Message from 9/12/21 Jeremiah 13:1-13

Unless you are the world’s best communicator, you probably have had a moment or two when you’ve tried to communicate something to another person or group of people and they just don’t seem to “get” it. No logic or reasoning will get them there. You can lay out all the facts, figures and pie graphs and they just don’t understand. I feel like this happens to me a lot. I think I’m being clear in my explanation or my understanding of what someone is telling me and NOPE! We are not on the same page. This happened to me just the other day at work. I was trying to help a customer find a product, but I just couldn’t picture what they were looking for. We both pulled out our smartphones and started googling. I looked up what I thought he was talking about, he tried to locate what he was actually talking about. I even tried a series of clarifying questions to see if we could get something close to what he was wanting…but alas, it seems we didn’t have what he wanted. Even though I never really got the full picture of what he was asking for, the other person with him reassured him that she knew what he was talking about.

Communication. Sometimes it is SO CLEAR you can’t believe it: “It can’t be that simple, can it?” And other times messages can leave you with more questions than answers and that might make you feel uneasy, uncomfortable and possibly angry.

I think that’s why visuals are so helpful in communicating messages, telling stories that not only get the facts right, but also get the tone right. The real feeling behind the words that speaks not to our heads, but to our souls. Today and for the next couple of weeks, our messages will be a “Sermon from a Sack” style. I’ll have an item hidden in this sack that relates to the message at hand. You won’t get to see it until then, so it’ll be a mystery.

Today we look at Jeremiah 13:1-11. God begins giving Jeremiah special instructions concerning the messages he would present to the people. God gave extra care to have Jeremiah use visual aids to get the point across. We will find that not only do these people “get” the message and still have trouble with it, people down through the ages have struggled with God’s choice of visual aid and have not “gotten” the full force of the warnings we will hear in today’s passage.

13 This is what the Lord said to me: “Go and buy a linen belt and put it around your waist, but do not let it touch water.” So I bought a belt, as the Lord directed, and put it around my waist.

Then the word of the Lord came to me a second time: “Take the belt you bought and are wearing around your waist, and go now to Perath and hide it there in a crevice in the rocks.” So I went and hid it at Perath, as the Lord told me.

Many days later the Lord said to me, “Go now to Perath and get the belt I told you to hide there.” So I went to Perath and dug up the belt and took it from the place where I had hidden it, but now it was ruined and completely useless.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: “This is what the Lord says: ‘In the same way I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. 10 These wicked people, who refuse to listen to my words, who follow the stubbornness of their hearts and go after other gods to serve and worship them, will be like this belt—completely useless! 11 For as a belt is bound around the waist, so I bound all the people of Israel and all the people of Judah to me,’ declares the Lord, ‘to be my people for my renown and praise and honor. But they have not listened.’

Jeremiah 13:1-11 NIV

Was it really a belt?

(I pulled out a cloth belt form a brown paper sack.) Now you might think this is just a piece of cloth. And you’d be RIGHT! Perhaps you’ve seen or participated in a biblical reenactment before. Bible-times characters wearing what we think is representative to what they actually wore. One long flowing tunic, potentially a head covering, possibly a sash (especially if you are playing Jesus) and a belt around your waist made from rope or another color of cloth. As we read the scripture, did you picture something like this? I know I have. I thought about what it might have sounded like for Jeremiah to “Go Shopping.” 

“Excuse me shopkeeper, I’d like to purchase a linen belt to go around my waist” says Jeremiah.

“Well you’re in luck. We’ve got a wide selection of belts. They absolutely will keep your pants from falling down…if you wore any.”

Usually we think of the belt as something to keep the tunic in place, or at least help it not look like a big dress on a dude, right? Perhaps you’ve heard about in 2 Kings where Elisha, the prophet gives his assistant some very succinct directions:

“Elisha said to Gehazi, ‘Tuck your cloak into your belt, take my staff in your hand and run. Don’t greet anyone you meet, and if anyone greets you, do not answer. Lay my staff on the boy’s face.’” 2 Kings 4:29 NIV

Other translations use the phrase “Gird up your loins” instead of “tuck your cloak into your belt.” Weird, huh? The idea for Gehazi is this: be prepared to run and not get tripped up.

But what’s the deal with the linen belt in Jeremiah? Why would God make such a big deal about it? Seems like a standard piece of clothing for a bible-times guy to wear.

Here’s the trouble with the linen belt. It’s most likely not a linen belt.

Fashion choices aside, what is the purpose of a belt? To keep your pants up! Excuse me for just being a bit more embarrassing but, why is it important to make sure your pants stay up? 

Because they cover you…in places that are not meant for everyone to see. That wouldn’t be as big of a deal if a person were wearing an undergarment.

So here’s the kicker, some older translations (and the commentary that helped me prepare for today) go back to the original Hebrew and the context of the surrounding verses and do not picture a “belt.” Instead they read it as a loincloth

A what now? Yeah, a loincloth. Have you ever seen a person in a loincloth? The most appropriate pop culture references I can think of are Mowgli from Disney’s “The Jungle Book” or perhaps Tarzan. There’s a reason people don’t just traipse around in loincloths, because it’s basically underwear.

“Pastor, You’re telling me that it wasn’t a belt God commanded Jeremiah to buy and put on and never wash it…but actually bible-times underwear?”  That’s what the scripture leads me to believe. You can feel free to still think about it as a belt if you want to, but the imagery of a loincloth expresses so much more than a simple belt could ever hope to. 

What’s so special about this loincloth?

First off, the linen loincloth was there for modesty. It keeps everything hidden that is not supposed to be…on display…so to speak? The thing is that modesty was a big problem for the people of Judah and Israel as they worshipped on hills at Asherah poles. Their form of worship was intimate in nature, and put on display for all to see. So wearing this item would keep them from embarrassment and shame, should one’s tunic accidently get blown by the wind…if you get my drift. Also, it seems that not everyone wore loincloths. It was, however, part of the priestly attire. 

42 “Make linen undergarments as a covering for the body, reaching from the waist to the thigh. 43 Aaron and his sons must wear them whenever they enter the tent of meeting or approach the altar to minister in the Holy Place, so that they will not incur guilt and die.”

Exodus 28:42-43b

This has got to be the worst or most uncomfortable object lesson known to man. The New Beacon Bible commentary says that the special nature of the undergarment was a metaphor for the intimate closeness with God. Think about it, Do you want comfortable or uncomfortable underwear? (Don’t answer that!) God called this cloth the Pride of Judah and Jerusalem. This was a way for Jeremiah to understand the closeness between God and his people. It, (awkwardly) also represents the kind of closeness a husband and wife would have. It harkens to God as the groom and his people are the bride. I know, right!? The kids would call this topic “Super Cringe.” But Perhaps that’s why it’s interesting. No one wants to go to the weird places in the scripture…we just like our nice safe story about Jeremiah burying a belt. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but at least it doesn’t make too many people uncomfortable.

There’s one more thing about this loincloth that really “Stands out” so to speak.

It’s new and clean at the start…but it’s not that way forever. (Have you ever heard the expression “Mama always said make sure to wear clean underwear in case you are in an accident.”) Jeremiah was to wear it until God told him to go bury it at Perath. He wasn’t supposed to get wet or dip in water, meaning “no spin cycle at the laundromat for his tighty whities.” We don’t know how long it was before God told Jeremiah to head to Perath, but it wasn’t likely the same time he got the first message. It was a second message from the Lord. So Jeremiah does what God tells him to do. He goes and takes his loincloth and buries it until God tells him to come back many days later. 

I’ll just go ahead and read verse 7 again, but this time in the ESV:

“7 Then I went to the Euphrates, and dug, and I took the loincloth from the place where I had hidden it. And behold, the loincloth was spoiled; it was good for nothing.”

Jeremiah 13:7 ESV

The cloth was ruined, good for nothing. God’s not a packrat “well we can use it for drying the floor or as a rag if need be.” Nope, Jeremiah tells the truth – it was spoiled to the point it was good for nothing.

God “lands the plane”

I had a pastor friend once talk about sermons like flying planes. The ending, concluding words…the big point that you build to, when you bring that into the picture…that’s what he called landing the plane. Well God makes his point clear. “You want to know why I had you buy a loincloth, wear it, take it off and bury it, and then dig it back up again? Listen close, Jeremiah.”

Let’s listen to vs 9-11 in the English Standard Version:

9 “Thus says the Lord: Even so will I spoil the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. 10 This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing. 11 For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.”

Jeremiah 13:9-11 ESV

So if we are landing the plane, here are the pre-landing checks:

  1. God desired intimate closeness with his people. He “Made them to cling to Him…but they would not listen. They wouldn’t hear God’s Words (In fact several chapters later, a priest named Pashhur doesn’t like Jeremiah’s messages and has him beaten and thrown in the stocks) See Jeremiah 20 for more.
  2. Stubbornly follow their own heart – What I want is what’s best. You’ve heard “The Heart wants what the heart wants?” 
  3. Served and worshipped other gods. This goes back to the modesty thing I said earlier.  Asherah, the fertility goddess, was worshipped through certain activities that would not be considered rated “G.” Much earlier in Jeremiah 2:20, it says

“Long ago you broke off your yoke

    and tore off your bonds;

    you said, ‘I will not serve you!’

Indeed, on every high hill

    and under every spreading tree

    you lay down as a prostitute.

Jeremiah 2:20 NIV

This is the serving and worship of other gods. This is the immodesty of the people. This is God calling them out on it.

Conclusion

It’s important when communicating to use imagery as well as clear, simple words to get a message across. Through Jeremiah, God did that. The New Beacon Bible Commentary concludes it beautifully by saying this:

“He called Israel to be a people who would reveal his name–his character and power–to the world (Deut 28:10). Israel was to be the object of Yahweh’s praise and glory. Israel ruined itself and became useless to Yahweh by their habitual rejection of his voice. It no longer clings to Yaweh in a covenant relationship.”

(NBBC, Jeremiah 1-25, pg 174)

How do we stay clean and useful? By listening and accepting his voice. We can be in such a close relationship with him that he can lean over and kiss our foreheads.

Please leave a comment below:

What are you personally hearing from God these days? What directions, instructions of inspirations is he speaking to you? If you aren’t hearing anything right now, are you open to listening?

Proverbs 17 – Peaceful dried-out bread

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Better a dry crust with peace and quiet
than a house full of feasting, with strife.

Proverbs 17:1 NIV

Have you ever tried to eat and enjoy a meal when you know the people you eat with are mad at each other or you. Or perhaps you are mad at them. Either way this verse reminds us of the simple truth: a little morsel is better than a feast, depending on the emotional setting it’s eaten in.

Proverbs 16 – Abuse of power

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Kings detest wrongdoing,
for a throne is established through righteousness.

Proverbs 16:12 NIV

If you’ve study enough history you’ll see a pattern where historical events truly repeat themselves. Kings, heads of state, governmental leaders are dethroned when they join in on wrong doing. That is to say when they Lord their power over their subjects, abuse it and do not bring real justice in the land. You can be sure that their days are numbered.

But when a righteous leader guides his or her people, they don’t need to deceive or twist arms to get people to join them in the pursuits of their vision. People will line up and volunteer.

As soon as they no longer stand up for justice, for what is right, the people lose all confidence and faith in them.

What kind of leader are you? What kind would you rather follow?

Proverbs 15 – Don’t Hulk Out

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“A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Proverbs 15:1 NIV

Thanks again for joining me. It’s encouraging to know that I’m not the only one getting somethings out of the Proverbs this month.

I think the sheer relatability of the wisdom contained in Proverbs is why I like it so much. Even if its historical setting is ancient to us, it is extremely applicable. Today’s passage reminds me some of the training I had when I was becoming a foster parent.

Little kids will either defy you or throw a fit when you sternly correctly. A foster parent I was learning from would always encourage her little children “let’s be sweet.” And she would highlight the behavior of that “sweetness”. Being kind, not pushing or especially not biting. “that’s not being sweet…”

As we’ve grown and so have our girls. And we’ve tried to not fly off the handle and yell when correcting them. The poor choice they made has consequences but all I’m doing is tearing apart our relationship when I’m adding a new consequence: making dad “Hulk out.”

They problem with reacting emotionally and in anger to problems before you is it usually begets more anger, causing more problems. We can see this in parenting, but also in interpersonal relationships between adults.

We you yelled at or were you calmly talked to when being corrected? How did that approach make you feel? Let me know it the comments.

Proverbs 14 – “I know just how you feel!”

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“Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.”

Proverbs‬ ‭14:10‬ ‭NIV‬‬

In the middle of your grief, stress, sadness, has some well meaning person ever said to you “I know just how you feel” ?

I believe most people are trying to help, but they don’t understand how damaging and dismissive that phrase is. The truth is found here in Proverbs 14:10. No one can truly know or under our bitterness (sorrow) or really feel and enjoy our joy, quite like we do in our own hearts.

What to do with that person who constantly projects their own life and troubles when all you are trying to do is share yours?

1. Forgive them – the most likely don’t realize how what they are doing is not helpful

2. Kindly explain to them why it’s not helpful. “When you jump in with yourself own story, I fell like you are not listening and caring about mine.”

3. Find someone else to share your heart. People will get the drift when fewer people confide in them. They don’t have anyone’s confidence.

One last thing: unlike your average Jane or Joe, there is someone who can understand our every hurt. His name is Jesus and he’s just a prayer away.

Proverbs 13 – Isn’t it ironic?

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“Whoever scorns instruction will pay for it,
but whoever respects a command is rewarded.”

Proverbs 13:13 NIV

Thanks for joining me for today’s devotional thought. You know that one song “Ironic?” There is a line in there that says “it’s the good advice that you just didn’t take.”

Well we could debate what the real definition of “ironic” is, that’s not what the devotional is about.

When we know we should have taken that good advice…it’s only in hindsight. It’s only looking back with regret for making a decision and realizing we should have made a different one.

When you are given instruction or advice, do you scorn it or do you at least consider it? Respecting that command and advice might save you lots of regret in the future.

What are your thoughts? Have you had advice you wish you had taken and accepted? What was it? What advice do you have for others that you had to learn the hard way? Leave a a comment below.

Proverbs 12 – I Pity the Fool

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“Fools show their annoyance at once,
but the prudent overlook an insult.”

Proverbs 12:16 NIV

We have met this person before. In some cases we have been this person. Proverbs frequently juxtaposes two lifestyles: foolish and wise. The foolish person in this verse is one who flies off the handle, reacts emotionally and spouts “their annoyance.” This makes up like 80% of the internet posts (not a real statistic).

Here we have the word prudent as the opposite of foolish. Someone who is level headed. Who doesn’t fly off the handle at every insult. Why is that important?

Many times people who react emotionally to an offense, then publicly gripe about it, will end up walking those words back or apologizing all together. If you overlook an insult or offense, this verse leads me to believe that’s a prudent thing thing to do. People who think about the weight of their words before speaking (or posting) rarely have to apologize or correct their previous statements.

Proverbs 11 – Scales and Snouts

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Today we have a two-fer! Here are two different verses and my thoughts to go with them.

“The Lord detests dishonest scales,
but accurate weights find favor with him.”

Proverbs 11:1 NIV

I think many of us have stepped onto a scale, either at home or at the Doctor’s office and thought, “this scale’s not right…it must be broken. Needs new batteries or something.” Whether founded or not, we’ve been a bit suspicious of scales we’ve used. [Are they accurate and fair?]

In my job a a grocery store, sometimes I repackage frozen veggies or fruits for sale. I bag them, weigh the bag and the label says how heavy the product was supposed to be. When I first started, doing this part of my job, I would weigh the product to exactly the right weight. Either 2 or 3 pound depending on the product. Then I was told we needed to add .05 of a pound to compensate for the weight of the packaging! How awesome. We only charge for the product, not the packaging. A person expects all the bags of veggies or fruit to be the same weight. It’s my goal to keep our scales honest and accurate.


God appreciates that, but more over this verse speaks to injustices around the world. Everyday people are cheated out of so much for the gain of someone else. Let’s ask God to balance the scales and be ready if and when he uses us to do so.

“Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout
is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.”

Proverbs 11:22 NIV

Gold rings, even nose rings where beautiful gifts! In fact when Abraham’s servant goes to find a wife for his master’s son, he ends up gifting a nose ring to a kind, young woman named Rebekah

So Solomon writes this piece of advice: a woman who shows no discretion is like putting a beautiful, meaningful piece of jewelry into the snotty nose of an unclean animal. I don’t really have much to add to it except to say Solomon was very good with the metaphors and analogies.

Proverbs 10 – Speaking Life or Death?

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11 The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
    but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.

12 Hatred stirs up conflict,
    but love covers over all wrongs.

Proverbs 10:11-12 NIV

Many of the sayings you will find in this chapter of Proverbs are “one-offs.” They kind of stand alone, little bite sized pieces of wisdom. These two can each stand on their own, but I started to think about them as connected. Now I see how they relate to one another.

“The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life” sounds like a wonderful thing. It’s something you want to be. The things that come from your mouth bring life like water in the desert.

The only remedy for this, or at least the only thing to counterbalance it is Love, covering over all wrongs.

The opposite, “a mouth that conceals violence” means someone who doesn’t speak up when being abused or seeing abuse. Kind of a sin of omission. But in verse 12 Hatred actively stirs up conflict. no longer is the poor choice passive, it’s active. You know people who do this. (You might be one,)

Love covering wrongs? Isn’t that the same as concealing violence? Nope. It’s being gracious to another human who’s wronged you instead of stirring up conflict with them.

And when you speak, you speak love. And your mouth is a fountain of life, instead of death.


So are you speaking life or death? Which one do you want to speak?

Please leave a comment below. Let me know what you think of when you read this passage.

Proverbs 9 – “Like a screen door on a battleship”

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7 Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults;
whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse.
8 Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you;
rebuke the wise and they will love you.
9 Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still;
teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.

Proverbs 9:7-9 NIV

There is so much more to this chapter and I challenge you to read the whole thing. However I wanted to focus on these three verses today.

These instructions are for one particular type of person: the kind that can take instruction. One who will actually do what the advice is saying.

Rebuke a mocker and you know what you get? More mocking. How does one set out to “correct” a mocker. Well correction is a task of pointing out the facts at hand and the inaccuracies in someone’s beliefs or ways of thinking. You give them the correct information in hopes to clarify where they are incorrect. The problem lies with the idea, thinking a mocker actually cares about the truth. They don’t.

That’s why correcting them incurs abuse. Did you ever see the Back to the Future films? You remember Biff? Bully and general mean guy? When he was corrected, he just got worse and it didn’t go well for Marty at certain points in the series. So here’s the catch, this scripture doesn’t say don’t ever rebuke/correct anybody. Those who will accept correction prove they are wise by accepting that and they with “love you” for it.

Moreover, when a wise person moves from being rebuked to receiving instruction, learning…they will be wiser still.

The question today is, which are you? Do you meet correction with mocking your corrector? Or do you gracious accept their input and give it serious consideration?

Proverbs 8 – Wisdom in the Open

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1 Does not wisdom call out?
Does not understanding raise her voice?
2 At the highest point along the way,
where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
3 beside the gate leading into the city,
at the entrance, she cries aloud:
4 “To you, O people, I call out;
I raise my voice to all mankind.
5 You who are simple, gain prudence;
you who are foolish, set your hearts on it.
6 Listen, for I have trustworthy things to say;
I open my lips to speak what is right.
7 My mouth speaks what is true,
for my lips detest wickedness.
8 All the words of my mouth are just;
none of them is crooked or perverse.

Proverbs 8:1-8 NIV

So the last couple chapters have had themes of wayward and destructive relationships. There was a seductress beaconing a simple man yesterday. In a similar way, Wisdom pursues the simple, drawing them into deep relationship with her. However, She is not in some back alley place, but on the “highest point along the way.”

Out in the open, if only one would hear her voice. Her “mouth speaks what is true.” Her words are just, not twisted. Wisdom doesn’t need to connive anybody. Doesn’t need wicked or perverse ways to persuade.


Now here’s my question to you: who are you listening to? Lies that sounds like the truth (maybe what you’d like to hear) or Truth right out in the open, that may hurt or be awkward…but yet it is Wisdom?

Think about it and consider leaving a comment.

Proverbs 7 – Knockturn Alley

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6 At the window of my house
    I looked down through the lattice.
I saw among the simple,
    I noticed among the young men,
    a youth who had no sense.
He was going down the street near her corner,
    walking along in the direction of her house
at twilight, as the day was fading,
    as the dark of night set in.

Proverbs 7:6-9 NIV
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Have you ever watched someone who was about to get into SO much trouble? Like not looking both ways before crossing the street? Maybe talking smack about their boss, only to realize said boss is right behind them? I’m sure there are plenty of other examples in life, but the result is the same. Someone watched a foolish person be foolish and then suffer the consequences. Solomon uses the imagery of looking out into the street and seeing a young man walk in a dark, bad place in of the city. A place where you typically only go if you intend on doing something foolish.

There is quite more to this passage than this. Again, Solomon warns against seductions. However we are responsible for the situations we put ourselves into. What tempts you? I mean it. Message me or comment below. Do you like giving into temptation? I have good news, You don’t have to.

When I picture this scenario playing out, I think of Knockturn Alley from the Harry Potter books and movies. A seedy place where you only go there if you want to deal in dark, bad stuff. Harry only lands there on accident.

The First step to not giving into temptation is not finding yourself in a place where you are more easily tempted. Turn off the late night TV. Don’t search the web without a filter. If it’s substance abuse issues, steer clear of that aisle of the store or that dark alley way in your town.

The wise know their weaknesses and don’t put themselves in a position to be exploited by them.

Don’t Labor…in vain

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Sermon – Listen to the Audio Recording by Clicking Here.

Labor Day Sunday – Message

Seeing as today is Labor day, I thought it would be good to stop and recognize why we even have this day on the calendar anyway. I mean, don’t you wonder why? I mean there are so many days declared by Congress and the Office of the President over the years, but do we even know what they are about or why we have them?

Perhaps you are a history buff and this is old news to you, but Labor day is a day set aside to highlight and honor the laborers in the United States. 

It was recognized by individual states, starting with Oregon. The majority of the remaining states officially went on to celebrate Labor Day. In 1894, congress passed the bill and President Grover Cleveland signed it into law. The first Monday of September was to be set aside as “Labor Day.” 

The law, unfortunately, only gave federal workers the day off. But all the states and districts  expanded it to all workers. I’ll tell you, It’s really hard to want to take that Monday off for me. It’s a day that if a worker decides or has to work – they usually get time and half. But I don’t have to worry about that as Monday is my day off at the grocery store I work at, anyhow.

But I can tell you, the work of people is important to a successful economy. And a thriving economy is one that people want to live in and want to move to. And for the contribution of those who have labored and continue to labor to keep our economy and our communities rolling, we celebrate and recognize them. 

You might be thinking, “That’s all well and good, but how does the scripture tie into this holiday?” Well perhaps it’s “low-hanging fruit” to focus on scriptures that use the word “labor,” but I think we can still learn what God says about the work of our hands.

Continue reading “Don’t Labor…in vain”

Proverbs 6 – Hot pants?

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23 For this command is a lamp,
    this teaching is a light,
and correction and instruction
    are the way to life,
24 keeping you from your neighbor’s wife,
    from the smooth talk of a wayward woman.

25 Do not lust in your heart after her beauty
    or let her captivate you with her eyes.

26 For a prostitute can be had for a loaf of bread,
    but another man’s wife preys on your very life.
27 Can a man scoop fire into his lap
    without his clothes being burned?
28 Can a man walk on hot coals
    without his feet being scorched?
29 So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife;
    no one who touches her will go unpunished.

Proverbs 6:23-29 NIV

He starts in verse 23 telling him about the wisdom he’s about to impart on his son.

Kind of carrying on with the “romantic” relations advice, this section from chapter 6 gives very colorful analogies for adultery.

What you are doing is so damaging to yourself, it’s as if you scooped fire on your lap! (It will leave a mark! On your pants and probably your body.)

What about walking on hot coals? Some people really do this as an act of discipline. Solomon still says, No matter how cool you are, well trained in walking on coals, your feet will still get scorched.

In the case of adultery, it doesn’t matter how sneaky you are, how well planned or intelligent you are. The truth will come to light. Lies will be discovered.

In the end, he gives us a very practical message:

Nothing good comes from desiring another person’s spouse. Nothing good comes from seducing someone into adultery with you.

Proverbs 5 – High Fidelity

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“Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.”
‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭5:15-18‬ ‭NIV‬‬

It may not surprise you to find out that the Bible encourages faithfulness between a husband and wife. Solomon’s wise words here encourage us to stay true to our spouse. In the beginning parts of this chapter, he describes a adulterous woman as sweet to start (lips drip honey) but in actuality she is a bitter gall. From the most natural sweetener to the a bitter substance, of no help.

Have you seen this in your life or perhaps the life of others around you? I find it interesting that anyone would want to “cheat” on their spouse with someone…especially another “cheater.”

Why? Well because I’m though that “forbidden fruit” may look good, it can’t be trusted. And you can’t be trusted if you engage in extramarital affairs.

Not only do affairs erode marriages, but they erode trust as well. And so Solomon righty encourages enjoying and loving the “one your with.” This passage also encourages keeping your love life to yourself. “Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares?” The answer is no. They should be kept private, intimate and between the husband and wife only. Everyone else can get their own well if they want.

Proverbs 4 – Wise Guy, huh?

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1 Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction;
    pay attention and gain understanding.
I give you sound learning,
    so do not forsake my teaching.
For I too was a son to my father,
    still tender, and cherished by my mother.
Then he taught me, and he said to me,
    “Take hold of my words with all your heart;
    keep my commands, and you will live.

Proverbs 4:1-4 NIV

If you are new to Proverbs, here’s a brief synopsis. It’s a book of wisdom. How does one get to be a “wise guy?” Solomon tells us it’s experience. Live. His father gave him sage guidance for life when he was still young. The first piece of advice was this: “Listen to me, sonny!”

That’s right, the first wise thing a person learns from a wise person is to…listen to wise people.

If I needed to fix my car, I would want the advice of an expert. Solomon says he had his dad, King David, as his guide in learning to be wise. Scripture also teaches us that Solomon asked God for the wisdom to rule his people. (1 Kings 3:1-5) God gave him godly wisdom and also riches and power that he did not ask for.

The beginning of your journey in wisdom is to listen to those who’ve gone before you.

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This doesn’t mean that they are right just because they are older or more advanced. It does me we should not dismiss people and their guidance based on those two characteristics.

The advice and instruction goes further in verses 10-13.

10 Listen, my son, accept what I say,
    and the years of your life will be many.
11 I instruct you in the way of wisdom
    and lead you along straight paths.
12 When you walk, your steps will not be hampered;
    when you run, you will not stumble.
13 Hold on to instruction, do not let it go;
    guard it well, for it is your life.

Proverbs 4:10-13 NIV
Photo by Skyler Ewing on Pexels.com

The truth is, we do become dismissive of the older generation, qualifying that they couldn’t possibly relate to or understand our situations. The truth is, they’ve been around long enough to see major life events twice (or more). They’ve got what we call “perspective” and it is perspective that helps them give wise advice. So next time your elder comes to you to tell you about something, some advice about your life…don’t roll your eyes and walk away. Take what they say into consideration and a grain of salt. Ultimately it is our responsibility what we do with wisdom.

Proverbs 3 – Movie Quotes

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Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV

Before you read any further, do me a favor. Go to the comments section and share with me your favorite movie quote. Go ahead, the rest of this post will still be here when you get back.


Here are some of mine:

“You guys give up or are you thirsty for more?”

Kevin from “Home Alone”

“I’ll be back”

Arnold Schwarzenegger from “The Terminator” series

“Do or Do Not. There is no try.”

Yoda from “The Empire Strikes Back”

So we’ve probably all memorized a movie quote or two. Even if you couldn’t think of any without a google search, if you sat down and watched your favorite movie, you’d be able to say the next line before the actor does. You’ve memorized it. It’s in you, deep down somewhere. But here’s another question:

Have you ever memorized scripture before?

I do sometimes. I’m not the best at it, but I also have to challenge myself to do it. When I was a kid, I was in a Christian Scouting program called “Caravan.” We’d learn about the bible and faith at the same time learning a lot of the things that the better known scouting programs are famous for. Outdoor exploring, astronomy, cooking, sewing, first-aid…lots of stuff! But one of our key verses to memorize was Proverbs 3:5-6. Though it was just part of the rigmarole of the scouting club (we got badges, by the way,) That verse stuck with me. It got inside me and God used it to shape me and mold me as I grew.

As I encountered struggles in my life, I remembered I had a choice: Do I trust God with all my heart or not? Am I going to lean on my own understanding or his? Will I consider what he wants to do before I plow ahead with what I think I want to do?

And that’s a good example of why scripture memorization is important. You may not get anything out of it at first, but when you truly memorize scripture it’s like eating a tasty apple. You ingest it. It’s in you. It nourishes you. That’s the word of God. And God says He will make our path’s straight. Sounds good to me!

Proverbs 2 – A Shield

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He holds success in store for the upright,
    he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
for he guards the course of the just
    and protects the way of his faithful ones.

Proverbs 2:7-8 NIV

If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m just doing selections from the chapter in question. Whatever speaks to me, makes me think and makes me curious. These two verses did that for me today.

Have you ever held a shield before? I’m sure if you hang out at many renaissance festivals or historic reenactments you’ve seen them. I’ve been to Medieval Times twice and viewed some choreographed battle scenes. The shield is a very important battle tool. Generally speaking, it is only used for defense. Sure some modifications can be made to make it a type of melee weapon, but typically it’s there to protect its user. Different shields have positive and negative qualities. Large, bulky shields are very good at blocking projectiles, but they take a lot to move around. Light weight shields can deflect but not stop arrows, spears and javelins. The user, however can run with that shield at a fast clip.

In verse 7 it says “He is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,” Solomon is talking about the Lord. Verse 8 gives more context. “He guards the course of the just…” It’s simply put, the course of life centered around God is one that is protected by God.

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If you think about that, it makes sense. A “faithful one” is someone walking in God’s way, a person who is just by God’s standards. Why wouldn’t he protect and shield that person and their life?

That isn’t to say a just and righteous person wouldn’t have troubles and struggles in life. In fact Jesus says in John 16:33

33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33 NIV

The blessing we have is our shield has overcome the world! The path he has for each of us is of course, guarded by the overcomer.

Proverbs 1 – Comeuppance

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31 Days of Proverbs Devotional Reading

10 My son, if sinful men entice you,
    do not give in to them.
11 If they say, “Come along with us;
    let’s lie in wait for innocent blood,
    let’s ambush some harmless soul;
12 let’s swallow them alive, like the grave,
    and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
13 we will get all sorts of valuable things
    and fill our houses with plunder;
14 cast lots with us;
    we will all share the loot”—
15 my son, do not go along with them,
    do not set foot on their paths;
16 for their feet rush into evil,
    they are swift to shed blood.
17 How useless to spread a net
    where every bird can see it!
18 These men lie in wait for their own blood;
    they ambush only themselves!
19 Such are the paths of all who go after ill-gotten gain;
    it takes away the life of those who get it.

Proverbs 1:10-19 NIV

There’s a lot of take in there. Yesterday we had mama’s advice and now we have a different king sharing fatherly advice to his son. It can be summarized like this: don’t hang out with goof balls. They will get what’s coming to them. You don’t want to be around them when it does.

It’s very clear to me that many times in literature and film, there is an protagonist (the hero) and the antagonist (villain.) Many times in these mediums, the climax of the story is one where the hero over comes the villain and the villain falls because of their general terribleness. Take the movie “The Incredibles” for instance. Near the end of the film, the “wanna be” superhero Syndrome has failed to destroy the Incredibles. So he does the next best thing: kidnap their infant child by flying away with him. Little did he know that Jack-jack (the child’s name) had been developing super powers. This freaks out his kidnapper and he drops the baby (mom and dad save him.) But Syndrome attempts to get away in a jet plane, his arrogant cape fluttering behind him.

Mr. Incredible tosses a car at the plane, damaging it and Syndrome is sucked backwards (by his cape) into the jet engine. It’s kind of morbid, especially for a kid’s movie. But we think to early in the film when it’s revealed that Syndrome had been killing super powered individuals just to advance his own technology to look like a super.


Solomon says don’t go along with people who have ill-intent. Don’t be pursued by villains. They might promise great things, equal share in the plunder. You will also get equal share when they get their “comeuppance.”

Now the bible doesn’t say, “What goes around comes around.” But Solomon’s no slacker. He’s seen this scenario play out and he doesn’t want that for his son. When we see destructive patterns in people, it’s best to not join in their “fun.”

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Worse Than Before

Sermon – Matthew 12:43-45

43 “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. 45 Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

Matthew 12:43-45 NIV (emphasis added)

Prayer promptTake a moment to ask God to speak to you as you read through this blog. Hearing and learning from Him is more about transformation and less about information.


This message is entitled “Worse than before.” That may sound drab and depressing, but it’s also the realistic picture Jesus paints for us here in this passage. We have a scenario of a person with an unclean spirit. For some reason, whether compulsion (The power of Christ compels you!) or just sear boredom… the unclean spirit leaves the person and goes looking for rest. The Bible says it travels through “Arid” places. I had to look up that word. I’ve heard it used much more than I’ve even really read a definition. Arid is defined as excessively dry. Lack of available water, preventing growth. So finding nothing interesting or helpful, the unclean spirit decides to return to where it used to live. The spirit finds that all the furniture he wrecked has been repaired, the house is organized and clean, but has no occupants. PARTY TIME!

Picture a bunch of college guys just walking into your house and setting up shop. Putting their feet on the furniture, getting into the fridge, perhaps (GASP!!!) even leaving the toilet seat up. 

But no one is there to stop them. Nobody’s home. This is the picture Jesus paints for the audience he spoke to as recorded in our main passage. That’s the future condition of this “wicked generation.” Today I want to unpack this passage and see if we can avoid being a statistic. See if there is something we can do with our clean “house” that the person in Jesus’ example did not. We don’t want to be “Worse off than before,” we want to be “better off than before” and the first step toward that is to be cleansed. 

Be Cleansed

Having an “unclean spirit” in you means you need to be cleansed. Now I’m not going to split hairs and say I know exactly what spiritual force Jesus is talking about. Could be demonic influence, possession along the lines of what we’ve read about in the bible. Could be addictions, behaviors and attitudes that the person is captive to and does not see a way out. One thing is for certain, it’s not the Holy Spirit and it’s not one of God’s angels. God’s angels are messagers of encouragement and good news, warning and instruction. The Holy Spirit comforts and guides. Neither of them have ever been referred to as “Unclean spirits.” So all that clarity out of the way, we need to be cleansed of spiritual uncleanness. 

Much like scrubbing up after working hard in your garden, yard or motor vehicle, There needs to be a cleansing of one’s soul. Usually this is followed by a physical washing. 

The first thing that comes to mind for me is Baptism 

John The Baptist, as Mark records, preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. There was a spiritual cleansing  – repentance followed by or accompanied by a physical cleansing. 

We see this in Paul and Silas’ Jailer that I spoke about a few weeks ago. He is scared: An earthquake rocks the jail and all doors are open. He goes to kill himself, believing all the prisoners had escaped. Paul stops him and in that moment the Jailer connects with the living Christ. Through that moment in time, his eyes were opened and he asks, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas tell him to repent and be baptized. Inner cleansing and outer cleansing.

In Acts chapter 8, there is a story of Ethiopian Eunuch crossing paths with Phillip. Phillip is being led by the Spirit to say something to this man, being available to guide him spiritually. Philip eventually leads him to the Messiah, this is Jesus.  As soon as the Ethiopian comes across some water, he desires to be baptized. Phillip baptizes him and then the Spirit takes him elsewhere. That man, it is said, is where all Coptic Christians draw their spiritual lineage. His influence among the royalty in Ethiopia was used for Christ’s glory. He was washed clean, inside and out.

If you’ve been baptized, do you remember when you were? Was it a decision you made as a young person or adult? Perhaps one that you “owned” later in life as you confirmed your faith and repentance of sin? There’s very few things that feel better than getting clean after being dirty. But one of them is to have your Soul cleansed.

Baptism is an outward sign of an inward work. Initial salvation brings cleansing of our souls. And we profess our faith in this work by being baptized, Just like Jesus was baptized.

So we need to BE CLEANSED. Wash our sins away with Jesus’ blood. Make us fresh and new. But as anyone can tell you, clean things don’t stay clean forever. In order to keep clean we’ve got to…

Be Organized

Jesus said the house was “swept clean and put in order.” This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, organizing your life just might make it neater and cleaner.  Spiritually speaking, we have thoughts, compulsions, and even addictions that left without checks and balances, can get us back into the muck and mire. So what do we do to become organized? We…

Renew our Mind

When a person is set free from satanic influence, sin – they have gotten into the “right mind” and they can think without demonic and sinful influences taking over their every thought. This is what happened with the demon possessed man in Mark 5.

Jesus meets the man. The man is scary, naked, and dangerous. The demons in the man beg Jesus to cast them into local pigs. Jesus obliges them and then the pigs dive off a cliff to their doom. 

15 When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.”

Mark 5:15 NIV (emphasis added)

He was in his right mind…and that scared the people from the area. His thoughts were orderly. He was able to have conversations. No more “Hulk Smash!” as he breaks chains. He is a normal human being cleansed and healed and put in order by Jesus.

I’m reminded of 2 Corinthians 10:5b where Paul instructs us to bring “….every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,”

An organized mind is one where we are not controlled by sinful, selfish thought lives. Our thought life is organized and centered around Christ.

So we are to Be Cleansed and Be Organized and this last part is what was missed by the person in Jesus’ example of this scenario. We need to….

Be FILLED with the right Spirit (Holy Spirit)

Can you imagine that? Someone 7 times worse off than when they were CLEANSED of an unclean spirit, they got their MIND organized. Their thinking was logical. They had the right support structures in place – accountability, oversight. But the one problem is that the “house” or the person was like a move-in ready house. And boy did the demons in Jesus’ example move right in!

I’m not sure if this is a “perfect” metaphor, but it’s my metaphor. 

My wife and I have had to move several times. Any time we’ve left a place, we try to tidy it up the best we can. This means filling in nail holes with spackle. We’d make sure the carpet was vacuumed and the floors were swept and mopped. We have no idea who rented after us. We don’t know if they treated it nicely or whether they changed their motorcycle’s oil in the living room! 

You see, it’s important to FILL the house with something so not just anything can get in and do what it wants.

We fill our hearts, minds, and lives with the Holy Spirit. We ask him to fill us so there’s no room for anything else.

Some examples of living this out in scripture. Let’s start with Ephesians 5:18-19

18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,

Ephesians 5:18-19 NIV

Paul says: instead of those things people generally use to “have a good time” be filled with the Spirit. That’s all you need. The Spirit will guide you in the Worship in song to the Lord. 

Acts 4:31 ESV shows what people can do when filled with His Spirit.

“And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”

Acts 4:31 ESV

“And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 13:52 ESV

Filled with joy, boldness, the blessing of worship and glorious purpose: a Spirit Filled life is the one to pursue.

——

Conclusion

This month, Olivet Nazarene University’s president has been holding zoom meetings with pastors from all over ONU’s region. Last week was our district’s turn. The point of the meeting was to help guide Olivet toward the top goals it should pursue as the Denomination’s regional University. What are the top problems that ONU can lead the way on and address? We could even come up with a workable solution. One example that seemed to keep coming up in our group was that students were going to ONU as believers in Christ, but over time they were losing their faith, or at the very least walking away from the church. We didn’t get any exact names and examples…but certainly it happens.

This was the inspiration that led me to this passage and ultimately this message. It’s a real concern that believers, college students, would become dissolution to the faith while working toward completing their degrees. Whether or not Olivet takes this specific Goal (help students not lose their faith while at college), we know that anyone can lose their faith and find themselves Worse Than Before. 

It’s my hope that in your hearing today you will choose to do one of the following:

  1. Get Clean– maybe you’re still deep in the muck of sin. A life lived for self and not for God. Today is the day you change that. Ask for forgiveness, ask him to cleanse you. If you’ve not been baptized before and as a response to the inward work: you’d like to be baptized, post it in the comments section below. If you are not local to Viroqua area, maybe I can assist you in finding the right person to guide you toward baptism that is near you.
  2. Get Organized – Perhaps you’ve got the fresh start in Jesus Christ going. You’ve asked him to cleanse you and you sense he’s changing you…but still there are thoughts, desires, attitudes and behaviors you’ve not surrendered to him. Patterns of selfish sin that still hang over you and you go back to in your time of weakness. Today, my friend, is the day to get Organized. Jesus is better than a Trapper Keeper! You can walk with him in reprogramming negative and destructive thoughts, thought processes you might have and more. It all begins when you organize your life around Him.
  3. Get Filled – It’s gotta be said. We all are called to be filled with the Holy Spirit. There is not a Christian who is called to just get into Heaven by the skin of their teeth. We need and are called to be FILLED with His Spirit. Why?
    1. Because He empowers us to live a life that can say “NO” to temptation. One free from giving into sin. 
    2. Because you can live a life of Love for God and man, all Powered by the Spirit. 
    3. Because the Holy Spirit takes up all the extra space in your life…there’s nothing He’s not touching. Nothing you’re hiding from him (as if you could). When that happens: there’s no room for anything else. Instead of being Worse Off than Before…you are Better than you ever could be on your own.

Blog comment interaction time:

If you’ve made it all the way here, you are probably reading this post. Would you do something for me? Comment on this post and tell me, have you ever been baptized? If so, How old were you and do you remember where you were baptized? Was it special for you and your spiritual journey or, as you reflect on it, not so much? I’d like to know.

Thanks – Pastor Matt

Proverbs 31 – “Mama Said”

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31 days of scripture and devotional thoughts

1 The sayings of King Lemuel—an inspired utterance his mother taught him.

Listen, my son! Listen, son of my womb!
    Listen, my son, the answer to my prayers!
Do not spend your strength on women,
    your vigor on those who ruin kings.

It is not for kings, Lemuel—
    it is not for kings to drink wine,
    not for rulers to crave beer,
lest they drink and forget what has been decreed,
    and deprive all the oppressed of their rights.

Proverbs 31:1-5 NIV

I bet you thought we were going to focus on the “Proverbs 31 woman,” didn’t you? Many people focus on that passage, and rightfully so. It’s great example of a woman of strength, character and trust in her creator. But Proverbs 31 doesn’t start at verse 10 it starts at verse 1.

This passage reminds me of the quotes, (and subsequent memes) about Forest Gump. “Mama always said, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.'” In these opening verses of Proverbs 31, we hear the wisdom of the mother of King Lemuel.

I can picture Lemuel walking around the palace or sitting on his throne saying “Mama always said…” and then we get these sayings recorded here in Proverbs 31. His mother’s advice is not one quickly followed today.

It seems that gravitating toward putting much time and energy into pursuing women, pursuing wine and beer, are the things that society tells us powerful men do.

But the Queen Mama’s wisdom is not like the mother in Adam Sandler’s “The Water Boy.” Where Bobby Boucher’s mother didn’t want her baby to find a woman he loves and then leave her, (her only reason being that “Girls are the Devil!”)

The Mama in Proverbs 31 gives wise reasoning for Lemuel: distractions, like many women and beer can stop you from effectively leading.

So before you dive into the verses about a strong, industrious woman…stop and consider one wise mama’s sage advice. Keep yourself focused on the things that matter. Don’t get distracted by that which intoxicates.

Keep yourself focused on the things that matter. Don’t get distracted by that which intoxicates.

-Pastor Matt

31 Days of Proverbs

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Howdy friend! I hope you are doing great. The new ViroquaNaz sermon will be online in the next day or so, but I wanted to tell you about something new I’m starting tomorrow, (August 31).

One day I was listening to a pastor speak about bible study. Sometimes you don’t know where to start, what to read and for what setting in your life. He simply suggested an easy way to get into the habit of bible study is to read one proverb a day. He said “Did you know there are 31 chapters in Proverbs? In a typical month you could read one proverb a day.” Well, that stuck with me.

Every time I’ve hit a lull in bible reading or I’m in between bible studies, I’ll look at the calendar and pick the chapter that corresponds with the day of the month. So I’ve decided to publish 1 devotional post each day from August 31 – Sept 30. These will not be my longer, sermon based entries. They will short devotionals that you will hopefully find encouraging and inspiring. Maybe it’ll get you thinking deeper about Proverbs.


Do you need a suggestion for a good online bible site? #nonspon But I use biblegateway.com for all my online studying needs. It has MANY different versions/editions of the Bible, including “Mounce Inner-linear Greek New Testament” and the “Orthodox Jewish Bible.” Both of these have helped to give me insight. For weekly bible study, I’m on YouVersion app. (my.Bible.com) If you’re interested in yet another bible study join me over at “Finding Rest” bible study. (Click the link to join)

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Prayer is…

[If you’d like to listen to the Audio Record of this message, click the Spotify player at the bottom of this post.]

I want to briefly look at the topic of prayer. For many of us, it is not an unusual topic. In fact we have been focusing much of this particular service on prayer. Prayer for our church and it’s ministry in Viroqua. Prayers for our local, state, and federal civic leadership. Prayers for our community at large. Prayers for other countries like Haiti and Afghanistan. 

And if that was your first introduction to prayer, you might wonder if we do anything else.

Three things about Prayer: 

  1. Prayer is Paramount. 
  2. Prayer is to Glorify God, not us. 
  3. Prayer is an important way to join God’s work. 
  1. Prayer is Paramount.

“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

2 Chron 7:14 ESV

Prayer is Paramount. If we do nothing else but pray throughout the week, even when we gather together…if all we intend and plan for is prayer: connecting with God – speaking to him, quietly, patiently listening…we’re in good shape.

If we would do that, I have no doubt that God would move us to ACTION. The sad thing is, for antsy people like me…we usually put the cart before the horse. We do the actions we think are right without really taking time to commune and listen to God.

While on the South Texas District, my wife and I went to a Pastor and Spouse type of pre-ordination training weekend. One of the last exercises and tests we were to do was get into a small group and talk out how we’d solve the following problem. “Someone has donated $5,000 for you and your staff to take a prayer retreat. How would you use the money, what would you do, what are your plans for the retreat? Also, you only have 30 minutes to plan.”

That was a training exercise I will never forget. Some of the guys around in the circle had strong personalities. They were task orientated people. A few spoke up and made suggestions. Perhaps they asked what people thought about a certain idea. Our spouses were not joining in, most likely feeling left out of the planning. Near the end of the time limit, it was pointed out that we have a Spanish speaking pastor in our group. He had another person translate with him. We didn’t intentionally connect with him or even ask his thoughts on things.

Once we were encouraged to inquire what he thought, he said, “30 minutes is not enough time. I would say ‘thank you for your gift’ [to the person who gave $5,000] and then pray about how to best use the money.”

I learned in that group to slow down and listen. Take other’s ideas and thoughts into consideration and don’t leave people out. Best of all, don’t be pressured into making decisions without taking it to God in Prayer.

  1. Prayer is to Glorify God, not us.

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Matt 6:5-8 ESV

Anytime a person earnestly prays, they are reaching out to the One who is higher, more powerful, who is Holy. When we pray it shouldn’t have air quotes around the word “pray.” Prayer is a conversation between us and God. We ask him things…because he knows…everything. We ask him to move in a powerful way because…we believe He can, [and he can.] Perhaps we have seen it in our own life.

Jesus makes it clear here in Matthew, if we pray for our glory we have received our reward. But if in humility we ask him for forgiveness, restoration, healing, guidance…all the things, and we do so not to garner attention from the world but truly to connect with God, He is our great reward. 

  1. Prayer is an important way to join God’s work.

Just a little a few verses later, Jesus gives us the best example of a humble prayer that reaches out to God, calling on him to do what He wants. But in doing so, we join with him in His desires.

9 “This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

10 your kingdom come,

your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us today our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts,

    as we also have forgiven our debtors.

13 And lead us not into temptation,

    but deliver us from the evil one.’

14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. 

Matt 6:9-15 NIV

I’d like to put that in my own words if you will. 

Holy is your Name. Bring your kingdom here and now. Give us just what we need. Forgive as we have forgiven. Protect us from stumbling and falling in sin.

As we pray that with an honest and open heart, we join together with God…seeking his kingdom coming, now. Doing what we hear him say to do in order to see His kingdom continue to take root. 

Care for the widow and the orphan. Go and make disciples, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, the Son and the holy Spirit and teaching them everything Jesus commanded us. To have compassion on the needy. To have faith in Jesus, that he can do anything.

Do you truly believe Jesus can change anyone’s heart?

If yes, then pray that way.

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The Work of the Holy Spirit

(The following was a small talk on the Holy Spirit as part of our Prayer and Worship service on Aug 22, 2021)

The Holy Spirit, equal part of the Triune Godhead. The Spirit is described as wind, breath, air. It’s the gift that Jesus promised his disciples when he ascended into heaven. 

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

John 14:26 ESV

The Spirit gives: power, comfort, encouragement, and strength.

The Spirit helps us pray when we don’t know what to pray, what to say.

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

Rom 8:26 ESV

The Spirit empowers us to live a life fully devoted to God. One that enables us to make the right choice. The choice to resist temptation and not sin.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Gal 5:22-23 ESV

The Spirit empowers us to speak the word of truth, to share the gospel boldly and make effective the sharing of it.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Acts 1:8 ESV

And as Paul instructed the Corinthians, we too can take heart knowing that…

“…the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

2 Corinthians 3:17 ESV

Do you want to be free? Do you want to be empowered? Do you want to live encouraged and comforted? The Spirit is there for you. 

22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” 

John 20:22-24 NIV

What David was NOT…

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2 Samuel 11

Today we conclude our series entitled “What If I Stumble?” Thinking from the perspective of a person of faith losing their way and desire a path back to God and the fellowship of believers…this question needs to be answered. Do we forgive? Do we offer restoration? Peter got some of that even after denying Christ 3 times. Samson got it with his last breath. Others died without knowing the redemption after falling – Judas Iscariot, Ananias and Sapphira. Others like Barnabas and Paul didn’t even sin against God or each other, just had a strong disagreement that some might take out of proportion. Today we look at a great model of leadership in the Faith. Believer in God and the mighty things He can do.

But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

1 Samuel 17:34-37 NIV

Wow. Wouldn’t you line up to learn from that kind of leader? Well his story isn’t without some major stumbling. It involved a person named Uriah. I thought, “What might Uriah’s viewpoint have been of the last weeks of his life?” The following skit is the result of that question.

[ If you’d like to listen to the Audio recording of this message, CLICK HERE or scroll to the end to listen through the Spotify app. You can also Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify and iTunes Podcasts.]


“Dead Anonymous” a skit

Abraham: We’ve got a new member to the group. Would you please introduce yourself?

Uriah: Hi. My name’s Uriah…and I’m dead.

Group: Hi Uriah.

Uriah: This is my first time at this meeting because, well…I’ve never been dead before. I’m told sharing my story will help me process this, but I’m not sure. But I’m willing to try.

I was out in the battle camp with our commander Joab. Traditionally, our King, David, would have led us…but I’m sure he was very busy. Being king takes a lot of your time and energy. It’s a big job! Not just anyone can do it. I mean Saul tried to…but He was terrible, selfish and paranoid! In fact he tried to kill David several times. Oh, I admire King David so much. He has such integrity…did you know when he was being hunted by Saul, he could have killed Saul easily, but showed mercy and stayed his blade? So cool.

Long before that, when no one knew who he was, young David took down the champion of the Philistines with only a sling and some smooth stones. He led many other successful military campaigns like when he Defeated the King of Zobah. Not only was he a warrior and commander of armies, but also a protector of the defenseless. He brought Mephibosheth, the grandson of King Saul to Jerusalem. Mephibosheth…as you probably know, was a cripple and not able to provide for himself. King David gave him back his grandfather’s land. How kind and forgiving is King David!

He’s so kind and thoughtful…(Sniff Sniff) He even personally requested me for a special reconnaissance mission. I had been out in the battle camps. Under Joab’s directions, we “destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah.”  After what seemed to be a month or so out in the battle fields, a message reaches Commander Joab. He tells me the King has requested that I come back to Jerusalem and give an account of the war effort. 

I’m excited! The King has called for me! I gather up my things and head to the palace. I don’t even stop off at home to see my wife. I knew if I did, that would make it more difficult to head back to the battlefields when this assignment was done.

I think maybe…I should have. It would have been my last chance to…but no matter. Such is war. 

I am brought before the King and he greets me cordially and then I give him my full report. 

I tell him how successful the campaign has been: We captured so much with only minimum loss of our troops. He seemed pleased. He dismissed me, instructing me to go home. He used a local romantic euphemism, telling me to go home and “wash my feet.” I knew he meant spend some quality time with my Mrs.   But again, I couldn’t put her through me leaving again. I’m not sure I could leave her once more. And besides, all my comrades were out in the battle camps sleeping in tents. They didn’t get to come home to see their wives. I was no better than them. I would stay at the palace gates with the King’s servants.

I woke the next morning and to the King’s surprise, I was still around. He seemed displeased that I defied his orders. He didn’t stay mad for long because he invited me to stay a couple of days. We enjoyed a delicious meal together…I don’t remember what we had to eat, but there was a LOT of wine. I think I had a bit more than usual…because I don’t remember anything after that. The next day I headed back to the battlefields with a wicked headache and a note stuffed in my pocket, addressed to Joab. I still don’t know how that note got there.

I handed the note to Joab. He read it, then looked at me…they looked at the note, studying it. He checks the seal on it. It hadn’t been broken before. As If I’d open a letter from the King that wasn’t addressed to me! Puh-lease!

Joab wasted no time organizing our next plan of attack There had been some fierce defense by the Ammonites in a certain area, he called me and several others up to lead this dangerous mission. And it was dangerous. As we attempted to take on a heavily defended location, arrows began to reign down upon us. I looked to my right and then to my left. My fellow soldiers were falling. I knew I couldn’t turn back, I couldn’t run away. So I ran straight ahead. Into the barrage of arrows. “Thwick!” I heard their sickening sound. Fierce pain overtook me…but not for very long. Sounds of Battle cries ceased. I couldn’t hear arrows whizzing through the air. I opened my eyes. 

And the next thing I know I’m looking around at all you here at Dead Anonymous.

Abraham: Thank you for sharing, Uriah. That was very brave. 

Uriah: You’re welcome, Abraham. I hoped it would have helped someone.

Abraham: Rest assured, someone learned some very important lessons because of your death.

[The End]


Has the thought ever occurred to you, “I wonder what went on in Uriah’s mind?” Well I did and that’s where that skit came from. Uriah exhibited all the qualities needed to be a good soldier and a good leader. He followed his commander’s orders, he thought of the other soldiers and their needs before he thought of his own, and he respectfully denied himself even at the risk of defying the King’s directions. Even when he is intoxicated he does not find his way home to the arms of his “loving” wife. He sleeps on a mat with the rest of David’s servants. He carries his own death warrant back with him to the battle field and he goes where Joab sends him, even if it seems they would not win. (I honestly believe he had great faith in Joab.) So he marches to his death with a heart full of integrity.

If that is in a nutshell who Uriah is portrayed to be, who is David in all this? Who is this King that people would and should die to defend? He turned out Not to be the David we thought we knew.

David was Not being Kingly

The first tip-off that something was ethically wrong about this story is when David did not go out to war during the time he should have.

“In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army.”

2 Sam 11:1a NIV

This was an established pattern: In the spring, the kings go off to war. It doesn’t say, “In the spring when the kings send their proxies to lead campaigns of war.” Nope. 

David was not where he was supposed to be. 

I’ve got a question for you: Have you ever found yourself in over your head, trapped by bad situations and bad ideas on all sides? It is probably because you aren’t where you should be.

I’m not sure how frequently this happens in your town or city, but imagine a teen getting bailed out by his father. Why was he arrested? He was caught at a party where alcohol was being served. On top of that, a fight broke out and now this young man has a record. All because he went somewhere he shouldn’t have been. He should have been home studying or hanging out with his friends in an environment that doesn’t lead itself to underaged drinking.

Similar stuff happens when people on parole think it’s ok to be near other people and places of illegal activities. They lose their parole and have to go back to jail, just because they chose to be in proximity to others of questionable moral integrity. 

So it matters where we go…and where we stay. Take ministry, for example: you’ll never meet a more miserable person than the man or woman that has a call from God to go somewhere and doesn’t go! 

You’ll never meet a more miserable person than the man or woman that has a call from God to go somewhere and doesn’t go!

Not only was it unusual for David not to go out to war with his men, it provided him an opportunity to be tempted into sin. 

David was Not gentlemanly

He scopes out Bathsheba…while she’s ironically taking a “bath” (on her roof top?)

“One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing.”

2 Sam 11:2a & b NIV

Long story short, he takes her and sleeps with her. She becomes pregnant and soon afterwards, she lets him know it.

Perhaps you’ve got this all figured out, but it’s a mystery to me. Why did David pursue and desire Bathsheba? The scripture says “the woman was very beautiful” so he was attracted to her beauty, but he already had several wives. Why did he decide to make her his, even though she was already someone else’s wife? He was not a gentleman.

He valued his own desires for her over the sanctity of her and Uriah’s marriage vows. He was the King after all! Who can say no to the man in power? 

I wonder how many people today, who have earned their way to the top in their professions, are faced with similar thoughts. “Who can say no to me?” Administrators, Fortune 500 CEOs, Politicians, and unfortunately I’ve got to toss pastors in there as well. Any of these people, whether they are male or female, can be tempted to use their position to get whatever they want…whatever their roving eyes see. 

This is especially damaging in the Church. I use the word “Church” with a capital “c” as it’s “all christians everywhere” kind of church and not the Church of the Nazarene specifically. Corruption begins with not being where you ought to be and it moves to a place where one uses position to possess things and people…no matter the cost.

But the key factor to all of this is that David realizes he’s done wrong. 

David chooses Not to Be Honest

Tries to get Her husband to come home and sleep with Bathsheba. David wants Uriah to believe he (Uriah) is the father of the child. This would seem to cover up their one night of fun with a lie – that Uriah was the daddy and not David.

But David’s plan backfires twice.

“9 But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house.”

2 Sam 11:9 NIV

He later succeeds at getting Uriah drunk, but Uriah still doesn’t head hom to Bathshebah. Even though he might not have been able to walk a straight line, Uriah stuck to his commitment – he wouldn’t go home…not while his men were out on the  battlefields and the Ark was out in a tent.  

So David’s attempt to let nature solve his dilemma doesn’t work as planned and he has to deal with the problem of Uriah. His solution is to make Bathshebah a widow.

At least he was honest with Joab. Joab, interestingly enough, doesn’t follow David’s orders word for word. 

In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”

2 Samuel 11:15 NIV

He puts more men at risk of death rather than outright sentencing Uriah to death. (Perhaps it was unlikely that the men would have withdrawn from Uriah’s side had Joab given the order.) But the result was the same. Uriah falls in battle and David has successfully conspired to commit murder.

Sometimes when leaders fall into temptation it starts with being in the wrong place. It can lead to putting your desires over the will and well-being of others, and as David showed – usually leads to some attempt to cover it all up. Think of every political scandal you’ve ever heard of in your life. No matter how young or old you are…it’s way too many! Leaders, people put in place that we look up to to guide us…they stumble and fall.  It seems there are not many biographies written without Asterisks by their “leader” status. Because 

Cheating Taints Victory.

ST. LOUIS, MO – SEPTEMBER 7: Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs joke before the game at Busch Stadium on September 7, 1998 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images)

In the wild world of sports, I remember the 1998 Home run competition between Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs. Sure there were a few others trying to keep up, but no one could. Mark and Sammy hit so many balls out of the park…drove in so many runs that season for their respective teams. It was a hay day for baseball. When the season ended McGwire came out on top with 70 Home runs to Sosa’s 66. But those tremendous feats of athleticism would be marred by controversy. It was discovered later that McGwire had used steroids off and on throughout his career. Just 5 years after he falls short to McGwire, Sosa embarrassingly broke a bat while swinging for the fences during a game. It’s discovered the bat has been modified or “corked” and was an illegal bat. He said it was only supposed to be used for practice and using it at the game was an accident. He was still suspended for 8 games and one has to wonder if he used modified bats in the Home run competition of ‘98.

Leadership comes with lots of responsibilities. People’s safety and future, the influence you wield over them, the power that they give to you…it’s important to be wise with it. David had been in the past.

But when he was NOT where he should be, he used his position to take what he wanted and went to any length to cover up his sinful, fallen behavior.

Conclusion

Ultimately, He stumbled and fell from his position of leadership. He was not acting with the integrity we saw in other areas of his story. But unlike Saul, David cries out to the Lord. He calls upon Him. Psalm 51

Have mercy on me, O God,

    according to your unfailing love;

according to your great compassion

    blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash away all my iniquity

    and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,

    and my sin is always before me.

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned

    and done what is evil in your sight;

so you are right in your verdict

    and justified when you judge.

5 Surely I was sinful at birth,

    sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;

    you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;

    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness;

    let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

9 Hide your face from my sins

    and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,

    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me from your presence

    or take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation

    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Psalm 51:1-12 NIV

David does not continue in his sinful behaviors and all together bad examples of leadership.


Action:

What should I do…

  • If I stumble and fall?
  • If another person stumbles and falls?
  • To help myself and others avoid falling?

If you should stumble and fall, stay down! I know…you weren’t expecting that were you? But stay down on your knees. Pray for forgiveness. Ask for a way to be restored. And unlike David’s Murder orders, don’t hide your sin. It didn’t just affect you and your relationship with God. It causes a rift with others who put their trust in you. How shaken Joab must have been to read those orders from David. Not only was it obviously murder, but it was also bad military stratey! He would get his men killed for nothing. So Pray for forgiveness and restoration.

If someone else stumbles and falls, make sure you have their ear. If you call them out on it, they won’t change if they don’t respect or trust your word on it. Nathan was a prophet sent by God. (Click Here to read 2 Sam 12) He was known to advise the King. He used his position to call David out for desiring and taking Uriah’s wife. David’s eyes were opened and he recognizes he can’t hide it any more. He certainly can’t conceal it from God.

What can you and I do to help others avoid stumbling and falling? Use whatever influence God has given you in a person’s life to encourage them to be in the right places. Do you know a recovering alcoholic? Ask them if they’ve been to a meeting lately or if they are part of a support group. Let them know you are praying for them. Invite them over to your home to hang out, have dinner – essentially provide a safe space where temptation to stumble and fall is greatly reduced.

If you fall, stay down in prayer.

If another falls, speak compassionate words of truth into their situation

And Provide another, safer option for those who might fall, supporting them in making good choices

Agree to Disagree

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Thanks for joining us for worship this morning. If you’ve got your bible with you, you’re going to want to be in the book of Acts 15:36-41. We’ve traveled through stories of the bible, from the Old and New Testaments and asked the question: “What If I Stumble?” Perhaps we can learn what we might expect from others around us by looking at the way “stumblers” were treated in the scripture. What did the early church do when people clearly fell off the Path? What did the person who stumbled or fell do? Up until this point we have addressed individual’s sins and stumbling mainly against God. 

With Peter, he betrayed Jesus…yet he accepted the fresh start presented to him and he became a leader of the Early Church. For Judas, he tried to obtain a fresh start by merely returning his blood money, rather than changing his heart. He trusted in the religious to solve his guilt problem for him and didn’t trust in Jesus to do so. He died not accepting forgiveness. In the Old Testament, Samson was so full of himself it was a wonder there was any room left for God to work in and through him. But with his final moments, he commits his life and death to Yahweh and to the destruction of his enemies. 

Last week we bounced back to the New Testament era to explore a potential turning point in the faith: what would happen if someone successfully faked holiness? Ananias and his wife Sapphira lied to God, pretended to be “all in” with Jesus when they were NOT and they fell down and died right in front of Peter. Because their imposter status was exposed, great fear of the Lord broke out…even among the faithful. People outside the church began to look in and wonder. These people serve a God who doesn’t mess around.

Today we are staying in the New Testament. There’s one conflict that baffles me, and perhaps it baffles you too. It is the conflict between Paul and Barnabus. In a moment I’m going to present to you a short skit highlighting bits and pieces of the story taken from Acts 15. You see, anytime there is conflict, no matter the severity, some people will always try to make it worse. But the main question I want to ask is, “Can Christians agree to disagree…and it not be a sin?”

Go with me now, to a place of roving reporters and anxious anchormen, and a bible character who’s never been on TV before.

——

New Testament News

SKIT: News report – Characters: Anchor, interviewer on the scene, Paul.

An Investigative journalist tries to find and stir up a conflict that’s…not there.

Anchor Manny El: Good evening and welcome to New Testament News. Formally “Today’s Torah Tidbits.” I’m your host, Manny El and boy do we have a doozy of a top story. Tonight we get into the most heated disagreement of its time: Paul vs. Barnabas. Paul, formally known as Saul of Tarsus, a.k.a. Saul the guy who wanted to kill or jail all the Christians. Paul, you may be aware of this, had a radical experience with the Lord and it changed the direction of his life. Or did it? To see if Paul is up to his old Saul like tricks again we’ve got our “man on the street” reporter, Owen Lots ready to interview Saul…er…Paul in Cilicia.

Owen Lots: Thank you Manny. It’s a hot night and I’m just outside this home. Now authorities in the area know that a group of believers meets here quite frequently, but presently they are not beating down the doors. Presumably because the hosts invited them to the meal and time of worship each week. We’re waiting outside for the service to finish to see if we can get a word with….yes…Here he is.. Paul…of Tarsus. Man formerly known as…

Paul: Ok ok. You don’t have to do all the names everytime. What can I do for you?

Owen: Well I’m Owen Lots for “New Testament News” and I’d like to ask you about your “sharp disagreement” with Barnabas.

Paul: why’d you put it in “air quotes”? 

Owen: I just sense there’s something more than just a “Sharp Disagreement.

Paul: We’ll, you’d be wrong. The situation is so very ordinary. I’m sure your…”viewers?” wouldn’t care about a disagreement between a couple ministers.

Owen: Oh, please indulge us. I heard you haven’t seen or spoken to Barnabus since he left with that other guy…

Paul: John Mark

Owen: Yes, John…Mark. JohnMark…If that’s his real name. Wasn’t he the cause of all this kerfuffle? 

Paul: Sort of. You see John Mark was a good helper on our first missionary journey…while he was there. But at a certain point he decided to leave. Just up and abandon us. 

Owen: I bet that made you furious! Here you are risking your life to bring the gospel to people and there goes John Mark, abandoning you.

Paul: I wasn’t shocked by his departure. I had seen signs of his wavering but he stuck with us until one day in Pamphylia. We continued the rest of that journey without him. 

Owen: And you say “we…” who’s “we” again?

Paul: Zacchaeus.

Owen: Seriously?

Paul: No.     The missionary leadership consisted of myself and Barnabas.

Owen: Let’s get back to that “Sharp Disagreement.”

Paul: Again? “Air Quotes?”

Owen: The Sharp Disagreement was about John Mark…but from your story, he was long gone.

Paul: Yes. I hadn’t wished he left us but he did. Barnabas and I came to Antioch and sometime later started planning another mission journey. 

Owen: And that’s when the trouble began between you and Barnabas.

Paul: You could say that. You see Barnabas wanted to give John Mark another chance at joining us on the journey. I was not exactly “keen” on the idea.

Owen: ehh….”Air Quotes”

Paul: I had nothing against either one of them. I just did not think it wise to bring John Mark with us. What’s that expression? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool Me twice, shame on me? John Mark left us and didn’t continue the work. I was not interested in inviting that kind of person on another missionary journey.

Owen: Why do you think Barnabas wanted to bring John Mark? I mean, he left you both.

Paul: You’re going to have to ask Barnabas for sure, but He is a bit more trusting and forgiving when it comes to these things. They also are family, so there’s that.

Owen: So what exactly did you say in this “heated discussion?”

Paul: I believe you mean sharp disagreement. I honestly don’t remember. I probably reminded him of how if John Mark left us once, he might do it again. Barnabas reminded me that we are to be forgiving and that he trusted John Mark. In the end, we decided it was best if we went our separate ways.

Owen: Sounds spicy! To forgive or to be wise…which one of you was right?

Paul: I think you’re missing the point.

Owen: Oh, I’ll get to the bottom of this “Furious Argument”….

Paul: Sharp. Disagreement.

Owen: Whatever it is…I’m going to uncover the truth. Reporting from Celicia, I’m Owen Lots with New Testament News. Back to you, Manny.

Manny: Thanks Owen…that was very “informative.”

[THE END]

—-

Ok, so just in case you missed some of the details, let’s look at Acts 15:36-41. 

36 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. 41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Acts 15:36-41 NIV

What was the Conflict?

The first thing we come to is that Paul and Barnabas have a disagreement. Barnabas wants to take John Mark, Paul doesn’t think it wise. It says in Acts 13:5b that “John was with them as their helper.” What a nice thing to have people who assist you in doing ministry. We have that here of course. 

I’m grateful when my daughters are able to help with the computer, playing our digital music. I’m grateful for our Sunday school teachers, Donna and Bev. I’m grateful to Jacki who does so much to make sure our church yard is well kept. Right now we are surely grateful to our contractor, Randy. He’s such a blessing to us and a help in ministry right now. I’m thankful for each of you here today. Sharing a message from the Lord and leading worship in song is so much more enjoyable with others to participate in it. Helpers. Look for the Helpers. 

John Mark was a helper.    Until…he wasn’t.    

We don’t know why he left, but it didn’t seem to sit well with Paul. Paul wasn’t interested in traveling with someone who might leave them again. 

Some of the reading I was doing this past week on this story suggested Barnabas was partial to and forgiving of John Mark because they were related. The scripture doesn’t say any of that, only that Barnabas and Paul have this sharp disagreement

Who do you think was right? What do you think you would ask Paul or Barnabas if you could go back in time and question them about this split? What do you think they might say?

There’s no way to know, but I wonder how heated the disagreement became? It’s important to note that Paul and Barnabas never saw each other again. They selected their new ministry partners and off they went. Barnabas took John Mark, of course. Paul takes Silas. They all went separate ways. 

A Case for Biblical Reliability.

We don’t know who was right or wrong. We don’t know if there was a right side at all. But one thing is clear because of this interchange: it reinforces the bible’s reliability. “How’s that?” you say…

If Luke were attempting to give a rosy picture of the church, shiny PR material to get people to sign up…he would have left this argument out. “Everyone agreed on the right thing to do and so they did it.” This conflict between the two church leaders actually highlights their humanity. They aren’t always so quick to forgive. They aren’t always shrewd and cautious. 

They had a disagreement and it didn’t get cut from Luke’s early church history. They never resolve the conflict, so far as we know, it just motivates them to start a new chapter in their ministry story. New partners in the work and new locations to travel.

I would suggest that this split between Paul and Barnabas was actually a good thing for the gospel. Beyond the biblical reliability, it forced these two powerhouses of ministry to spread out.

Who Was Right?

The parting of ways between Paul and Barnabas should be a reminder to us that just because someone disagrees with us, it doesn’t make them wrong and a sinner. It also doesn’t make us right and a saint. They each made a judgement call and then stuck to their convictions. It’s important to note that this is NOT a disagreement about theology. This was a simple administrative disagreement. A Judgement call.

Sometimes we make it a matter of sinner and saint and we become the former while believing we are the ladder. 

The classic “Disagreement about the color of the church carpeting” is just that…a simple, administrative-like disagreement. It’s about flooring! But when a person stews over that disagreement, starts to believe the worst in the one who opposes them…(rather than trying to see it from their point of view) it becomes a spiritual matter. The person who is stewing on hurtful thoughts about another’s spiritual status just because they disagree…that person is missing out on the blessings of God.

What was the result?

Back to Barnabas and Paul…What was the result of their split up?

Barnabas, as we learned last week, is the name given to someone and it means “Son of Encouragement.” He was an encouraging partner to Paul as they ministered together. He encouraged and gave John Mark another chance to minister to others with him.

John Mark goes on to write what is believed by many scholars to be the earliest written account of the ministry of Jesus. He wrote what we know as the Gospel according to Mark. Even though he wasn’t a disciple himself, tradition holds that he was present when Jesus was arrested. 

“A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.”

(Mark 14:51-52 NIV)

Because this detail is only in Mark’s gospel, it has led us to infer he was talking about himself…he was the young man.  Again, embarrassing things happening to people show their humanity and give weight to the accuracy of scripture. 

Paul and Silas have a real Jailhouse rock! Not only do they go around strengthening the churches in Syria and Cilicia, when they are prosecuted and jailed, God works a miracle. They sit in the cell, worshiping in chains, an earthquake shakes all the chains loose and opens the jail cell doors. The Jailer tries to kill himself but Paul reassures them no one has left the jail. The Jailer and his household are baptized into the faith that very night.

They had many other exploits, but that one sticks out in my mind. 

In 2 Timothy 4:11 Paul is at the end of his career and he seems to know…the end of his life. He calls for Mark to come to him. 

11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”

2 Timothy 4:11 NIV

This Helper who was helpful until he took off…became helpful again in Paul’s eyes.

Communion

Unity and Peace with others is so much more than never arguing. If you never disagree or argue, chances are you don’t care much about anything enough to voice your opinion and thoughts. In the church, we are made of imperfect, human people. There’s no need to hide our flaws. No benefit to sweeping them under the rug. Just as those things are evidence of scripture’s reliability, we are regular examples of why Jesus died on the Cross. 

He died for even me. With all my imperfections. My opinions. That very well might lead to “Sharp Disagreements” or “heated arguments.” 

He died for you. With your thoughts on the best way to do ministry. Your ideas of grace or your ideas of caution. He died for you, even when you insist you are right, even if you might not be. He died for you.

Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross brings us together. The ancient practice of partaking in the Lord’s supper, as a reminder of what he did for us. And what he continues to do, even in spite of us. And what he desires to do in the world through us.

We may not always agree on everything And that’s ok. But we can agree on this: Christ died to set us free from sin.

The Big Lie

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Acts 4:30-5:11


We’re continuing on with the series “What If I Stumble?” It’s a question you might ask in the community of faith, in your group of friends or your family. “What if I screw up? What if I make a choice that is the worst possible choice imaginable? Will you still love me? Can I be redeemed?” We have looked at stories of Peter, Judas, and Samson. For Peter, he got his opportunity at redemption and he accepted it. Judas tried to make things right, but trusted in the religious people for absolution instead of Jesus himself. And Samson led a life for himself, though God still worked through his imperfections. At the end of Samson’s life, he recommitted to God’s purposes. His last act was destroying the enemies that God wanted to confront in the first place. Today we take a look at an odd couple, so to speak. Their names: Ananias and Sapphira. I’ll talk in a bit about their shenanigans, but there are 3 things I want to focus on in relation to them. They….

  1. Were not fully committed believers
  2. Conspired to hide the truth (to deceive)
  3. Died unrepentant

Before all that, I’d like to present today’s dramatic interpretation of their Big Fall from the perspective of a young man who was there. He’s never named in scripture so bare with me as I take some creative license as he tells us the story of the death of a couple imposters.

[If you’d like to listen to the recording of this message, CLICK HERE or use the Spotify player at the bottom of this post.]


Dirt. Soil. Ground. Earth. 

Call it what you will, but it is essential for grow plants for food. I know a bit about that: I grew up the son of a farmer from a farming family. We’d plant grain and other crops over the years, but no matter the crop – Harvest Time was the most fun! We’d go about the field seeing this plant that we grew from just a small seed and then we’d harvest it.

I don’t know…I don’t believe plants have feelings or anything, but I always felt grateful to the wheat as I cut it down. I know Yahweh provided it and I was always thankful to Him for His blessing. But I’d look at the grain and be thankful just the same.

Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

It was our family’s practice to only do one pass of the field. We wouldn’t pick up every last bit of grain, but leave the leftovers for the poor and the widows. They could come and get whatever they could harvest. Kind of reminds me of the story of Boaz and his wife Ruth.    But I’m getting off topic. Dirt is great for growing things, but also for burying things. And sometimes, those things happen to be dead people.

I was just outside the house where many believers were staying. I wanted to make a small vegetable garden to provide for the believers. We had a stream that ran near the house, providing water for the plants. Then I hear Brother Peter call out for me. Me? Did I do something wrong? Was I not supposed to dig up this part of the yard? I was a little worried. My fears only multiplied when I came into the house and saw a man lying face first, flat on the ground. Was he asleep? NO…he was dead. 

Peter looked at me. There were 3 others around my age that had left their family to join The Way – This movement of the Messiah, Jesus! These guys, just like me…could never go home. We were rejected by our parents for following Jesus and the disciple’s teachings. 

I looked back at Peter and I knew what he wanted me to do. I told one of the other young men, “go get some cloth to wrap the body with.” I began to roll the body over and I gasped! Ananias! I used to sell vegetables to him in the marketplace. Everyone knew he owned property and that’s how he made his money. I wondered how or why he died.

As the other guys held the body, I began to wrap him in the cloth, preparing him for burial. Normally, we would take him to his family tomb, but I wasn’t aware he had one.

We took him outside and found a nice deep spot near the garden. It took an hour or so to dig it up and place him in it. Less than that to cover him over again. It was strange, There was a decent amount of space between the garden and where we buried Ananias. At the time I didn’t know why, but I pictured a second hole there.

After all that work, I was dirty and sweaty. I stood in the doorway with the other young men who helped bury Ananias. “Do you know how he died?” one of them asked. I shrugged.

“I’d like to ask Peter but I’m all grimey and such,” another one stated. He continued, “fellas, you realize we are going to have to undergo the purification rights for becoming clean after touching a dead body now, right?”

The one who wanted to ask Peter about how Ananias had died seemed a bit indignant about purification. “You serious? I thought once we followed The Way, that old stuff my father taught me didn’t matter.”

That’s a good point. I wondered and I wondered… But I didn’t wonder for long. Peter once again beckoned us into the house. We tracked mud into the home, which wasn’t that big of a deal since it was a dirt floor anyway. 

There at Peter’s feet was a woman who fell face flat on the ground. Um, is there an illness we need to pray about? I thought.

Peter gestured again. Once more we took the body, wrapped and buried it. Traditionally men only wrap the bodies and bury men, but I guess dirty grave diggers might have been in short supply today. We buried Sapphira right next to her husband. Covered her body with soil and that was that.

We returned to hear Peter explaining what had happened, why they had died so suddenly. They had lied to the Holy Spirit! Well, this set everyone edge, concerned they might do something wrong and incur the wrath of God.

I looked out the door to the garden. I knew the Truth. They may have been imposters who died because of their big lie, I knew the Truth of what God had done in my life. There was no denying it. I knew when I die and am buried, I won’t stay down forever. I recall the words that the believers repeat…words straight from Jesus himself: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;”


One thing I think we ought to just say and get it out there is that Ananias and Sapphira were…

Not Fully Committed

You might be thinking, “That’s awfully judgemental! Maybe they believed and then just made a really big mistake!” All I can tell you is that’s not how it seems Luke records it here in Acts.

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.”

Acts 4:32 NIV

All the believers were on board. It wasn’t an entry fee, it was evidence. Evidence of the Holy Spirit’s grasp on you as a believer so much that you didn’t think about your own stuff as being your own.

Clearly Ananias and his wife Sapphira did think of their possessions as their own. There is further evidence that Luke does not loop them in with the believers. 

“Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property.”

Acts 5:1 NIV

If he had been a believer, wouldn’t it make sense that Luke would have said so? He just calls Ananias “A man,” not “A believer.”

What does a believer look like? What does he or she do?

One of the top identifying characteristics if someone is a believer is their love.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

John 13:34-35 NIV

So Loving one another is key. Another key point to being his disciple is doing his commands. 

Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome.

1 John 5:3 NLT

If you love me, keep my commands.

John 14:15 NIV

And of course the opposite is true. 

The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;

1 John 2:4 ESV

So if they are not really believers, what are they? They are Wannabees.  They want to buy into this kingdom of heaven thing, but not all the way. 

They do this through an act of deception. Ananias and Sapphira…

Conspired to Hide the truth, to deceive

“With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.”

Acts 5:2 NIV

You might be wondering, “So what? What if he didn’t give the whole amount. No one was making him.” And You’d be right. Peter even says as much in response to the blatant deception. (Acts 5:3-4)

3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

Acts 5:3-4 NIV

So Ananias goes before the Apostles, just like any other generous believer and pretends to give the whole amount for the sale of his property. It wasn’t about deceiving man, but trying to lie to God! As if Ananias was saying “I’m all in with this Way Thing, the Messiah. I feel I should sell my possessions so no one goes hungry in the group.” But he actually does otherwise, with plans to look godly when he is really not.

My wife and I have a parenting tip for you. It’s something we do at home with daughters and it’s kind of a way of life for us as adults. If our girls do something purposeful or accidentally that was wrong or a poor choice, but they came to us and told the truth…they would only get “a talking too.” But if they hide it or lie about it, that compiles the problem and compiles the consequences. 

The only thing that Ananias and Sapphira did wrong was trying to pull one over on God. Giving only 50% of your profits or even just a few quarters…it matters not. It might reveal that the couple has trust issues with those in the faith, but that can be worked through. What cannot stand is someone lying to God. 

That kind of thing would have infected the faith from this very early stage. Here’s what the scriptures say about deceivers:

“A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will perish.”

Proverbs 19:9 ESV

“Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.”

Proverbs 12:22 ESV

“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices”

Colossians 3:9 ESV

While evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

2 Timothy 3:13 ESV

They were setting the church up for failure. The whole reason people brought the money was to benefit the needy among them. It wasn’t to buy into the group. It wasn’t a magic ticket to sit closest to Peter at supper time. The example is clear from Acts 4:36-37

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”

Acts 4:36-37 NIV

Moved by compassion and the Holy Spirit, people gave to provide for the needy among them. They sacrificed their own rights to their possession to care for their new family. The Family of God.

Ananias did not do that. He pretended and he paid for it because both Ananias and Sapphira…

Died Unrepentant

The book of Acts leaves very little to the imagination. Right after Peter tells Ananias he’s lied to God, verse 5 starts:

“5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.”

Acts 5:5 NIV

We don’t get any last minute pleading for forgiveness from Ananias. He made his decision, it was resolute, it was his final answer. 

“And great fear seized all who heard what had happened to him.”

Wouldn’t you be afraid? Someone suddenly drops dead in front of you, you start wondering if you’re next. Then finding out the reason he died, you might be concerned about lying to God, being an imposter. I can picture this early church youth group passing out wearable reminders of this. Instead of WWJD bracelets, “What Would Jesus Do?” It’s DBLA “Don’t Be Like Ananias.”

So He was unrepentant. But scripture records that Peter gives Sapphira a chance, either to prove she was in the dark about Ananias’ scheme or to solidify her eternal place next to him.

7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”

“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”

9 Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”

10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.”

Acts 5:7-11 NIV

How far had the deception gone? Thankfully it stayed just between Ananias and Sapphira. Can you imagine what would have happened if people could pretend to be Holy Spirit filled Christians and never have any natural consequences for that? 

Millstone sized Consequences

This attempt to deceive the Holy Spirit could have been an infection that could have thrown Christianity way off track. We remember this passage from Luke 17:1-2

1Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. 2It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.

(Luke 17:1-2 NIV)

It was so important that the movement of Christianity not get high-jacked that Christ himself makes this very troubling statement. It’d be better if a person were sentenced to death by drowning than if they lead the next generation astray.

This is most certainly not a call to grab ropes and rocks and necks. Jesus Continues:

So watch yourselves.

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

(Luke 17:3-4 NIV)

There have been people who’ve stumbled and fallen in the Christian world. There have been big names in history who have led people astray from the true faith, just to fill up their own pocketbooks. This is the greater sin: leading others astray

Jesus saw it even before Christianity was established. Rabbis would make converts to a faith they didn’t fully follow themselves.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.”

Matthew 23:15 NIV

This is a warning to us just as it was to the early church. Do we want to prevent future stumbling and falling for the next generation? Don’t lead people astray…lead them to Jesus.

Don’t lead people astray…lead them to Jesus.

DBLA: Don’t Be Like Ananias – 3 Tips for avoiding this pitfall

Check your own motives

  • Wait…we heard that one last week! It’s still a good application. Most people don’t intend to stray, wander, stumble and fall. It starts a little bit at a time. Check with God about your motives. If you refuse to do so…or won’t listen to what He has to say, chances are they are wrong motives.

Be wary of being led astray

  • I think many of us want to trust people. We want to be led by trustworthy folk. But maybe we’ve become jaded and coarse. We need a healthy balance of trust and skepticism.  In many situations the stop-gap between these two extremes is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit can help you sense if someone is phony or the real deal. But regardless if they are the top superstar Christian speaker/author/musician…They still are not JESUS. So be wary of becoming a disciple of man. Be a disciple of Jesus instead.

Don’t give into Deceit

  • Lying, like many other sins, is a slippery slope. First you tell a small one, then a bigger one to cover that one up. However, Paul instructs us in Ephesians 5:13
  • But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.”
  • Nothing stays hidden forever. 

Check your motives, Be wary of being led astray, and don’t give into deceit.

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Big Hairy Mess

Part of the “What If I Stumble” series


This week we continue with our series What if I stumble. We’ve looked at Peter, his denial and then return to Jesus. We heard Judas Iscariot’s story and how it ended with no hope to overcome his problems. Today we go old school. Like Old Testament old school. We’re going to look at the bible hero, Samson. Like with the previous messages,  we’ll begin with a dramatic interpretation of the main point in his life where he stumbled and fell.

[If you’d like to listen to this message, click HERE.]

Continue reading “Big Hairy Mess”

Down for the Count

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The following post addresses the topic of suicide. If you’d like listen to the audio recording, the Spotify player is at the end of this post. I read the comments on this page and I want to know, have you been close to someone who’s attempted suicide or had thoughts about that? How has it affected you?


We started last week on a journey through stories of people in the bible. I know, right? Real shocker! A sermon about people in the bible. But this is not just any sermon series. The focus of the “What if I stumble?” series is to uncover and understand times where people who seemed so close to God fell out of relationship with him for one reason or another. My hope is that by examining these stories and the real people with real motives, we can learn how to brace ourselves from falling into the same stumbling area. Also, I think we will be better equipped to help others back up out of their particular pit that they stumbled and fell into. Last week we looked at the story of Peter. [Missed that post? CLICK HERE to listen or read it.] Peter had flip flopped so hard and so quickly and denied he even knew Jesus. Did he do it to save his neck? Perhaps. But the end of the story is that Peter returns to Jesus, to the fellowship of the disciples. He fell, but he didn’t stay down for the count. Not everyone has a redemptive ending like Peter. With that in mind I want to present for you a dramatic retelling, inside the mind of Judas Iscariot on the night he betrayed Jesus.

The Betrayal – A Dramatic Interpretation

“Here Judas,” I hear Him say to me. Jesus hands me a bit of bread he had just dipped into some oil. I was hungry so I took it. I didn’t say anything to him, I just gave him the nod of appreciation.

I didn’t mean it of course. We could have been eating much better, in better accommodations. But alas, bread is bread…so I took it and ate it. At that moment, something changed in me. I’m not completely sure what was happening, but I felt compelled to do what my heart really desired. No filter. No little “Angel on my shoulder” saying don’t do that, that’s not nice. If he were there, I would have taken my fingers and catapulted him to next sabbath. 

Getting up from my spot at the table, I started for the door. 

“What you are going to do,” Jesus said to me, “do quickly.” 

Oh don’t worry, I thought. Nothing is going to stop me from getting paid tonight.

I had already made an agreement with the chief priests

“What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” (Matt 26:15a NIV)

They counted out 30 pieces of silver for me. They had cash in hand! I had to come through and look for an opportunity so they could arrest Jesus. 

I left the upper room where Jesus and the other disciples were still carrying on, probably arguing about which set of brothers is best in Jesus’ kingdom…or some such nonsense. I headed to the chief priests and elders and let them in on the plan. 

“You want to arrest Jesus from underneath the people’s noses? You got to do it when he’s all alone. No crowds fawning over him. And the disciples will either be absent or be groggy from sleep. They haven’t had much lately, getting ready for the Passover festival. Jesus won’t stand a chance.”

The chief priests and elders thought up a shrewd idea. They whipped up a small mob of people, people motivated either by anger or money. Either way, we all came stamping into the Garden of Gethsemane…at the very right moment. Jesus was bleeding…or was he just very sweaty? I couldn’t tell. I stepped ahead of the gang as they stayed partially covered in shadow. “Rabbi!” I proclaimed. Then I kissed him. This greeting is very much like people would share in their home or with their closest friends. I wanted it very clear, this was the man they were to take.

“Judas.”

Just him saying my name shook my chest cavity something awful. Like when you shake a container to see if there is anything left in it. His eyes never wavered off of mine.

“Judas, you would betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”

I didn’t have to answer back. We both knew the answer was “yes.”

Little did I know how much that choice would affect me and the direction my life would take next.

If you’re trying to figure me out, good luck. But I’m not too sure about this betrayal thing. I keep picturing a rope in my future.

Judas Who? – Identifying the Betrayer

We don’t know much from scripture about Judas. 

  1. His claim to fame is his betrayal of Jesus. 

So much that anytime someone else was mentioned by the name of Judas, the author feels it necessary to say… “no wait…not THAT Judas. Judas Thaddaeus, or maybe Judas (a.k.a. Jude brother of James)” Though it was long after the gospels, there was also a guy named Judas from Galilee who led a rebellion then got himself killed. The New Testament writers want to be perfectly clear who Judas Iscariot was and not confuse their audience by tossing around the equivalent of “John Smith” when they mean John Smith “the betrayer of Jesus.”

  1. Judas or Jude was a very common name, like John Smith.

Calling of Judas

As with Peter, it’s a good idea to look back on the first time we hear about this Judas Iscariot guy. And since the bible isn’t about his back story…there aren’t many details to go on. Luke gives his audience a bit of context concerning who the 12 disciples were, listing them off for all to know of the men Jesus traveled with in the coming chapters and verses of his gospel account.

“12 In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. 13 And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: 14 Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15 and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.”

Luke 6:12-16 ESV

Unlike Peter’s calling, there is no starting point of Judas’ call. The bible doesn’t record that Jesus found Judas in some seedy place, or in the middle of a scheme and called him to follow him. The Bible doesn’t record that he found Judas in the synagogue praying. He just was one of the Twelve. Just like Luke’s, Matthew’s version of this listing of the disciples, Judas Iscariot is at the end. Matthew’s heavy-handed foreshadowing leaves nothing to the imagination: “and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.” (Matt 4:10b NIV)

This one choice, this one decision marked his life throughout history. We don’t know if he was married. Scripture doesn’t tell us where his hometown was. Besides his betrayal, the only other pieces of information we have about him is: 

  1. His father’s name was Simon Iscariot and that 
  2. Judas had a specific role in the Twelve. 

He held the purse with all the funds used to support their ministry. 

Sticky Fingers – Motives of the Betrayer (John 12:4-6)

If there ever was evidence for the need of financial accountability in ministry, Judas would be the best example by far. Forget Matthew/Levi. What he did pales in comparison to Judas’ little scheme. 

  1. I do wonder, which came first? Judas’ desire for money or the role of purse holder? 

Sometimes people seem trustworthy and benevolent. But deep down they just want to get closer to the cash. It’s a harsh way to put it, but it’s true. On the flip side, a person can be easily seduced when managing an organization’s money with little or no accountability. So the other disciples can’t change Judas’ heart or his intentions, but they can protect themselves and him from falling to temptation by creating opportunities for accountability. Well at least they could have. Let’s look at a prime example of Judas’ character on display.

In John 12, we see that Jesus and his disciples are guests of Lazarus, Mary and Martha. They enjoy a meal together and suddenly Mary does something that Judas finds appalling. 

“3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” ”

  1. Judas is disgusted with this lavish use of oil.

Have you ever walked into a room and a perfume or essential oil just wafts off you? I know I have. I love that people smell good but I don’t need to choke on that smell. The scent could have pushed Judas over the edge, but the gospel writers clearly note his motives: He liked to help himself to the money he kept for the group.

So Mary opens up this container to pour it on Jesus’ feet. It says a “pint” or about ½ liter. That last number is important. I love to help give us a concept of the costliness of this gift she lavished on Jesus. If we were to find “spikenard” today, one place it is sourced is in Nepal. It’s made from the spikenard root and is harvested by hand in the hills and mountain sides there. One particular oil company charges $66 for a 5 milliliter (5ml) bottle. I did some math and it turns out there is about 500ml in a pint. So picture if you will, 100 – 5ml bottles of this oil being poured out on Jesus’ feet. One 5ml would probably be enough to knock you off your feet! 

Not accounting for a bulk order discount deal, the cost of a pint of Spikenard oil would be $6,600!

What could you do with $6,600? We’d most likely finish paying off my student loan and start saving for a newer vehicle. What else could you do? You could start an endowment with The Olivet Foundation to help provide scholarships to college students. You could support one of the local community programs like Door of Hope, Bethel Butikk or Living Faith Food Pantry. You could help sponsor a child through Nazarene Compassionate Ministries. With that $6,600 at $30 a month, you can support a child for 18 years!

So we’ve addressed this perfume oil was expensive back then and still is today. The price today alone could do a lot of good, just as it may have done back before Mary drenched Jesus in it. But Jesus still looks at this offering and knows that Mary did the best thing with her gift. 

He defends her and her worship of Him. 

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.”

John 12:7 NIV
  1. Jesus knew Mary’s heart was full of worship and appreciation for him. He knew Judas’ heart as well. 

It seemed to care only about money, about wealth. This scene gives us this very important insight into the mind of Judas. John writes:

“[Judas] did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” 

If it wasn’t obvious to the disciples before Judas met his untimely demise, it certainly came to light once they opened up the books and shook the money bag. Judas was embezzling and that’s a big no no. 

Judas was known for his sticky fingers. 

  1. His main motivation was money.

He desired money so much, he’d take from the offering plate and didn’t tell anyone.

He’d also take it to betray Jesus.

14 Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests 15 and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. 16 From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

Matt 26:14-16 NIV

Just a few verses earlier we read that the chief priests were trying to find some way to arrest Jesus, but they needed to be sneaky or the people of the city may start a riot. Judas must have been aware of this and he comes to them with the proposition. Jesus on a silver platter…for some silver. Seems like a fair trade. Both parties would get what they wanted. 

Jesus is praying in the garden. Judas steps out of the shadows just as Jesus says to the disciples with him, “Here comes my betrayer!” Following a bit behind Judas was a “large crowd armed with swords and clubs.” Judas walks toward Jesus and greets him according to their custom. “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.


I’ve read this part already today! What else goes on with Judas?! The next time we hear anything about Judas, it’s in Matthew 27. This is where it seems like the betrayer has some buyer’s regret. He looks into his pocket book and realizes it’s full of blood money.

Blood Money – Remorse of the Betrayer

3 When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” (Matt 27:3-4)

First off…let’s stop right there. 

  1. Judas had remorse.

WOW. Most of the time we spend reading the bible with Judas in it and think “Oh I don’t want to be like that guy” or “Oh I hate his guts, how he sold out Jesus!” But here he has a genuine, relatable feeling. He is grieved with regret for his actions or at least the outcome of his actions. Jesus would be condemned. 

So not only is he stricken with remorse, but it leads him to try and return the money he got for betraying Jesus. 

  1. By giving the money back, he tries to make amends, undo what he did.
  2. He also recognizes what he did was sin.

But he turns to the wrong people for help in that area. Those chief priests and elders who wanted Jesus dead. And now Judas has to face the Consequences of his actions.

Death and Consequences – Hopelessness of the Betrayer

They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5 And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.

In Matthew’s gospel that’s the last we hear from Judas. 

  1. He simply gives up. 

He goes to those he conspires with, he tries to at least return his blood money and he doesn’t find any redemption. The religious leaders give him no hope for justification.

And so, with no hope of recovering from being the instrument of betrayal, Judas finds some rope and hangs himself. This last part of Judas’ story I find the saddest. Have you ever thought of this: Judas could have had a story similar to Peter.

Peter, as we looked at last week, denied Christ 3 times, but yet he was forgiven…welcomed back. If Judas, with all his remorse had truly allowed it to motivate him to be repentant he could have been saved. His story could have been one we all looked to and thought “If Judas can find redemption, so can I.” But alas, he stumbles and falls like the song says. 

So he wasn’t repentant and he put his hope for redemption in the wrong people. 

  1. He trusted the religious people to absolve him, not Jesus. 

Seeing no other options, he does one last thing: takes his own life. 

I want to just talk briefly about hopelessness and suicide. I believe that’s what led to Judas taking his own life, but for many people there are a few causes that lead people to attempt ending their life. The CDC list the following as Risk factors for suicide:

  • Mental illness, such as depression
  • Social isolation
  • Criminal problems
  • Financial problems
  • Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
  • Job problems or loss
  • Legal problems
  • Serious illness
  • Substance use disorder

Much of these risk factors tie back into the idea of losing hope. A person might lack hope to overcome any of these challenges. They can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. If that’s the case, why keep going?

And for each of these risk factors, there is a strategy that the CDC suggests that may help prevent suicide. 

  • If people are socially isolated, intentional community engagement activities are provided to address that need. 
  • Treatment and counseling to prevent future attempts of those contemplating or have attempted suicide.
  • Maybe it’s just as simple as addressing the financial hardships and helping the individual stabilize their housing and financial needs. 

I’m thankful we have a church who is there for one another. I’m glad I have friends and other pastors I can talk to when things get rough.  Not everyone has that support and that’s why it’s important to be intentional and proactive in preventing suicide.

I wonder how the disciples felt after they got the news that Judas had hung himself? Were they distraught, confused, or worried? If it were me I’d be wondering what I could have done better before my friend Judas went down such a sketchy path. A path that ended at the end of a rope.

I’m sad to say that’s not a hypothetical. I wonder if I could have said something more, encouraged my friend more, prayed for him more, and he wouldn’t have ended his life. I guess I’ll never know. But what I do know is probably the same as the 11 disciples. Let’s not do this again! 

We’ve moved from storytelling to personal profiling of Judas. We’ve gotten in his head and heart. Found greed and then remorse, culminating in hopelessness. But “What If I Stumble” is a preventative question. It’s one that asks “Will forgiveness be there for me? Will someone help me get back up?”

These very questions should guide us as Christians to proactively answer before anyone falls. 

“Will the love continue when my walk becomes a crawl?”

“Yes” should be our response. 

Anything short of that gives birth to and nourishes hopelessness.

So what are some practical ways we can live out our beliefs when someone finds their self in such a state?

Application – what can you and I do to ward off another Judas scenario?

  • Identify the hopeless, help bring them hope
    • Don’t turn a blind eye to the hurting, wondering if they will ever be able to overcome their problems, their addictions, their circumstances. Identify them and help bring them hope. Pray that the Lord would burden your heart for them. That you would never be cold to their need for hope.
    • Be there for them to talk to. I know many of us, myself at the top of the list, would like to identify a person without hope and then tell them all the things they need to do to fix it. “Stop doing that! Start doing this and this!” But many times what people need is to be heard. It gives them hope that they are not alone. Helps them know they are known. And consistantly doing so can lead to questions as to why you or I care so much about them. There is the opportunity to present  redemption to them.

Not only do we need to look out for it in others, but we should also…

  • Identify your own hopelessness
    • We might not realize it, but there are things in our life that we have chosen not to talk about, not to think about. It brings pain. Maybe it brings temptation. These are the things we are hopeless about. It may not control us to the point of suicide, but to use a medically adjacent analogy: ignoring the symptoms of an illness does not mean the illness will go away. We need to Identify our own hopelessness.
  • Seek help for your hopelessness
    • Once we can identify what it is we are hopeless about, we can seek help. If there is something eating at your heart and anytime someone brings up that topic, a flood of painful memories you’ve never dealt with come to the surface, seek help processing those feelings, memories, emotions and desires instead of stuffing them back down and trying to forget them. 

Judas didn’t address his real problem, only his side effect. His real illness was greed and the side effect was that Jesus would be condemned. He tried all he could to fix the side effect but never addressed the illness of greed within him. Where were the other disciples? Many ran scared, hiding for “fear of the Jews” the scripture tells us. They were concerned about their own necks; they didn’t have much left to look out for Judas’ neck. And so his story tragically ends and serves as an example to us. We must answer the question: “Will the love continue?” with “yes.” Can redemption be had by even the worst betrayer? Yes. As we saw last week, redemption is available, you just have to accept it. Peter did but Judas did not. 

Let’s identify hopelessness in ourselves and in others and be there for one another when we stumble and fall.

From Denial to Redemption

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Please listen to this song to get a better idea of where we are headed with this series.

What If I Stumble by dcTalk – Theme of teaching series

The song you just heard was originally written and performed by dcTalk. That song gives inspiration to this sermon series entitled “What if I Stumble.” In life, whether you are a Christ-follower or not yet a Christian, you might have turning points in your life. Events that shape the direction of your future, how you react and respond to certain situations. Will you stand up and lead or fall in line and follow? In this series we will look at various people from the bible that had these crisis moments, look at how they got there, where they went next and what truth the scriptures specifically want us to hear concerning failing and falling in our attempts to live our lives for God.

Today we look at the life of Peter and his ultimate crisis of faith. That moment, recorded in the gospels where he denied Christ three times.

[If you’d like to listen to the audio recording of this message, please click the Spotify player at the bottom of the post.]


Picture the following:

Peter was waiting nervously for safe passage into the inner courts of the high priest. His master was just arrested. A mob of soldiers chained and beat Jesus as they brought him before the high priest. Try as he did, Peter couldn’t stop Jesus from being arrested. He even assaulted someone with his sword, but that didn’t stop the soldiers. 

So here he waits. Waiting for John to come back and bring him into the courts. Maybe they could speak on Jesus’ behalf? Maybe they could testify against the accusations and save Jesus? Maybe they could just …be there for Jesus during this time. Being arrested is a lonely, scary situation to be in after all.

Finally John returns with the servant girl who lets Peter in. She questions him,

“You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” (John 18:17b)

He looked at her, apprehensively… not knowing what she might do if he said yes. So he said, “I am not.”

Anxious and emotional, Peter finds himself out in the cold…literally. His stomach was all tied in knots, not knowing who to trust, what was going to happen to Jesus…and what would happen to him and John. The temperature began to chill those present and a fire was built up to fend off the frigid conditions. Peter warmed his hand around the fire, shoulder to shoulder with servants and officers. All the while, he’s hoping no one asks him again …

“You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” (John 18:25b)

Becoming more and more worried, Peter responded “I am not.” 

A higher ranking servant takes another look at Peter. He looks really familiar. There was someone in the garden that night who had lobbed off his relative’s ear in defense of Jesus of Nazareth. Could this be the man?

“Did I not see you in the garden with him?”  

Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.

That rooster was a wake up call for Peter. He looked down in shame. He considered looking up across the crowd to see Jesus…but he couldn’t bear to. He felt defeated and condemned. He had stumbled and fell into denying Jesus 3 times.

The question is, How did we end up here?


Continue reading “From Denial to Redemption”

Recognizing the Importance of Dependence

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Today is July 4th. This is an interesting day because of course it’s Sunday, but also a national holiday. For our friends all around the world, it is just another day on the calendar, for us it is a day to celebrate the birth of our nation. Now there’s discrepancy as to if it was signed on the 4th or a different day, like the 2nd – this is when the continental congress approved of the Declaration. Regardless of the day we celebrate, this holiday has become a big deal. When you think about celebrating the 4th of July…other than coming to worship on Sunday…

What do you think about? For you, what really “makes” the celebration of Independence day?

Fireworks, Cookouts, parades, community events?

No matter how you celebrate, the idea is that we are taking this day to celebrate…but what are we celebrating? Maybe you’re just looking forward to being off work or getting paid extra for the same amount of work! Maybe this weekend is all about camping and nature for you. As we are grateful for the ability to enjoy those things, it came with a price. That price was sealed with the sending of a formal letter to King George III telling him that the colonies were no longer under British reign. They were united and each colonial area was its own independent state. 

[If you’d like to listen to the audio record of this message, please scroll to the bottom of this post to the Spotify section or find us on iTunes podcasts.)


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The Rain-Bow Connection

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Genesis 6-9

Today we are looking at a well known story. It’s one of the big 5 or so stories we teach about in Sunday school. Chances are that if you’ve ever found yourself in a church nursery before, images of this story would fill your eyes. Painted on the walls, themed on a bulletin board, made into a Little Golden Book, or even a playset with pairs of animals. That’s right, we’re looking at the story found in Genesis chapters 6-9 and it is the story of Noah’s Ark.

If you would do something with me today, I’d appreciate it. You may be intimately familiar with this story. You may know it backwards and forwards. You may understand the deep meaning behind certain pieces of this story and the vastness of the topics we could cover today. 

But right now, I need you and I to turn our attention to God’s Mercy and Grace as it is showcased in the story of Noah’s Ark.

“Grace and Mercy?” You might ask. “We’re talking about worldwide decimation. The death of many humans, animals and creatures all along the land! How can this be about Mercy or Grace?

Great question. I’m glad you asked it. Over the next few moments we have together, I hope we can see these very important attributes of God. Moreover it’s my hope for you and I that we not only see it, but are changed by it. Perhaps, we might change something about our life today because of it.

[If you’d like to listen to the Audio Recording of this message, please click the Spotify player at the bottom of this blog post. You can also find us on itunes podcasts. (Search: Viroqua Nazarene)


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Who’s Your Daddy?!

John 8:31-47

What’s with that title?

If you lived through the 1990’s and 2000’s, there was a phrase that started to pick up steam for some reason or another. The phrase was, “Who’s your daddy?!” Now unless you don’t understand when people are being facetious, you would understand that they are not asking you who your male parental unit is. 

  1. “Who’s your daddy?!” is a jeering Insult used to “put someone in their place.”

If you like silly movies, Danna Carvey once made a slapstick film that’s mildly family friendly called “Master of Disguise.” In that movie his character learns to be a type of independent spy by wearing disguises and really becoming another person. He did receive some combat training from his grandfather. His grandpa told him to demoralize his opponent, slap their face and shout, “Who’s your daddy?!” The practice dummy slapped Dana more than he did it.

So if gathering information about someone’s paternal lineage is not the purpose of that question, then what does it seek to achieve? When saying “Who’s your daddy!?” to someone…

  1. The idea behind it is: “You’re not the most powerful or strongest person. Your father has the Power and authority over you.” 

Without spoiling too much, It’s not just that the person receiving the insult is less powerful, it’s the one saying it is “the daddy.”  They might say, “Yeah I’m more powerful than you, son!” It’s not very nice, but it is what is happening in this very normal thing that people would shout during sporting events or maybe video games.

[If you’d like to listen to the audio recording, click on the Spotify player at the bottom of this blog post.]


Continue reading “Who’s Your Daddy?!”

Proverbs 29 – Better late than Never

“Many seek an audience with a ruler, but it is from the Lord that one gets justice.”

Proverbs‬ ‭29:26‬ ‭NIV‬‬

First of all, mad props to you if you have a blog and are able to keep a consistent posting schedule. in a couple days I will post about my 31 day experience blogging about the book of Proverbs. But for today I’m going to talk about this verse.

What comes to mind when you think about this verse? For me, I think of contacting governmental leaders to let them know what I stand for and how I would encourage them to vote a particular way on a bill.

No matter what legislation is passed, what budgets get vetoed, or who goes before a judiciary committee, we only receive justice when it comes from the Lord.