Hole in the Wall

Featured

Ezekiel 12:1-16

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

Every noise makes a sound. I know, ground breaking insight. But sound travels in waves from it’s point of origin.

It’s illustrated to us like waves lapping up against a seashore. Coming in, then fading back, then coming in again. When the sound wave heads toward an object, the object does not absorb the sound (like padding or foam would) it bounces back off that object. In this series, we’re walking through some of the highlights of the Book of Ezekiel. And if you can image these stories or instances as sounds waves, the bounces forward in time to the New Testament, bounce off something there and eventually impact us in some way. But the question to think on as we continue this journey is, are we going to allow the echo just bounce off us…like we were a concrete wall or will we absorb What God has done and the word he’s speaking to us today through these Echos of Ezekiel? 


Continue reading “Hole in the Wall”

The Five Second Rule

Featured

I’ve got some visual aids today. I want to paint a very clear picture of what we see here that God calls Ezekiel today. But I will NOT be TOO thorough with the visual aid. Somethings, as we will find out – Ezekiel wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. But as we dig into Chapter four we will understand the prophecy God has for Jerusalem and the lengths God will go to in order to get his point across. 

Lets begin with a easy start, Ezekiel 4:1-3

“Now, son of man, take a block of clay, put it in front of you and draw the city of Jerusalem on it. Then lay siege to it: Erect siege works against it, build a ramp up to it, set up camps against it and put battering rams around it. Then take an iron pan, place it as an iron wall between you and the city and turn your face toward it. It will be under siege, and you shall besiege it. This will be a sign to the people of Israel.

Ezekiel 4:1-3 NIV

Now if you know me, you know I’ve worked with kids for a while and I have enjoyed it! I find Lego to be such a great medium for communicating messages. Here we have the stand in for the “Clay chunk” that God called Ezekiel to draw on. When I read it, it sounds like he probably made a 2-d drawing in this hunk of clay…but then built some ladder towers – siege works to get over the walls.   What’s a siege work? In The Lord of the Rings film, “The Two Towers” at the battle of Helm’s Deep. They were big moving towers that allowed the invader to attack – sometimes very well protected from arrow fire.  But the Idea is clear: Siege works= invasion, city taken by force.

So it starts of a bit weird. The Prophet draws some representative stuff, maybe you figure it out that it’s jerusalem…but then he gets his frying pan out…does THIS [put pan between self and city) and they’re like “he’s really losing it.” 

Rapunzel besieging or defending?

Ezekiel is to put his PAN between his face and the clay Jerusalem. This kicks off the besieging of the city.

Well if you are joining Ezekiel’s original audience, thinking he was going crazy, you haven’t seen anything yet! Let’s look again at Ezekiel, starting at verse 4:

“Then lie on your left side and put the sin of the people of Israel upon yourself. You are to bear their sin for the number of days you lie on your side. I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So for 390 days you will bear the sin of the people of Israel.

6 “After you have finished this, lie down again, this time on your right side, and bear the sin of the people of Judah. I have assigned you 40 days, a day for each year. 7 Turn your face toward the siege of Jerusalem and with bared arm prophesy against her. 8 I will tie you up with ropes so that you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have finished the days of your siege.

Ezekiel 4:4-8 NIV

How awkward is that? Have you ever come across someone taking a nap? Not unusual if they are in their bed or in their recliner at home, but this demonstration is taking place IN THE OPEN! The prophet is to lie down on his left side for 390 days! That’s just over a year in our calendar. It says nothing of him getting up and moving around. Lay there for a year. Then flip over and lay on that side for 40 more days. God says he will tie up the prophet so he can’t go anywhere.

I don’t have to tell you, this is not that practical. Laying around for Over 13 months to make a point? What is the point? I’m missing it in all the craziness. Here’s the point: Jerusalem will be besieged. 

That’s the beginning of the message anyway…but wait, there’s more. Before we go further (and perhaps you’ve read ahead in your bible) I’ve got a question for you…

What is the grossest thing you’ve ever eaten or been offered to eat?

  • Jacki and I were at a retreat one time and we started preparing our own food. We didn’t want to be tempted with the treats at the retreat. So we found a recipe for cold Tomato Bisque. I had never intentionally had cold soup before. It was disgusting and we went hungry until we got home that night. 
  • Have you ever heard of Scorpions encased lollipops or Chocolate Crickets? I’ve heard of them too. Never eaten them, but I’ve heard of them.
  • Beef Jerky – Did you know that some Beef jerky includes an ingredient called “Earthrobate?” That is dehydrated earthworms. Check your ingredients list next time you eat packaged food.
    • [UPDATE: A little bit more research would have lead me to find out that earthrobate (i.e. erythorbate) is not made from dehydrated earthworms. I left this in my sermon post here to show I make mistakes and sometimes a little more research and little less hearsay can be a good thing for all of us. Check out Straight Dope Science Advisory Board for more details on this old myth.]
  • What about BREAD? Does bread gross you out? For many of us, bread is a staple food we enjoy every day. But what if grossness had less to do wit the food itself and more to do with hope it was prepared.

Here’s what we are leading to from the continuation of this Prophecy through Ezekiel. God tells Ezekiel to…

9 “Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side. 10 Weigh out twenty shekels of food to eat each day and eat it at set times. 11 Also measure out a sixth of a hin of water and drink it at set times. 12 Eat the food as you would a loaf of barley bread; bake it in the sight of the people, 

Ezekiel 4:9-12a NIV

Let’s pause right there in the middle of verse 12 for a moment. God’s giving Ezekiel a recipe. How he will have the nutrition to survive over a year of just laying out in public, carrying the sins of the people on his side. This recipe is actually the inspiration for a real bread product called “Ezekiel Bread.” I stock this bread at work, I have bought it and eaten it myself. He’s told to weigh it out, one to get the ratio’s right and two 2) so not to run out. I mean this is going to be his only food for 13 months (I hope that storage jar is air tight and very…very large.) Not only that, but he’s told to weigh out 20 shekels of food to eat each day – that’s only 8 oz! At least he can drink about a half liter of water each day. It’s not much, but’s what God’s telling him to last on during his demonstration.

  • That’s all well and good. Small loaf of bread, little bit of water…but verse 12 leaves us hanging. “…bake it in the sight of the people..” what comes next?
  • In your easy bake oven? Over a little campfire made of sticks and coals? If not that, what then? God continues to say that Ezekiel is to bake this loaf using…

“ ‘… human excrement for fuel.’ 13 The Lord said, “In this way the people of Israel will eat defiled food among the nations where I will drive them.”

Ezekiel 4:12b-13 NIV

Perhaps you’ve seen and heard a lot of gross things. This part in verse 12 really is a new standard in gross verses in the bible.  Perhaps during the instructions for this siege, Ezekiel wondered where he was going to “go the bathroom.” God said “use that as fuel.” Ewww!!! 


Let’s pause for a moment or two to perhaps get that gross image out of our head. Let’s think of a simpler time. A time when, if you dropped a cookie, piece of chocolate or some popcorn on the floor you’d quickly bend down, rescue the lost snack food, maybe blow on it and then munch it down. This is known as the “Five-second Rule.”

The Five Second Rule

Some people hold to this rule, believing that if you can rescue your snack in less than 5 seconds, it’s like it never happened. Quickly picking it up and blowing on it, people believe, keeps it safe from germs and bacteria.

Oh don’t forget the favorite saying: “God made dirt, dirt don’t hurt.”

I heard that especially now during a time of inflation and food costs going way up, the time limit has been raised from a 5 second to a 10 second rule.

There haven’t been many scientific studies, but there’s at least been two that have been peer-reviewed. Scientists and authors, Paul Dawson and Brian Sheldon put the five second rule to the test. In their 2006 Clemson University study, they 

“(1) inoculated square samples of tile, carpet, and wood with a strain of salmonella; (2) dropped food on these surfaces; and (3) then measured the number of bacteria transferred from the surface to the food.”

The article I learned this from was an excerpt from their book, ”Did you Just Eat that?” Their conclusion is that when food is dropped on a contaminated surface, bacteria are almost immediately transferred. Depending on the type of food, (moist or sticky attract bacteria quicker) but in the end…if the surface you drop or set your food on isn’t clean…DON’T EAT IT! 

That’s a lengthy set up for the following requirement that God has for Ezekiel. He requires him to do something detestable, gross involving the food he eats. It’s not for God’s enjoyment…but to better paint a picture of what will happen to the people of Israel.

“People will use human excrement to cook their food if they don’t obey God?”

Nope, that’s not the point. Ezekiel is grossed out by this prospect, regardless of the picture it would paint for the children of Israel and he lets God know he has concerns.

14 Then I said, “Not so, Sovereign Lord! I have never defiled myself. From my youth until now I have never eaten anything found dead or torn by wild animals. No impure meat has ever entered my mouth.”

15 “Very well,” he said, “I will let you bake your bread over cow dung instead of human excrement.”

Ezekiel 4:14-15 NIV

For Ezekiel, to bake bread using human excrement would be defiling himself just as eating if he ate roadkill. It would be impure.     Which is actually God’s point. But God agrees to give Ezekiel a second option and still fully follow his directions.

He can light cow pies on fire to bake his bread. Don’t ask me how this is somehow less defile-y or less gross, but it’s at least acceptable to God and Ezekiel.

God continues with the clear information to his prophet in verse 16.

16 He then said to me: “Son of man, I am about to cut off the food supply in Jerusalem. The people will eat rationed food in anxiety and drink rationed water in despair, 17 for food and water will be scarce. They will be appalled at the sight of each other and will waste away because of their sin. 

Ezekiel 4:16-17 NIV

So here are the 2 consequences:

13 The Lord said, “In this way the people of Israel will eat defiled food among the nations where I will drive them.”

  1. The People will eat defiled food in exile

“…cut off the food supply in Jerusalem. The people will eat rationed food in anxiety and drink rationed water…” (4:16)

  1. Rationed food and water. Food supply cut off.

Echos in Acts – Defiled Food – Acts 10:9-16

9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”

14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

Acts 10:9-16 NIV)

Here we see another strange sight. A man who has followed God, would not eat impure things, and yet the very voice of God is telling him to do so. 

What’s more, Peter argues with the voice. Much like Ezekiel says “Hold up, wait a minute God. You want me to do WHAT? That would be making myself impure. I don’t want to do that. That’s against your laws.” Peter reminds the Lord how he’s never eaten anything impure or unclean. So in both situations the one God is speaking to has objections to the directions.

The part here is where these stories differ. Peter was seeing a vision while in a trance of sorts. That trance was to teach him something. With Ezekiel, he was given clear directions to be the vision or the image set before others.

The message remains the same – God will go to great lengths to communicate his messages.

Echos in Us

Has God ever used a grand demonstration, drastic situation, a confusing set of imperatives to teach you something? Maybe you can relate to these scenarios:

  • God, I just got laid off. How am I supposed to pay my bills, buy groceries, keep my car running?
  • Many parents have faced this in the last year and a half: “How am I supposed to stay home with my kids so they can do virtual school?! I’ve got a career. My spouse has a career. We can’t just work from home forever!
  • Pastors and church leaders had to take a long hard look at their priorities and how to track them in the past year and a half. 
    • How am I supposed to know if our church is ministering to people, if it’s healthy if I don’t see people in church on Sunday? If they join us virtually by streaming the service online or listening to sermons later? What about Sunday School? Can’t have small group meetings if we are so spread apart. 
  • Perhaps the big thing in your life is the loss of a loved one. And it seemed that You wondered “What are you doing in the middle of all this God.” And as you wait for an answer, you ask again. And again. And Again. Until you hear something. That is prayer.

I hope God doesn’t have to get our attention by having some strange man take the weirdest public nap time ever or bake the grossest loaf of bread ever. I hope a sheet full of bats and snakes don’t have to fall from heaven for God to get our attention.

So what is it that God is using or has used to get your attention? Was it drastic and big or a still small voice? Comment below, I’d like to hear from you. If you have any thoughts about this post or how God has gone about using big demonstrations to get his point across, please share in the comments section.

Eachos of Ezekiel – Eat My Word

Featured

[If you’d like to listen to the audio recording of this message, CLICK HERE or scroll to the bottom of the post for the Spotify player.}

Ezekiel had experience with God talking directly to him, calling him to do seemingly crazy things for God’s purpose. God used Ezekiel to make a point to the Children of Israel of his day. But the words and imagery God used in Ezekiel’s day were not just for that generation. They echoed, rippling through time to the era of the New Testament. We will look at New Testament connections to these lessons God told through Ezekiel and how they still ring true to us today.

Ezekiel 2 & 3 Eat my word 

In Ezekiel chapters 2 and 3, I find 3 interconnected, yet distinctive themes. Themes that echo on into the new testament and reverberate in our hearts and lives today. Those themes are: Obedience, Spirit-filled Empowerment, and Accountability. 

Before we dive into the topic of Obedience and how it presents itself in Ezekiel, I want to set up the context for what we will be studying over the next few weeks. The book of Ezekiel wasn’t written in a vacuum. It didn’t just appear as a fun little story with nice lessons to learn. It is a record of directions from God to the Prophet Ezekiel. Conversations they had and the people’s response to what Ezekiel does with the directions from God. 

Notes in my bible sates that Ezekiel’s prophecies can be dated with precision, more than any other prophet, (we will see why that is as the weeks unfold.) Ezekiel himself was part of a second wave of exiles taken into Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar between 598-597 B.C. The times and environment in which he speaks all these prophecies are politically volatile. If you think we have it bad in our country or other countries around the world, we could learn a thing or two from the context of Ezekiel’s messages. It’s important to note that exile occurs repeatedly in the bible because of disobedience to God. God’s chosen people use their free will to choose themselves rather than God. A time of suffering is a natural consequence of that sinful attitude.


Continue reading “Eachos of Ezekiel – Eat My Word”

Wrappings and Returns

Featured

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


As Christmas was just on Saturday, I hope you took time in your day and reflected on the reason we celebrate Christmas. Now I said it last week, the most important thing about Christmas is belief in Jesus as the Christ. Why celebrate the birth of someone who isn’t the Savior…all the while calling it “Savior worship day” if you will. But in all our cultures and traditions. In all the countries of the world, families of every shape and size: part of this holiday involves gifts

Unless it’s late or delayed for some reason, by now all the packages have been opened. The space under your Christmas tree is fairly bare. The stockings look flatter than they did before Christmas Eve. If you’re a kid, perhaps you now start the next big countdown: the countdown to your own birthday! The next opportunity for gifts.

But before we move on to the next season of gift giving, let’s slow down and look at a few of the elements left in the aftermath of Christmas. One thing that is left and one thing that occurs typically after Christmas. The first thing is the wrapping paper. The second is are returns.

Torn pieces of wrapping paper is the byproduct of a gift opening time.

And returns? Well we will dive deeper into gift returns in a few moments, but suffice it to say, gifts don’t always work out the way the given hopes. So returning the item for cash or an exchange of a similar item usually takes place. You don’t typically return something you love and appreciate. Something useful or with sentimental value. You return things you’d rather not have. Wrappings and Returns. These are the illustrative tools today that I hope will lead us into a deep connection with the scripture. Something we presently are dealing with that relates back to the story of the Gospel.

First let’s look at wrappings. What is their purpose and function in regard to a gift? How do they connect to the Christmas story?


Continue reading “Wrappings and Returns”

Movements of Advent

Featured

This blog will attempt to recreate the service held on Sunday, Dec 19, 2021 at Viroqua Nazarene. If you’d like to listen to the audio from this service, please CLICK HERE or go to the Spotify Player at the end of the post.


Christmas is a celebration, a special worship day set aside for our Lord Jesus. To honor, remember and and be grateful for his coming to man. Christmas literally means “Christ’s Mass” , a worship/feast day in his honor. We rejoice for “unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…”

Today we will look at the Christmas story from the perspective of the 4 virtues that the Advent Candles in our wreath represent. Then they lead to the center one: the Christ Candle

Continue reading “Movements of Advent”

Overcoming Labels

Featured

Ghosts of Christmas Past – Part 3

Today’s Post will conclude our series entitled “The Ghosts of Christmas Past.” Things from our past like to linger and mess with our lives right now, don’t they?  Two weeks ago we looked at Overcoming offense. In that search we realized that our lives are too short and our calling is too great to live offended. It’s a waste of our lives walking around and being all offended at every little thing. It’s a waste of our lives living bitter and unforgiving. We need to proactively choose not to be offended. We need to, with God’s Help, overlook offenses. Forgive the offenders. Last week we looked at the Ghost of Shame. We confuse doing something BAD with being bad. Shame can haunt your life, ruin your relationship or eliminate any potential ones. We need to move the focus off of ourselves. Off of what we’ve done or who we are and onto Who Christ is. If you’ve trusted in Christ, God has rolled your shame away. No need to focus on yourself. Focus on Christ.

Shame and other negative feelings about yourself and myself, they don’t just come out of thin air. Many times someone said or did something and that stuck with us.

Today we’re gonna talk about the power of words and what to do about the labels that seem to stay us over the years

You’ve probably heard this expression before:

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

That’s got to be the Dumbest phrase ever! The Bible tells us this:

“The tongue has the power of life and death,”

Proverbs 18:21a NIV

The truth is that words do hurt.

And we struggle in the present, here and now…because of labels from the past

When your name is Matt and you’re an overweight kid, it’s just like the grade school name calling is too obvious to skip over for some people. 

When I went to Highschool it took me a little while to realize that I wasn’t really worth a bully’s time. I would hear “hey fat” or something like that…but really someone was just calling “Matt.” I was on the defense because of the label from the past and I let it impact my present.

Maybe for you it’s not your appearance, but someone said something about you and it made you feel less-than. Maybe you never could address it to that person, tell them how that made you feel and dealt with it. You’re still, today walking around with that label on you. 

Made a wrong choice. Made several? Perhaps you’ve got a family member that will never let you live it down. They might not say it in these words but you feel it: “You’re a loser. You’re hopeless. You’re a lost cause.” 

And the more you listen to those labels and dwell on them, the more they haunt you in the present. Remember: we’ve got to deal with these Ghosts of Christmas Past to Change our present so we can have a Christmas Future…a good one! 

Photo by Mediamodifier on Pexels.com

So when you’ve let the label haunt you, you begin to Own it. People label you “Lazy, black sheep, bad with money, Over the top (too much), stuck up, selfish…” you NAME it… USPS have these “flat rate boxes” and they have the slogan “If it FITS it SHIPS.” Well for Labels if it “FITS it STICKS.” If you start to believe those labels about yourself, it will continue to stick.

The problem is that there may be a sense of truth to the label.

If someone calls you lazy…you just might not be the most motivated person.

If you’re labeled MESSY…you just might not be the most cleanly or organized person around. 

Perhaps people think of you as bossy or pushy. You might not be the most meak and flexible person ever.

But know this…and this is going to come up a few times before we are done here today. Listen:

“What’s True about you NOW doesn’t have to be true about you LATER.”

Why? Well because…

God’s POWER is greater than your PAST.

If you struggle with this, I think at various levels we all do…If you’ve believed these labels about you and they are messing with your present…they don’t have to mess with your future. 

What do we need to do? We’re going to take a cue from Jacob in the Bible and Name it something different.

Say what? Is this that “Name it claim it stuff?”    no…just hold on, tune back in for a second.

There is something in your life that is messing with your present, we need a paradigm shift that will radically alter your future and my future. And it’s going to be a much better future when we name it something different.


In Genesis we see a love story unfold. When Jacob met Rachel, he immediately loved her and wanted to marry her. He asked her dad for her hand in marriage, and Rachel’s dad said “work for me for 7 years.” Jacob agrees, but when it comes time for the wedding, Dad switches the girls and Jacob marries Leah. Leah…did not have the figure or beauty of Rachel. What does the bible say she had?

Leah had weak eyes, 

Genesis 29:17a NIV

Jacob wasn’t pleased with the trickery and his father-in-law tells him he can have Rachel as well if he works another 7 years. Jacob agreed. He really loved Rachel. This can’t be understated.

Jacob worked for 14 years to marry his DREAM girl. 

He loved her from the moment he saw her. They couldn’t get pregnant. Everyone else was getting pregnant and for along while, Rachel had no little tot to call her own. Her sister was having kids…(bet that made Leah feel better about herself.) But not Rachel. Until one day Jacob and Rachel have a son and name him Joseph. And sometime later, maybe not very long…they want to have another kid . Unfortunately this pregnancy doesn’t go well for Rachel.

16 Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. 17 And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, “Don’t despair, for you have another son.” 18 As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named her son Ben-Oni.[a] But his father named him Benjamin.   

Genesis 35:16-18 NIV

Rachel Named her son…one thing. His father named him something else.

Names are so important.

Have you ever looked up the meaning of your name?

When I was a kid, we’d get to visit the stores in downtown Ottawa,IL and one of our favorite little shops was the Christian Book Store. I wasn’t interested in books, but I liked their toys…like prizes you’d give kids for attendance in Sunday school or for memorizing bible verses. I enjoyed listening to Demo tapes of my favorite Christian Artists, and if I had saved up enough money, I could buy one of these tapes to listen to at home. But one other thing they had there was a binder of cards with names and correlating scriptures and motivational pictures. People could use them for book marks for their bibles or perhaps just something that sat on your dresser and reminded you of what your name meant.

Of course I went straight for mine. Matthew. I’m not making this up to make myself sound good or something…the card said “gift of God.” It also had Isaiah 40:31 on it. “but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (NIV)

Names are important and have meanings. A trend I’m hearing today is some couples are waiting a little while to figure out what to name their kid…They take some time, look at their little baby girl and say…”Wow. I don’t think you look like a Gertrude at all. More of a Bathilda.” And now the baby’s name is Bathilda. 

Others have a list ready. Perhaps they have so many kiddos that they can just move down the list like the meteorologists do when naming hurricanes. “Oh we’ll use that name next time.” 

But Names are important because they have meaning. They can be an observation or a hope filled blessing. “This is what this is…or this is what this can be.”

So Rachel Names her son BEN-ONI. 

Ben (meaning SON) and ONI (meaning Sorrow)…put them together and you get “Son of my Sorrow.”

Rachel was in great pain. She was physically dying. We don’t know what the complications were. Perhaps if this had happened today she would have survived childbirth. But she was in pain, and she knew this was it. This probably brought on emotional pain as well. She had been blessed with giving birth and raising Joseph. Seeing his first steps. Caring for him. As she physically died she was in emotional pain knowing she’d never have those firsts with her second son. Physical and Emotional sorrow. That’s what was produced in giving birth to her son. In her final moment, as she breathed her last breath, she used it to name this little boy..name him the sorrow she experienced and felt. Ben-Oni. Son of my Sorrow. 

Then you have Jacob straight away naming his son something else.

You might think, How insensitive! How dare he. Her dying breath named that child, by golly. Keep the name she gave him!

The problem was that Rachel couldn’t see past that moment. All she had in her final moments was sorrow. But what’s true in the moment doesn’t have to be true later. What was true for Rachel in her experience did not have to stick to her son for the rest of his life. Did not remind Jacob of that sorrow every time he said his son’s name. Jacob Named his son something else.

He named him Benjamin. Names are cool. Benjamin means “Son of my right hand.” How cool is that name? The right hand symbolizes favor and power. Another way to translate Benjamin is that it means “fortunate one.”

Rachel wasn’t the only one suffering and full of sorrow in those moments of Ben’s birth. Jacob was losing the love of his life. His best friend. The woman who he worked so hard for. But in her last moments their son became not sorrow for Him, but blessing.

Jacob wasn’t unfamiliar with re-naming things and people. He himself use to be “jacob” meaning “deceiver” but God changed his name to “Israel” meaning My God Prevails. Even the location where God changed his name…Israel decides “Let’s call this place Peniel, because I saw the face of God and lived.”

We are NOT doomed to live, haunted by the ghosts of our past. By labels the enemy placed on us. If you don’t like the label, call it something else. 

It’s got to be intentional.

Labels

Paul

How do you feel about people with a criminal record? How must they feel about that? Inmate. Convict. In Acts 21 Paul was arrested. The charges? “Teaching all men everywhere against our people [the Jews] and our Law [Torah].” (Acts 21:28a)

The rest of Paul’s life could have been all about being falsely accused, falsely imprisoned…but instead of being a victim of an unfair system, Paul called it something else. He changed the label. It wasn’t wasn’t unjust or unfair. It was an opportunity.

He spoke in his own defense SEVERAL times, each time before a more powerful group of people. He was able to reach people with the good news of Jesus MORE than if he’d never been accused and carted all around in chains.

Mary and Joseph

Mary had some labels: Pregnant out of wedlock. Long ago, the phrase used to have a more chilling and shameful connotation, didn’t it? Unwed pregnancy is more commonplace today than ever. But Mary didn’t get pregnant in our day and age.

What about Crazy? Yeah, there hadn’t been a record of angels speaking with people in a long while. But let alone a young lady and let alone the crazy message. You’re going to have God’s son! 

Joseph Shared this next Label: Disgraced.

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

Matthew 1:18-19 NIV

So he knew of the shame and wanted the disgrace to dissipate. Only way to do that was to end the marriage arrangements. But God stepped in.

“20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” ”

Matthew 1:20-21 NIV

Despite what the neighbors, the family might say about Mary or even about him, Joseph took her home as his wife, believing something better than the label that others would be putting on them.

What was true about them right then, wouldn’t be true forever. The Shame or disgrace would not compare with the blessing and joy that that little boy would bring into their lives. Into the world.

Back to Jacob for a moment. Jacob was in pain, full of sorrow at the present loss of his dear wife. He loved her more than anyone else. But he decided to take the label and name it something else. You are the son of my right hand. My Son. Every time he looked at Joseph or Benjamin, he saw the love of their mother. How fortunate he was to have her in his life. How blessed he was that she gave him these two children. It’s no wonder why he favored them and sheltered them above their half siblings. He knew, as he named his son Benjamin, God’s power was greater than his past

Conclusion

What about you? Will you allow God’s power to be greater than your past? Will you believe that for yourself today? It’s true, whether you believe it or not. The difference comes when you choose to name that label something different.

When we name it something different, we aren’t ignoring the past or the present. We are choosing to be hopeful in a better future. One that only comes from putting all our hope in Jesus Christ.

Overcoming Shame

Featured

Howdy friend! This is Part 2 of a 3 part series entitled, “The Ghosts of Christmas Past.” If you haven’t read my previous post or listened to the previous message, I would suggest you do so now. Here the link to “Overcoming Offense.” In a nutshell, we began to believe this:

“Our life is too short and our calling too great to live offended.”

We also identified that with God’s help we can get over being easily offended. 

[If you want to listen to the podcast of “Overcoming Shame” scroll to the bottom of this post and listen through the Spotify player or CLICK HERE.]


In this post we are looking at the topic of Shame. More importantly, how to overcome it. I think we all could agree, we don’t like shame. We don’t like feeling “shameful” or being “shamed.” 

We probably all have our own moment when we felt shame.

Take these stories for example:

As a kid, I once was told not to eat any chocolate one evening. I do it anyway, thinking I would get away with it. Dad asks me point blank, “did you eat any chocolate?” I said “no,” as hints of chocolate wafted off my breath. I was in double trouble.

I can’t remember if I was grounded, had a time out or what…but I felt bad. I did feel guilt and that’s not a bad thing. I had taken what wasn’t mine to take and then lied about it. But there comes a point when “I did bad” gets blurred in a person’s mind and you start to think this:

I’m not sure I’ve ever said this outloud to anyone before, but I would sneak snacks from the fridge as a kid. If caught, I would be asked “What’re are you doing? What are you eating?” Valid question, I’m not faulting my parents for that. It wasn’t meal time. It wasn’t snack time…it was I wanted to eat something and not ask for permission. 

But I felt I had to be sneaky to avoid being asked. Because if they asked me, I’d feel guilty for wanting something. Or I just didn’t want to be told no. So I’d sneak when I wanted to, in order to avoid the questions. Maybe negative thoughts about myself. “I am Bad. I got to sneak to eat what I want when I want it…” Maybe they contributed to my eating and fitness habits in the future. (Those habits were not good ones.)

  • Another time I was staying the weekend at a friend’s house. His family lived out in the country and I got to see a chicken coop for the first time. Pick up farm fresh eggs and such. I’m not sure what possessed me, but I came across a spray can of sorts. It wasn’t spray paint, but it might as well have been. I must have been upset with some guy at school because all I wanted to write with that spray can was “So-and-So stinks” (and no, his name wasn’t “so and so”).
  • I didn’t spray some paper like an angry arts and crafts project. I sprayed this on the side of their BARN!!! My friend’s mom, a kind woman who was taking care of me…was not happy with my poor choice. I don’t remember if she used the words “shame on you!” but I sure felt. Still to this day I remember that dumb choice and the shame I felt on the quiet car ride home that day.

So guilt says “I did Bad.” It’s recognizing that what you did, what I did, was wrong. 

Again, that’s healthy. It means you have a conscience. It means you know right from wrong and you realize you made a wrong choice.

Shame however, blurs the line between Action and Identity.

Shame blurs the line between Action and Identity.

Shame says “I AM BAD.”    And so we make the connection. We believe that we are bad, worthless, disgusting, disappointing, unlovable, ugly, smelly, unfriendly, and any other descriptive word that could work there.

As we unpack this topic of SHAME today, I want to begin by encouraging you. You and I NEED the encouragement because this past nearly 2 years has been a discouraging and disheartening whirlwind at times. I want to encourage you by saying this: No matter what you or I call ourselves, God has a better word to speak over us. We begin to see it in Isaiah 54.

“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;

be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;

for you will forget the shame of your youth,”

Isaiah 54:4ab ESV

Here’s the context of this passage:

If you take a step back from this verse and read the first verse of Isaiah 54, Isaiah is talking to a “barren woman.” I do air quotes here because it is very much a double analogy. Everything said in these verse can spoken over a barren woman…but also the nation she represents (i.e. Israel). Let’s start back up at verse 1:

“Sing, barren woman,

    you who never bore a child;

burst into song, shout for joy,

    you who were never in labor;

because more are the children of the desolate woman

    than of her who has a husband,”

says the Lord.

2 “Enlarge the place of your tent,

    stretch your tent curtains wide,

    do not hold back;

lengthen your cords,

    strengthen your stakes.

3 For you will spread out to the right and to the left;

    your descendants will dispossess nations

    and settle in their desolate cities.

4 “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.

    Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.

You will forget the shame of your youth

    and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.

Isaiah 54:1-4 NIV

Being capable of having children was referred to as a blessing throughout scripture. Many times, Godly people who were unable to conceive were touched by God and were able to have children. 

“Children are a heritage from the Lord,

    offspring a reward from him.”

(Psalm 127:3 NIV)

Barrenness weighs heavy on a person. 1 Samuel records that Hannah and Elkanah couldn’t have children. Hannah was cut with grief and sorrow over this. Elkanah’s other wife was able to have children, but not Hannah. I imagine the internal conversation she must have had, “I’m not enough. I’m worthless. I’m cursed.” 

This feeling attached to the reality of barrenness can carry with it shame.

But the Lord says in Isaiah:  “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.”  

So for a barren woman whose identity has been twisted by her circumstances. Feeling worthless or unloved because she’s unable to have children…God says “You will not be put to shame.” I’ve got PLANS for you. You’re not done yet.

Certainly God wasn’t done with Hannah. Hannah prayed for a son and after she gave birth and weaned him, she gave her son Samuel back to the Lord to serve in the Temple.

But as for Israel, they had a negative self image that the Lord was also speaking to. “You will not be put to SHAME.” That ties into our next passage. It’s from Joshua 5.

9 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the shame of your slavery in Egypt.”

Joshua 5:9a NLT

Recommitting

Prior to this verse there was quite an “operation,” so to speak. You see, during the wandering in the desert for 40 year, the Israelites hadn’t followed the process of circumcising their newborn sons. This was a practice to represent their set-apartness as a people. We even talk about the “circumcision of the heart,” where our heart is devoted to God and we are marked as his people.

So in the verses leading up to verse 9, God commands Joshua to circumcise the nation of Israel. This reestablished their covenant with God and commitment that had been neglected as they wandered the desert. Their uncircumcision was their shame. And God says, 

 “Today I have rolled away the shame of your slavery in Egypt.”

It wasn’t just their uncircumcised bodies…their hearts said something else. 

Their entire people for generations had known only 1 identity: Slavery.

“I am a slave. I’m worthless. I’m not my own.”

But God says, in this moment “I’ve rolled the shame of your slavery off of you.”

That expression, “Shame on you”? Well here’s the good news.

Even though people want to ROLL shame ON us like the boulder in Indiana Jones. They want to roll that steam roller of shame on us and let it just sit there…forever. They say…Shame on you? God says, “Nope. I’ve rolled the SHAME OFF of you!

The reason God had to even say this is because the people believed they were something that God says they were not.

You’re no longer a slave. That’s not who you are. The shame of uncircumcised hearts, of an identity found in slavery…that’s done. You are MINE and you are free.

For you and I, we get trapped believing we are something that God says we are not.

Only way to heal from shame is move the focus from

What I’m not—To who Christ is.

The problem we face is that sometimes when we focus on ourselves, sometimes it’s kind of true…

You might think, “I am bad.” And actually you are—You’re a sinner.

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

(Romans 3:23 NIV)

I am inadequate—Yep—you aren’t designed to do it all yourself. We need the fellowship of believers. We need each other and most of all, we need Jesus. 

Paul records this in 2 Corinthians:

 “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

(2 Cor 12:9 ESV)

As long as you are focused on you—you will never be enough.

I want you to look at the following “Fill in the Blank.” This can help you and I take our focus off of ourselves and put it onto Christ.

BECAUSE OF CHRIST

  • I am not ____________. Because of Christ I am ______________. What words fit best for you?
  • I am not bad, because of Christ I am forgiven.
  • I am not sick, because of Christ I am healed.
  • I am not broken, because of Christ I am new.
  • I am not disgusting, because of Christ I am loved.

There’s an expression…and it’s been tweaked and repurposed for whoever wants to use it to apply to their point, but the original iteration goes like this:

“You can take a boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.”

For Israel, they spent 430 years knowing nothing but “I’m a slave.” Once they are finally free, physically no longer living under the thumb of the Egyptians, no longer making bricks from mud and straw…They still had the mindset that they were slaves.

Pastor Craig put it well when he said:

“They were out of slavery, but slavery wasn’t out of them.”

“They were out of Egypt, but Egypt wasn’t out of them.”

What’s still stuck in your heart and life? What shame needs to be rolled off you today?

When it is rolled of? WHEW! It is a spiritual and sometimes an actual physical burden being lifted off of you.

9 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the shame of your slavery in Egypt.”

Joshua 5:9a NLT

No more shame!

 Someone said, “Shame on you.”

Today God says, “Shame off you.” 

Rolling away—You are not who others say you are. 

4 “Fear not; you will no longer live in shame. Don’t be afraid; there is no more disgrace for you. You will no longer remember the shame of your youth.

Isa 54:4 ab NIV

You are not what you did—You are who Christ says you are.

Overcoming Offense

Featured

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


Today we are starting this new series called “Ghosts of Christmas Past.” As we do, I’d like to thank Life.Church for developing this series and making it available and free churches. Much of the theme and message organization comes from Pastor Craig Groeschel and his team. Anytime I interject my own stories, they are mine. I’m not going to repeat his experiences and pass them off as my own. So that’s clear, let’s look at the Ghosts of Christmas Past. That phrase of course comes from Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” and I enjoy that story very much.

It intrigues me. It’s set long ago in merry old England – (a time and a place I’ve no first-hand experience.) It deals with spooky things that I can only experience in my imagination. The Ghost of Christmas Past showed Ebeneazer Scrooge his past in order to help change his present.

But there’s just something haunting about the past, isn’t there?   Even though it’s behind us and even though we can’t experience the past in the Present…It still lingers, follows us and affects us in certain ways. 

If, when you were a child you survived a car crash, you might be so thankful and appreciate your life moving forward. OR perhaps you might NEVER get into a car again.

If you had a relationship in the past and had a bad break-up, you might never want to talk to that person again. Maybe never trust your heart to another person again.

The Ghosts of the past seem to linger.  But they especially linger during the Christmas season. At a time you might want to feel holly and jolly, you think back to those ghosts and they just straight ruin it for you. 

As we start this series about the Ghosts of Christmas past I want to say something that needs to be stated: You can’t go back in time and fix or change anything that has happened in your past. You can’t take back those words, the ones you regretted moments after they left your mouth. You can’t save that person who rejected the Lord and you think you didn’t push hard enough with the gospel message. You can’t repair a Christmas experience that went horribly wrong. The ghosts of the past want to linger, in this series we will look at what the bible says about HOW we can defeat and resolve these Ghosts in the present…So we can have a Christmas Future

Next week we will look at healing from shame, the week after that we will dive in labels – who’s putting them on us anyway? But today we are looking at Overcoming Offense. 

Overcoming Offense

Offense is a “wonderful” thing…it wonderfully ruins so many Christmas gatherings…and lives!

There are BIG things we get Offended about and small, common things we get offended about.

Crossing the Street

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

We live here in Wisconsin and it took me a while to understand some of the nuances to simply crossing the street. From my perspective, If I’m a pedestrian trying to cross a busy street, and there are no traffic lights (i.e. crossing Main St. by the Co-op.) I would wait until it’s less busy before taking my turn and crossing when I’m ready. However there are some folks who, in a 4-lane road, like to stop so I can try and get across. I’m offended because I feel pressure to go when I’m not ready and they seem a bit put off since I didn’t cross when they stopped! Then the next car drives by and looks at both of us, wondering “What’s their problem?”

Good Morning

What about when you say “Good-morning” to someone? It’s not so easy these days to greet someone with a smile. Anytime before noon, I’ll try to say “Good-morning” to customers and they act like they don’t hear me…maybe they disagree. (it’s not a good morning!) I don’t take it into account that perhaps they are having a bad morning. (Proverbs 27:14 “If anyone loudly blesses their neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse.”)

Either way…I’m a bit offended to not even be acknowledged!

Technology

Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

It’s unfortunate, but in this instant media age people have F.O.M.O. or Fear Of Missing Out. So they are on their mobile devices, on Social media constantly. Where this becomes a problem is when you try to have a real conversation with a person who is glued to their device. They actively listen to what you’re saying, but don’t put down the device or look up at you much. They are actually interested in their social media feed rather than you or I. I know this offends me, but I also know I’ve been guilty of this a time or two. It takes intentionality to set the device aside and give someone your undivided attention.

Holidays

What about holidays? I don’t know about you but I get very offended when someone does not appreciate a gift or a thoughtful act. As a parent, I want to teach my kids to be thankful to those who’ve given them something and for the thing that was given. It irritates me when someone not only doesn’t appreciate what was given, but they are then offended that you even got them that! That you did that for them! Whatever it was…it starts a cycle of Offense.

Deeper Offenses

Alot of those things I’ve mentioned can be smoothed over and easily worked through. But what about the bigger, deeper offenses? What about betrayal? What about obsessive lying? What about abuse: physical, verbal, emotional…this can’t be swept under the rug! These things ruin Christmas get-togethers, but more importantly they ruin lives. 

I remember one year at Christmas time. We were at one of my relative’s houses and I think I was a bit too young and naïve to understand what was going on. My relatives had been celebrating quite a bit with alcohol and the amount they were drinking and perhaps the way they were treating one another…really upset my sister. We grew up in a small town. Our parents didn’t drink. We personally knew our D.A.R.E. officer and had been taught of the dangerous road that can come from giving into drugs and alcohol. My sister was upset and she was offended at the behavior of these adults and we didn’t stay at the house much longer after that.

I don’t have a personal example, but I’ll let your mind wander. Has there been deep offenses in your life, in your relationships that just ruin the Christmas season for you? Someone has deeply hurt you, offended you. Perhaps there’s nothing you think can fix it.   

Maybe they are hurt by something you did or said…problem is you don’t know what you did or said! How can you make it right?

All of these types of offenses: tiny to tremendous– there is a key phrase that I hope we all start thinking and saying to ourselves. When we are holding on to that offense…remember this:

YOUR LIFE IS TOO SHORT AND YOUR CALLING IS TOO BIG TO LIVE OFFENDED.

Proverbs 19:11 says this:

11 A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.

Proverbs 19:11 NIV

How can I just pretend it didn’t happen? (the bible doesn’t say that.) it says “over-look” offenses. Not the same thing. For us it’s a conscious decision to “let it go.” It’s a form of forgiveness. 

Has anyone ever done that for you before? You know they could have said something, did something… but they just simply let it go?


Overlook is made from 2 Hebrew words and means to “pass over.”

Kind of like when the Spirit of God Passed-over the Israelites on the night of weeping and wailing in Egypt. Those who’s door posts had the blood of the Lamb on it, the spirit passed over and didn’t kill the first born son in that home. To overlook an offense is to pass over it.

You may have heard of philosopher Rene Descartes. He had this to say about being offended.

“Whenever anyone has offended me, I try to raise my soul so high that the offense cannot reach it.”

Rene Descartes

Whenever you get offended by someone or something…it can help us to remember the truth if we repeat and think on this phrase: 

Life is too short—Calling to great. With God’s help, 

I’m getting over it!


WITH GOD’S HELP, I’M GETTING OVER THIS

Not only do we need to work through and overlook those things actively offending us, but we need to change our mind set. Being prepared, “Here comes this person, here comes this situation…I’m going to get mad…I’m fixin’ to (as they say down south) I’m fixin’ to get offended. Then Simply…don’t. Don’t Get Easily Offended.

I’M GETTING OVER BEING EASILY OFFENDED.

Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.

Eph 4:2 NLT

Make allowance—You’re not perfect

I know that there may be topics of conversation that will get us all worked up. We have to identify what those are and then proactively respond.

You might be going to the store and there’s not your favorite type of chips on the shelf. You go and ask an employee for help and they quickly tell you they are out of that. There’s nothing to be done for you…and the employee scampers away. “Oh that kid just doesn’t care about my needs! I need those chips! What terrible customer service.” You might not see how many different directions that employee is being pulled. Customers, managers, daily quota demands. All working that employee hard. 

And that’s just when someone inconveniences you. What about if someone actually says something mean or is short with you? Comes back to Ephesians 4:2

Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.

Ephesians 4:2

I want to share the following from Craig Groeschel. He had this to say:

“What’s interesting is how often we tend to judge others by their actions. What do we often do with ourselves? We often judge ourselves by our intentions. In other words, you did it. Well I didn’t mean to do that. You know my heart right?  I wasn’t thinking that. You really know my heart so you should give me the benefit of the doubt. 

Yet we’re so quick to point one finger at someone else’s

actions that we really have three fingers pointing back at us. We judge them by their actions and ourselves by our intentions.”

Craig also shared something that I try to remember to do as well. When you recognize someone is being short with you…lead with empathy instead of offense.

“I wonder what they are going through? I wonder where they are hurting…” For me, I try to take the next step. It’s to PRAY for them right then and there. I have learned that is ESSENTIAL developing peace between the person and I, but also peace inside me.

If the only time I spend obsessing about a person who’s snapped at me or treated me wrong…is when I’m praying for them, I’m going to be a more peace-filled person. A healthier person. Healthier spiritually, mentally and emotionally. 

Life’s too short, calling TOO Great to live offended.

With God’s help, I can get over this offense.

I’m getting over being easily offended.

When we overlook an offense, when we use it to motivate us toward prayer, we become more compassionate and kind. Thinking of others rather than ourselves. 

Offense is all about self.

The opposite is to care and pray for others.

This is how we fight back, with God’s help, the Ghost of Offense.

I’m not going to let offense ruin my Christmas Season.

Life’s too short. My calling is too great. 

With God’s help, I’m getting over being easily offended

It’s a Thanksgiving Sermon, Charlie Brown

Featured

[Want to listen to this message? Click HERE or click the Spotify Player at the bottom of the post.]

Do you have any holiday traditions? I haven’t been to a family thanksgiving get-together in a while, but I imagine things like watching football with my uncles, if there was no snow – maybe playing horseshoes, and of course my aunt’s delicious pies. Family would gather in different areas of my aunt and uncle’s home and talk and catch-up. When I was really young, my sister and I would play games with our cousins – “Chutes and Ladders” and “Chinese checkers” were some of my favorites. One thing that we would do once we got home that night…if we hadn’t missed watching it on TV was the “Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” Special. Originally broadcast in 1973, this family favorite was such a tradition for so many families, TV stations just had to play it on Thanksgiving. Of course now, we have it on blu-ray but back in the day the best you could do was to record it on your VHS tape and watch it back next year…commercials and all.

Jacki, the girls and I watch this on Thanksgiving and the story is a typical Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang cartoon. (You can get a bit of side-shenanigans from Snoopy and Woodstock as well.)

Today I wanted to reflect on the biblical topic of giving thanks and use this film as a frame of reference. If you haven’t watched it yet: spoiler alert! The movie’s been out for 48 years! What have you been waiting for? 

The word “Thanksgiving” begs the question:

Thankful for what?

I’m sure if Charles M. Shultz was still alive, he’d be thankful people still watch and enjoy his creations. What might Charlie Brown be thankful for?

In the film, Charlie and his sister Sally are going over to their grandmother’s for Thanksgiving meal. They’re just kids! They probably don’t need to do anything other than show up. 

Question: Have you ever been invited to something and felt like you needed to do something, bring something…contribute in some way to justify your invitation? 

IF your answer is yes, then I have news for you: you don’t have to do ANYTHING.

Just like Charlie and Sally, guests aren’t required to do anything other than show up and enjoy the meal set before them. Now perhaps Sally and Charlie helped and maybe there was an expectation of everyone pitching in…but all we know for sure was that they were invited to enjoy a meal on Thanksgiving day. And when you receive something, especially one you did nothing to earn or deserve – (like a thanksgiving meal) Hopefully you respond with thankfulness for what was provided.   

“Dear Lord, thank you for providing this food. Amen.”

You may hear something like that on Thursday. You might hear something like that every time you sit down for a meal. Thankfulness is a response for… 

What has been provided.

Let’s look at a biblical example for a moment

Daniel prayed to God a prayer of thanksgiving for what God had given him. What was that?

Wisdom and Power

“I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors:

    You have given me wisdom and power,

you have made known to me what we asked of you,

    you have made known to us the dream of the king.”

Daniel 2:23 NIV

So Daniel recognized his wisdom and power were not from his own hard work and determination. He didn’t play his cards right and the result is wisdom and power. Daniel received them as a gift and his response was thankfulness.

In another example, King David was thankful for God’s…

Wonderful Deeds. Psalm 9:1-6 says: 

1 I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart;

    I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.

2 I will be glad and rejoice in you;

    I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.

3 My enemies turn back;

    they stumble and perish before you.

4 For you have upheld my right and my cause,

    sitting enthroned as the righteous judge.

5 You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked;

    you have blotted out their name for ever and ever.

6 Endless ruin has overtaken my enemies,

    you have uprooted their cities;

    even the memory of them has perished.

Psalm 9:1-6 NIV

For context, that selection says that it is set to the tune of “The Death of the Son.” I can’t imagine it would be an upbeat, number one pop song of it’s time. Yet in the midst of sorrow and sadness, David can remember all the good God has done for him. Not only remember it, but verbally recount and give thanks to God for it.

Yet another example comes from Psalm 100.

Psalm 100 isn’t attributed to anyone in particular, but it does have a clear purpose. Before verse 1 it says, “A Psalm. For giving thanks.” This is a tune of worship and thanks to God. It’s shared here in this hymnal called “The book of Psalms.”

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!

2 Serve the Lord with gladness!

    Come into his presence with singing!

3 Know that the Lord, he is God!

    It is he who made us, and we are his;[a]

    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,

    and his courts with praise!

    Give thanks to him; bless his name!

5 For the Lord is good;

    his steadfast love endures forever,

    and his faithfulness to all generations.”

Psalm 100:1-5 ESV

This psalm was for all to use in their times of giving thanks. Let’s zero in on what this psalm is saying we should be thankful for:

  1. God being good.
  2. God being God.
  3. God having made us.
  4. We are His – (people, sheep)
  5. God’s forever-enduring love
  6. His enduring faithfulness

So we are thankful for what was provided. But that then leads to the next question…

Thankful to Whom? 

In an animated film that could be all about going to grandma’s for Thanksgiving, Something quirky occurs. Charlie gets a call from his friend Peppermint Patty. Through his wishy-washiness and her kind of pushiness, Patty has invited herself over for a thanksgiving meal at Charlie Brown’s house! Charlie has to think fast…since he’d rather not try to uninvite Patty and explain the misunderstanding between the two of them. (I mean, hey! The movie’s got to happen, right?)

So he attempts to come up with a plan. With the help of Linus, Snoopy and Woodstock, Charlie Brown begins making a feast and scheduling it earlier in the day so He and Sally can still go to their Grandmother’s. Patty calls back at one point and has invited Marcie and Franklin to join her at Chea’ Brown. Charlie of course needs to make more food and Snoopy set up more chairs around a very special table.

If you were a guest somewhere, the proper manners dictate that you thank your host. For dinners, it’s who’s providing the meal. In life…with so much to be thankful for you and I thank …

  • The one who provided it. Of course in a biblical context, it should be VERY obvious who we are talking about.

It’s hard to read a verse from the bible about thankfulness, giving praise or thanks and the recipient isn’t God. James had his eyes wide open when he wrote the following: 

17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

(James 1:17 NIV)

If God is the ultimate provider, then he is the one who receives thanks, praise, exaltation, and worship. Here’s some more examples from scripture of thanking God:

“I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.”

(1 Cor 1:4 NIV)

“I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness; I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High.”

(Psalm 7:17 NIV)

“We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers.”

(1 Thes 1:2 NIV)

We know who to thank and there is so much to be thankful for, however…

What if my circumstances…stink?

And now we come back to the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special. Circumstances were rough. Rough for Charlie, with unexpected guests coming for Thanksgiving. For Peppermint Patty who, for the show’s story to happen, her dad left her alone on Thanksgiving. For the friends like Marcie and Franklin who might have been in a similar situation as Patty. No plans with the family. 

We’re not done with “Chuck.” He’s in another rough situation: He doesn’t know how to cook or how to please his guests. What does he do?

He does the BEST a kid can do at his age: Pops some Popcorn, Toasts some bread, Finds the leftover Easter Candy and includes some Jelly Beans and brings in some pretzel sticks for good measure. 

When Charlie Brown’s circumstances stunk, he did what he could.

When our circumstances smell so bad they haven’t taken a shower in years, we do what we can do:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thes 5:16-18 ESV

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

(Phil 4:6-7 NIV)

We bring all these woes, troubles, aches, pains, emotions, loneliness, heart break, inadequacies and lay them at the Lord’s feet. But not just any old way…We just read it. We offer our request to God with thanksgiving. The Manner of giving thanks. The attitude of thankfulness. The belief that the one you are thanking in advance will do what you are thanking him for.

You know who didn’t have a thankful attitude? Peppermint Patty. She invites herself over, she brings two additional guests…and she is displeased (to say the least) with the food that Charlie and the others provided. 

Maybe you’d react the same way. You pull back the cover of the platter for the big juicy turkey and find buttered toast and jelly beans. Where the Green bean casserole is supposed to be, you find those pretzel sticks and popcorn. If you are familiar with Patty’s reaction, She lays into “Chuck” and really complains at him for such a poor choice of food. Charlie Brown leaves the dinner dejected, believing he can never do anything right. Marcie tries to go and smooth things over and Patty and the others apologize for inviting themselves over and Patty for reacting the way she did.

She did not act very thankful. She let her stinky circumstances dictate whether she was going to have a stinky behavior. In the end, forgiveness and restoration occurred when she looked beyond those circumstances.

I think we all have times when our circumstances stink. No one wants to endure the pain of losing a loved one, of a family member being sick. Of a job that’s lost, a home that’s foreclosed on, and a relationship on the rocks. But regardless of our circumstances we can choose how we respond. Will we recognize the good things provided right in front of us? Like brown paper packages tied up with string. We need to thank the one who did the providing. We need to be thankful in all circumstances.

Regardless of our circumstances we can choose how we respond.

Back to the Peanuts Gang. The kids don’t head back outside to the ping-pong table to finish lunch. The phone rings and it’s Charlie Brown’s grandmother. She ends up inviting all of Charlie’s guests. As they ride together in the back of a car, they merrily sing a song. I can only imagine, they sing it with a great deal of thankfulness. Someone thought of and included them. They were heading over the river and through the woods…to Grandma’s house.

Conclusion 

Have you felt left out? Maybe you identify with Patty. You might not tell your friends and family, but you’re lonely. You’d like to be invited. 

  • Even in the midst of those circumstances, you can practice the attitude of Thankfulness. 
  • The only other option is something that comes quite naturally to us: stewing and having a pity party.
  • You never know when you circumstances might change, but if you always have an attitude of thankfulness, sudden shifts in your life won’t phase you.

Maybe you connect with Charlie Brown.

  • You’ve done your best and people are still not thankful for what you provide. 
    • Dwelling on that causes resentment and bitterness to grow. 
  • If you are thankful for the one who provides for your every need, you may not get so worked up about how others react to your best attempts to please them. You might remember it is only what God says about you that matters.

How do we thank God in all circumstances? It may be helpful to join those who have gone before us and sing and pray Psalm 100.  (Read this psalm again to yourself or say it out loud.)

1“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!

2 Serve the Lord with gladness!

    Come into his presence with singing!

3 Know that the Lord, he is God!

    It is he who made us, and we are his;[a]

    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,

    and his courts with praise!

    Give thanks to him; bless his name!

5 For the Lord is good;

    his steadfast love endures forever,

    and his faithfulness to all generations.” Psalm 100:1-5 ESV

  • We remember to be thankful for what was provided.
  • Give all thanks to the Provider.
  • And not allow our circumstances to control our ability to be thankful.

For Us, In Us, Through Us

Featured

A few weeks back, Jacki and I were blessed to be able to journey to Wisconsin Rapids to our district’s Pastor and Spouse retreat. This is one of the very few times a year that we get face to face interaction with other ministry couples from our district. It’s also a nice time to relax, spend time together as a couple – not just rush around trying to get things done. The speaker of the event was Dr. Scott Sherwood. Dr. Sherwood, or as Jacki and I know him as, Pastor Scott, was elected to be the president of Nazarene Bible College. Jacki and I had a lovely time reconnecting with Scott and Sherry Sherwood, swapping stories about life, ministry and parenting. 

During one of the sessions, Dr. Sherwood spoke about the Core Values of the church of the Nazarene. I could be remembering it wrong, but he didn’t just start out by saying, “Now we are going to talk about the three core values of the Church of the Nazarene. They’re important and you all need to know this. There will be a quiz later.” Nope. He just ninja snuck it in while we weren’t looking. I appreciated his messages so much, I couldn’t keep them to myself. That’s why I want to share with you some of what I heard at that retreat. 

One of the last things I expected to hear at the retreat full of ministry couples was a mini-course on the core of Nazarene values and beliefs. It was refreshing and I am grateful for it. Well let’s dive in to it, shall we? I have the dry erase board up this morning and I want to ask you to help me with the message today. I’m going to ask for you thoughts on particular topics. I think it would be of great benefit to hear what you can share from your experience. Let’s start with this this word: Christian.

—-

Have you ever been in a conversation with another Christian and perhaps you are discussing the very basics of Christianity? Of course we just did that in our recent message series here…but if someone were to describe The Gospel or the “Good News” what might they say?

  • Jesus Died for the sins of the world
  • Jesus’ Blood covers us and God can’t see our sins…
  • Jesus is God’s son, perfect
  • His sacrifice brings us to forgiveness and a restored relationship with God

What else might they say?

Would they go any further, do you suppose?

For many people this is THE good news. It ends with us being “OK” in God’s eyes – Justified. And there it is…we’re done. We’re good with God so…now we can go to church service and sing about that restored relationship, we might talk about it in front of others, we might study God’s word to understand it better…but it’s all done. It’s all good. We’re a Christian now and that’s…great. 

Christian – The Work God Did FOR you.

This Work  is described as the work God did for you. He Sent his Son. His Son Died for You. You accept the free gift of grace and forgiveness that He provides. The work that God did for you.

We believe Good news doesn’t stop there. If we were to categorize that information, that grouping of beliefs – We’d put that under “Christian.”

But once you accept that free gift, you actually don’t just stop there. As much as it might seem we focus an awful lot about getting a person to the place where they accept Christ and make a profession of faith in what Jesus has done…Jesus… isn’t done.

He doesn’t stop with what he did FOR us…He wants to do something IN us. He desires his Spirit to dwell within us. To guide our life, to help us love God with all that we are and love our neighbor as ourself. What we are talking about here is Holiness.

Holiness – What God Does IN you.

We might have a harder time with this one. I think it comes from a poorly conceived idea of what holiness or “being holy” actually is.   When you think of holiness – what things come to your mind? These could be good examples of holiness or perhaps not so good ones. What do you think about when you hear the word Holy or Holiness?


We’ve probably had bad examples in our lives. Perhaps we got the idea that holiness means you can never make a mistake. That holiness means you can never sin again. This work that God wants to do in you and me is to conform our hearts, minds, and life to be more and more like his Son. He desires us to not struggle with the temptations that we’ve given into our whole lives. Christianity is not just about being forgiven over and over and over for the same sin, the same failing and HOPING…hoping that we are still forgiven when we die. That we re-upped our forgiveness right before biting the big one. No. 

God Creates a new heart in us. 

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 51:10-12 NIV

Paul said it well in 2 Corinthians 5:17 

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

In a Moment, Jesus can and does make you new, but you are also in the process of renewal. Moment by moment, his Spirit is shaping and molding you into the image of Christ. We follow Jesus, not just a set of teachings he “left behind” but the very son of God. 

Holy also refers to being set apart for His purposes. John records one of Jesus’ prayers in John 17. Starting at verse 14 and going to 19 Jesus prayed:

14I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17Sanctify them by d the truth; your word is truth. 18As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

John 17:14-19 NIV

Jesus Sets us apart for his purposes. The Holy spirit dwells within us and makes us new. The world doesn’t know what to do with a holiness person! It’s because Holiness and Sanctified people…are not of this world.


Salvation – That work that God does for us.

Sanctification/Holiness – The work God does IN us. Making us more like Christ each Day. Setting us apart for his purposes.

So Christian…Holiness…and now Missional. 

This is the work He wants to do Through us. 

What is your first impression when you hear the words “Mission” or “Missionary?”

  • I think of those occasional Sunday night services my parents brought me to when I was a young kid. I don’t remember a whole lot about what was said…truth be told I was probably turned around in the pew, playing with action figures. I do remember it was the only time we had a slide show or a video projection in the Sanctuary. You gotta remember, the late 80’s and early 90’s the best we had was a over head – dry erase projector. So any advanced technology got me to pay attention. We saw photos of the missionary traveling to villages and speaking to the people. We heard stories of churches being planted. Lots of people hearing the message of the Gospel for the first time in their own language. And many coming to a saving relationship with Jesus.

We look back up at 2 Corinthians 5:17 and keep reading.

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

2 Corinthians 5:17-20 NIV

And Just incase you forgot what that message of reconciliation is that we are to pass along…Paul spells it out to us and the Corinthians in verse 21:

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 Corinthians 5:21 NIV

So we are God’s Ambassadors. The Right relationship we have with God – Christian. The moment and process of making us like his Son – Holiness. That propels us to share this good news with the WORLD. How could we keep it to ourselves?

The Church of the Nazarene is 113 years old. When it formed, it was made up of many like minded Christian churches that had missionary works all over the world. The story goes that missionaries in the field got the news that their denomination had joined with others to form the Church of the Nazarene and they were like, “That’s Great!” Then promptly turned around and kept doing what they were doing. Missional work, brining the gospel to the world has always been at the core of what it means to be a Nazarene, even before the church existed.  

  • Back to my experience of hearing missionaries when I was a kid:
    • Missionaries would also tell us of the infrastructure that our giving helped make possible. Wells dug and pumps installed. One of the greatest problems facing Third-world countries still to this day is low or no access to clean drinking water. It’s usually the first thing that missionary works try to address when coming into an area. When people spend all day traveling just to get clean water for their families, they can’t farm or work at any other job. Makes meeting their other needs difficult and when basic needs aren’t met, no one stops to listen to the gospel. 

Jesus knew this very well. When He did the miracle of the loaves and the fishes…twice! People were hungry, they needed food or they couldn’t hear the word. And Jesus provided. He took away that distraction so they were freed up to listen.

Missional work is more of a mindset than it is a program. Sure you can go to school and get your degree in Ministerial Missions and apply with the Global Minstry Center to become Missionary. However, a Christian who is being made into the likeness of Christ shares the good news of God wherever God sends them. You can be a missionary in Vernon County. In Wisconsin. In the Midwest. In the United States. Anywhere God calls you, if you are willing to share the good news, the peace of Christ, there …you are being missional. That is the third core belief. It’s what God wants to do through us.

Conclusion

Now it’s time for self-reflection. You see these Core Values aren’t something the Nazarene Church made up. They didn’t start the church and then say, 


“Hey Phineus, what do you think we should do in this new church we just formed?” 

“Oh, I don’t know Pheobe, maybe Follow Jesus, let the Holy Spirit empower us and spread the good news all over the world. Does that sound like a good thing we should try?”

“It wouldn’t hurt!”

Rather, these are descriptions of How God has called us to live out the Truth. They aren’t goals to strive for, they are our identity. Christian. Holiness. Missional.

Reflect on this:

  • Do you see these three values in your life? 
  • How do they show themselves in your life?
  • If they aren’t showing up in your life, might I suggest starting from the beginning.

“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 Corinthians 5:21 NIV
  • Do you feel like you’re Saved, but just barely? Like you have to renew your salvation every three seconds because you’re just not sure? The Holy Spirit wants to Sanctify you – cleanse you and set you apart for his purpose.
  • Do know you’re in right standing with God. You see how He is making you more like his son every day…but you’re not sure what to do with your life – Might I suggest that you need a mission.
    • You are uniquely positioned to reach people that no one else will be able to reach. You – wherever you are in life, wherever you live…God has a mission for you.
    • It might just be as simple as being mission-minded in all you do as you do your normal things. 

Christian. Holiness. Missional. Core Values of the Church of the Nazarene. What God did and continues to do for, in and through people for his glorious purpose.

Faith Basics: Jesus

Featured

Today will be our last in the Series of Faith Basics. There are a LOT of things about the Christian faith we could talk and dig into, but my hope with this series was to understand the core of Christianity, moreover what a person must believe in order to be a Christian. Notice I didn’t say Baptist, Nazarene, Methodist, Lutheran, Catholic or Pentacostal. Nope, Denominations are not at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. They ought to, however, have Christianity at their core and their specific focus is an expression of that faith.

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


The very key things that must be believed and understood for someone to be a Christian, or a “Christ-follower.” :

Salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ.

8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. (Eph 2:8-9 NIV)

Faith is believing in what you can not see.

Going further with the idea of Faith in Jesus being the only way to get to God we looked at the illustration of this stool. You can intellectually believe it will hold you up, but you will never know for sure until you put your whole wait on it, trust in it and sit down. The same goes for trusting Jesus for Salvation. You can look at evidence of other’s lives turned around when they turned to God, you can be persuaded by sound and reasonable arguments, but you have not put your trust in God until you’ve committed to sit in the chair. Truly believe in your heart of hearts he’s saved you.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Heb 11:1 NIV

Another great example of this is that we ask for a verbal assurance of belief before we do a “Believers Baptism.” Do you Accept Jesus as Lord of your life and believe he saves you now?

Then we looked at The Bible.

This book of books. It’s an ancient tome. It’s an encyclopedia of sorts. It’s a guide. But above and beyond all the book types and writing styles contained therein, it was and continues to be the Living Word of God. God inspired the Authors of the books. The Holy Spirit continues to inspire our hearts and minds as we read and study the Bible. Telling us general things for all people and also telling us specific things meant just for us.

One of the 10 commandments is You shall not steal. That’s a general rule. But what if the Holy Spirit alights your heart to notice that at work, you might be taking too long to do things or maybe chit chatting too much when you are at work. The Holy Spirit might help you connect the dots of “stealing” to “stealing time and money from employers.” That’s just an example, but I trust the Holy Spirit has spoken to each of us about personal changes God desires for us, and our job is to listen to them and not ignore them.

Beside all this, the bible is the trustworthy place for find the plan of salvation. If we didn’t have this, how would we know how to become a Christian or introduce others to their fresh start in Jesus Christ?

Last week we got a little spooky and talked about the Afterlife.

It was an overview from three of Jesus’ teachings. The main things to remember that Christians believe in faith from scripture are:

Final Judgement is Final.

People get separated into two groups, each with their own eternal destination.

And Hell is eternal Separation from God. Heaven is eternal connection with God.

In this post we will look at the Christ – Who is Jesus, anyway?

You might be wondering, Didn’t we already talk about Jesus? Yes but there is a bit more to what we believe about him that must be addressed if one is to be a devoted follower of him.

Who is Jesus anyway?

Savior/Messiah

Not just personal savior but THE Savior. 

27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Mark 8:27-30 NIV
  • Jesus isn’t your homeboy. He isn’t your Boss. He is first and foremost the Savior, the Messiah of the World. Sure there are great examples of Jesus being our best friend or even our master, our boss or Lord…if you will. But at the core of Christianity, Jesus is THE CHRIST. No ifs, ands or buts about it. 
  • It’s interesting here in this passage, Jesus is checking with his followers. He asks about the word on the street…”what are the people saying about me?” But it all boils down to what His closest say about him. “You are the Messiah” “You are The Christ.” Good, now keep that to yourself.

Experience is the Best Teacher

Why might he give this instruction? Because to truly own Jesus as Savior, Messiah, Lord…you’ve got to experience for yourself. You’ve got to believe by FAITH. Allow me to give another analogy that might be terribly flawed…but here goes.

Photo by Stas Knop on Pexels.com

Have you ever ridden a roller coaster before? Imagine you’re a person who’s never been on a roller coaster. Your friend is  absolutely enamored with roller coasters. They try to talk to you about going on a ride with them. They describe the twists and turns. The flips and drops. The whiplash when you come to a quick stop at the end. They sound like they enjoy that kind of thing, but you don’t share their passion. Their experience is not convincing to you. You’ve never ridden on a coaster and by the sound of it, it sounds pretty scary! You don’t know what you are missing, because you’ve never tried it yourself. 

But imagine one day you just up and decide to go on a small ride and surprisingly, you begin to like roller coasters. You start to understand what your friend was telling you. It might be a bit frightening at times, but also thrilling. For you to understand that fully, you had to actually go on a roller coaster. You had to experience it for yourself.

That’s what the disciples did and that’s what Peter confessed here in Mark’s Gospel. They confess their belief in what they’ve experienced. Jesus is the Messiah and he does save and will save. They believed, but Jesus made a point that that message was not something you preach…but rather something you experience. Why even after the resurrection, Thomas eventually wrapped his head around it. Jesus shows himself to Thomas and his only response to the Resurrected Jesus is “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28b NIV)

Jesus is the Son of God

In Matthew’s account of the previous interchange between the disciples and Jesus, Jesus asks Peter, “Who do you say I am?” 

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

(Matt 16:16 NIV)

This idea of Jesus being the Son of God was not something Peter simply made up. Luke records the angelic prophecy about Jesus.

“And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.’” (Luke 1:25 ESV)

Now, in the New Testament era and Greek/Roman influence, being the “son of god” was a claim that Julias’ Caesar made about himself. He let everyone know. It was a way to push his will upon the masses as if they were divine orders.

By comparison, Jesus and others made the claim about Jesus- whether outright or veiled…and then Jesus did things that backed up his deity.

  • Various Miracles
  • Forgiveness of sinners
  • Bringing the dead back to life
  • Being resurrected himself

That last one might be tricky. “A deity can’t die!” That might be true if the deity doesn’t choose mortal form and “Become flesh and dwell among us” But that’s exactly what John says Jesus, son of God, one of the heads of the Trinity, did. Talking about his life in John 10:18 Jesus says this:

“No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:18 NIV)

So Julias Caesar talked the talk…but still died and stayed dead. Jesus walked the walk and died, resurrected, and he still lives today!

Fully Man and Fully God

Though we just touched on Jesus’ deity, it can’t be overlooked that some people throughout history have questioned his nature. Christians believe in his two whole perfect natures: Fully God and Fully man. 

He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. But what about his humanity. What was the point of that? Hebrews tells us…

Why both natures.

17 For this reason he had to be made like them,[a] fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.

(Heb 2:17 NIV)

And also…

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

(Heb 4:15 NIV)

He is able to be our High Priest. He is our advocate who can also relate to the temptations of humanity – Yet he didn’t give in to those temptations. 

Jesus is Exactly Who He Said He is

This one might be hard to swallow for some, but again we build on the previous Basics of Faith, especially belief in the Word of God. You would think that a teaching series on the basics of the Christian faith would spend more time comparing it to other religions and faiths. Though that may help us gain perspective on other’s beliefs in order to better reach them with the Gospel, I am not an expert in other religions. The bible doesn’t teach us to follow anything other than The Way.

Some don’t believe Jesus ever existed. The problem with this belief is it’s not based on anything other than feeling and lack of research. Historical documents outside the bible recorded Jesus’ existence.

Some believe Jesus was simply a Good Moral teacher

If we believe He was a good teacher, but can’t accept all of what he teaches, we approach him much like people would approach Confucius. Interesting, wise sayings…but I’m not giving my whole life to follow strictly the teachings you can find in a fortune cookie! More to this point…

Author and Theologian, C.S. Lewis has this to say about the topic.

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse…. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

(Mere Christianity, The Shocking Alternative p52)

So we must identify what Jesus was and is. Was he 1)A madman, 2) A liar or 3)who he said he was: The Son of God. Christianity says “Door number three.” All his messaging and the work he accomplished and continues to accomplish are tied back into his nature and what Christ-followers believe about Jesus. He was and is the Son of God. 

Christianity says “Door number three.”

Take note of this, though:

  • What we believe about Christ does not affect who He really is. He is above our labels. (If we say he is a fraud, that doesn’t make him one.) We believe the reality of the thing, not make it so by our beliefs.

Jesus is not like Tinkerbell from the Peter Pan movie, “Hook” Have you seen that? Peter has grown up in our world and forgotten about Neverland. Hook comes and kidnaps Peter’s children to draw him back to Neverland. Tinkerbell comes to get Peter and bring him to Neverland but the appearance of a fairy makes him think he has lost his mind. He tells her he doesn’t believe in fairies. She faints death, since belief in her is what keeps her alive. Peter feels bad and Tinkerbell tells him to clap his hands and shout, “I DO believe in fairies!” to restore her to life. He does and the movie goes on.

Like I said, Jesus is NOT like that. He does not need us to believe he is the messiah for him to be so. He just simply is. Christians, we acknowledge the truth of reality. We may do so by helping items such as archeological, other historical evidence, personal testimonies, personal supernatural experience, and divine revelation. Those only stand to reinforce something that must be believed by FAITH. 

Savior/Messiah

His role, his function if you will… is to save

Jesus is the Son of God 

His divine nature makes his work possible. And because He is God’s son and calls us brothers and sisters, we are adopted into the promises bestowed on the Son. 

Fully Man and Fully God

He is the perfect High Priest, the Best Advocate for us. He understands our sufferings and our trappings of sin, but he did not fall prey to them. He is the only one who can speak to God on our behalf.

Jesus is Exactly Who He Said He is

Jesus is Trustworthy. The only other options would be that he was a liar or an insane person. Both of those don’t bode well for those who followed him for the last 2,000+ years. He’s not just some rabbi, some great moral teacher. He is the Son of God, the Messiah.

Conclusion

But what do we do with all this? It’s always the question I tried to figure out at the end of a message. If you or I wanted Christian history education, we could take an online course with Nazarene Bible College or Olivet University. Information is not a bad thing, but it must move us toward action. What is the action or the change that this information draws us toward?

  1. Strengthening of our own faith. “I know my savior lives, He lives within my heart!” It might reinforce the things we already believe. “I always believed Jesus was who he said he was…I always believed God’s word was true, but now I’m even more assured of it!” Personal development in faith is one of the main reasons people actively seek out bible studies and intentionally listen to sermons and teachings. They want to GROW. Deepen and Strengthen their faith. If this is you today, wonderful! 
  1. Sharing the faith with others. You remember that cheesy saying that parents might have said to their bickering children, “Sharing is caring?” Well it’s not just a silly phrase to help your kids not to fight. In sharing the faith with another, you are truly tossing them a life-preserver! Knowing and being able to share these Faith Basics can help your friend, family member or acquaintance not feel so overwhelmed by all the religious jargon they may have expected. Maybe by presenting things to them simply, they will really hear it…for the first time. Moreover they will have seen it in YOU.
  2. Situating believers to do the same. Why did the gospel of Jesus reach as far as it has? Of course because it’s God’s will, but to accomplish that he used people who made followers…not of themselves…but more followers of Jesus. More Disciples. They knew the Basics of Faith. It led them personally deeper in a relationship with Christ. They shared the faith and then guided others to do the same. But Faith is not some chain letter or email that gives you bad luck if you don’t forward it on to 17 people. Faith in Christ creates the desire to share, the desire to make disciples…wherever we go.

Strengthening our Faith. Sharing our Faith. Situating the Next Generation to go and make Christlike disciples in the Nations. It all starts with the Basics of the Christian Faith.

Faith Basics: The Afterlife

Featured

At the start of this message, my wife and I did a little skit I wrote. If you’d like to read it, use it, preform it…I permission granted! Here is a link to the skit, “Heaven or Hell?”

If you’d like to listen to the Audio record of this message (it does not include the skit performance) click HERE for Spotify, or scroll to the player at the bottom of this post.


Heaven or Hell?

It’s a very real question, one that needs to be posed and needs to be answered. Not “Do you believe heaven and hell are real?” But rather, “Where are you headed next?”  

Today I want to look at three teachings on the afterlife in the New Testament. These are teachings of Jesus so we will want to listen very carefully. Since Christianity revolves around following Christ and accepting his gift of salvation…It would behoove us to find out what He said on the matter.

In the end, I want to draw some general observations about these teachings, how they apply to Christianity and how they might motivate us to guide others toward an eternity with God.

Photo by Nothing Ahead on Pexels.com

See there was a big reason we looked at God’s word last week. If you can’t put your faith in God and His word, you’re not going to look to the Bible as the authority on this topic (or any for that matter). We started with the plan of salvation a few weeks back, but salvation from what, exactly? Are we being saved for or toward something? I hope to answer those questions this morning and we will start with punishment rather than reward. 

Let’s talk about Hell. “Is Hell for real?”

The answer of course is yes. The Bible (remember that, the authoritative word of God. Inspired for instruction, correction, rebuking…that bible.)

Let’s look at a verse from Revelation about Hell.

“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

Rev 21:8 ESV

Sometimes the bible just comes out and says something and we are like, “What, WAIT! That sounds too harsh. I fit into some of those categories! I might be cowardly and a liar, but I’m not that bad!” 

We can truly convince ourselves of many wrong things if we try hard enough, right? Well, enough denial of Heaven and Hell. Let’s see what Christ said about the topic. The following three teachings informed Christian thought on the afterlife. It stood on the framework from Jewish thought and goes further, pulling back the curtain…

3 key passages that informed the Christian view of the afterlife.

I’m including links to the passages, but not the passages themselves. You may also want to read it in your own preferred version of the bible. Biblegateway.com is an excellent resource for comparative bible studies.

The Rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)

Photo by August de Richelieu on Pexels.com

First we meet these two guys: The Rich man and Lazarus. It’s always best to introduce you main characters, so we care about what happens to them later in the story. These two men are very different, even though they live in close proximity to one another. They both suffer from the same illness: mortality. This teaching tells us they both died and were burried.

Then we hear about this Heavenly place, Abraham’s side. It is a place of reward.

Some bible translations may say “Abraham’s bosom.” Think of a parent hugging and holding their child really tight. I picture a tight, comforting hug.

On the flip side, the rich man end of in Hades and Hades is a place of torment.

This story is recorded of course in the New Testament. The New Testament was originally written in Greek. Makes perfect sense for the word Hades to be used here. It’s simply the place of the dead. The Old testament examples of the place of the dead come up with the word: Sheol.

“The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God.”

Psalm 9:17 ESV

“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”

Daniel 12:2 ESV

What in essence is “hell?” Eternal separation from God. What’s more torturous than not being with the one who loves you most?

Those in the Old Testament era may not have gotten a clear picture of this. This also helps me to realize  that all I know and believe about Heaven and Hell, it could just be a mere shadow of reality on that side of eternity. So I boil it down to Eternal separation from God. 

What else do we learn about this place after both men die?

No going between each place

There is a great chasm placed between them. Lazarus can’t come to the place of torture and the rich man can’t leave. Abraham’s hands are tied!

Also we see a role reversal.

In Life, The Rich man had all the comforts life could afford. In the afterlife he was eternally “Uncomfortable.”

In Life, Lazarus was tortured and more than uncomfortable. What he receives is the comfort of Abraham in the life after. 

Goats and the Sheep (Matt 25:31-46

Sheep – Just cared for “Jesus” without knowing it. Natural outpouring of him in them.

Goats – Did not care for the least of these out of the lack of Christ in them.

Action follows the heart. What controls and leads our hearts controls our actions or inactions.

Action follows the heart. What controls and leads our hearts controls our actions or inactions.

Final Judgement of all – two types of people. The Did and the Did-Nots

The Narrow Door (Luke 13:22-30)

Final Judgement is final. No do-overs.

Lots of people will try to squeeze their way in, but only a few will make it.

  • When I was in college, I heard about a tragic event that happened in a nightclub in Chicago. Apparently a fight broke out an pepper spray was used to break up the fight, but it induced panic. 1,500 people tried to escape the club at the same time crushing, others in the door way. 21 people died and 50 others were injured.
  • I picture something like this, climbing over others…trying one way or another to make it through that door, but not all do.
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

Heven: The place where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the prophet  – but others will be tossed out!

It’s also a place where a great big feast with people from all over the world! (Foreshadow of the Great commission being fulfilled.)

We choose our eternal destination by the choices we make here on earth. No I’m not talking about doing good, nice stuff. There are not enough beached whales for you to push back into the ocean, enough poor people you personally sponsor with your finances, there’s not enough good deeds to secure your ticket to Heaven.  

It’s a free gift of salvation from Jesus Christ. Do you want to be with him forever or apart from him forever?

To recap:

Conclusion

  1. Hell is for real. It may, at times seem metaphorical. Many times familiar imagery is used in scripture to help us grasp the unfathomable. That surely applies to Hell. A place of everlasting death and torment. It is a very real potential destination for us.
  2. We choose hell by our rejection of Jesus as Lord in our life RIGHT NOW. If we decide we don’t want him here, he won’t be there (in eternity) and he will leave us to try and be the lord of our own lives. 
  3. Heaven is for real. And we choose Heaven by the opposite. If Jesus is Lord of my life he is and will be the Lord of my afterlife. I’ve got to live each day with Him as Lord. My body is not my own. My time is not my own. My money, resources…everything.
  4. Heaven is not just the absence of torture or pain. Sure there is that:

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Rev 21:4 ESV

Heaven is the very presence of the living God. (Rev 21:10-27 ESV)

10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— 13 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. 

15 And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. 16 The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. 17 He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. 18 The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19 The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. 21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Rev 21:10-27 ESV

Faith Basics: The B-I-B-L-E

Featured

Sorry for no blog post last week. I was blessed to be at a Pastor and spouse retreat with my wife and other ministry couples from around Wisconsin. Quick plug: www.wisnaz.com can tell you a bit more about my denomination (Nazarene) and our structure and mission here Wisconsin.

Today we are going to resume with our series called, “Faith Basics.” Christianity can seem overwhelming to someone who has not ever been exposed to our “lingo.” That’s why if I use an uncommon word, I’ll define it so we all are on the same page.

If you would like to listen to the audio recording of this message, scroll to the bottom and click the Spotify player.

Last time we looked at Faith itself, determining that it is believing in what you cannot see…what is yet to be. Things hoped for. Faith is fundamental in what we believe about Jesus and his work of saving us from the punishment of our sins. Jesus’ work is unseen. One has to accept his gift and believe what Jesus said. Put our whole weight on him. Our faith. We don’t know that the stool will hold us up for sure until we take that chance and sit down. Same for Faith in Christ. 

Today we will be looking in the bible and talking about the bible. That’s right, The Bible. God’s Word. The Holy Scriptures. The Old and New Testaments. Some people call it life’s instruction manual, but it is so much greater than that. We are going to talk about (1) what is the bible?, (2) why is it important to the Christian Faith?, and ask the question, (3)“How is the bible still relevant to the world today?”

Though those are the main questions, I just have to start with one more: “What does scripture say about itself?” That’s a meta-sermon if I ever heard one! Paul was writing a follow up letter to one of his apprentices, Timothy. Paul is giving encouragement and direction as Timothy learns to lead in the church he pastors. In that letter, Paul says this:

 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Tim 3:14-17 NIV

That’s an interesting thing to put in this book. “This book is good for you! All of it is breathed from God, God-inspired. It’s useful in personal and professional growth. Dig into it so you can be equipped to do what God desires you to do every day.” That’s the Matt paraphrase.

But what is this book? There is an old illustration about 6 blind men and an elephant.

There are so many variations of this folk story, but the most poetic of the bunch comes from John Godfrey Saxe. 

THE BLIND MEN AND THE ELEPHANT.

A HINDOO FABLE.

I.

IT was six men of Indostan

To learning much inclined,

Who went to see the Elephant

(Though all of them were blind),

That each by observation

Might satisfy his mind.

II.

The First approached the Elephant,

And happening to fall

Against his broad and sturdy side,

At once began to bawl:

“God bless me!—but the Elephant

Is very like a wall!”

III.

The Second, feeling of the tusk,

Cried: “Ho!—what have we here

So very round and smooth and sharp?

To me ‘t is mighty clear

This wonder of an Elephant

Is very like a spear!”

IV.

The Third approached the animal,

And happening to take

The squirming trunk within his hands,

Thus boldly up and spake:

“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant

Is very like a snake!”

V.

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,

And felt about the knee.

“What most this wondrous beast is like

Is mighty plain,” quoth he;

“‘T is clear enough the Elephant

Is very like a tree!”

VI.

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,

Said: “E’en the blindest man

Can tell what this resembles most;

Deny the fact who can,

This marvel of an Elephant

Is very like a fan!”

VII.

The Sixth no sooner had begun

About the beast to grope,

Than, seizing on the swinging tail

That fell within his scope,

“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant

Is very like a rope!”

VIII.

And so these men of Indostan

Disputed loud and long,

Each in his own opinion

Exceeding stiff and strong,

Though each was partly in the right,

And all were in the wrong!

MORAL.

So, oft in theologic wars

The disputants, I ween,

Rail on in utter ignorance

Of what each other mean,

And prate about an Elephant

Not one of them has seen!

While this use of the folk story identifies something more about theological disagreements, I’d like us to consider what people think about the bible itself.

Some think it’s a historical book, full of stories and records. Births and deaths. Some look at it and see wise sayings and practical teachings for life. Some see it as a book that tells you the future, the meaning of life and everything. Maybe even later on, it’s a specific road map of the early Christian movement, with epic first-person story-telling. Even some see the latter portions and believe the bible is personal correspondence that somehow pertains to our lives today.

Well, it’s not just one of those things. It’s all of those things. Like our poem about the elephant, there are many pieces that make up The Book known as The Bible, but it is altogether one.

I first started to wonder, where did we get the word “Bible” from?

The Good Book

The word “Bible” comes from the Greek word “Biblos” (βιβλίοs) which translates as “book.” That’s kind of why people will refer to it as the “Good Book.”

I wondered, since that was Greek for book, what did people in the Old Testament era call the Bible? Well they referred to it as “The Law and the Prophets.” But as you might know, the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures make up much more than just those two sections. 

  • The Law: this a big section of the beginning of the Old Testament. Genesis through Deuteronomy, God establishes creation, sets boundaries, mankind breaks them and sins. The Law is the direction of man trying to live out the life God desires us to live out. Do discover our need for him and draw near to him.
  • History: While those 5 books do give us stories and timelines, they aren’t part of the section specifically dedicated to history. Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, then some books later on the Jews are in exile during the writings about: Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. These books continue to showcase the God who cares, who loves, who can’t abide sin because He’s Holy. 
  • Poetry: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon all fall into this category. If you’ve read Job before you might wonder why Poetry. His story reads similar to The “Iliad” of the “Epic of Gilgamesh”. You’ve got shifts between first and third person story telling, long dialogue between friends coping with loss, and God himself breaking through in the end to clear things up. I am not saying this story didn’t happen, I am saying it was presented in the vein of an epic poem.
  • Prophets: These are words of warning. Most times they pertain to the people of Israel and Judah, but sometimes  prophecy was for foreign countries. Any time the People of God strayed and didn’t repent, consequences followed and the prophets were right there to describe what would happen. Sometimes they were believed, but in most cases they were believed only after it was too late.

As a Christ follower, we affirm these scriptures. These are the scriptures that today make up the Hebrew Bible: The Torah and the Tanakh. Jews today use these same passages in their worship and song. So where did the rest of the bible come from and what is the New Testament made up of?

  • Biography: One chart I found separating out the New Testament books called the Gospels biographies. Many just classify them as “the gospels.” These are the stories of Jesus’ birth (in most accounts), life and earthly ministry, sacrificial death, resurrection and ascension. But it’s not just an account, but interwoven you’ll find practical instruction and teachings that guided the early church.  Gospel translates to “Good News” so the purpose behind these biographies is to give an account of the good news of God in Jesus Christ. From the moment he came to dwell among men to the moment he went to prepare a place for us in Heaven. The Gospels are so much more than the personal history of a first century Rabbi.
  • History: We had a section on History in the Old Testament. Various stories in the general history of the world, specific dates and times. The events were chronicled and they were more than just folk lore. In the New Testament an entire book is devoted to what the followers of Jesus did after Jesus ascended into Heaven. It’s called “The ACTS of the Apostles” Or the Book of Acts for short. It chronicles major events in the history of the apostles as they were sent-out to preach the good news. Miracles to ongoing persecution, this book holds much history but also instructions. Examples for how to and how not to live with other believers in Christ.
  • Epistles: This section of the New Testament refers to the letters from leaders in the Christian Faith to certain churches or leaders of those churches. Paul wrote the most of these but James, John, Peter, Jude, and the author of Hebrews got in on the instructive letter writing. These weren’t just brief, “oh I miss you, hope to see you soon! TTFN.” They were letters that addressed specific topics and problems. They clarify theological confusions and give direction on handling interpersonal conflicts among believers and with authorities outside the faith.
  • Prophecy: One more book at the conclusion of the Bible is very much in the vein of the prophecies from the Old Testament. With its vast imagery and divine word from God for the World, the book of Revelation reveals not only what this world will endure but reveals the one whom the whole old and new are a testament to: Jesus himself. It reveals and shows us Jesus and it is he who also does the revealing. There are words of warning and judgement for those in Christ who are not following what they believe, as John writes to the Seven churches in just the first few chapters.

These are the classic, or orthodox views of Christian Scriptures. 66 books in total, from Genesis to Revelation. We believe the bible perfectly reveals the good news of salvation, that salvation we talked about just a couple of weeks ago. We trust by faith.

So that’s what the Bible is. A God-inspired and fueled compilation of writings that reveal God and his plan for humanity.

That’s all well and good, but you might say “I’ve read ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul!’ I’ve read ‘Your Best Life Now!’ I’ve Read ‘The Purpose-driven Life.’ All of those are inspiring. Why is the Holy Bible so important to Christianity?”

Why is The Bible important to the Christian faith (and what we believe about the bible)?

The Bible is divinely inspired – We believe That God moved and spoke to each recorder of the books of scripture. The faith in Jesus that is revealed in scripture, the example set forth by the disciples, is not a man-made religion But a God-initiated Relationship.

The Bible reveals not a man-made religion, but a God-initiated Relationship.

Christians affirm this, though sometimes we rely on the Bible like we would a search engine. When my windshield wiper was messed up on my car, I searched online on how to fix it myself. It worked and I never needed to go to that website again. However if we treat the bible like a search engine that can fix our problems just by flipping open some pages, we are missing opportunities for growth. Joshua records a personal conversation with Yahweh himself. God gives Joshua instructions for leading the people of Israel after Moses had died. He said to Joshua: 

“8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

Joshua 1:8 NIV

He didn’t just want Joshua to turn to God’s word when he needed help, or when he was bored or when the Israelites were whiny. He and the people were to keep the words on their lips and think about it all the time.

Why do Christian read God’s word daily? Because we know this promise from God to Joshua and accept it ourselves. God instructs us to dig into his word and keep it on our mouths, hearts and minds.

Not only did God say to dig into his word, but Hebrews 4:12 says his word is alive and digs into us!

12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Hebrews 4:12 NIV

It may seem uncomfortable, but The Christian faith is all about Change. Jesus’ sacrifice, was and is intended to change our relationship with God. God’s Word gets into us and shows us things not yet fully given over to Him. One thing that God wants of those called according to his name is purity, Holiness. But how can someone be pure or holy? Probably not hard for you to believe that the bible has something to say about this. Psalm 119:9:

“How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word.”

Psalm 119:9 NIV

Why is the bible important to the Christian Faith? Not only does it record the history of…history, but God’s love story for us. His deep sacrifice for us. His desire and help lead us “Not into temptation, but to deliver us from evil.” 

Like I said last time, none of that matters if you don’t put your trust in God’s word to do what He wants it to do in your life. It’s living and active. It’s not just a website you flip to for car advice. It’s life changing. It’s good news. It’s His love story for us.

In what ways is the Bible still relevant today?

It should hopefully be obvious that the bible is important to Christians. It is the history of where we, mankind came from, God’s loving plan for us, and our part in it all. But in what ways is this old book still relevant to our day to day life? You might think, “I’m reading in the book of Joshua about physical battles being fought, but I’m just trying to survive until my next paycheck.” 

Jesus has this to tell us in Matthew chapter 6:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Matthew 6:25-27 NIV

Fear and worry are always relevant. They are always around. Jesus comforts and assures us, We’ve got nothing to fear or worry about. Just trust in him.

What about life and death? New life comes in the form of a baby and death might come all of a sudden or slowly, day by day. Martha and Mary had just lost their brother to illness. He’d been dead 4 days and Jesus came to the funeral very late. He tells Martha the following:

“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.

John 11:25-26 NIV

He raised Lazarus from the dead. Believe it or not, he still can do so. He has victory over death and it couldn’t even keep a hold on Jesus when he died. He didn’t stay dead. We have the hope that even through new life and trials of sickness and death, we can believe in Jesus and find everlasting life.

What is it you deal with? The bible not only has relevant answers and instructions for you on that topic, but wants to dig deep into you as you dig into it. God’s word is living and active. 

Conclusion

The Bible, 66 book compiled into one big tome. History, poetry, letters of instruction, prophecy, and biography. It was historically handed down, and in some hands and mouths it has brought life. In some it has been wielded as a weapon. One to control the masses into following whatever ruling group or person is in power. Yet, we have this hope that even though some have used scripture as a tool to preserve their power, God’s real purpose shines through. It is the Good News. In Genesis 50, Joseph’s brothers are afraid he was holding a grudge against them. When their father died, they feared Joseph would finally make them pay for selling him into slavery.

“19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

Genesis 50:19-20 NIV

God’s word is a weapon. Paul referred to it as “the Sword of the spirit.” But the bible is never used to attack people, but rather affirm God’s love for man, his plan for us and his call upon us to share the good news.

Faith Basics: You Gotta Have Faith!

Featured

[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

Featured

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

Featured

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.

Featured

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

Featured

“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

Featured

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?

Featured

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

Featured

“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

Featured

“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

Featured

“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…”

Featured

“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!

Featured

“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

Featured

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

Featured

“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)

Featured

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

Featured
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

Featured

“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?

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

“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!”

Featured

“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?

Featured

“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

Featured

“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

Featured

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?

Featured

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”

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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
Photo by Gerd Altmann on Pexels.com

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

Featured

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?

Featured

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

Featured

“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?

Featured

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.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

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

Featured

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

Featured

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.

Photo by PhotoMIX Company on Pexels.com

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

Featured

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.”

Featured

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