Faith Basics: Salvation

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Sermon Sept 3, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Mankind’s main problem in Life is SIN.

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

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

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

James, Jesus’ brother once wrote:

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

James 4:17 NIV

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

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

Romans 5:12 NIV

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

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

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

Mark 7:20-23 NIV

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

Sin Separates us from God

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

Sin gets between us and God. 

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

“But your iniquities have separated

    you from your God;

your sins have hidden his face from you,

    so that he will not hear.”

Isaiah 59:2-3 NIV

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

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

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

Romans 3:23 NIV

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

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

We can’t fix this problem ourselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fixing our sin problem takes an act of God 

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

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:16-17 NIV

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

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

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

2 Cor 5:12 NIV

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

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

Acts 4:12 NIV

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

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

There are countless other examples. 

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

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

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

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

John 14:6 NIV

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

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

John 3:36 NIV

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

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

John 10:9 NIV

There is only one way to:

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

That is through Jesus Christ.

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

Smashing Pottery

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Sermon – Jeremiah 19

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

not my real nick-nack

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

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

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

Jeremiah 19:1-2 NIV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremiah 19:2c-3 NIV

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

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

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

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

Jeremiah 4-9 NIV

God is Calling them out for their ungodly behavior.

For their choices, including but not limited to:

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremiah 19:10-13 NIV

HULK Jeremiah SMASH!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremiah 19:14-15 NIV

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

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

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

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

Jeremiah 26:4-6 NIV

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

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

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

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

Jeremiah 26:18-19 NIV

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So even science can let us down and mislead us.

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

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

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

Proverbs 18 – Man Caves and She-Sheds

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

Proverbs 18:10 NIV

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

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

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

Proverbs 11 – Scales and Snouts

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

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

Proverbs 11:1 NIV

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

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


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

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

Proverbs 11:22 NIV

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

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

Proverbs 4 – Wise Guy, huh?

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

Proverbs 4:1-4 NIV

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV

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


Here are some of mine:

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

Kevin from “Home Alone”

“I’ll be back”

Arnold Schwarzenegger from “The Terminator” series

“Do or Do Not. There is no try.”

Yoda from “The Empire Strikes Back”

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

Have you ever memorized scripture before?

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

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

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

Proverbs 1 – Comeuppance

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31 Days of Proverbs Devotional Reading

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

Proverbs 1:10-19 NIV

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

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

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


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

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

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Worse Than Before

Sermon – Matthew 12:43-45

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

Matthew 12:43-45 NIV (emphasis added)

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


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

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

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

Be Cleansed

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

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

The first thing that comes to mind for me is Baptism 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Organized

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

Renew our Mind

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

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

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

Mark 5:15 NIV (emphasis added)

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

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

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

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

Be FILLED with the right Spirit (Holy Spirit)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ephesians 5:18-19 NIV

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

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

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

Acts 4:31 ESV

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

Acts 13:52 ESV

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

——

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

Blog comment interaction time:

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

Thanks – Pastor Matt

Proverbs 31 – “Mama Said”

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31 days of scripture and devotional thoughts

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

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

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

Proverbs 31:1-5 NIV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Pastor Matt

31 Days of Proverbs

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

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

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


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