Sunday, January 26, 2014

permanent reminder of a temporary feeling

The title of this blog is the title of one of my favorite Jimmy Buffett songs.  The song focuses on a tattoo and an unintended pregnancy, but it doesn't take much thought to realize that many (or most, or maybe all) of the great mistakes of our lives are represented by this line.  In the blink of an eye – we make mistakes and ruin relationships, reputations, and even entire lives.

Another old church song goes like this:

Angry words! O let them never, From the tongue unbridled slip, May the heart’s best impulse ever, Check them - ere they soil the lip.    Refrain Love is much too pure and holy, Friendship is too sacred far, For a moment’s reckless folly, Thus to desolate and mar.    Refrain Angry words are lightly spoken, Bitterest thoughts are rashly stirred, Brightest links of life are broken, By a single angry word.     Refrain Refrain:
“Love one another,” thus saith the Savior, Children obey the Father’s blest command, Love each other, love each other, ’Tis the Father’s blest command.
If you put your mind to it, you can probably think of tons of examples of great harm or damage done in “a moment’s reckless folly.”  Car crashes, broken relationships, lost jobs, even wars have begun because of a moment’s reckless folly.  Let down your guard for just one brief moment, and suddenly horrible things can happen.

But now stop and consider this:
Eternity is a permanent reminder of your temporary life, and how you lived it

This life will certainly end.  All who read this article will be dead and completely forgotten in less than 75 years.  Most of us will be forgotten in less than 50.  But the consequences of our lives will live on.  If you make disciples who make disciples, then in the decades to come your life will result in the salvation of many.  If you live selfishly, you may be saved by the grace of God, but what good will you have done?  Like the Beatles' Father McKenzie who wiped the dirt from his hands as he left the grave, “no one was saved.” 

Your life is shorter than you think, and eternity is longer than you can imagine.  The life you live will have an impact on those around you – and this is why we work to obey the SOM, and struggle to become merciful, pure in heart, and to go the extra mile.  We don’t work hard to be strong just so we can have an easier life, but because we have a responsibility. 

Most people live their lives and seek happiness, fun, joy, entertainment, and/or giggles.  Others want to be popular or powerful or rich.  But then some of us want it all. 

But - those who are disciples of Jesus understand there is much more to it.  Each of us will help those around us to be better or we will drag them down.  We don’t live for ourselves – we follow Jesus, who lived for others.  We believe it’s more blessed to give than to receive.  We go the extra mile.  We are God’s ambassadors – we don’t even represent ourselves on this earth! 

Over the last year we've worked through the SOM.  Now I've offered you another challenge: to go over it again, and work hard on the parts that were difficult for you.  Why should we struggle so hard to master these teachings of Jesus – is it only so our lives are easier?  No!  It’s because we love those around us.  It’s because like our Lord, we take up our cross daily – to save those around us. 

We are like lifeguards.  We’re not at the beach to enjoy ourselves – we are at the beach to rescue others, to help others, to protect others, and to guard others.  This is why we train, why we focus, why we sacrifice.  We are not like the others on the beach! 

Eternal consequences of a temporary struggle 

This life is brief – “like grass.”  
…the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and
…the rich man should glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away. Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.  James 1:9-12
When it seems hard – or even impossible – then remember a question Jesus asked: “What will a man give in exchange for his soul?”  And then modify it a bit for yourself: “What will I give in exchange for my friend’s soul”? 

Keep working on the SOM, daily.  Make it a permanent part of your life – not because it’s fun, or entertaining or beautiful … but because the soul of your wife or kids or husband or friends or others may depend on it (you). 

“…the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” 
Romans 8:18

Sunday, January 19, 2014

starting over – the basics

Don’t worry, then, for …
… people in the world chase after all these things. 
But: you have a heavenly Father, and He already knows that you need stuff! 
So instead of chasing after them:
seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness,
…and all these things will be given to you.  
So don’t worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.
Matthew 6.31-34 (paraphrased)

Jesus finished the Sermon On the Mount (SOM) by offering his followers a simple promise and warning: if you obey his words, you’ll be strong, if you don’t, the struggles of life will surely destroy you (Matthew 7.24-27). 

Now that we have studied the SOM, now what? 
Now – we accept Jesus’ promise (on faith), and we test it and see if he was telling the truth. 

This last year we’ve studied the SOM, which is really little more than “hearing,” but in order to receive Jesus’ promised benefit (super strength to endure the storms of life) we need to put these teachings into practice, or we’ll be just like the fool who is laughed at.  

To put these things into practice, we need to go back to the basics – to start over.  “Starting over” is boring.  It’s like having to learn long division all over again.  But it’s the right thing to do, and even the fact that it’s boring will help us.  Most of us are – or have been recently – through some struggles.  Getting back to something that’s simple and repetitive is surely not a flashy thing, but it is VERY effective! 

Vince Lombardi was a famous old football coach in the early days of the NFL, and had an amazing record.  He is famous for once telling his team of great, professional players: “Gentlemen, this is a football.”  Coach Lombardi was not alone.  The greatest coach of all time was John Wooden, who coached UCLA basketball to a crazy number of national championships.  He began each season’s practice by teaching his players how to put on their socks – in great-slow-detail.  These are some of the best players on earth, and they’re learning how to put on their socks. 

The same things are true of getting yourself in physical shape.  Pushups, running, lifting weights … none of these things are fun or interesting.  But they do make people stronger! 

So if you’re up for it, let’s go back to the beginning.  It’ll be boring and repetitive, but if you do this with me, you’ll find that you’re a much stronger person at the end of this year than you are today. This is my promise to you – but also it’s God’s promise through His son, Jesus. 


Here’s what you should do for this year:

Step 1:  Commit

The first step is commitment.  You will either follow through, or it’ll be like most “New Year Resolutions,” which are forgotten by March.  But all commitments start the same way: with effort.  You will either:
  • Commit and succeed, or…
  • Commit and fall, and get back up and keep getting back up, or…
  • Commit, fall and stay down or…
  • Never commit

Whichever is your record for this year, the only pathway to success starts with one stepping-stone:

I’ve been doing this for years, and I tend to be the fool who fails a lot.  So I don’t even expect to “commit and succeed” anymore.  In fact, I don’t even commit to the goal.  I just commit to never quitting.  No matter how hard I fall, or how often, I will never stay down.  Never 

And that’s what the grace of God is about.  So long as we never quit, God allows us to repent. 

So … commit – and never quit.  Even if you don’t “succeed” in your personal goals, you will have learned to be more patient and resilient than you now imagine possible. 

Step 2:  SOM re-do

Start over at the beginning of the SOM.  Right after you read this, go to your bible and 
  • read over Matthew 5-7.  And then, as you read it ...  
  • make some notes about which parts are especially difficult for you, and which ones seem to not be a problem for you.  Now ...  
  • work out a plan for yourself to make the changes you need to make. 

Be deliberate! 
This isn’t a “church program,” or a “spiritual discipline,” this is personal.  It’s between you and God and His Son, Jesus our Lord.  This is you going out of your way to agree to actually OBEY the SOM, down to the very last detail, and making a conscious effort to change. 

Spend this year on the SOM again, but this time instead of spending a week on each section, spend whatever time you need to on the parts that are hard for you, and skim over the other bits.  Be conscious with your third column.  Pray often, each night consider your progress for the day, and make every effort to become the living embodiment of this sermon. 

The blog articles from last year (2013) are still there, and you can skim them again if you want.  But this year renew your effort to TRY to focus and make real behavioral changes.  Real changes … that make God smile as He watches you develop strength (by His grace).

Helpful Tip #1: Partner

Most people do poorly when they try something like this by themselves.  Most people need a partner.  So … see if you can find someone who will do this with you.  I’ve found that the best student in class is usually the teacher.  It’s one of the reasons I teach – because that’s how I’m forced to learn.  So if possible, find someone who’s lost – or find someone who’s a struggling or “wimpy” Christian … and ask that person to join you, with you sort of guiding them.  If he or she will be diligent, you won’t want to disappoint them, and it makes it better for you both.  Accountability can help your third column commitment immensely.

Helpful Tip #2: Remember the goal(s)

Obeying the SOM with diligence and precision has its reward: you will become strong.  That’s what Jesus promised.  He did not say this will “save” you.  We are saved by grace, and grace alone.  So think of this as a series of “spiritual exercises” designed to help you get stronger. 

Now remember Jesus’ command to not worry?  Well, if you think about it for a minute, you’ll realize that it’s easier not to worry when you’re strong.  If you’re weak, poor, fat, fragile, lazy, tired … that’s when worry becomes overwhelming.  But strong, rich, capable, smart people worry much less. 

Or, to put it differently … the stronger you work to become, the more able you’ll be to obey.  And the more you can obey, the stronger you’ll become.  It’s a wonderful life of growth and blessing. 

It’s not “fun,” but it is profitable.  When it’s boring, we’re growing patience.  When it hurts, we’re growing strength.  When it seems like it’ll never end, we’re developing endurance.  And all of this is in service to our God! 

We may never be like Joshua or David or Elijah … but we can all be much stronger than we are today. 

Helpful Tip #3: Remember the purpose

We aren't getting stronger just to be stronger.  This isn't a contest or a way for us to brag about how great we are.  It’s not about having an easier life, or success (in worldly terms).  Rather, it’s about being God’s own child and servant. 

We grow stronger to love God more and serve Him better
- and -
We grow stronger to better love our neighbor

Every day you “do your exercises,” you are becoming better at serving God and loving your neighbor as yourself.  The wiser you become, the more you can help the foolish.  The stronger you become, the more you can help the weak.  The more endurance you have, the better to help others endure. 

It takes great strength – great power – to love enough to forgive and turn the other cheek!   It takes great might to “go the extra mile.”  We will never be as powerful as Jesus, who went the extra mile by carrying his own cross, or as strong as he had to be to silently refuse to defend himself and hang on the cross for our sins.  We cannot ever become that strong.  But we can become stronger than we are now.  And we can all be strong enough (with God’s help) to take up our own cross daily and follow Jesus. 

 “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must:
1.      Deny himself, and
2.     Take up his cross daily and
3.     Follow me
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but
…whoever loses his life for my sake, he is the one who will save it.”

“For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?”  
Luke 9:23-25

Sunday, January 12, 2014


“Everyone who hears these words of mine - and acts on them
…may be compared to:
…a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it didn’t fall, for it had been founded on the rock.

Everyone who hears these words of mine - and doesn’t act on them
…will be like:
…a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”
Matthew 7.24-27

Bullets bounce off of Superman’s chest.  That is so cool!  No matter what, bad guys cannot kill him by shooting at him.  Superman was indestructible. 

This is Jesus’ promise to us.  In the SOM he told us to expect persecution, encouraged us to love our enemies, go the extra mile and not worry.  It seems those who obey Jesus will become doormats and victims.  If we have to forgive those who wrong us, love everyone (even our enemies), give up our coats (and cloaks) to every cold guy, then doesn't that mean people will take advantage of us?  Won’t we be left as homeless, hungry, cold and persecuted martyrs? 

This is the challenge of the SOM.  It appears that if we obey it, we will be in an awful situation.  And this is what Satan wants us to believe.  Satan wants us to see the problem with turning the other cheek … namely, that people will take advantage of us.  Satan wants us to be worried about things and afraid of things, for if we are, then obeying the instructions in the SOM will be impossible. 

Children who are afraid of the water don’t want to get in the pool. 

But here at the end of the lesson Jesus offers us this simple promise:
If you obey the SOM, you’ll be indestructible

Take a moment now and consider the following terms, and how they may apply to you. 
Are you:
strong * weak 
fragile * durable 
brittle * resilient 
flexible * rigid

Jesus does not offer us health, wealth or great relationships.  God doesn't bribe His creation to obey Him.  But what God will do for us all, is make us so strong that the storms of life will not harm us.  

Imagine yourself being like Superman – being “bulletproof.”  But instead of bullets bouncing off of you, imagine your greatest fear … and then imagine that your greatest fear(s) will come true, but you’ll be SO strong, SO durable, SO resilient, that it won’t matter, because it will just bounce off of you.  

Seriously … take a moment and imagine it:  
  • Maybe your biggest fear is to be alone – now imagine that you will be alone all your life, but you’ll learn to love it, so it doesn't bother you. 
  • Or if your fear is that you’ll lose something – no imagine that you DO lose it, but it doesn't matter, because you have learned how to be happy without it. 
  • Or maybe it’s physical harm – that you become blind or deaf or maimed in some way, and it happens to you, and then it just so happens that you find the love of your life in therapy and it turns out to have been the best thing that ever happened to you. 

Jesus’ promise is true.  It really does work!  You cannot avoid pain or suffering or loss in this life.  Everyone is bullied, or gets sick or is poor or blind or stupid.  Everyone has problems, and it will always be so.  But Jesus has showed us how to make those problems not hurt! 

That's why we are the people with "incomprehensible peace" guarding our hearts (Phil 4.7); who have "rest for our souls" (Matthew 11.29); and who can walk through the valley of the shadow of death without fear (Psalm 23). 

don’t look at that, look at this

Here’s the trick to this: change your focus.  Most people work to modify their outward circumstances.  If we want to be warm, we turn on heat, or put on a coat or move to a warmer place, etc.  If we’re afraid of violent crime, we move to a safe community.  Afraid of flying?  Take the train.  We work to get money – so we can buy our way out of our troubles. 

Now Jesus is telling us to focus on one thing: obeying the SOM.  Make that your life’s work, your life’s focus, your constant ambition.  And if you do, when hurtful things happen, it won’t even faze you.  Things that would destroy most people … will bounce off of you like bullets off of Superman’s chest. 
So your goal should not be to avoid pain, but: to be so strong that nothing hurts.  Stop avoiding cold, but have such a tolerance that you can walk around in it naked, like a Polar Bear. Be so patient that no one can upset you, so durable that no unkindness can provoke you, so filled with faith that you'll move forward to love without fear.  

The goal for those who follow Jesus is to be super-resilient.  The teleios disciple is just like Jesus – indestructible. And to get there, you must: 
focus on the SOM – and live it, DO it

Most people, even (sadly) most Christians are fragile.  The least little thing upsets them.  Their feelings are hurt by the slightest comment or perceived slight.  They are afraid the country is going downhill, and that things are changing, and that young people are no good, and millions of other things.  Say one word they don’t like, and they’ll freak out.  

As long as people are like this, how in the world can they obey the SOM? 
  • If you’re scared you may freeze, how can you give someone your coat and cloak? 
  • If you’re afraid someone may take advantage of you, how can you be merciful or go the extra mile? 
  • If you’re worried your family may be exposed to hunger or danger or exposure, how can you not … worry about food and clothing? 

There are only two ways to go through life.  You can try to make sure you get everything you “need,” or you can learn how to be so strong you don’t need anything (or anyone) but God. 

Most people try to live a combination of the two.  They trust God for some things (like forgiveness), but they think it’s up to them to take care of other things.  Very few trust God for everything, and praise Him for providing all, and are so confident in His blessings that they can give all of themselves and their stuff away. 

The simple message of Jesus is this: instead of working for things that perish (money, relationships, power, success); work to obey the SOM. 

What will you focus on tomorrow? 
If you will focus on obeying the SOM, and keep doing that every day, then you will eventually become indestructible.  Storms will come either way, but if you’re indestructible, then it’s because you've built your house on the rock.  Houses on the rock are battered by the same winds as their neighbors, but when the storm is over their house still stands, and they can go help their foolish neighbors. 

3c reminder

We started this series of lessons by doing the “three column” bible study.  That third column (I will) is vital, and it’s the whole reason for this section of the SOM.  Jesus says that if you will really do that third column, you’ll be indestructible.  The question is: do you believe Jesus?  If you do, then you’ll devote your life to the SOM.  It won’t be a “once-in-a-while” study … it’ll be a lifestyle.  You’ll find yourself “seeking first the kingdom” and not worrying about tomorrow.  You’ll work hard to let your light shine so people glorify GOD (not you, not your church or your country, but GOD). 

And if you devote your life to following the SOM, you’ll discover that Jesus’ promise is true. 

Now … take a moment and think and pray, and consider what you might do next.  

I will pray that you’ll go back over the SOM again, this time focusing on the things you need to improve.  Put your third column (“I will”) into overdrive and see if you can really work to change your focus.  If you do, you will become indestructible.  And then you can show others how to do this, too.  

May God bless you with a willing servant’s pure heart.

“Everyone who hears these words of mine - and acts on them is like:
…a wise man who built his house on the rock.
The rain fell
The floods came
The winds blew and slammed against that house;
And it didn’t fall!

Everyone who hears these words of mine - and doesn't act on them is a fool.  
He built his house on the sand, and when the storm came, his world collapsed.”

Matthew 7.24-27 (paraphrased)

Proverbs 1:20-33

Wisdom shouts in the street, she lifts her voice in the square:

“How long, O naive ones, will you love being simple-minded, & scoffers delight themselves in scoffing & fools hate knowledge?  
Turn to my reproof … I will pour out my spirit on you;
I will make my words known to you.

“Because I called and you refused,
I stretched out my hand &
No one paid attention &
You neglected all my counsel &
You did not want my reproof

"I will also laugh at your calamity;
I will mock
When your dread comes,
When your dread comes like a storm
& your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
When distress and anguish come upon you

“Then they will call on me, but I will not answer;
They will seek me diligently but they will not find me, because:
They hated knowledge & did not choose the fear of Yahweh.  
They would not accept my counsel,
They spurned all my reproof.

“So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way & be satiated with their own devices.  For the waywardness of the naive will kill them, & the complacency of fools will destroy them.

"But he who listens to me shall live securely & will be at ease from the dread of evil.”

Sunday, January 5, 2014

the greatest horror


Not everyone who says to me,
‘Lord, Lord’ …
…will enter the kingdom of heaven,
… but he who does the will of My Father (who is in heaven). 
Many will say to me on that day,
‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?’
And then I will declare to them,
‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’
Matthew 7.21-23

Have you ever found your faith waning and your prayer life unfruitful?  I have, and it is miserable.  You work hard and pray hard, and it seems to never come.  Even when you pray with the right motives, it seems that there are times when you’re just talking into the air.  Moments like that can fill even the strongest person with doubt.  At moments like that we wonder if there is a God, and if He’s there … maybe something’s wrong with us that keeps us from hearing the big “yes” we’re so desperately seeking. 

Like all our experiences, this one is also found in the stories of the Old Testament, for they had moments just like that.  One such moment was after the Jews had returned to their homeland after exile in Babylon/Persia.  They were God’s chosen people, descendants of Abraham.  They left homes and friends in Persia, and moved back to Judea.  They started a new life, rebuilt their homes and re-planted their crops, they had even started restoring God’s house (the Temple).  But after a while they found themselves struggling.  Read what the prophet Haggai said:
Thus says Yahweh of hosts:   “Consider your ways!“You have sown much, but harvest little;
…you eat, but there isn’t enough to be satisfied;
…you drink, but there’s not enough to become drunk;
…you put on clothes, but no one is warm enough; and
…he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.”Thus says Yahweh of hosts:   “Consider your ways!
(Haggai 1:5-7)
The harder they worked, the less they got.  And these were not just regular folks, they were God’s chosen people.  And even among that community they were among the best, for they were part of God’s remnant after He had destroyed most of Israel, and as if that weren't enough, they were the part of the remnant that actually returned to Israel to rebuild their homes and re-establish the kingdom – God’s kingdom!  So what was wrong? 

consider your ways

Remember that Jesus was also speaking to Jews in the SOM, and among those Jews he was addressing his disciples.  And yet even among them he says not all will be approved!  Some of them would claim Jesus as Lord, they would even do miracles in his name … and still be lost. 

In this section, Jesus was doing much the same thing as Haggai did (on God’s behalf) for Israel.  He was encouraging them to “consider their ways.” 

That is what I hope you’ll do, too: consider your ways. 

Most of my life I've heard this section of Jesus’ sermon used to justify one particular doctrine or belief, and then claim that if people don’t “straighten up,” they’ll be doomed to eternal flame.  I've heard this quoted thousands of times, and never once has the speaker said the phrase through tears.  Instead, usually the speaker uses this as a threat to manipulate his audience and take advantage of their (our) greatest fear: that we THINK we’re saved, but really we’re not. 

This was not Jesus’ intent.  He clearly said that it wasn't based on works, for these pitiful lost souls had not only done works, but had done works apparently enabled by the Holy Spirit!  How else can one cast out demons? 

So these who were chosen by God … were lost, and even their works couldn't save them.  If we’re not saved by grace or by works – what’s left? 

The lesson here is simple: consider your ways.  This does NOT mean:
  • Consider someone else’s ways
  • Consider your works
  • Consider your goodness

Rather, God meant just what He told Haggai to tell those people: “Consider your ways.” 

In the case of Haggai’s audience, they were good folk, children of God, and hard workers.  When the economy struggled, they struggled harder.  They did not realize that the economy had gone bad because … GOD did it Himself!  It wasn't the king or the priests or the president’s fault.  Ben Bernanke hadn't been born.  God did it.  And why?  Because He had something to communicate, and this was the only way He could get their attention. 

This sermon has been our Lord’s attempt to communicate.  Specifically Jesus said that it was those who practice lawlessness” who would be excluded from the kingdom.  Remember their law was the Torah (Genesis – Deuteronomy), so Jesus’ audience would have understood that they were supposed to be very good Jews.  But for we who are not obliged to follow Jewish law, we must follow the law of Christ. 

But that’s not the scariest part!  The scariest part is this:
“I never knew you”
This is why I started out writing about fruitless prayers and work.  What if we now call Jesus “Lord,” and are doing “good” works?  Is it possible that Jesus doesn't even know us? 

Do YOU have ears to hear? 

belonging to Yahweh’s family

This is one of the challenges of God that is hidden in plain sight.  Many will call Jesus “Lord,” and will imagine they are part of the family of God.  They will do good things and belong to “the right” church and do good works.  They will think they are part of God’s family, but on Judgment Day Jesus will not say “Well done, good and faithful servant,” rather he will say “get out – I have NEVER known you.” 

The people Haggai spoke to had a specific problem.  So did those who Jesus spoke to, and so do we.  Those problems may be the same specific issue, or they may be different.  But in general terms there’s one real issue: who is first in your life? 

It’s popular these days to say that family comes first.  That’s what Haggai’s audience thought.  They put family first. 

For many of Jesus’ audience, their top priority was being “righteous” or “good.”  For others, they wanted more than anything to win a political battle – for Republicans (Pharisees) to rule the day over Democrats (Sadducees), and for others they wanted death to the Romans (Muslims/Terrorists). 

What/who is first in your life? 
We are all trained to say that God comes first. 
We are all trained to say that Jesus is Lord.

We know how to give the right answer with our mouths, but it’s not our mouths that will save us.  And it’s not our works that will save us. Only by grace will we be saved.  And grace will exclusively be extended to those of us who not only say that Jesus is Lord, but live it.  Those who walk the walk; those who choose the narrow pathway; those who take up their cross daily and follow.

“Consider your ways” is a challenge – a personal challenge - for you to dig deeply into your heart and find out if you really think of God ahead of yourself and your family and your friends. 

Can you overcome challenges and fears and stress by the power of God?  If so, you’ll know the difference between that and self-discipline. 
Can you learn from God during times of suffering?  Most people run to other humans for comfort.  Or they (like Haggai’s Israel) try to work harder, pray more, or they just quit believing. 
Can you say you’re growing stronger in faith and love as each season of life passes? 

In all of the SOM (and especially in chapter 7) the main issue is understanding that we are now to be a part of God’s family.  He is the Boss, the Lord, and the Dad.  He talks, we listen.  He protects, He punishes, and He gave His Son to save us.  In exchange, we owe him 100%.  We don’t “tithe,” our money or our lives – we give Him our all.  We sell ourselves into slavery – gladly! 

Consider Paul’s words to the church in Rome:
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.For what the Torah could not do (weak as it was through the flesh) …
God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Torah  might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.For:
those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh,
… but …
…those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit - if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.So then, brothers:
We are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
(Romans 8:1-17)

Who are the children of God?  Those who are led by the Spirit.  And without Him living inside us, we will be unable to please God, and we are not even God’s children.  No matter what we claim, no matter what church we attend (or not) and no matter what miracles and good deeds you do, the only thing that matters is whether or not you’re a “God-first,” “Spirit-led” child of God.  That’s it – nothing else. 

Consider your ways
Did you put God first yesterday?  Or were you busily occupied with something else. 
Consider your ways

If your first thought every day is focused on God and His kingdom and His righteousness, and if that is your last thought at bedtime, and if that’s how you live your life all day long … then you have nothing to fear, nothing to dread, no reason to stress.  You realize that God gives good gifts to His children, so you don’t need to “work” to please Him so He will pay you off for your spirituality, or right doctrine or even your purity. 

We are all sinners.  We are all broken, and there’s nothing we can do to erase the past.  But we can do something about today and tomorrow.  Early disciples of Jesus asked the question we all should ask: “What must we do to be saved”?  To which Peter gave the only right answer:
 “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)
“Repent” means change.  It means we make tomorrow better than yesterday. Baptism is the physical act that represents cleansing and rebirth. 

We are all sinners, but God’s grace gives us “the right to become children of God” (John 1.12-13) by being born again (John 3.3-6 & Romans 6.3-6) and then living as those who walk in the light (1 John 1.5-7). 

This is our “way” 

We walk by faith, not sight. 

We live according to the Spirit, not the flesh. 

Our citizenship is in heaven, not in the USA. 

And our family is God, His son Jesus, and all those who have been born of God (John 3) and obey Him (Mark 3.33-35). 

The early church was called “the way” (Acts 9.2 & 22.4).  Each of us who live by the spirit are walking in “the way.”  We have agreed to walk in this way, or else our repentance was not genuine.  We cannot be perfect, but we can stay in the way.  We are not yet completely holy, but we can keep washing and repenting.  We are not yet wise, faithful, patient, fearless or void of self – but we strive to be so; every day this is our quest. 

happy idiots

The world is full of people who think they’re right about something, but they’re wrong.  They are happy because they are so convinced they’re right.  These are people I call happy idiots.  These are people who believe in some bizarre conspiracy theory or that the world is flat or whatever.  And nowhere are happy idiots more prevalent than among religious people. 
Happy idiots
  • Noah’s grandfather had lived over 900 years without seeing water fall from the sky as rain.  It must have seemed impossible to him, and so he and all others on earth laughed at Noah. 

Happy idiots
  • Israelites celebrated their new leader (Aaron) and their new god (a gold calf named Yahweh).  It seemed impossible to them that Moses had been up on the mountain for so long and would ever return. 

Happy idiots
  • Today some believe in a god who will supply good men with dozens of virgin females for their sexual pleasure when they get to "heaven," and they believe it so strongly they’re willing to commit suicidal murders to fulfill their sexual fantasies. 

Happy idiots
  • Some “Christian” faiths have special, magical saints and clergy who are forbidden to marry; others have magic underwear and baptize for the dead and think they can become gods.  Many others think they see Jesus’ face on a tortilla or his image on a "shroud" of cloth. And the myriad "miracles" that take place are used to convince the gullible. 

Happy idiots
  • And then among evangelicals there are those who claim to believe in the bible, but imagine a physical temple will be built in Jerusalem, who follow false teachers, who think God’s concerned about how we vote, or who believe their church is the only one who knows the truth. Or work to force unbelievers to live according to God's law. 

Happy idiots

If you were one of these happy idiots – would you know it?  Does a fool know she’s a fool? 
NO! All fools are accidentally so!  They don’t think for a moment they’re fools!  So if you are convinced you’re right – take care! 
“Let him who thinks he stands - take heed that he doesn't fall.”  (1 Corinthians 10:12)

Don’t be a happy idiot - consider your ways!

Consider your ways
Maybe the reason your prayers aren't answered is because Jesus doesn't even know you.  Or maybe it’s because our Father is trying to teach you. (Isaiah 1.15-17)  But one thing is for sure, if you will seek God – first – with all your heart; He will let you find Him.  (Jeremiah 29.12-14)

Consider your ways
Before you next say, “Jesus is Lord,” make sure you say it with your life – not merely your mouth.  (Matthew 15.7-9)

Consider your ways
Before you set yourself up as a teacher to tell someone what he or she should believe … consider that teachers incur a stricter judgment (James 3.1)

Consider your ways
Before you “share” your opinion in bible study or class, consider why you feel compelled to expose your own folly (Proverbs 18.2)

Consider your ways
Before you argue with someone about a religious topic – consider the possibility that you’re just as wrong as Job’s friends – scholars who were humiliated by God (Job 41.7)

Consider your ways
  • Before you ask God to forgive your sins, consider whether you've been forgiving (Matthew 6.15).  And before you are good to your friends and deliver justice to others (Matthew 5.44-47) …

Consider your ways

This section of Jesus’ sermon is a call for you – a warning – never to be complacent.  We must always seek God first and only, and obey Him, love Him and serve Him.  We must never trust ourselves or those around us – but we must be fully devoted to our Father – after we have been certain He really is our Father.  

But this section is also a reminder to look back at what Jesus has just taught.  Just because those people were God’s chosen people, and now followed Jesus – did not mean they were saved.  Just because someone does good things – does not mean she’s saved.  Just because a man claims God, doesn't mean God claims him.  We need to review this sermon and be sure we’re actually living it – as the third column would suggest.   

Consider your ways

Brothers, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load. The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption,
…the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.
(Galatians 6:1-10)