A few years ago my pastor spoke from the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, prompting us to examine the soil of our own hearts to see whether it is ready to receive God’s word. I was inspired to build on his foundation when I gave the message the following week. Or to retain the farming metaphor, water what he planted. 🙂
What if you come to the conclusion that your ground is not good? You might be wondering if it is possible to change. Depending on the motivation and the subject matter, the world tends to give us one of two messages. Either we’re born that way and we cannot change, or all the changing is up to us. Neither message is the whole truth. Consider Jeremiah 4:3 in light of Jesus’ parable, and listen as we explore how God changes hearts.
In Revelation 2:1-7. Jesus is speaking to the church at Ephesus. He has several good things to say about it, but then one bad thing that cancels out all the rest. I bet if we went to that church, we would think it was a pretty good one. They believed in pure doctrine and wouldn’t tolerate false teachers. Its members worked hard and kept their faith in the face of persecution. If it were here today, it would probably have a good preacher who stayed true to the Bible and lots of ministry opportunities.
But Jesus didn’t seem to think so. For all the good things, He had one thing against them, and it was so serious that He would not allow them to remain a church unless they repented. They left their first love. He says, “remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place–unless you repent.” (2:5) All of those things that Jesus Himself said were good about that church didn’t matter, because they forgot the reason for their existence, to be the bride of Christ.
It doesn’t matter how big our churches grow. It doesn’t matter how nice our buildings look. It doesn’t matter how many good things we do. It doesn’t matter if we are doing good things that no one else is doing. It only matters if He is our first love and everything we do is motivated by that love. He did say, “”If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15) Notice that the love comes first. When we do what we do out of love, we can build great churches! Listen as we take a closer look at the Ephesian church and what Jesus had to say to it.
The inspiration for this originally appeared in this blog post. It involves a tough piece of Old Testament law that’s kind of hard for those of us with disabilities to swallow.
Any man from Aaron the priest’s offspring in whom is a physical defect shall not come near to present offerings made by fire to Yahweh; a physical defect is in him; he shall not come near to present his God’s food. (Leviticus 21:21 Lexham English Bible)
How is one who has a disability to deal with this law? It’s hard not to take exception to it, and many have. Even a devout believer may feel hurt by it. I confess that I have. Even though I am aware that this was a regulation specifically for the priesthood, meant to emphasize the necessity of perfection we cannot obtain, it stings. Combine that with a lifetime of always having in the back of my mind that somehow if I could only have enough faith or find some missing piece I could be healed and you have a toxic concoction of perceived inadequacy and failure.
Snippets of scripture taken from their context are usually not properly applied. This one is no different. Taken outside of the regulations for the priesthood it seems harsh indeed. Yet there’s another little bit of text from the New Testament that really spoke to me recently and took out some of the sting of the Levitical stricture.
And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. (Matthew 21:14 NASB)
It’s almost an aside. Nothing much is made of it. Jesus just did that sort of thing everywhere He went. But in the context of the law and who He is, you can find the whole of the Gospel story right there. Our sins, our defects if you will, keep us from approaching a holy God. Anything less than perfection dies in the presence of His holiness. At that time only the high priest could come into the Holy of Holies once a year to offer the blood of the sacrifice. If he hadn’t done everything just so, if he was impure in any way, he would die. He had bells on his robe and a rope tied around his ankle so that if he died while in there he could be dragged out without anyone else having to go in.
Now look at this situation again. Yahweh in the person of Jesus has come out of the Holy of Holies and is with the common people in the temple. Those who could not be in the presence of Yahweh whether they were of Aaron’s line or not were coming to Him, and He was healing them. We could not go to Him, but He came to us and removed that which prevented us. Thus he would do for all of humankind not long after this episode as he died on that cross and rose again in the event we celebrate every year.
We are all defective, but our perfection comes through Him. Maybe you have felt unacceptable. I hope you’ll listen and let the Healer do His work on you.
In this podcast I talk about King David. I don’t know, but I think he’s probably the best known Bible character besides Jesus Himself. From childhood we hear about how he killed Goliath. He is called a man after God’s own heart. He becomes the king of Israel and God promises him that His kingdom will last forever. Yet his record is not without blemish. We also know the story of Bathsheba. He was a warrior, prophet, singer-songwriter, musician, shepherd, and king. I think anyone alive today trying to claim “most interesting man in the world” faces some stiff competition from King David. His bio reads like an adventure novel. But what makes David so important is not the life he lived. It is that God chose him to fulfill the promises He made to Israel. Our theme is drawn from 2 Samuel 7:8-16. King David pre-figures Jesus for us in some very special ways.
In this podcast, I talk about Saul. He doesn’t exactly fit the deliverer pattern I’ve been following for this series. One of the commentators I read called him a type of the antichrist instead of a type of christ. Saul was Israel’s first king. He was appointed for them by God at their request, even though their request was a rejection of His kingship over their nation. He tells us so in 1 Samuel 8:4-9. What was wrong with their request? Why would God grant it? What was the result? There are so many lessons we can learn here.
In this podcast, I continue a series of lessons I’ve been working on over the past couple of years that show us how the stories of many of our Old Testament heroes point to Jesus. I am going to talk about Samuel. I struggled a little with how to present his story in light of the overall theme. Though he did preside over a defeat of the Philistines after the nation repented in the pattern of the judges who came before, that is not how most would remember him. If you grew up in Sunday school, you probably learned how he came to the temple as a young boy and heard the call of the Lord, first thinking it was Eli the priest. As long as you stop before the actual message, where the children’s story typically does, it’s a cute story. It is found in 1 Samuel 3:1-10. I think it illustrates Samuel’s defining virtue. He learned to hear the voice of God and to speak what God told him.
Are we listening for the voice of God? Are we willing to obey? Are we willing to share the message He gives us, even if it isn’t pleasant?
After sharing an article with this title on Twitter and Facebook, I got into a conversation with someone who didn’t agree. The concern is genuine. The thinking goes that if we make companies pay the workers more, they’ll have a better living. It’s based on the notion that the companies are just greedy and really could pay more if they only would. There may be instances where that is true, but generally the market will sort that kind of thing out.
I pointed to what is happening where cities have taken it upon themselves to raise the minimum wage. Companies are closing or they are automating. Automation was rejected as a consequence of higher wages, under the assumption that companies are going to do that anyway. A machine is always easier to manage than a human being. There’s truth in that, but to illustrate why it’s not the whole truth, I’ll bring the example a little closer to home.
I hire a lawn crew to take care of my yard. I deal with a small business owner who sends the crews out. It’s a very economical service. I don’t know, but I would not be surprised to learn that his crews are not making more than minimum wage. Now let’s say all the Californians moving to Texas reach critical mass and we start seeing these laws in Texas. I apologize to my fellow Texans if I’m giving you nightmares.
My lawn guy then has to raise his prices. I might accept that for a while, but eventually the price is going to become too high. When it does, I have several choices available to me. I can stop caring for the yard, but eventually when the city comes down on me that will cost me more than the now prohibitively expensive lawn crew. I can hire the kid down the street. That might work for getting the grass cut, but only until some nosey do-gooder decides that’s child labor and takes away another job that young people can do for money. . I could do it myself, but being almost blind that would be almost as bad as the first option. So I’m left with one more. I’ll pay whatever I have to one time to have someone pull up all my shrubbery and either make my yard into a rock garden or get one of those robotic lawn mowers. There’s your automation. However I go about it, My lawn guy has lost business. If too many of my neighbors make the same choices, he’s out of business. Instead of having a job that might not meet all their needs but gives them something, his workers have no job at all. Everyone is worse off than before the minimum wage was raised.
Now I like the automation idea. Gadgets are cool. There are robot mowers available that can cut grass, but as far as I know they don’t do shrubbery. That’s a great deal more complicated. If I had a few million sitting around, I might try getting a robot built that could mow the lawn and trim the shrubs. The technology is out there, but there’s little call for anyone to spend the money on it. Lawn crews are much cheaper, and there’s no incentive for anyone to invest in such a thing. Some day it will happen, but it will be a few years. What happens when you make the lawn crews more expensive? Now there’s incentive for a technology company to develop and sell that robot sooner than later. Maybe we like the idea of government incentivizing the development of technology, but if the goal is to make life better for the poor, raising the minimum wage has the opposite effect.
This is next in a series of sermons showing how Jesus as deliverer is pictured in the people that God used throughout the Old Testament. It had been a while since I’d done one and I wasn’t sure who would be next. I almost missed Boaz! If you don’t remember who he is, it is probably because the person you would remember in his story is Ruth. It’s really her story, and it is a beautiful one. It is she who makes the choice to leave behind everything she knows out of loyalty to her mother-in-law, Naomi (Ruth 1:16.) Because of that choice, she is brought into God’s family. Quite literally, because she became part of the lineage of Jesus. There’s so much for us to learn here about the mercy of God and the importance of the choices we make. Go ahead and read the whole book. It’s a short one.
In this podcast I continue talking about the deliverers of Israel. With each person, I try to draw out lessons we can learn from their lives and also show how God used them to represent Jesus. Our deliverer for the day will be Samson. You can find his story in the book of Judges, chapters 13-16. Here we have another example of what not to do, yet God used him. In fact, God chose him before he had a chance to do anything right or wrong, announcing his birth with an angelic visit.
When the Holy Spirit enabled Samson, he was probably the strongest man who ever live, yet in terms of character, he was one of the weakest. It seems like God went through every possible flaw a man could have in the people he chose, but He used them all to accomplish His purpose. Listen as we learn about the strong deliverer and see why Jesus is the only one who could truly deliver.
This is the next in a series I have been working on about the Old testament deliverers, what they can teach us and how they foreshadow the coming of Jesus. Some of them are harder than others, and this Sunday’s star is one of those.
Jephthah was a judge in Israel. He was chosen to deliver them from the Ammonites after they had once again fallen into sin and begun worshiping idols. His story is found in the book of Judges chapter Ten through the first few verses of 12. If you remember his story, you know it is marred by a tragedy of his own making. He made a very foolish promise, and he kept it.
When we read the Bible, we should remember that it is in part a book of history. Not everything found within its pages is there for us to emulate. Why then do we have this record? Why didn’t God stop this from happening? I may not be able to satisfactorily answer those questions for you, but there are some important things we can learn from Jephthah’s story.
There’s a lot of distracting noise on this one, but I didn’t want to leave it out. I hope someday to redo these with a little more experience and polish..