Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 7

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Instructions for House-building.

Jesus is bringing His famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’ to its conclusion. Endings of sermons, speeches and stories are epic; they are key to understanding everything the speaker intends. They summarize the main point—they reiterate the heart of the issue. If our attention wanders or our focus wanes anywhere, it is best that it not happen during the conclusion. We don’t want to miss the wrap-up.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is like that. It rises and falls in cycles of proposals and warnings. His conclusion brings his ideas to the apex. “Free at last!” he sings out, casting his vision for a unified country, a people no longer in bondage to racial injustice.

The conclusion of Jesus’ sermon is even more powerful. Its impact strikes the responsive listener with hurricane-like force. His words cut to the foundations of each of our lives.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:24-27).

Jesus sketches for us an image of two lives. He compares and contrasts these two people, describes their common experience and their differing responses. Those who live their lives by the often-challenging ethical demands of Jesus’ teachings are building under difficult conditions. The craggy foundation is high and there is much effort in climbing its heights each day to lift another post and lay another beam on its footing. The footprint from which they must rise has a definite shape and they must conform to it. Building a house on a rock takes everything they have and more.

Meanwhile, those who live their lives as they please, choosing to believe their own inner voice is rather to be followed than the words of God, are building on something that is attractive at the time. Sand is malleable and will take whatever shape the house-builder chooses. There are no hard edges that require the builder to adjust plans. There are no high and unyielding standards to which they must conform. What could be better than a beachfront villa with an ocean view—metaphorically speaking, of course?

Then comes the storm. Tornado-like winds drive pellets of rain against all sides of the two houses and torrents of floodwaters rise from below, thrashing both buildings mercilessly. When the storm subsides the results become visible. The house on the rock stands unscathed, while the house on the sand is nothing more than a splintered wreckage of debris.

What does it all mean? The storm is death. The houses are our lives. We each are given the freedom to ‘build’ our lives as we please. But each of us will eventually leave this world; each of us will experience death—there is no escaping it. What God gives us is the opportunity to prepare for the life hereafter in such a way that the experience of death will not harm us. That, says God in numerous ways throughout Scripture, is wisdom.

Here, at the end of Jesus’ famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’ Jesus gets specific about how to build our lives wisely. He explains that the wise put His words into practice. Jesus will many times during His life and ministry explain that every word He speaks completely conforms to the Father’s words and will. He is God in the flesh. When people like you and me practice what He preached we express our faith in Him. At times that faith is painfully stretched because practicing Jesus’ commands is hard work. But that, Jesus is saying, is what building on ‘the rock’ involves.

Our life choices matter for eternity; they reflect either obedience to Jesus’ words or careless disobedience. There is no middle ground. Hearing a sermon or podcast, scanning a blog explaining Scriptural truths, even reading the Bible is not enough if we don’t put Jesus’ words into practice in our lives. On the other hand, the simplest life lived in obedience to His words is able to build an indestructible edifice for eternity.

That’s good news and it is accessible to all. Now the challenge is to take advantage of it. We need to go back and take another look at the words recorded in Jesus’ sermon (Matthew, chapters 5-7), find His commands, and start doing them. There is enough in there to keep us busy for a while. It’s hard work, but it will be worth it, because there’s a storm coming.

(Photo Credit: Jose, M.B. [[File:Wave santander 2014 001.jpg|thumb|Wave santander 2014 001]])

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ROMANS 16

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Foolish or Wise?

Remember the story of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’? It’s a tale we delight in because honest simplicity rules the day. It is the story of an emperor duped by swindlers who deceive him into thinking they are making clothes of the finest magical fabric. “To fools the fabric will appear transparent,” say the would-be tailors, “while to the wise the richly brocaded fabric will attract veneration.” Not wanting to appear a fool and feeling flattered by the praise of the tailors, the emperor pretends to see the imaginary fabric. He orders a new suit to be made of the remarkable cloth, paying a high price for it. Parading himself through the town in his ‘new clothes’, the emperor comes to believe he is wearing a unique and handsome suit. None of the townsfolk dare to argue with him.

Finally, a small child with innocent wisdom pipes up, “But the emperor is wearing no clothes!” The deception is unveiled, the swindling tailors make good their escape, and the emperor is revealed (pun intended) for the fool he is.

As we come to the conclusion of the letter to the Romans, we find a final description of the crossroads the letter has mapped out for those who care to take notice. The previous fifteen chapters have described the two divergent paths of life: One path is marked by broken promises, faithless and fruitless endeavors, stumbling blocks and smokescreens, Paradise lost and deathly outcomes; the other path comprises a guaranteed promise, faithfulness and fruitfulness, a solid Cornerstone, truth, Paradise restored and the gift of eternal life.

In the final chapter the Apostle Paul presents us with a grand finale of path-diverging descriptions.

“Watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way…” says Paul, “for such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people.” It sounds like a replay of the false tailors deceiving the emperor into parading his foolishness for all to see. There is no small amount of that sort of thing happening in our culture these days. Smooth talk and flattery promote selfish agendas. Unethical policies serve godless appetites at the expense of their foolish followers; fine-sounding arguments deceive naïve minds. But honest confrontation is overruled, overrun, and overwhelmed by the rising tide of deceived public opinion. The simple voice is not often heard.

“I want you,” contrasts Paul, “to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” Why? Because the ‘clothes’ of deception are flimsy substitutes for the real thing.

Listen to the other path’s description: “The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you…”speaks Paul in benediction over those who choose this path. “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past but now revealed and made known … so that all nations might believe and obey him – to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.”

Here, rather than naked foolishness being exposed, a mystery is revealed – the mystery that God loves and invites all people to humble themselves and accept with simple honesty that Jesus alone makes life worth living. The parade of fools cannot prevent even the smallest child from stepping into the way of wisdom. Those who choose this path will find God faithful in ensuring they are firmly established in His ways. No more duping deceptions; no more manipulated naïveté. We become wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.

That’s the news of the crossroads. The essence of every choice we make moves us into either one path or the other. As C.S. Lewis describes it, “[E]very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.”

We either serve our own appetites or we serve Jesus Christ. Those are the only two choices and that’s the message of the two thousand year old letter called ‘Romans’. Remember, it is good news. That is what the word ‘gospel’ means, and that is what we will experience when we choose the path of the wise over the path of fools.

(Image Credit:[File:Page 44 illustration in fairy tales of Andersen (Stratton).png|thumb|Page 44 illustration in fairy tales of Andersen (Stratton)])