I’ve started a, sort of, impromptu series that I’m unofficially calling “Kick Off the New Year Right” or “How to Prepare for 2015”… or something like that. The series title doesn’t matter. What matters is that I want to spend a little while going over a few things that we need to make sure we have straight as we enter this new season of our lives.
I call it a “new season” because I’m talking about far more than merely the calendar rolling over from 2014 to 2015. As I’ve talked to people over the past months I’m sensing that there is a lot of transition going on. We see ever-increasing political tensions in Canada and around the world – the attacks in France remind us of our own, still recent, confrontation with terrorism here. There are people going through relationship transitions as the dynamics of their marriage, friendships, partnerships and even workplace change around them. Some are facing personal transitions as their body changes, their health changes, what they can do changes. Some have decisions to make that will bring a new season to their life and the lives around them.
There seems to be a feeling of flux right now in the hearts of people at this church, the community around us, our country, and our world. The ground beneath our feet is shifting, and there’s we can do nothing about it except to ensure that we are on solid ground.
Hearing and Doing
At the end of Jesus’ longest recorded sermon, where He described what life in the Kingdom of God is like –the laws, the attitudes, the character of His people, how to talk to God and live in this world – He ended it with a question and a story:
His question was: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46) and it is just as sharp today as it was the day He spoke it. He contrasts the difference between hearing and doing, confession and obedience.
He’s talking about “hypocrisy: saying one thing” (“Yes, Jesus is my Lord, I got saved, I’m a Christian, I go to church, blah, blah, blah…”) but not having a life that reflects it. A “disciple”, on the other hand, is someone that calls Jesus “Lord, Lord” and then does what He says!
Think of John 15 where God is presented as the Gardener, Jesus is the Bine, and we are the branches. He says in John 15:1-2:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
God doesn’t have much interest in fruitless branches. God doesn’t care about the amount of people that call Jesus “Lord, Lord”, but cares very much about those who are producing fruit. God isn’t planting a forest. He wants an orchard.
Things to Obey
And so, Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount, and then looks at the crowd – and to us – and says, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?”
We all struggle with this, don’t we? We pray, “Dear Lord, God…” and then disobey Him. We read a scripture, hear a sermon, feel a conviction in our heart from God, and we absolutely know that our Lord God, Creator of the Universe, has told us to do something – and we don’t do it.
- Forgive that person.
- Be reconciled to your brother or sister.
- Stop pursuing worldly gain and start looking after your spirit, your family, and your church.
- Go be a peacemaker to that troubled situation.
- Go tell those people about me. Shine your light.
- Get rid of that unrighteous anger.
- Stop lusting after people that you’re not married to.
- Stay married to your spouse and do everything you can to love them.
- Quit lying and breaking promises.
- Stop seeking revenge and let it go.
- Show love to your enemies.
- Be generous with your possessions and give to the needy.
- Read your Bible and talk to me every day.
- Take time away to rest and to fast.
- Crush the idols you have in your life.
- Stop worrying about things and trust me.
- Show humility and stop putting yourselves above others.
- Ask for things from God and expect answers.
- “Whatever you wish that others would do for you, do it to them.”[i]
- Find good teachers and get rid of the bad ones.
That’s the Sermon on the Mount in a nutshell. And at the end of that incredible list, Jesus asks us to evaluate our hearing and our doing, our confession and our obedience, our talk and our walk. He wants us to check to see if they line up. Why?
- Because of the shifting ground under our feet.
- Because of the uncertainty of this life.
- Because of the liars and cheats that want to manipulate us.
- Because of the charlatans who pretend to love us but don’t.
- Because of the we are faced with huge decisions all the time and we need divine wisdom to know what to do.
- Because we are confronted with pain and sorrow that is beyond our ability to handle.
- Because the temptations of this world are immense.
- Because our enemy, the devil, is smarter than us and is prowling around like a lion seeking whom he may devour.[ii]
- Because without listening to Jesus and doing what He says, we are going to make terrible mistakes that hurt us and those around us.
Jesus asks the question and then tells this story:
“Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”
I want to point out a couple of things about the builders.
First: Notice that both of them hear the message. One “hears… and does” while the other “hears and does not”. We’re not talking about people who have not heard the message of the Gospel and the teachings of scripture. Jesus is talking about people who have heard what God wants and expects from them, but doesn’t do it.
Now, that’s a bit of a misstatement. It’s not that this person does nothing, right? That’s the second thing: both of them build. In the story, the house represents the person’s life. Everyone builds a life. Both builders are placed in the world, both get contracts to build a house, and both are given all the materials they need to build a good house. Both builders use their skills and abilities to design their house with what they’ve been given. When they stand back and look at it, like any builder, there are things they like about it, and things they wished they had done differently. But it’s their house that they built.
We’re all given the materials to have a Godly life. Sure, each of us are given a little different pile. Some have more decorations than others, while some have stronger frames. Some have incredibly detailed blueprints, while others have more flexibility in the plans. There are differences, but the pile of materials from which we build our lives are remarkably similar. And, of course, we’re all given the same scriptures, the same Saviour, and have access equal access to God and all the good gifts He is willing to give.
But then we get to the third thing about the builders: They both build near the stream. Sometimes we think that one built next to a floodplain while the other built far away. No, in the story, these two people are neighbours. Just like we all are in this world. We are growing up together, in the same environment, facing similar issues.
Yes, we all have our own unique takes on them – some of us have physical advantages, others are smarter, some are wealthier, some are more prone to addiction or anger, while others had troubles growing up that they still carry with them. We all have our own things that make us us, and God has gifted each one of us with a special purpose and the equipment to carry out that mission, but we are all living next to the same stream.
We’re all in this world, and when it gets boiled down, we are all facing similar issues. We all live by the same stream. We all face temptation, loss, fear, grief, and pain. We all deal with the effects of sin inside and outside us. You might feel alone, like you’re the only one dealing with that particular issue, but that is a demonic lie meant to keep you feeling hopeless. I promise you that you are not alone and that there are people out there who are dealing with the same problems and challenges as you. That’s one of the beauties of being in the church.
And that leads us to the next similarity between the builders: both experienced a flood. In this story, the flood represents a couple things: first, the troubles of this world that come to us all the time, and second, our death and the final judgement before God. In other words, immediate consequences and eternal consequences.
The ones that listen to Jesus, and do what He says when He says it, have security and peace during the trials and troubles of this life. And then, when they die they have eternal security that they are ultimately saved forever.
But the ones that listen to Jesus, and don’t do what He says, have insecurity and lack of peace when the trials and troubles come into this life. And ultimately, at the end, they will not have eternal security because they never did give their lives to Jesus.
I’ve said before that scripture teaches – in fact, in the Gospel of Matthew, it’s what Jesus says right before he tells the story of the two builders – that there will be many in the end that cry out “Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?”, and Jesus will turn to them and say, “I never knew you; depart from me.”[iii]
The story of the two builders is told as a warning to these people who act religious, act like Christians, use Christian language, claim to be believers, but don’t do what Jesus says, and who, in the end, will end up in hell. The do themselves a disservice in this life by not following Him, and a greater one in the afterlife.
We can put it off, ignore it, pretend it’s not going to happen, distract ourselves, and live in denial as much as we want, but Jesus says very clearly that “the flood” is not an “if” but a “when”. Temptations and pain will come to you in this life… it’s a foregone conclusion. And we are all going to die (if Jesus doesn’t come back first) and then we will all face the Judgement Seat of Christ.[iv]
Jesus’ question is, “What’s the point of calling me Lord Lord and pretending to be a Christian, if you’re not going to obey what I say you’re supposed to do? That won’t help you now and it won’t help you later. Call me Lord Lord, and then do what I say, and then you will get the benefits of what I’m trying to give you!”
There’s only one difference between the two builders. One dug deep and built on the rock. He did the work. He put it into practice. It took time and effort to dig a hole the size of a house in the sandy land by the stream, until he hit bedrock.
He had to put off building his house. He didn’t get to do the fun stuff first. He had to do the arduous task of digging down, and down, and down, until he found the solid bedrock near that stream that he would build on. And then he had to carry stone after stone, shovelful after shovel full of fill as he filled it up again so he could build the house.
We’re going to have the same problem. It’s not that getting saved and starting a relationship with Jesus is hard. It requires nothing more than admitting you are a sinner in need of a Saviour, asking forgiveness, and then saying that Jesus is now your “Lord, Lord”. But from that point on, when you’ve decided to build your life on Him, it’s going to take time and effort and work.
You may have to put things off for a time (or forever) – like career advancement, relationships, certain things you find pleasure in – so you can dig down to Christ, removing all the shifting sand beneath your feet that will cause problems for your house later.
It will mean emptying yourself of your favourite idols, believing you’re in charge of your life, submitting yourself to Jesus and other mature Christians, and getting rid of the stuff in your house that distracts you from Christ. I remember as a college student destroying over a hundred CD’s in my music collection because – at the time – they were a stumbling block between me and Jesus. And that was just one thing that had to go – there have been many more since.
Digging down and placing your whole life on the bedrock takes work. It means rearranging your schedule so you can pray, read scripture, attend church each week, and have a Sabbath rest. It means changing your priorities with your finances so you can give a portion of your finances back to God and live a generous lifestyle toward others in need. And it’s hard.
Each shovelful of sand that you remove hurts a little. There goes my pride. There goes my selfishness. There goes my Sundays. There goes my mornings. There goes my favourite addiction. There goes my internet privileges. There goes my favourite hatred and bitterness. There goes my movie collection. There goes my career plans. There goes my marriage plans. There goes my divorce plans. There goes my belief that I’m number one. There goes my belief that it’s all about me.
We empty the hole and dig down deeper and deeper to the bedrock of Jesus Christ. And then we start to fill it back up again, stone after stone, replacing our thoughts with His thoughts, our ways with His ways, our heart with His heart, our will with His will, our habits with His habits, our words with His words, our plans with His plans, until we have built a solid foundation on Him and how He wants us to live.
And it is on this foundation that we build out house. And then when the rains come down and the floods come up, and the stream grows into a river – our house will stand. Not because of anything we’ve done – but because of who we’ve chosen to build on. We don’t get the glory for a house that stands up to the flood, Jesus does!
He’s the foundation. He’s the one who gave us the stones. He’s the one who stays strong. That’s why we build on Him and His Word.
We wonder about all the uncertainty and shifting sand of this world. We are troubled by all the things we can’t control. We know the rains and the flood are coming, but are we willing to believe Jesus when He says that He is the only foundation to stand on when they do?
[i] Matt 7:12
[ii] 1 Peter 5:8
[iii] Matthew 7:21-23
[iv] 2 Corinthians 5:10