A Life that Works | 01.22.23 | Best Year Ever Pt 3
Drew Williams   -  

Matthew 7:24-27
Pastor Drew Williams

It was the year after I finished first grade, and my family had just arrived in town to visit some friends. We were on our way to the motel where we would stay for a few days, and an incredible thunderstorm had begun. It was raining so hard that the windshield wipers were barely doing a thing. Visibility on the roads was terrible.

In fact, when we pulled up in front of the motel, the street was flooded, so someone had gotten planks of wood to create a makeshift ramp from the street up to the sidewalk, so that you didn’t have to step in the more-than-ankle-deep water as we ran over from the car.

The only problem was that the water was so deep that the planks of wood were floating away a bit. So as my mom carried my younger brother and chased after a makeshift ramp as it floated away from her, I figured I didn’t mind stepping in the deeper water. A straight line is the quickest way to get to the front of the motel, after all, and we were getting soaked in the torrential rain anyways.

So I peeled off from my mom and ran straight to the front door of the motel. Just as I was about to hop up onto the sidewalk, though, the ground under my feet disappeared and I fell down into a deep ditch. My arms instinctively reached out and grabbed onto the sidewalk as I clutched at anything to keep me from being swept away in the current of rainwater that was now up to my shoulders.

I could hear my mom scream from somewhere in the distance as some men from in front of the motel started running towards me in slow motion to grab me before I got pulled under.

Have you ever been in a situation where you realized you had made a terrible mistake?

We all know the feeling, when we are met with consequences of our actions, or even our inaction, and we realize that we got ourselves into this mess. We chose the wrong direction and got lost. We bet on the wrong horse and lost. We had hoped for the sale that never came, or the harvest that wasn’t as good as we needed it to be, and now we’re in real trouble.

And even if we try and blame someone else, or something else, we know deep down that it’s because of our choices that got us here. And we feel…foolish.

Has that ever happened to you before? Have you ever been battered by the storms of life?

Even if we prepare for the storm, reinforce the windows, set up some sandbags, we can still get beat up pretty badly. There’s damage. Broken things. Waterlogged things. And so we need time to heal. Time to fix things. Time to get back to normal.

But what if the storm is a really bad one? What if it feels like our entire life is being swept away? How can we fix something if it’s been fully leveled by the storm?

Thankfully, Jesus had some teaching on this very topic. So open up your black, seat-back Bibles to Matthew chapter 7, which can be found on page 6 of the NT.

Jesus knew that storms are a normal part of life, and sometimes the difference between weathering the storm and being completely swept away has nothing to do with how well you reinforce the windows, but it has to do with what the foundation of your life is built upon.

So, if you’ve found Matthew chapter 7, we’re going to be reading starting in verse 24. Let’s read together:

[SLIDES 2-3]
Matthew 7:24-27

[SLIDE 4] blank
This teaching comes at the very end of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, a collection of teachings about what it actually looks like to live life in the way of God.

Some scholars think this might have been a single teaching that Jesus did one time on the side of the mountain, while others suppose that it was a collection of all the teachings Jesus normally gave wherever he went. This is probably how Matthew got it all down, since he most likely heard Jesus teach these same things over and over again to all the people he gathered.

And at the end of this big teaching about what Jesus’ way of life is supposed to look like, Jesus ends by saying…

“Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them is like a wise person…”
Everyone. All people. Anyone. There’s not a prerequisite for only certain types of people who are invited to hear Jesus’ words and then put them into action. You don’t need to join a club first, or join a church first before you are invited to start learning how to live like this.

And notice it’s everyone who HEARS these words that is mentioned here. So the first step is to hear, to listen to Jesus. The opposite of this would be to put your fingers in your ears so that you don’t hear what Jesus is inviting us into and therefore don’t “have to” act according to what he says.

But remember, a life of learning how to follow Jesus more and more isn’t a “have to,” it’s a GET TO.

In fact, according to Jesus, hearing his words and putting them into action in our everyday lives is actually an invitation into WISE living. And putting Jesus’ words into ACTION is the way that we partner with the transformation that God is working out in our lives.

Jesus tells us to be DOERS of his words, not just a hearer.

And why is this important for us?

Well, because Jesus knows that storms in life will come. Notice that the storms come for both the wise as well as the foolish builders in Jesus’ teaching.

Extra planning, better building, wise living didn’t ensure that there WOULDN’T be any storms. Storms come anyways. It’s a part of life. But for the person who hears Jesus’ words and puts them into action, they are like a wise person who builds there house with a secure foundation.

The storms come, beat on the house, but the house stays secure because the foundation is secure.

[SLIDE 10]
Whereas, the one who hears Jesus’ words but DOESN’T act on them, doesn’t apply them to how they live their life, Jesus says they are like a foolish person who builds their house on the sand.

We don’t even need to go into too much detail here to KNOW this is a bad idea! Anyone who has ever stepped foot in a house with a sinking foundation knows that the whole house is undermined because of a weak foundation. Cracks start showing in the walls and windows. Floors start to slope.

[SLIDE 11] blank
When I was growing up, we lived in a house where the kitchen floor was slightly sloped. And the way we found that out was when my mom baked a birthday cake and it came out lopsided. One half of the cake was a quarter inch thick and dry and the other half was thick and fluffy because the cake batter had sloped while it cooked.

In the part of the world where Jesus was originally teaching, there were many areas that were flood plains. And if you weren’t careful about how you built your house, a bad storm could literally sweep your whole house away if it was secured to anything. If the builders were lazy and didn’t do the hard work of digging down through the topsoil to get to the secure rock below, it wouldn’t matter how nice the house SEEMED on top. Every house looks good in good weather. All house seem secure in good weather.

But when a storm hits? Storms REVEAL the quality of the work of the two types of builders. When the rain falls, when the floods come, when the winds blow and beat against the house, the house that is secure might have some external damage, but it’s still standing and able to be fixed.

But the other house? The one that comes from a life of ignoring Jesus’ invitation to wise living and acting on his words, his way of life? It doesn’t get a small amount of damage. It’s completely gone. Wiped away. Nothing left to rebuild. No, you’ve got to start over with nothing.

Remember, following Jesus’ words and doing what he did doesn’t mean our life will be “easy” or “safe.” Because storms come for everyone. But it does mean that we can trust that our FOUNDATION is secure.

When I had run towards the motel that stormy night, while my mom was searching for a plank of wood to walk across, and I just figured I could run straight ahead, what I didn’t know is that they had been doing construction on that street. They had dug out deep trenches on both sides of the road, next to the sidewalks, in order to put in pipes and lines. But the storm had come before they got very far. So there were just these 2 foot wide, deep open trenches that had become completely flooded. And the amount of water flowing had turned them into mini rivers that were carrying things away down the road.

If I had fallen all the way in, there’s no telling whether I would have hit my head and been knocked out, or if I would have been swept down the street, or whether I would have gotten tangled up in debris that was rushing by in the strong current of the water.

But I was able to grab on to the sidewalk in front of me because my feet landed on something solid. That enabled me to get a grip long enough for the nearby men to quickly grab me out of the water and set me down, completely drenched next to my hysterical mother.

The next day we went to look in the trench after the water had receded to see what I could have landed on, but there was nothing except for dirt. The only explanation we had was a miracle. Something, or someone, miraculous had given me a firm foundation to stand on so that I wasn’t swept away by the current.

In Jesus’ teaching here, he is saying that hearing his words AND putting them into action in our lives is the way to secure ourselves to the firm foundation of Jesus himself.

And we’ve all seen the effects of lives that have secured themselves to other foundations that proved to NOT be secure.

Many people have built their lives on the foundation of their finances or their real estate holdings. As long as those are trending up and to the right, they feel secure. But when the 2008 Recession hit, that foundation proved to not be as secure as many had thought.

Some people have built their lives on the foundation of their relationships with people. You’ll hear statements like “she’s my rock,” or “I don’t know what I would do without my family.” And family relationships are a beautiful, important gift from God. But no other human is meant to support the full weight of our lives. And when the storms come, and we experience divorce, or nasty arguments that drive a wedge between people, the foundation of our lives gets a lot more shaky.

Some people have realized how uncertain life is, and they know that you can never fully depend on others to hold up their life, so they’ve defaulted to just depend on themselves. So they build their life on the foundation of their own ability or position or influence. They’re “self-made,” hard workers, “lone wolves.” And many people like that truly are able to keep things together for themselves. A lot of times, we see those people and have lots of respect for them, for their position of influence, for their abilities.

But our position or abilities are not a secure foundation, because we all grow old. We all wain in strength. At some point, we’re NOT able to keep it all together for ourselves.

And when the storms come, it reveals how sandy our foundation is. That is what Jesus says happens to everyone who hears his words and does not put them into action.

Everyone. All. This isn’t a lottery of the chances of some people experiencing the destructive forces of the storms of life. It’s a guarantee. Not putting Jesus’ words into practice is the same as turning down the invitation to a secure foundation for our life.

[SLIDE 12]
Because Jesus tells us to be DOERS of his words, not just hearers.

And what words are we supposed to be putting into action? Well, remember how we saw that this teaching comes right at the end of the Sermon on the Mount? Jesus had just finished teaching a lot of different things to DO as his follower, and then he says, “Anyone who hears THESE WORDS OF MINE and puts them into action…”

So let’s just flip back one page to chapter 5, where the Sermon on the Mount starts, and see what kind of things Jesus is inviting us to put into action:

[SLIDE 13] blank
5:16 says to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in Heaven.”

5:24 counsels people in disagreement to “be reconciled” before engaging in worship at the temple.

5:37 says to be a person of your word, rather than trying to convince people to believe you by making oaths. “Let your yes be yes and your no, no.”

5:42 suggests for people to give and lend without fighting.

5:44 tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

6:4 advises us to give in secret, so that we aren’t doing it for the applause of other people.

6:14 – Forgive others. ‘Nuff said

6:20 warns us not to treasure things that pass away, but to treasure the things of heaven.

6:25 says not to worry, but to trust God as our provider

6:33 tells us to seek FIRST God’s kingship and righteousness

7:5 has the section about taking the “log” out of our eyes: meaning to focus first on our own sins and shortcomings rather than judging others.

7:7 tells us to ask God to provide for our needs.

7:12 gives the Golden Rule: Do to others as you would have them do to you.

And there are even a lot more “do nots,” wisdom sayings, and discernment practices that I skipped over, but, as we can see, there is definitely a lot of ACTIONS to take.

We can’t just be hearers of the word. Jesus’ words are supposed to lead us to ACT.

[SLIDE 14]
Pastor and author, Rick Warren, puts it this way: “We learn a lot of Scripture to increase our knowledge, but now we’ve got big heads and big bottoms, but little hands, little feet, and tiny hearts.”

We were never meant to just be hearers of the word. Jesus tells us to be a DOER of the word, because he knows that’s the only way to secure our life to the strong foundation of Christ the solid rock.

[SLIDE 15] blank
Many of us grew up learning the Golden Rule. We knew that treating others well involved the actions we take. But often, at least for me, the negative version of the Golden Rule is what I heard most: “DON’T do unto others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you.”

“Don’t hit your brother…” “Don’t scream at me, would you like it if I screamed at you?!” “Don’t lie, because you wouldn’t like it if someone lied to you…”

This then becomes behavior modification, changing the outward ways we act, and so we quickly learn how to “act” in polite company, even if we don’t fully feel like we are acting honestly. We know how to play the part, how to dress up the outside.

Then, we come to church, where we are reminded of our need for Jesus. And no matter how dressed up the outside is, we know where there is still sin on the inside.

And church tells us that we can’t ACT our way into God’s good graces. It’s only by his free gift of forgiveness and grace that we can be healed and made whole. And THAT’S TRUE. That is absolutely the good news of the gospel.

And so, we begin to put our trust in Jesus to save us, we put our faith in the fact that he is God and is able to forgive us…

…and then sometimes, we STOP there.

I’ve LEARNED the right things. I have the correct KNOWLEDGE. But the WAY I live my life? Thats…still kind of the same.

We keep living our life with the same old sins, the same old ruts, the same old dressed up outside covering up what’s going on inside. And we feel bad about it, but we come back to church to be reminded again of forgiveness and then repeat the cycle.

But if all we do is HEAR Jesus’ words, say “thank you,” and then return to our life mostly unchanged and waiting for heaven… then we’re MISSING OUT on all the abundance that Jesus wants for us in this life, as well as for eternity.

When we simply hear Jesus’ words and don’t put them into action in our everyday lives, we’re ignoring the invitation to wise living. We’re turning down the invitation to securing the foundation of our lives to the solid rock of Jesus himself. We’re SETTLING for a life that is unsecured when the storms come, with nothing solid to hold on to.

But when we DO what Jesus says, when we DO the things he did, when we do acts of love and serve others sacrificially, we enter into wise living. We get ourselves in situations where our faith can GROW. We secure ourselves to the foundation of Jesus that protects us during the storms of life.

The storms still come, but we can withstand them better because of our firm foundation, and we can even provide security and safety for OTHERS looking for safety and substance in their lives.

And so, as we continue in this journey of learning how to be apprentices of Jesus, as we look at different habits we can install in our life that help us grow to become more like him, we come today to the spiritual habit of SERVICE or acts of love.

If Jesus is telling us that one of the ways we can grow our faith and stay more connected to him is by DOING the things he said, including all the times he encouraged us to serve others, then what does that look like? How do we make that a regular part of our lives?

[SLIDE 16]
The Christian author and philosopher, Dallas Willard said this: “Just as there is no faith that does not act, so there is no act without some plan. Faith grows from the experience of acting on plans and discovering God to be acting with us.” – Disciplines 252

We’ve got to make a PLAN. That’s why we’ve been talking about creating some spiritual habits in our lives, because habits are just small actions we take that form us over time.

[SLIDE 17]
So what is a habit you can install to become the type of person who serves others naturally?

Change and growth are sometimes a slow and difficult process. It’s much easier to and more comfortable to just build on the sand, instead of digging down through the topsoil to get to the bedrock. But if you’re still living, then Jesus still has work he wants to do IN you and THROUGH you.

So if we want to grow into the type of people who NATURALLY serve others, then I’d suggest that we find a habit or two that will form us in that direction.

The habit expert, James Clear, suggests breaking it down into the smallest step. For instance, do you want to be ready to care for someone on the street? Then maybe you should make it habit to carry a few giftcards in your wallet, or a goodie bag of water and canned goods in your car.

Want to be the type of person who helps your neighbors with a project or task? Make it a habit to run into them so you can ask how life is going and hear about needs.

Want to be the type of person that blesses others in this church? Make it a habit to ask a young couple if they need babysitting or asking someone if they need help grocery shopping.

Or, you could even make it habit to get coffee with people so that you can serve them by offering a listening ear and building relationship with them.

Remember, these aren’t things we DO in order to get in God’s good graces. God has already given us his grace. He has already claimed us and called us his beloved children. He has already opened the door to healing and wholeness. He’s already beckoned us into an abundant life and is inviting us to take the next step WITH him on this journey of learning how to live in the way of Jesus.

The reformer, Martin Luther, described how works are a natural outflowing of faith in this way:

[SLIDES 18-20]
“Oh, this faith is a living, busy, active, powerful thing! It is impossible that it should not be ceaselessly doing what is good. It does not even ask whether good work should be done; but before the question can be asked, it has done them, and it is constantly engaged in doing them. But he who does not do such works is a man without faith. He gropes and casts about him to find faith and good works, not knowing what either of them is, and yet prattles and idly multiplies words about faith and good works.” – Martin Luther

It’s the grace of Jesus that enables us to have faith. It’s the grace of Jesus that enables us to do the works that come with a life of learning from Jesus.

[SLIDE 21] blank
The good news is that we have been set free from the slavery of serving ourselves, protecting ourselves, proving ourselves. We’ve been set free from the burden of sin and death, so now we’re able to take those steps towards LIFE in the way of Jesus.

We GET to practice serving others in our journey of learning how to obey Jesus. We even GET to do it poorly and even fail as we go, because Jesus in his grace allows us to learn and grow.

We GET to install small habits that slowly help us deepen our faith, securing us to the foundation, the solid rock that will stand firm in the storms of life.

We can put the words of Jesus into action because the foundation of our life is the everlasting love of God that will not let us go.

We GET to continue to learn and grow as apprentices of Jesus because he has bought us with his own life, and he is able to heal us and restore us, and he is able to accomplish his mission of renewing creation by using even the least likely people.

Our God has given us the words of life, and he’s inviting us to put them into action by joining him on mission today and every day so that every man, woman, and child in the Sauk Valley and beyond can come to know him as their Savior.

Isn’t that good news?