SHIFTING SANDS

Dome house - Cape RomanoAnyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash. [Matthew 7:24-27 (NLT)]

5-miles south of Marco Island, Florida, the remains of the Cape Romano dome house are a perfect illustration of Jesus’ parable about building on a solid foundation. When completed in 1982, the 2,400 sq. ft. house was on Tice Island and about 100 feet from the water. Consisting of six interconnected dome-shaped modules, it was eco-friendly and state-of-the-art. Completely self-sustaining, it had solar panels, generator, satellite TV, a 23,000-gallon cistern that collected water runoff, a water filtration system, and even air conditioning. While its rounded domes survived the hurricane force winds of Andrew in 1992, in the years following, water levels began to rise and destabilize the house’s foundation. After 2005’s Hurricane Wilma, the domes began leaning as the shifting sands eroded their foundation. As the beach retreated, the domes appeared to be marching into the Gulf and, by 2013, they were standing in 6-feet of water. After Hurricane Irma in 2017, two of the domes collapsed into the sea. The remaining domes now sit about 300 feet offshore. When the house was built in the 1980s, two other large houses stood on the island. But, like the dome house, they were no match for Florida’s storms that sucked the sand beneath them right back into the Gulf of Mexico; they, too, are a thing of the past!

Before erecting this house, the owner built a prototype in Tennessee to test his design and it still is standing. Since sand from the beach was used for the concrete, the sand was analyzed to make sure it had the proper aggregate for construction. The problem, however, wasn’t with the concrete or the domes’ unique design; the problem was with the choice of foundation! Rather than bedrock, it was sand!

The Sermon on the Mount concludes with the parable of The Wise and Foolish Builders. Israel is known for torrential rains that cause floods and, when the winter rains came, the Jordan River would pour into the sea causing it to overflow its banks. While the sand around the Sea of Galilee was hard on the surface during the hot summer months, a wise builder would not be fooled those conditions. He’d dig down as far as ten feet below the surface to reach the bedrock for the foundation of the house. The foolish builder, however, takes the easy way and doesn’t dig down to the bedrock. Like the homes on Tice Island, both homes would look secure in good weather. It was only when the storms hit that the difference would become obvious. Houses built on the bedrock can withstand floods and erosion while those built on sand won’t.

Having been raised by a builder, Jesus knew His topic well but He wasn’t giving a lesson in construction. Many of His listeners had built their lives on surface righteousness—one of cursory adherence to the letter of the Law without actually building a deep faith in and obedience to God. No matter how carefully they observed the outward rituals of Judaism, without an inner relationship with the Lord, they had no foundation. They’d built something that looked good on the outside but was weak on the inside and would not stand strong during life’s tempests and turmoil.

It’s inevitable that one or more storms will pummel us and challenge our foundation and this parable still applies to us. Foolish builders choose to build their lives on worldly things like the false gods of wealth, status, looks, power, and self. However, their lives will crumble and collapse when those things disappear. As with the dome house, it may not occur all at once but it will happen. Because wise builders build their lives on faith in the unchanging Lord and His Word, they can withstand life’s challenges. If our foundation is laid in the bedrock of Jesus and Scripture, while battered and bruised, we will remain standing.

When the homes on Tice Island originally were built, they looked sturdy—but looks are deceiving. Without a firm foundation, they couldn’t stand; neither can we! How firm is your foundation?

Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “Look! I am placing a foundation stone in Jerusalem, a firm and tested stone. It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on. Whoever believes need never be shaken. [Isaiah 28:16 (NLT)]

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FEEDING THE MULTITUDE – Part 2

At this they began to argue with each other because they hadn’t brought any bread. Jesus knew what they were saying, so he said, “You have so little faith! Why are you arguing with each other about having no bread? Don’t you understand even yet? Don’t you remember the 5,000 I fed with five loaves, and the baskets of leftovers you picked up? Or the 4,000 I fed with seven loaves, and the large baskets of leftovers you picked up?” [Matthew 16:7-10 (NLT)]

white ibisMatthew and Mark tell of a second time Jesus fed a multitude. Jesus had been north of Galilee in Tyre and Sidon before going south to the Sea of Galilee and on to the region of the Ten Towns or Decapolis. Once there, a huge crowd assembled and set up camp around Jesus as He healed and preached. After three days on the hillside, the crowd ran out of provisions and Jesus voiced His concern. Just like the first time they were faced with a hungry crowd, the disciples don’t know what to do, even though the solution was standing right in front of them. After they found seven loaves and a few fish, Jesus miraculously turned that into a feast for 4,000 men (plus women and children) with seven large reed baskets of food remaining!

Why would Matthew and Mark include two almost identical stories to their gospels?  Perhaps the reason is found in the location of these miracles. While the setting of these miracles seems unimportant to us in the 21st century, it wasn’t when the miracles occurred and the words were written. Located on the north shore of the Galilean Sea, the Bethsaida region was Jewish, and most (if not all) of the recipients of that first miraculous meal were Jews. When Jesus was in Tyre and Sidon, however, He was in a Gentile region and at least 35 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. To get to the Decapolis, He had to go east, cross the Jordan, and then proceed south to the southern end of the Sea. Since he was on His way back to Judea, it’s evident that Jesus deliberately went out of His way to minister to this Gentile and largely pagan region.

With their addition of Jesus feeding the multitude in the Decapolis, Matthew and Mark made it clear that Jesus came for both Jew and Gentile. Let this story be a reminder that, whether Jew or Gentile, good church-going people or idol worshippers and pagans, deserving or undeserving, all of God’s children deserve to be fed both spiritually and physically.

It also seems that Jesus’ miracles of provision needed repeating for His disciples. Even though He previously turned a boy’s lunch into a banquet for well over 5,000 hungry people, the disciples stood around not knowing what to do when faced with another hungry crowd of 4,000 men (plus women and children)! Instead of seeing an opportunity, they saw an impossibility. Rather than asking Jesus where they’d find enough food in the wilderness, they immediately should have offered what they did have to Jesus and asked Him to make it enough! It seems the disciples were slow learners!

Even though Jesus turned seven loaves and a few fish into an al fresco picnic for thousands, the disciples still didn’t understand. Shortly after this miracle, Jesus and the disciples were in a boat and crossing the lake. When the disciples realized they had only one loaf of bread between them, they argued about the lack of food! They sat there quarreling about bread while the Bread of Life sat in the boat with them. For the One who could multiply seven loaves to feed a multitude, turning one loaf into enough for thirteen men was child’s play, but they were blind to who He was and what He could do!

May we always remember that God can do things that exceed our wildest imagination. If we just bring Him what we have—no matter how little or insignificant it may seem—God will make it enough. As the old hymn goes: “Little is much when God is in it.”

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. [Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)]

Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” [John 6:35 (NLT)]

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BLIND (Samson – Part 2)

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. [Ephesians 6:10 (NLT)]

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. [Philippians 4:13 (NLT)]

HibiscusWhile the Nazarites’ long hair was supposed to be a constant reminder of their commitment to God and a sign to others of their vow, I don’t think his hair was what gave Samson his strength. Three times Delilah asked Samson the source of his strength, three times he lied in his answer, and three times he woke to find himself incapacitated in the way he said he could be defeated. After being betrayed by Delilah three times, why would the man finally tell her the truth the fourth time she asked? He couldn’t possibly have been that foolish. Perhaps, his Philistine wife’s betrayal years earlier taught him a thing or two about deceit. When Samson finally told Delilah the source of his strength, could he have thought all four of his answers to be lies? Wanting to continue enjoying her favors in bed, he might have thought he’d given her an answer as outlandish as tying him with seven bowstrings or weaving his hair onto a loom. I’m not a Bible scholar but I suspect the boastful warrior thought that, in spite of having the long hair of a Nazarite, he alone was the true source of his strength.

What the proud man didn’t understand was that his strength wasn’t found in bulging muscles, six-pack abs, or even untrimmed hair—it was found in God. Samson didn’t lose his strength when he lost his hair. He lost his strength when he lost sight of God—when he decided his lustful desires were more important than his Nazirite vows. Nazarites’ hair was dedicated to God and their heads were shaved only when their vows came to an end. This was to be done publicly at the door of the tabernacle. Considered sacred, the hair was part of their offerings presented to the Lord and was to be burned with the peace offering. Because the hair was consecrated to the Lord, it was not be cast into any profane place—and there probably was no place more profane than the pagan Delilah’s bedroom. Samson’s strength didn’t leave him because his head was shaved. He lost his strength when he ended his Nazirite vows by choosing the pagan and treacherous Delilah over the God to whom he’d been dedicated.

Samson’s long hair was merely a symbol of his being set apart and it didn’t give him strength any more than wearing a cross or a clerical collar endows people with virtue or makes them Christian. Earlier in life, it wasn’t Samson’s hair that enabled him to break out of restraints and kill 1,000 Philistines with a bone—it was the Spirit of the Lord that had come upon him. Rather than thanking God, however, Samson proudly boasted of his personal triumph: “With the jawbone of a donkey, I’ve killed a thousand men!” After claiming the victory for himself, he complained to God about his thirst. When water gushed from a rock, rather than offering thanks to God, Samson called it “The Spring of the One Who Cried Out.” A better name would have been the “The Spring of the God Who Answers!”

Although Samson called to God to deliver him from thirst, he might have been wiser if he’d called to God to deliver him from temptation and desire. Sadly, there is no mention of Samson calling to God again until we find him blind, weak, and humiliated as he is paraded in front of the Philistine crowd in their temple. Thinking God’s purpose was to serve him rather than his purpose being to serve God, Samson was blind long before the Philistines gouged out his eyes. He’d been blind to the power of God throughout his life. As Craig Groeschel aptly said, “He lost sight of his blind spots, which ultimately cost him his sight.”

It was only when he was blind that Samson finally saw the real source of his strength and prayed, “O God, please strengthen me just one more time.” God heard his prayer and Samson killed more Philistines as he died than he ever did when he lived. Without God, no matter how good our eyesight, we are blind and, without Him, no matter how many hours we’ve spent at the gym, we will be weak. It is when we look to God that we see, when we admit our weakness that we become strong, and when we are humble that we can be great.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found; Was blind, but now I see. [John Newton]

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. [2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT]

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DEBORAH 

One day she sent for Barak son of Abinoam, who lived in Kedesh in the land of Naphtali. She said to him, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: Call out 10,000 warriors from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun at Mount Tabor. And I will call out Sisera, commander of Jabin’s army, along with his chariots and warriors, to the Kishon River. There I will give you victory over him.” [Judges 4:6-7 (NLT)]

rainbowSince the judges usually were military leaders, it’s not surprising that only one of the twelve, was female: Deborah. Normally, the culture of the day wouldn’t support a woman in this role. Judges were called to save Israel from their enemies and to restore peace and prosperity. They did it by driving out or annihilating Israel’s oppressors—not considered women’s work in 1150 BC. Nevertheless, God designated the prophet Deborah as Israel’s judge. At the risk of sounding sexist, it could be that God appointed a woman as the judge because there were no qualified men at the time!

Deborah served during the time Canaanite King Jabin oppressed Israel. After summoning Barak, she revealed God’s plan—promising victory, God commanded him to gather an army of 10,000 men and go to war. Even though Barak was assured of success, the warrior’s reluctance is understandable. Israel was nearly weaponless at the time. Either they lacked the technology to make weapons or had been required to turn in their weapons to their Philistine and Canaanite oppressors. The Canaanites, however, had 900 chariots (the superweapons of their time) at their disposal! The odds were against Israel!

Barak accepted God’s call on one condition—that Deborah join him! Deborah was a wife, prophet, and judge but she wasn’t a warrior; nevertheless, Barak wanted this woman at his side. Perhaps he trusted Deborah’s relationship with God more than he trusted his! After agreeing to go to battle, Deborah warned Barak that, if she did go, he would not be the battle’s hero—that honor would belong to a woman.

As Deborah prophesized, Barak’s troops were victorious. They killed every Canaanite warrior save one—the army’s commander, Sisera. And, as Deborah predicted, the honor for the battle’s victory went to a woman—but not to Deborah. While both Deborah and Barak are mentioned in the victory song, the honor went to Jael. The wife of Heber the Kenite, Jael sized up the situation when the fleeing Sisera arrived in her campsite. After welcoming him into her tent, she fed him and covered him with a blanket. Then, in what can only be called a serious breach of hospitality, Jael hammered a tent peg through Sisera’s skull after the exhausted man fell asleep!

Deborah’s story closes with a beautiful song of victory attributed to her. Believed to be some of the oldest poetry in the Bible, it is a beautiful narrative of the battle. When God caused a storm, the heavy rain caused the river to rise and the Canaanites’ chariots became stuck in the mud. The panicked troops were sitting ducks when Israel’s army descended upon them. The song pays tribute to all of the people and tribes who fought (and berates those who didn’t). As Jael’s part is recounted, she is called the “most blessed among women” and a prayer is offered that Jael “be blessed above all women who live in tents.” Deborah’s song, however, really wasn’t about giving Jael the honor of victory. That honor was given to God. Deborah gave credit where credit was due as she celebrated God’s righteous act in bringing the power of the heavens against their enemies!

When Barak insisted that Deborah come to battle with him, he seemed to forget that she was not the one guaranteeing victory; that guarantee came from God. The question before Barak wasn’t one of Israel’s success or defeat in battle. The question of victory was answered the moment God promised it. The question before Barak was simply whether or not He would believe God enough to claim that victory! He almost didn’t! May we remember to claim the victories that God promises to us!

So on that day Israel saw God defeat Jabin, the Canaanite king. And from that time on Israel became stronger and stronger against King Jabin until they finally destroyed him. [Judges 4:23-24 (NLT)]

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THE BETRAYAL

Listen to my prayer, O God. Do not ignore my cry for help! Please listen and answer me, for I am overwhelmed by my troubles. My enemies shout at me, making loud and wicked threats. They bring trouble on me and angrily hunt me down. … Oh, that I had wings like a dove; then I would fly away and rest! [Psalm 55:1-3,6 (NLT)]

mourning dove
Psalm 55 describes a time in David’s life when he was being attacked by his enemies. Crying out to God, he wished for the wings of a dove so he could escape those who were hunting him down. What is unusual in this psalm is that David’s enemies were not adversaries like Philistines, Moabites, Ammonites, or Amalekites; the attack came from “my equal, my companion and close friend.” Commentators tend to place this psalm during the rebellion led by Absalom, David’s son. The friend about whom David speaks probably was Ahithophel. Once David’s trusted counselor, Ahithophel switched his loyalty to Absalom who was attempting to overthrow David’s kingship.

My brother-in-law was the picture of health until he was betrayed, but not by his best friend. His body betrayed him with Parkinson’s disease. Instead of deceit and arrows, he was attacked by muscle rigidity, poor balance, lack of coordination, muscle weakness, difficulty swallowing and speaking, dizziness, urinary problems, trouble standing and walking, fatigue, irregular blood pressure, depression, and finally mental decline. David eventually defeated his adversary; my brother-in-law did not. He surrendered last year as did my sister the previous year when her body overpowered her with the complications of multiple sclerosis. Rather than a child or friend, their bodies attacked them; even so, David’s words could have been theirs.

As I read David’s psalm this morning, I thought of friends who, like David, wish they could run from their troubles and escape to a safe place where their enemy couldn’t follow. Unfortunately, wherever they run their enemy follows because, as with my brother-in-law and sister, the traitor is their body. Recently, a friend with MS was unable to join my husband for coffee because his legs “wouldn’t cooperate” and he couldn’t get into his car! Two of the men with him at coffee have spouses whose bodies have conspired against them with dementia. Sadly, they are not the only ones we know whose bodies are progressively betraying them. Whether it’s MS, ALS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, COPD, cancer, the aftereffects of a stroke, or some other incapacitating disorder, David’s words could easily have been written by them or anyone else with a chronic condition.

As much as David wanted to escape his troubles and flee, he couldn’t and, as much as people suffering from a debilitating physical condition would like to escape theirs, it can’t be done either. Rather than fleeing from his situation, however, David called God into it and expressed confidence that the Lord would hear his voice. In the end, his prayer of despair became one of faith. Sure that God would sustain him in his trouble, David submitted the situation to the will of God. When faced with insurmountable trouble, prayer is all we have. For a believer, prayer is all that is needed because we know that God already has saved us!

Heavenly Father, we offer prayers for those who are suffering from debilitating ailments. Fortify their faith in the challenging days they face and reassure them of your presence. Give them courage to face their difficult tomorrows, however many or few they may be. When their battle is over, gently carry them to your heavenly place of rest where pain is no longer experienced and bodies are no longer broken.

He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears. He will remove forever all insults and mockery against his land and people. The Lord has spoken! [Isaiah 25:8 (NLT)]

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. [2 Corinthians 5:1-3 (NLT)]

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WHO KNOWS?

This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. [1 John 1:5 (NLT)]

The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. [John 1:4-5 (NLT)]

yinyangAn old Chinese parable tells of a poor farmer whose only horse runs away. His friends commiserate over his bad luck and ask how he’ll plow his field. The farmer answers, “Who knows? We shall see.” Two days later, the horse returns along with several wild horses. When the farmer’s friends congratulate him on the good fortune of now having a stable full of horses, the farmer replies, “Who knows? We shall see.” The following week, while trying to tame the horses, the farmer’s son breaks his leg in three places. The farmer’s friends offer condolences and wonder how he’ll get his work done with his son unable to walk and help. The farmer answers, “Who knows? We shall see.” When a war breaks out, the emperor’s men arrive and conscript all the young men in the village. With his leg in a cast and needing crutches, the farmer’s son is considered unfit for battle and remains in the village. As his neighbors watch their sons leave home, they congratulate the farmer on his stroke of luck. He replies, “Who knows? We shall see.” Although the son’s leg eventually heals, he has a bad limp. The farmer’s neighbors express their sympathy for such trouble. “Who knows? We shall see,” he again replies. By the time the war is over, all of the village’s boys have died in battle but, with his several horses and a son now able to help, the farmer can plow several fields and has grown wealthy. When the villagers congratulate him on his good fortune, the farmer replies, “Who knows? We shall see.”

This 2,000-year-old tale reflects Taoist stoicism and the belief in Yin Yang—everything in the universe consists of two complementary yet opposing forces. There is no good or bad, only that which appears to be so. The resigned farmer is subject to fate and it is only his attitude over which he has control. Associated with this philosophy is the Yin Yang symbol: two equal parts of white and black comma-shapes with a black dot in the white side and a white dot in the black one. It represents the belief that opposites cannot exist without one another—white cannot exist without black nor could light exist without dark. In the same way, good cannot exist without bad nor can bad exist without good. Rather than good and bad being at war, they are in a constant state of flux; there is a little bad in all that’s good and a little good in all that’s bad.

While it is comforting to think there are no absolutes and that life is just a balance of opposites, that’s not Biblical. We live in a world of absolutes and our triune God is absolutely righteous and the sovereign judge of all that’s evil. Moreover, not all things change—our God is immutable and Jesus is the same today as He was yesterday and will be tomorrow. If Christians had a symbol similar to that of Yin Yang, it wouldn’t show equal forces with neither side struggling for dominance. It would have the light consuming the darkness. Good and evil are not balanced—they are at war and good won the war when Christ died and rose from the dead! There is no dot of darkness in God’s light.

If this were a Christian parable, the imperturbable farmer wouldn’t answer, “Who knows? We shall see.” Rather than being complacent and merely accepting his fate, he would find purpose in it. He’d echo the Apostle Paul’s words, “In all things I give thanks, knowing that I can be content in all circumstance because my strength is in Christ.” The Christian does not find peace in a philosophy—he finds peace in the person of our triune God. Like the Taoist farmer, he doesn’t know what the next day will bring or how it all fits together but, unlike that farmer, he knows who is writing the story and how the story eventually will end!

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” [John 8:12 (NLT)]

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