Looking Past Looks

Looking Past Looks

Matthew 7:15-20

Dr. Jim Denison

A little horse named “Seabiscuit” is the most famous animal in the world these days. It’s an amazing and inspiring true story; when we saw the movie, the audience broke out in applause at the end. The little horse who took on the world and won proves that appearances are deceiving. They always have been.

As Jesus nears the end of the most famous sermon ever preached, he tells us how to separate appearance from reality, how to measure true success and false. We need to know, for one day the ones being measured will be us. Each one of us.

Look past looks (vs. 15-18)

Our Lord begins with an imperative: “Watch out.” “Beware”—be on your guard, pay attention. This is in the present tense: “Keep watching out for this….” It is an imperative, a command, with no options. This must be a real problem, or the Lord would not warn us of its existence.

Watch out for “false prophets.”

“Prophet” signifies one who “speaks forth” under divine influence, as the ambassador of God to men. God’s spokesperson.

“False” translates the Greek word “pseudo,” one who appears to be genuine but is not. Those who pretended to speak the word of the Lord but did not were a problem all through the Bible. Moses warned his people about them (Deuteronomy 13:5), as did Jeremiah (Jeremiah 23:31). Jesus warned his followers repeatedly that “false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect” (Matthew 24:24). Paul, Barnabas, John, and Peter all met false prophets and condemned their deception (Acts 13:6; 2 Corinthians 11:13; Galatians 1:7; Acts 20:29-32; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 1 John 4:1-3; Revelation 2:20-23).

Such false teachers “come to you”—they take the initiative to attack the people of God.

Their appearances are deceiving in the extreme:

They wear “sheep’s clothing”—shepherds wore sheepskins, with the fleece against their skin.

But “inwardly they are ferocious wolves,” in places we cannot see with our eyes. Wolves are the deadliest enemies of sheep. Four times the Bible condemns false spokesmen for God as such “wolves” (Ezekiel 22.27; Zephaniah 3:3; Acts 20:29; John 10:12).

So how are we to tell who they are, if appearances cannot be trusted? “By their fruit you will recognize them” (v. 16).

A wolf can disguise himself, but a tree cannot. It must be what it is by nature. An apple tree must grow like one, be the size of one, have the trunk and bark and leaves and roots of one, and produce apples. It cannot help it. The way to tell what someone is by nature is to examine what they do, the results of their way of life.

We bear good fruit through our relationship with Jesus: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Then our character exhibits the “fruit of the Spirit”: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

Our lives lead others to our Lord. We reproduce spiritually by helping people follow Jesus, as a tree reproduces physically through the fruit it bears.

And we glorify God as a result: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8).

Such living evidence is proof of who we really are, in our souls. Thorns don’t produce grapes, or thistles figs. A healthy tree must make healthy fruit; a sick or diseased tree cannot. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

So look past looks. Success is not how we appear, but who we really are. Our communion with God, connected to him as a branch to its vine. Our character as we demonstrate the Spirit at work in our lives. Our ministry and witness, as we produce disciples who follow us to Christ. This is success with God. This is what matters to him, and should to us.

Get ready for your final exam

Now, why is this definition of success so urgent? Keep reading: “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (v. 19). What is this “fire”? Let’s review briefly the word of God on the subject.

A judgment day is coming for every person who has ever lived and ever will: “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

Who will judge us? “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

When will this “final exam” occur? “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him” (Matthew 25:31-32), and he will judge them.

What will happen? Revelation 20:11-15 is the setting. Here, first our relationship with Christ will be judged from the “book of life” (v. 12a).

Moses said to God: “Please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” The Lord replied, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book” (Exodus. 32:32-33).

God has your name in his book, and must “blot it out” if you choose to reject his free salvation in Christ. When you die without Christ, God is forced to remove your name from his book of life, and you’ll be “thrown into the lake of fire.”

Scripture is very clear: “Nothing impure will ever enter [heaven], nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation. 21:27).

But if you have accepted Christ as Savior and Lord, your name will be there forever. Jesus said to his disciples, “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10.20). Paul addressed the Philippian Christians as “my fellow laborers, whose names are in the book of life” (Philippians 4:3).

Then the other book is opened, the “book of works,” and we are judged according to what we have done (v. 12b). Here, all unconfessed sin is judged by God.

Secret sins will be judged: “God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes. 12:14). Jesus confirms it: “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs” (Luke 12.2-3).

Our words will be judged: “I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken” (Matthew. 12:36-37).

After listing all sorts of unconfessed sin, Peter declared that those who do such things “will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5).

What will happen to them? “His work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work…If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:13, 15).

Ungodly, unconfessed sins, thoughts, or words will be revealed at the judgment and burned away. Because heaven is perfect, these things cannot enter in; they must be burned off, destroyed. Sin is forgiven, but reward is lost.

That’s the bad news. Here’s the good news: the “good fruit,” all work done for the glory of God, will be recognized by heaven and rewarded by God.

When we pay a price to follow Jesus, we receive the “crown of life”: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). Jesus said, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

When we share our faith, we receive the “soul-winner’s crown”: “What is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).

When we stay faithful to God for a lifetime, we receive the “crown of righteousness”: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

When we lead others faithfully we receive the “crown of glory”: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5:2-4).

Enduring temptation; winning souls; staying faithful to God’s purpose; serving God’s people in love—these lead to rewards which will last forever. They can be yours. But you must choose them now.


It comes to this: we can live for earth or for heaven, for time or for eternity, for now or forever. One day every one of us will stand before Jesus Christ to be judged. If you have not made him your Savior and Lord, your eternity will be determined solely by your works. And unless you are sinless and perfect, you will be assigned a permanent place in hell. If you are his, you will spend eternity with him in his paradise.

But you are not done. Your works will then be judged, your “fruit” inspected. Unconfessed sin will be purged. Faithful service, witness, and obedience will be rewarded for eternity. Wherever and whenever Jesus was Lord, the One you served with unconditional courage and devotion, he was watching. And waiting to reward you. He’s watching now, this moment.

Tenor Luciano Pavarotti said that his father, a baker, introduced him to music and urged him to work hard to develop his voice. A professional tenor in his hometown of Modena, Italy, took him as a pupil. He also enrolled in a teachers college. After graduation, he asked his father, “Shall I be a teacher or a singer?” Luciano,” his father replied, “if you try to sit on two chairs, you will fall between them. For life, you must choose one chair.”

Pavarotti adds, “I chose one. It took seven years of study and frustration before I made my first professional appearance. It took another seven to reach the Metropolitan Opera. And now I think whether it’s laying bricks, writing a book—whatever we choose—we should give ourselves to it. Commitment, that’s the key. Choose one chair.”


No Doubts About It

No Doubts About It

Matthew 7:21-23

Dr. Jim Denison

Sometimes God must wonder about the human race, and for good reason. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Compaq computer company is considering changing the command “press any key” to “press return key” because of the flood of calls asking where the “any” key is located. A Dell customer called to say his computer would not fax anything. Turns out the man was holding a piece of paper in front of the monitor and hitting the “send” key. A confused caller to IBM reported that his computer could not “find” the printer, even though he turned the monitor to face it. And a person called technical support for help with fixing the computer’s “cup holder.” The caller put a cup on the CD-ROM drive drawer and broke it off.

God wonders about us, and we wonder about him. The most common question I have been asked across my pastoral ministry is “How can I know that I am a Christian?” In recent weeks, very serious and urgent church members have come to me with this very issue. I struggled with assurance of salvation for more than a year after my own conversion. How can you know that you know? How can you help those who have their own doubts?

Don’t trust in religion

First, don’t trust in religion. That sounds strange in a religious service, I know. But it’s exactly the warning Jesus gives us today: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 21).

These are the right words; “Jesus is Lord” is the first and central affirmation of the Christian faith. We find it written in Greek on catacomb walls in ancient Rome. Those who are baptized in our church say first, “Jesus is my Lord.”

Many will say the right words, calling Jesus their “Lord.” They will have the right urgency, repeating their affirmation of faith.

And they will have the right works:They will “prophesy” or preach “in your name,” representing Jesus, claiming to speak his words and carry his message.They will “drive out demons and perform many miracles.” Religious works of the highest magnitude and worth.

We can say the right words and do the right works, and still hear the most terrible statement in all of eternity: “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (v. 23).

“Knew” means personal, intimate knowledge, a personal relationship, not just a performed religion. As we will see shortly, this is the only basis for admittance to heaven, for assurance of eternal life. God must know us.

It’s not enough that we know about God. If Cowboys coach Bill Parcells were to walk into the sanctuary this morning, you’d know him. But would he know you?

Jesus makes clear the fact that performance is not the basis for assurance. Saying the right words and doing the right works are the essence of religion. And yet they are not enough to know that you will be in heaven, to be sure of your faith and eternity.

I once read of a 90-year-old preacher who became a Christian.

A new pastor drove by his church one evening to see a crowd assembling. He stopped and asked someone what was happening. The man said, “They’re meeting to pray for the conversion of their new pastor.” The man went to the meeting, and came to saving faith in Jesus.

No seminary degree can give assurance of salvation. No words preached or works performed are enough. Don’t trust in religion—it will fail your soul.

Trust in relationship

How can you be absolutely assured that you will “enter the kingdom of heaven?” Only in one way: “only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (v. 21). So it is imperative that we ask, what is this will?

“My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40).

“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29).

“This is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us” (1 John 3:23).

Then our words and works will reflect our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We will bear the “fruit of the Spirit” as a natural result of branches connected with the vine. We will walk on the road to abundant life, and our words and actions will witness to that life. We will serve Jesus with sacrificial commitment, repentant hearts, and transformed souls. And one day, instead of hearing “I never knew you,” we will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21), the most blessed words in all of eternity.

So let us be sure that we know Jesus in this intimate, personal way. For many years I wasn’t sure. I thought God had a scale, with the good at one end and the bad at the other. I hoped I was good enough for the scale to tip in my favor. Millions of Americans still think the same way: I’m good and believe in God, so hopefully that will be enough.

Bruce Wilkinson, in his new book The Life God Rewards, explains salvation this way. Draw a line in your mind. Write “totally evil” on the left end, and “totally good” on the right. Put an X to mark how close to “totally good” a person would have to be to get into heaven. Where did you put your mark?

Let’s say you put the X at 70%. What if God requires 71%? You’d be lost. Where does he put the X? At 100%. His heaven is perfect, and can only stay that way if only perfect people are admitted. The pack of gum I stole at the age of five was enough to keep me out. Romans 3:23 includes every one of us: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All.

So what are we to do? Nothing. Our salvation depends not on what we can do, but on what God has done. His perfect Son came to earth and died in our place. His death did not pay off the debt of his own sin, for he was sinless. Rather, it paid off the debt you owed this perfect God. Now when you ask God to forgive your sins, he can. He can place you at the “totally good” end of the line. You can be in his perfect paradise. When you ask Jesus to forgive your failures, repent of them, and ask him to be your Lord, he answers your prayer. And he “knows” you, personally and eternally.

When he “knows” you, he will never forget you. You can be absolutely certain of your salvation. Not because of your words or works, but because of his.

Jesus promised: “Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). From the moment you “believed in him,” you received eternal life. You have it right now. You will never perish. When you breathe your last here, you breathe your first there. Jesus said, “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:26).

Now Jesus says of you, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28).

God’s word states, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). You are a new creation, the child of God. It is not possible for you to return to where you were before you met Christ.

You are his child, and will always be his child, just as my sons will always be my sons. No matter how they feel, or what they say or do, they cannot go back and not be my sons, because they were born as my sons. You were “born again” as the child of God, and will be his child forever.

But we have questions.

Someone will say this morning, “I don’t feel close to God.” The Bible replies: nowhere does God’s word say how it feels to be a Christian. Our feelings depend on the pizza we had for dinner last night, or any of a thousand other circumstances. I didn’t feel anything when I first asked Christ to be my Savior, and thus doubted my salvation for many months. I heard wonderful stories about burdens lifted, great joy flooding hearts, but none of that happened for me. It was a great relief to discover that it didn’t have to. Feelings are the caboose, at the end of faith—not its engine.

Someone else will ask, What about free will? If we choose to trust Christ, can we later choose not to? No more than a child can later choose not to be born. If a person claims he once knew Christ but now rejects him, I would say he never knew him. And I would do all I could to help him meet Jesus personally.

And someone else will ask, What about my sins? I have failed the Lord. I have fallen so short of the person he wants me to be. The Bible replies: so did Paul. So did Peter, who denied Christ three times. So did the other apostles, who fled at the cross. So have I. So have we all. If your assurance were based on religious performance, you’d be in trouble. Praise God, our assurance is not based on our words or works, but his. He says we are his children. His Son died to pay off our spiritual debt so we could join his eternal family. This is the word of the Lord.


Are you sure that you’re sure? Are doubts plaguing your soul this morning? If so, there can be only two reasons.

One: you have trusted Christ as your Savior, but Satan wants to paralyze your spiritual growth and ministry. He knows that if you’re not sure about your faith, you’ll be hard-pressed to share it with anyone else. It will be a struggle to pray, to read God’s word, to worship, to minister, if you keep coming back to this most essential of all questions.

So settle this issue with me, right now. Remember the time you asked Jesus Christ to forgive your sins and become your Savior. Realize that it takes as much faith today to believe he saved you as it did to trust him then. Drive a stake into the ground. And the next time doubts knock at your door, answer them with this fact: you are the child of God. And will be his child eternally.

Now you can dedicate your life to giving this gift to others. Make your work your mission field. Pray for your lost friends by name. Seize every opportunity to give what God has given to you. They will be grateful for all of eternity.

The other reason for doubts this morning may be that you’re not sure you have ever met Jesus personally. You’re good and believe in God, but you don’t remember ever asking Christ to forgive your sins and save your soul. You have no assurance of salvation, because you have not received it as God’s gift. You can receive it with me, this morning.

If you’re far from the blessed assurance of faith, come home. You can, right now.

An English minister named Robert Robinson was a gifted preacher, poet, and hymn writer. After many years in the ministry, he began to drift in his spiritual life. He left the ministry, traveled to France, sank further into sin, and lost his assurance.

One night he was riding in a carriage with a Paris socialite who had recently become a believer. She was reading some poetry to him and asked, “And what do you think of this one?”

Come thou Fount of every blessing,

Tune my heart to sing thy grace.

Streams of mercy never failing

Call for hymns of loudest praise.

When she looked over at him she saw him cry. “What do I think of it?” he asked in a broken voice. “I wrote it; but now I’ve drifted away from him and can’t find my way back.”

“But don’t you see?” said the woman quietly. “The way back is written right here in the third line of your poem: ‘Streams of mercy never ceasing.’ Those streams are flowing even here in Paris tonight.”

Robinson recommitted his life to Christ and regained his blessed assurance. That stream of mercy now flows in Dallas, to your soul today. This is the promise of God.

Thanking God For The Thorns

Thanking God for the Thorns

Matthew 7:24-27

Dr. Jim Denison

There is a group which monitors “top idiots of the year.” Here are some of their honorees, all of them true stories.

A woman called the poison control center to report that her daughter had eaten some ants. The physician told her not to worry. The mother then mentioned that she had made her daughter eat ant poison to kill the ants in her stomach. The doctor changed his mind.

A man waited in line to rob a Bank of America, with a stickup note written on the bank’s deposit slip. The line was going too slowly, so he crossed the street and gave the note to a teller at Wells Fargo. She told him she couldn’t accept his stickup note because it was written on Bank of America’s note, and that he would have to go back there. So he did. Meanwhile, she called the police, and they arrested the man in line.

A man held up a corner grocery, demanding money and a bottle of Scotch. The clerk told the robber he didn’t believe he was 21, and couldn’t give him the liquor. The robber showed the clerk his driver’s license to prove his age. The clerk called the information to the police, who arrested the man two hours later.

And yet another would-be robber walked into a Burger King in Michigan, early one morning. The clerk said he couldn’t open the cash register without a food order. The robber ordered onion rings, but the clerk said they weren’t available for breakfast. The man, frustrated, walked away.

We are fallen people, living in a fallen world. Jesus warned us: “In this world you will have tribulation” (John 16.33). Some of our trials are our fault; some are not. But problems are part of life. The question is not whether rain will come, floods will rise, winds will rage. The question is whether we will still be standing after they do.

There’s only one way to withstand the inevitable storms of life. We’d best know what it is, for the rain is going to fall. Maybe today.

Build on the word of God

Jesus begins: “Everyone who hears these words of mine” (v. 24a). No exceptions, no qualifications. Every person among us can qualify. Each can hear the words of God.

But then we must “put them into practice.” Many do not.

The Lord warned the prophet Ezekiel: “My people come to you…and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice” (Ezekiel 33:31-32). It’s one thing to hear the word on Sunday, but another to obey it on Monday.

James adds: “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like” (James 1:23-24).

Every time you and I look into the mirror, which is the word of God, something about our lives should change. Conviction of sin, direction of life, leadership from the Spirit—there should always be life-transformation for hearing from the Lord of the universe. When did the word of God last change your life?

When we seek God’s word for our problems and decisions, and do what it says, we are “like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (v. 24b). “The rock” refers to a strata, not just a specific stone. In the limestone country of Galilee, when a builder digs down through the topsoil and sand, he will always find such a level of solid stone. It was common to dig down to this level, and build the house’s foundation on it.

Now “the rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house” (v. 25a). Rain bombarded the roof, streams flooded the flooring, winds pounded the walls. Every part of the house was assaulted. But “it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock” (v. 25b).

Proverbs 10:25 says, “When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever.” Because our foundation is solid.

Dr. Earl Palmer has pastored a church in California for more than 30 years. In his excellent commentary on the Sermon on the Mount he writes:

“I live in earthquake country. And the church I serve in Berkeley, California, is next to the campus of the University of California which sits astride the Hayward fault, itself connected to the gigantic San Andreas Fault that stretches from Mexico to Alaska and directly under the city of San Francisco.

“Earthquake specialists have pointed up several important facts about home construction in earthquake terrain: A wood structure is ideally suited for the stresses of horizontal land movement, which is the terror of an earthquake, provided that the wood structure is bolted to its foundation…The non-bolted home moves a few inches away from its foundation, [causing] the collapse of the structure…A safe house is that house which relates as much of the house as possible to its foundation. It not only rests upon a rock; it is built into the rock.”

Dr. Palmer adds that the strategy behind the Golden Gate Bridge is similar: its two great towers are deeply imbedded into the rock foundation beneath the sea. As he says, “the bridge is totally preoccupied with its foundation. That is its secret!” (The Enormous Exception, 144-5).

Refuse every other foundation

We have another option: “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” (v. 26).

The “foolish” (moronic) man hears exactly the same words. He has access to the same revelation of God’s holy truth. He knows the same biblical revelation.

But he does not put these words into practice. He does not stop to ask God’s word for guidance before his decisions. He chooses behavior which contradicts God’s word and will. He pays deference to the word on Sunday, but ignores it on Monday.

He “built his house on sand.”

The “sand” here is not a beach or sand pit as we might imagine it, but loose topsoil and rocks lying above the underlying strata of solid rock. The most common place to find such soil was in a dry riverbed.

During the dry season, the region went for months without a drop of water. So a man builds his house, moves into it, and all is well. Until the first storm. Then the same rains which bombarded the wise man’s roof, fall on his; the same streams which flooded the wise man’s flooring, rise against his; the same winds which pounded the wise man’s walls, assault his. But the fool’s house has no foundation. No underlying rock. No place to stand.

And so the house “fell with a great crash.” “Mega” crash, in the Greek. The crash which is coming to every life not built on obedience to the word of God.

How do people build on sand today?

Some make this tragic decision with regard to salvation. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the theologian who returned to his native Germany to fight Hitler and paid for his commitment and courage with his life, wrote one of the great classics of Christian literature, a study of Jesus’ teachings called The Cost of Discipleship. He begins: “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.”

What does he mean? “Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system…An intellectual assent…is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins.” So long as we believe that the Bible is true, Jesus is the Son of God and Savior and Lord, that’s enough. No life-transforming personal relationship is needed.

As a result, “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

On the other hand, “Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life” (pp. 45-7, emphasis his).

If your salvation is resting on intellectual acceptance of the truths of Christianity, you’re building on sand. Only when Jesus is your Lord, your Master, your King and Boss and God, are you standing on the rock. When the storms come, we’ll all know which foundation is yours.

Lost people build their salvation on the sand. And some saved people build their lives next door to them, on the same sand of self-sufficiency. We who follow Christ are tempted to compartmentalize our lives. To build one room on Christ and one on the world, our friends, our resources, ourselves. Or to stand on the rock part of the time and the sand the rest of the time.

Is there a room in your house which is disobedient to the revealed word of God? When last did you consult that word before your decisions, your actions, the day before you? When last did the word of God change your behavior?

Jesus was a master carpenter. He knew that appearances are deceiving. The roof, walls, and flooring can look excellent in workmanship. It takes a rainstorm to reveal the leaks, the cracks, the faults.

What do the storms of life tell you about your soul? Do hard times frustrate you? Discourage or depress you? Do they cause you to turn from God in anger? Or do they draw you closer to your Lord, make you more dependent on him, reveal more of his love and truth through your life to others?

To discover the quality of a grape, crush it. To find out what’s inside a bottle, shake it. To learn the nature of a tea bag, drop it in hot water.


Walt Disney was right: difficulties make some men bitter, and others better. If you’ll live in constant, consistent obedience to the word of God, it will be the latter for you.

A West African believer from an unreached people was recently released after being kidnapped and tortured for days. Because he continually witnessed to his faith in Christ through the ordeal, four of his captors trusted in Jesus as their Lord. They said, “No one could endure what he did for something that wasn’t true.”

Our own Verdell Davis, no stranger to suffering, has written an excellent book titled Riches Stored in Secret Places. Here she quotes James Means: “The very fire that blackens my horizons warms my soul. The darkness that oppresses my mind sharpens my vision. The flood that overwhelms my heart quenches my thirst. The thorns that penetrate my flesh strengthen my spirit. The grave that buries my desires deepens my devotion. Man’s failure to comprehend this intention of God is one of life’s true calamities” (p. 15).

George Matheson was born to privilege. At the University of Glasgow he graduated first in classics, logic, and philosophy. His prospects for academic success were brilliant.

Then, in his 20th year of life, he became totally blind. He followed God’s call to ministry anyway. Across many years of faithfulness, he pastored some of Scotland’s finest and largest churches, wrote books of philosophical theology which are still read and cited today, was theologian to Queen Victoria, received numerous honorary doctorates, filled the most prestigious lectureships in the land, and was a fellow of the Royal Society.

This prayer by Dr. Matheson convicted me this week. Let’s make it ours:

My God, I have never thanked thee for my thorn.

I have thanked thee a thousand times for my roses,

But never once for my thorn.

Teach me the glory of my cross,

Teach me the value of my thorn.

Show me that I have climbed to thee by the path of my pain.

Show me that my tears have made my rainbows.


When The Lights Go Out

When the Lights Go Out

Matthew 7:28-29

Dr. Jim Denison

The flashlight can be the most valuable possession in your home.

In 1896, Mr. David Misell invented a device which connected the just-created “D” cell battery to a bulb. The bulb and batteries were so inefficient they could not provide a steady stream of light, so the device was called the “flash light.”

On Thursday, August 14, you could have sold Mr. Misell’s invention to 50 million people. The worst power outage in world history has cost New York City alone as much as $750 million dollars in lost income, taxes, and overtime costs.

No one thinks about a flashlight until the lights go out. And they often do. Last Sunday’s and Tuesday’s storms left thousands in Dallas without power, many through the night. Mr. Misell’s invention is what we need most.

It is a fact that you and I live in a world which is absolutely pitch-black with regard to the future. We do not know when the next power outage will occur. In fact, we don’t know what will happen an hour from now, or whether we’ll even be alive to witness it. Not a single human being knows with certainty what will happen tomorrow. Of all we don’t know, our greatest ignorance regards the next minute.

When the lights go out and all is dark, we have three options. We can feel our way alone; we can follow others who are just as blind as are we; or we can listen to the only One who sees the way, who is already where we want to be.

The psalmist chose wisely: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105). Let’s make the same decision.

Live by God’s word

When Jesus finished the discourse we have studied for more than a year, Matthew says that “the crowds were amazed at his teaching.” “Amazed” translates a word which means to be beside yourself with astonishment, to be spell-bound, literally “struck out of themselves.”

Why? Because “he taught as one who had authority.”

“Authority” means literally “out of your own being.” It is power which you possess, which no one need confer on you. I have authority to call a staff meeting, but not a special session of the Texas Legislature. You have authority to do some things, but not others.

Jesus had “authority” to speak these words.

“Not as their teachers of the law.”

The prophets typically began, “Thus says the Lord.” Jesus never did, because he was and is the Lord.

The priests and professors quoted the Law, the Prophets, and writings about both. They collected verse-by-verse commentaries (Midrah), topical commentaries (Mishna), commentary on legal matters in Scripture (Halakah) and devotional applications (Haggadah). Then they made commentary on the earlier commentary (Gemara), and collected it all into their Talmud.

A rabbi would quote a rabbi, who quoted a rabbi. If my sermon today were to quote Barclay quoting Bruce citing the Greek New Testament, I would teach as their “teachers of the law.”

Not so with Jesus. Twelve times in this Sermon he says, “I say unto you.” No rabbi in Jewish history had ever done this. His words were the word of God.

They will be so forever: “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8); “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35).

They lead us to salvation: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

They keep us from sin: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11); “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word” (Psalm 119:9).

They instruct and guide our lives: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Choose now to live by the word of God.

What decision is facing you today? Decide that you will consult Scripture before making it and live by the light of God’s word.

What actions or attitudes in your life are unbiblical? Where is there bitterness toward another person, coveting toward a possession, lust of eye or mind, pride of heart? Decide that you will confess it and live by the light of God’s word.

You face a future which is dark. Trust the only light you own.

Listen to God’s word

Now, listen to this, the greatest Sermon ever preached.

See the Galilean hillside, sloping gently down to the Sea of Galilee. Hear its waters as they lap the shore; listen to the calls of the birds as they circle overhead. Smell the flowers and grasses of the spring fields. Feel the sun on your face, the wind in your hair.

Join the crowds as they jostle together for a closer look at the One who is speaking. Close your eyes if you wish. Travel back 20 centuries. Join the first hearers of Jesus’ first sermon. Hear it again, for the very first time. And choose to live under the authority of these words, today and for the rest of your life.

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.   Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.

Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

This, then, is how you should pray:

‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

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.”

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. (Matthew 5-7)

Which house is yours? Let us pray.