Sermon notes 07-12-20          Exciting Instructions for Living

Psalm 119:105-112 

105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

106 I have sworn an oath and confirmed it to keep your righteous rules.

107 I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word!

108 Accept my freewill offerings of praise, O Lord, and teach me your rules.

109 I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law.

110 The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts.

111 Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart.

112 I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end.

 Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.”

18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

 I want to speak with you this morning about following instructions.  I know, that’s a subject that may make you want to roll your eyes, or yawn from boredom, but I hope we might all see that there is reason for us to be excited about following instructions.  I have been thinking a lot about following instructions lately, because I have been very aware lately of having a lot of instructions to follow.  Some of you know that Kim and I were recently in Austin, Texas to babysit our grandson Hugo while our son Greg and his wife Tracey were in the hospital for Tracey to deliver our newest granddaughter, Colette.  It was a wonderful gift to be with our family during that special time, and it was a time of following a lot of instructions.

First of all, to even get to Austin we had to rely on the instructions from the GPS app on our phones telling us how to get there.  Kim and I had visited Austin several times before, but we had never driven, and we were on roads we had never been on before—in fact, we passed through an entire state neither of us had ever been in before, the state of Louisiana—so we were happy to follow the instructions from Google Maps to get us to Austin.

Once we got to Austin, we had instructions to follow from Greg and Tracey about taking care of Hugo; instructions about what and when to feed him, when to give him a bath, when to put him down for a nap and for bedtime, how much time he was allowed to watch Paw Patrol on TV, things like that.  I’m not saying that we followed all those instructions exactly when mom and dad were in the hospital, but we were glad to have them anyway, and we did pretty well in following them.

And then there were instructions to follow for assembling and installing things that Greg and Tracey had purchased for their new home.  They had moved into their house just a couple of weeks before we got there, so while we were there, I helped Greg assemble and install several things for their home.  We installed shelving and tool racks in the garage, we assembled bedroom furniture for the baby, we put together a hardwood floor cleaner, and a floor lamp, among other things.  Regardless of what it was that we put together, we were always grateful to have instructions to follow.  When we opened a box of something we needed to assemble, of all the different parts and pieces that came out of the box, the thing we looked for first was the instruction pamphlet.  We were always really glad to find the instructions, because we knew we would be lost without them.

Now you may wonder why I am talking to you this morning about following instructions.  Instructions got us to Austin, and helped us care for our grandson, and made assembling furniture easier, but what does a road trip, or caring for an almost three-year-old, or putting furniture together have to do with our Scripture passages?

You may have noticed in the two passages of Scripture Jewels read for us that there is a key word, the same key word, emphasized in each passage.  The Psalm writer uses it twice, and Jesus uses it six times.  It’s the word, “word.”

The passage from Psalm 119 begins with the verse that is the source of the song we sang earlier, “your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus tells a parable about hearing the word of the kingdom.  The “word” that Jesus and the psalm writer are both describing is the word of God contained in the Holy Scriptures.  Psalm 119 and Matthew 13 both make the same point: that for those who hear it … and follow it … the word of God provides instructions for living life well.

I am pretty sure if I asked for a show of hands by everyone who wants to live life well, all of you would raise your hand.  Of course, everyone wants to live life well … but we know that not everyone is living life well.  When we read or watch the news or pay attention to what is going on in our world, we can observe that a lot of people do not appear to be living life well.  But then again, we might all have a different definition of what it means to live life well.  I hope none of us would say that living life well is determined by the amount of our possessions.  Jesus said in Luke 12:15, one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his or her possessions.

But if life is not about acquiring possessions, what is it about?  How can we live life well, when we don’t know or can’t agree on what it looks like to live life well?  Friends, the answer is found in the One who invented and created life.   In the same way that the manufacturer of a piece of equipment or furniture knows best about how to assemble or install or operate it, so the Creator of life knows best about how we are to live life well.  And the really good news is that our Creator hasn’t keep it a secret.  God didn’t put us here on earth and breathe life into us and then keep silent about how to live our lives.  God gave us his word, words of instructions for living life well.

If we want to live life well, that should be cause for excitement!  Think about it this way.  Imagine you had all the pieces and parts of something you knew were meant to become a wonderfully beautiful and extremely valuable object, but you had no idea how the parts and pieces fit together, nor any way of figuring it out.  It would be sad, even tragic knowing that the potential of the beautiful object would never be realized and its purpose would never be fulfilled.  But then imagine you somehow discovered the instructions for assembling it, written by the person who created it and who knew better than anyone how to put together the wonderfully beautiful and extremely valuable object.  You would be beside yourself with excitement and you would pore over those instructions until the pieces and parts became that wondrously beautiful and valuable object it was intended to be.

Brothers and sisters, the word of God is like those instructions. God intended for our lives to be wonderfully beautiful and extremely valuable, but tragically, the potential of many lives is not being realized, and the purpose of many lives is not being fulfilled, because many have either not discovered or have not followed God’s words of instructions.  We should be beside ourselves with excitement to know that the Creator of our lives has provided words of instruction for us to follow.

The writer of Psalm 119 was so excited about God’s instructions for life that he wrote the longest chapter in the whole Bible about it.  Jewels read only eight of the 176 verses in Psalm 119, which is a hymn of praise about God’s instructions for living.  The vast majority of those 176 verses contain a synonym for God’s instructions, such as word, precepts, commandments, laws, statues, testimonies and rules.  The psalm writer sings praises to God for providing those instructions for life, and expresses his joy in following them.  (commend reading 30 verses or so/day)

Similar joy is indicated at the end of Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed, when Jesus promises that the one who hears the word of God and understands it will yield fruit up to 100 times what was sown.

I like the way the Message translation puts that verse: “The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.”

So how can we be that kind of a person, one who hears and takes in the news and produces a harvest beyond our wildest dreams?  First, we have to read the instruction manual, and we have to heed to the instructions.  Many choose not to, and they try to go through life based on instinct, doing what seems best to them.  That is a recipe for disaster, like trying to assemble without instructions a product having many random and peculiar parts.

Next Jesus says, we must understand the instructions.  Sometimes the Bible can be difficult to understand, that is true.  Sometimes we have to read and re-read certain parts in order to understand.  Sometimes we need to discuss the Bible with a friend to help us understand.  Maybe a pastor or more experienced Christian can help with understanding.  But the most important help comes from the Holy Spirit.  Pray that the Spirit will help you understand the teaching of Scripture.

Next Jesus warns that the word can be choked by the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches.  If we are more concerned with worldly things than we are with following the word of God, the full purpose and potential of our lives will not be fulfilled, and our lives will be less than fruitful.

Jesus tells us that the one who bears fruit is the one who hears and understands and applies God’s word.  Following God’s instructions leads to a life of bearing fruit for God’s kingdom.  Not a life free from trouble or pain or difficulty or sorrow, but a fulfilling life, a life that is pleasing to God, a life that yields an abundance of good things for God’s kingdom.  Friends, we all know that there is a great deal of darkness in our world, but thanks be to God, we have not been left to stumble in the dark.  God has given us his words of instruction to illumine our steps, and enlighten our paths, and enable us to live life well.  Thanks be to God.  Let us pray.

God, we thank you for your Word, the Holy Scriptures that contain everything we need to know for life and salvation.  Thank you for blessing us with this most excellent of all instruction manuals.  Help us each to hear, understand and apply your Word, that we might bear the fruit of a fulfilling, abundant life that is pleasing to you.  In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.