Intro: Furniture - Veneer or Solid Wood – Veneer looks enough like the real thing and it costs less.
We live in a veneer world. Appearance is everything – as long as you look good and your image is intact – you’ve got it made. Substance doesn’t really mean anything, character is an outdated value, integrity isn’t important. All that matters is whether you look good on the surface – a thin veneer will do nicely.
Nevertheless, from God’s perspective, substance is incredibly important. You’ll remember that when God sent Samuel to the house of Jesse to anoint a king for Israel, Samuel balked when God told him it was David he had chosen instead of his older brother who seemed to have more to offer, but God said to him, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7).
Both there in 1 Samuel and later in the book of Acts, David will be described as “a man after God’s own heart.” You and I both know that doesn’t mean David was perfect and sinless. Some of the most colossal moral failures described in the Bible were David’s. He sinned and he sinned big. But when you look at how David responded to those sins, you begin to understand why God would say that about him. In Ps 32, David will write, Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”— and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
Or in Ps 51: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.
David doesn’t excuse his sin. He lays it out before God and humbly asks for his forgiveness. He is transparent, he is authentic.
But And that is what God desires in his man, his woman. In the NT, John will warn Jesus’ followers not to deceive themselves or pretend to be something we’re not - If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. (1 Jn 1:8-2:1)
He’s saying, don’t try to put veneer over pressed wood. Don’t try to appear as something you aren’t. Like David, be authentic. When people look at you, let them see the real you. And when you live an authentic life – what they will see is Jesus living through you.
When people looked at Jesus and listened to his words, that was their immediate impression – he was unlike any of their religious authorities and teachers. Matthew writes, The crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. (Mt 7:28-29). What made him different than all the teachers was that he lived what he said. People could see when the teachers’ words were just a veneer for the wickedness and ungodliness underneath. They could tell Jesus was the real thing.
And God wants us to have that same authenticity. He wants us to live lives that are solid all the way to the core.
How does that happen? Authenticity doesn’t just happen overnight. Replacing the veneer with solid wood takes time and intentional effort. And it takes exposure to the heart of God. It takes the same kind of heart that David had when he prayed in Ps 139 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Or in Ps 86: Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.
And the way God has an opening in your life, the way he works his way into your heart, the way he teaches you his way is through his word. Listen to the words of the writer of the Hebrews letter: For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Heb 4:12-13)
There is no substitute in a Christian’s life for spending time in God’s word. Reading spiritual books is great – I’ve got a library full of them. Coming to church and going to Bible class and listening to sermons is very important – I hope the things I teach and preach help you to grow closer to God. But there is nothing that can take the place of opening God’s word and listening to his voice. If you want to be a man or a woman after God’s own heart – you need to meet him in his word every day.
It’s a matter of spiritual survival – and I mean that literally. When Moses was preparing God’s people to cross over the Jordan into hostile territory to live in the land that God was giving to them and the dangers that awaited them, listen to what he told them: The LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the LORD will drive you. There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell. But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.
I need to hear that. Those words are as relevant today as they were all those centuries ago. We live in a land that is full of idols that tempt us away from God. There are so many alternatives available to us to draw us to other values, other priorities. The dangers are so great to our spiritual lives – and you and I all know brothers and sisters who have been seduced by those voices. I need to keep hearing that reminder to seek the Lord with all of my heart and with all of my soul.
That sounds familiar doesn’t it? When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment is, what did he say? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. (Mt 22:37-38)
That commandment comes with a promise. Moses said if you seek the Lord you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and soul.
Jeremiah, centuries later would speak to God’s people when they were about to be driven into Babylon in exile – and it looked like their lives were over. Jeremiah made this promise for God, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jer 29:11-13)
A daily exposure to the Lord’s heart and his ways begins a transformation process. We begin to diminish, he increases. That’s the process of becoming authentic. It comes slowly. Veneer on pressed wood they can slap together overnight. Solid oak takes time to grow.
It begins deep in our hearts, in our inner man. He teaches us, he renews our souls. It is the process of metamorphosis, as God takes a lump of coal and with time and pressure, forms a diamond. And that takes time. The Psalmist writes, “Be still and know that I am God.” You have to spend time in his word to get to know him.
And that time in the word has to be more than a quick once over and check off the box on your reading schedule. It takes time thinking, meditating, applying and praying. But James assures us the effort is worth it. He writes: But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:25)
That word “intently” is an important word. It means you get into the word and spend time looking carefully and intentionally at what you’re reading – seeking God’s will for you.
How have you been doing with SOAP? You should be two weeks into it. And if you haven’t started, or if you’ve faltered a little bit, jump right back in. It takes time to develop a habit, but believe me – this is the most important habit you can ever develop.
You might have missed the first presentation of SOAP a couple of weeks ago. Let me briefly walk back over the process and encourage you to get into it today.
S – Scripture
I want you to begin your daily devotional with this prayer: “Lord, open my heart to your word and show me your words of encouragement, direction and correction that I need to see today.”
Each day you will read a portion of scripture, usually about 3 or 4 chapters (pp 12-15). In each of those readings there will be one scripture that is sitting there waiting for you, one that God has just for you that you need to hear. When you come across that verse, I want you to write that verse down in your journal. That’s the “scripture.” That doesn’t mean that everything else you will read that day isn’t important, but you’re looking for one thing that really speaks to you. And the verse that jumps out at you won’t be the same one that jumps out at me, or him, or her, or anybody else.
Allow God to speak to you by focusing on one main thought from your daily reading – not five or ten, but one thing. At the end of your year of reading, you’ll have over 360 thoughts that God has been laying up on your heart.
We’re going to do this together, so if you’re just getting started stay with the calendar. That way no one will get left behind and you can be guilt free about getting behind or missing a day.
O - Observation
As the Spirit highlights that one single thought observe what the verse says. Think about to whom it was written originally and why it was written. Ponder its meaning, its tone, its purpose. Take several moments to meditate on it, to let its message soak clear through to your heart.
After you’ve spent some time meditating and pondering that verse, I want you to write down what you’ve observed. It doesn’t have to be long – a sentence or two, maybe a paragraph. Just those thoughts that will help you get the gist of what God has been saying to you through this verse.
A – Application
After you’ve carefully observed what the text says, take a few moments to write down how this verse can make a difference in your life. At the bottom of each page in the journal is this question: “How will you be different today as a result of what you’ve just read?”
Application is a crucial part of this process, for without it, all you’re doing is amassing facts, trivia, and bits of knowledge.
Application is what seals God’s word in our hearts. Application makes the difference between hearing his will and doing his will. Application is what sets apart a disciple from a dabbler, a follower from a fan. Application states how you will live differently because of what you’ve just read.
P – Prayer
The final stage of your journal entry is to pray. And a part of that is to write down your prayer from what you’ve learned that day. It may be a simple as, “Lord, open my eyes to opportunities to put this into practice today. Mold me into your man, so that I can be your tool ready for your service.”
You’ll want to finish your time praying for those people and situations and things that are in special need of God’s help and care - (pp 10-11).
One other thing that I want to challenge you to do is once a week, select one of those scriptures from your readings during the week that has been especially meaningful and memorize it. There is a section at the back of your journal to get you started. Write out the scripture on one side and the reference on the other. Read it and repeat it – take it small chunks at a time and put them together until you can repeat it from memory. That’s when the scriptures become a part of you. That’s when God’s word becomes second nature and those scriptures come to mind when you need them most.
What I want most of all for you, for me, for us as a congregation is to learn to seek God, with all our heart, soul, strength and mind. When that is our heart – to seek God – then God’s word will become the light for our path.