A Pure Heart

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When my son was younger, he was determined to do something he knew was wrong. When I caught him before he could put his plan into action he protested, “But Mom I didn’t actually do it!” “That’s not the point.” I told him, “You wanted to do it – that’s the heart of the problem.

Human nature has reduced “sin” to an act – a thing we do, while the Bible tells us that sin is a condition of the heart – our desires. When Jesus taught about adultery in Matthew 5:27-28 He said that the sin of adultery is committed when the desire arises – “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” James identified the pattern of sin in 1:14-15 as a progression from one’s “own evil desire,” to enticement, then to the action. Sin clearly starts in the heart. After his sin with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Urriah, David pleaded for God to “create in me a pure heart” (Ps. 51:10) for he knew that it was his heart that had led him astray. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mat. 6:21), meaning we will pursue at all costs what our heart desires. If that desire is for sin, you can bet your hands, feet, and body will follow. Jesus also said only “the pure in heart . . . will see God” (Mat. 5:8). That should be incentive enough.

A pure heart recoils at the thought of disobeying and dishonoring God and breaking fellowship. It pursues the heart of God, which never leads to sin. A pure heart runs from temptation (2 Tim 2:22). Does that mean if you struggle with sinful desires You don’t have a heart for God? No – Paul attested to the battle within himself (Rom. 7:15-23) and I know well my own tug-of-war with sin. But it’s not unwinnable. You just need some Help.

Beloved, Are you weary of toying with the sinful desires of your heart? Victory comes as you allow the Word of God and the Spirit of God to purify your heart day by day. God isn’t just after your behavior Beloved, He is after your heart.  When you “delight yourself in the Lord,” that is when He is all your heart longs for, then “He will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps 37:4). He will give you Himself.

God’s (Very) Long-Range Plan

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I’m part of a group that is writing out the Scriptures. We’re writing small sections each day, but by focusing on only a small portion of verses we are able to slow down; by writing it out we pay careful attention to each word. Yesterday one of those words stood out to me.  In the account of creation, Genesis two describes man’s divinely created home, a place of beauty and nurture. The garden featured trees with fruit to feed the human. All the bounty of the Garden was free for the taking, with one exception – the “tree in the middle of the garden” (Gen. 3:3). God expressly forbade eating the fruit from this particular tree. He said, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of the good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen 2:17). Did you notice that one word that caught my attention? When. God said, “when you eat of it,” not “if you eat of it.” Adam and Eve’s act of sinful rebellion was not a surprise to God. He expected it. He predicted it. He knew it was going to happen all along.

And because He knew it was going to happen, He made a way for sinful man to be redeemed before he ever spoke the universe into being. You and I need to know that the cross of Christ was not God’s reaction to man’s sin. John said that Jesus was “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world’ (Rev 13:8), and Jesus said that the Father arranged our inheritance, a “kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matt 25:34). God provided the cure for sin before the first sin ever occurred, even before He called forth the light (Gen 1:3). Jesus coming to earth, living a perfect life, dying a selfless death, and rising from the grave was all part of the plan of the ages. To what end? That He might rule and reign over a kingdom of redeemed people.

Beloved, I want you to be part of that kingdom. I want you to know Jesus, but more importantly, I want Jesus to know you (Gal 4:9; 1 Cor 8:3; John 10:14). God made the plan long ago, and He included you in it. Have you, will you receive His grace today?

A Brand New You

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“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone the new has come!”  2 Corinthians 5:17

I don’t like reminders of my past – I tend to bristle at memories of my rebellion and selfishness, and sin.  That is why I love Paul’s words.  He wrote in his letters, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world” (Ephesians 2:1-2).  He gives a list of sinful and wicked behaviors in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and says, “That is what you were. (1 Corinthians 6:11)” In Ephesians 5:8 He says, “You were once darkness…”  Paul is coloring in the shadows of his readers’ past to highlight the contrast when he says “but now…you are light in the Lord.”  He is painting a before and after portrait.  “You were once…but now you are.”   He is saying, “You were dead in sin and rebellion and selfishness. But that is not who you are anymore.  Now you are in Christ.”

One of Satan’s favorite ploys is to assault us with our past, to tell us that we will always be who we were and there is no point in trying to resist those old familiar sins.  “You know deep down, you still want it.  You haven’t changed. You are bound to your past.  You are bound to me.”  But if you belong to Jesus Christ, Satan has no authority over you. You are free from your past; you are free to choose not to give in to sin.  You are a child of light, purified from all your sins (1 John 1: 7).  Where you were once bound to your sin, you are now bound up in God’s love.

In Philippians 3:13, Paul gives us the secret to walking in our new identity when he says, “one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…”  We can forget what is behind because “as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)” If only we could understand that because Jesus Christ has completely removed all our transgressions our old sinful desires have no authority over us any longer.  Yes, they still call to us, but we are no longer captive to do their bidding.

Beloved, look at yourself in the mirror.  You are a new creation in Christ.  You have light in your eyes, and God’s love shines on your face.  You are free to choose all the wonderful things God has planned for you.  You are no longer bound to a painful, sinful past. You are not who you once were.  Now you are His.

Hebrews: The Better Covenant

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“I promise.” There was a time when those two words meant something. When you could count on the person and the pledge. A couple stood before “God and these witnesses” to declare their life-long love. A politician made campaign promises that ensured his election, and his supporters could depend on the word of their elected official. A prospective employee agreed to a salary and benefits in exchange for faithful, dependable, service. All of these are the pattern of a covenant and covenant is the foundation of the relationship between God and man.

A covenant involves three people (or people groups) – two parties who wish to make an agreement of mutual benefit and a mediator to bring them to agreeable terms.  The covenant would stand as long as both parties lived and fulfilled their responsibilities. God made a covenant with Adam and Eve, first to allow them to rule over the earth (Gen 1:26), and then, after their sin, to bring a redeemer to crush their enemy (Gen 3:15). He made a covenant with Noah to never again destroy the earth with a flood (Gen 9:15). His covenant with Abraham was for his descendants to possess the land of Canaan (Gen 17:8). He made a covenant with Moses and Israel at Mount Sinai which involved a host of laws. He also made a covenant with David that his descendants would always sit on the throne of Israel, including One who would rule over an eternal kingdom ( 2 Sam 7:1-16). All of those covenants except one were dependant solely on the faithfulness of God. The Mosaic covenant demanded obedience from the people for God’s blessings and promised curses for disobedience.

The writer of Hebrews said the old covenant was perfect, but “God found fault with the people,” (Heb 8:8) because they were unable to maintain obedience. Rather than give up on them, he determined to “make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (v. 8). It was a covenant of forgiveness (v. 12) and of the Holy Spirit. The writer quoted Jeremiah saying, “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time . . . I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people . . . and they will all know me” (v. 10,11).

While Moses was the mediator between God and Israel, Jesus Christ is the mediator between a holy God and sinful humanity – and the covenant was sealed with His blood. This covenant will never become “obsolete” and it will never “disappear” (v. 13) because its foundation is the obedience of Christ, not man.  Beloved, it’s not up to you. It’s up to Him, and He is forever faithful.

Power

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The words escaped my lips without thought, “God I am so tired of…” How would you fill in that prayer?  Tired of financial struggles or health problems. Tired of battling family members.  Tired of too many responsibilities. Tired of the struggle against sin. It is so easy to get overwhelmed and feel powerless.  But God wants you and me to know that we are not powerless.  Quite the contrary, as believers in Jesus Christ, we have “incomparably great power (Ephesians 1:19),” power that comes from God.  But do we really understand what that means?

The Bible speaks of God’s eternal power” (Romans 1:20), His “power for the salvation of everyone” (Romans 1:16), “overflowing hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13), and “[God’s ]power made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  He said that God’s “power is at work within us-[doing] immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20), and “by His power, He [will] fulfill [our] every good purpose and act of faith” (2 Thessalonians 1:11).  “God [strengthens us] with all power according to His glorious might” (Colossians 1:11). And Peter declared: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).

But perhaps the most powerful statement about the power of God is found in Ephesians 1:19-20, where Paul writes about God’s “incomparably great power for us who believe.  That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.”  Stop.  Go back and read that again. The same power that God exerted to raise Jesus Christ from the dead now lives in you and me through the Holy Spirit.  That is the power that will enable you to accomplish everything God has called you to.  Do you have a problem that is bigger than death?  No, and neither do I.  Whatever the problem, whatever the challenge, whatever the work you and I are called to do – in Christ, we have the power we need.

You possess the power to love others, to forgive every wrong, to endure trials and suffering, to fight for justice, to remain firm in the face of opposition, and to be Christ’s light in this dark world. You have the power to resist temptations, turn away from sin, and walk in righteousness.  God’s power strengthens your faith so you can be His hands and feet in a world filled with lost and weary people. His power is real and it is mighty. And it is all yours Beloved. What a powerful promise!

Saving the Best for Last

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I always eat the least favorite thing on my plate first and save my most favorite thing for last. When I have chores to do I do the hardest one first then do the easiest last. Why? Because I know that if I eat my favorite food or do the easiest chores first, I will give up before I do the rest. It’s a discipline I learned as a kid: “save the best for last.”

I think that is a very simple explanation for Paul’s message to the churches in Rome.  He said, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (8:18). Let’s get the truth out on the table – this life is hard. And the Christian life, I believe, makes it harder. Christians are constantly at odds with the culture of the world. Our priorities are very different. Our desires are (or should be) counter-cultural. Our sense of right and wrong rubs against the ever-changing “morals’ of the day. And our worldview is 180 degrees from the ethos of the world. Sometimes we wonder why we continue to swim against the stream and make ourselves a target of the enemy. Wouldn’t it be easier to just go along with the world and save ourselves the struggles and pain? Maybe. But at what cost? “Glory.” The reward for endurance and perseverance is glory. And not just a glory we can see at a distance. Paul said the glory to come is “in us.” He told the church in Corinth that this is “an eternal glory that far outweighs our light and momentary troubles” (2 Cor. 4:17).

Maybe you don’t consider your troubles “light and momentary.” You may have lost a job or a friendship because of your commitment to your faith. You won’t be the first. The history of the church is written in the blood of men and women who died for the name of Christ. It still happens today in certain parts of the world, and I believe it is coming to the Western church soon Paul isn’t dismissing these hard things. But he is saying there is something better coming, something that makes all our difficulties in this life pale in comparison. He said, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9). Those are not just fluffy words – they are a rock-solid promise from the heart of God. You and I cannot imagine the glory that is coming. Hang on Beloved, the best is yet to be.

Who I am in Christ — or Whose?

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There is a trend in Christianity that both excites me and makes me wary. “Discipleship” is the command of our Lord and Savior: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Discipleship is Jesus’ marching orders for the church. But what are we to teach? Everything He commanded. Everything He taught. Everything He did. But above all, everything He is. The focus of all our teaching and discipleship should always be centered on Christ.

And that’s why I have had a wariness in my spirit. For the past several years the content of our discipleship, especially to women has taken a spiritually unhealthy turn.  This morning I was reading in Colossians, where Paul said: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved . . .” (3:12) and immediately my mind went to the manta of women’s Bible studies: “Who I am in Christ.” Now, please don’t misunderstand me, I am all for us claiming our identity as sons and daughters of God. As one who grew up rejected by both sides of the kickball teams, it is a great comfort to know that I am chosen in Christ. Because my former husband said, “I don’t love you anymore,” it is a balm to my heart to know that I am dearly loved by God. But the focus has turned in recent years from awe at what God has done for a wretch like me, to how God has elevated me, to it’s all about me. It reminds me of an advertisement I heard once for a “Christian” talent agency whose tagline was “Become famous for God!” No! No! No! We make God famous, not ourselves.

All the verses that we claim as our identity labels, when taken in their full context, are teaching us who we are so that we can then walk appropriately. The rest of Colossians 3:12 says “clothes yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Paul goes on to talk about forbearance (patience) and forgiveness and the unity that comes with love. He said, “because you are this, your character should be this.” The Scriptures never tell us “who we are” to boost our ego but to humble us in our relationships with one another and with Christ. When we pick out select words to focus on ourselves, we miss the point entirely.

Beloved, I encourage you to learn what the Bible says about you because above all else, you are God’s image-bearer. Now act like it.

Hebrews: The Gift of Grace

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Ask a humanitarian what the world needs and they will quote Hal David: “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” Ask a politician and he will say the world needs more programs and the money to run them. Teachers will say the world needs to be better educated. Generals think the world needs more control and hippies say the world just needs peace. None of these are bad answers, but they miss the real issue that plagues the world. The writer of Hebrews said the world needs a mediator – a high priest – because we are sinful people before a holy, righteous God.  That is the point of the comparison in Hebrews 7:26-28 of the earthly priests and Jesus.

Jesus, our great high priest (4:14), the writer said, is “holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, [and] exalted above the heavens” (v. 26). Because we are going to stand before God (and every human being will), we need a mediator who is acceptable to Him. In the Jewish religion (and remember this letter is written to believers with a Jewish background), the high priest comes before the Lord every single day to present sacrifices that atone for the sins of the people. But he has to atone for his own sins first before he can tend to the sins of the people he represented. But Jesus needed no such atonement because He was without sin – He was the perfect sacrifice that could cover all the sins of mankind – “once for all” (v. 27) One sacrifice for all the sins of all the people for all time.

Does that mean that every person is saved by the work of Jesus? Yes. And no. Every persons’ sins are covered – if they accept that covering. But God gave man a little thing called “free will” to accept or reject His offer. The one who rebuffs that grace doesn’t negate the work of Christ, he just refuses it. And God is very much a gentleman who will not force His grace on anyone who does not want it. But why would anyone not want it? Because they do not see themselves as sinners in need of grace. Jesus said, “[Satan] has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn – and I would heal them” (John 12:40).

I imagine that you, like me, have someone in mind as you read this, someone who continually pushes God away. How can we help? Pray, Beloved. Pray that the blindfold of the enemy be removed so that they can see and understand. Grace is a gift, but it must be received.

New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are so easy to make and so difficult to keep. Old habits die hard.  Old desires still burn within. Many of us resolve to start good habits, eating healthy, exercising, and reading the Bible every day.  These are good, life-affecting habits, but all too often we get sidetracked and let our good resolutions fall by the wayside.  I would like to encourage you in one particular good resolution, that of reading the Bible daily.

When we determine to read the Bible, we start off well, but somewhere around Leviticus, our resolve weakens.  The book closes and the dust starts to build.  And satan claps his evil hands in delight.  I’ve heard it said that the devil doesn’t care if you look at porn or Facebook as long as you don’t look at your Bible. Why? Because this is the Living Word of the Living God. Moses said, “These are not just idle words for you, they are your life” (Deut. 32:47). They are protection against sin (Ps 119:11), and a source of delight, truth, and hope (vs. 24, 43, 49). They preserve our lives (v. 37), are ancient and time-tested (vs. 52, 140 ), give us knowledge and good judgment (v. 66), and are trustworthy and eternal (vs. 86, 89).  They are wonderful (v. 129), righteous (v. 138), true (v. 142), and forever right (v. 144).

The Word of God is “a lamp to my feet and a light for my path (v. 105) and “the Joy of my heart” (v. 111). I have been reading and studying the Bible for many years, getting up early every morning to spend time in prayer and to soak my spirit in God’s Holy and perfect Word, to study and dig deeper for understanding and nuggets of wisdom and truth. It shows me who I am, who God is, and the price He paid to redeem me and change my heart and my life.  And it will do the same for you if you don’t give up.

I have started a Bible-writing group on Facebook, to write down every word of the Scriptures on paper and on our hearts. It’s a long-term commitment and it can change your life. You can learn more about it here. Beloved, riches are waiting for you beyond your wildest imagination between Genesis and Revelation. Dive into the deep end and keep swimming.

Walking into the New Year

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I had no clue on January 1 what 2021 would hold, but God knew everything thing that was to occur in the next 365 days.  And as 2022 begins, He is equally aware of how it will unfold.  How can I be so confident?  Because Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega. Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and Omega is the last, and they are used to express completeness from beginning to end.  Three times in Revelation Jesus declares, “I am the Alpha and the Omega” and each time He adds a little more to His self-proclamation.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega” (1:8).

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End” (21:6).

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (22:13).

Jesus is the Beginning of time (Genesis 1:14) and the End of time; because He is timeless (1 Peter 1:11). He called forth the first light (Genesis 1:3) and He will extinguish it and replace it with Himself (Revelation 21:23). He is the Beginning of all righteousness and the end of all evil (Matthew 25:46).

If you are in Christ, He is also the Alpha and the Omega of your life.  He is Beginning and the End of your day—He is there with you when you wake in the morning and when you lay your head down at night and every hour in between. He continues to watch over you through the night.  He is the First and the Last over your life—He was there when you drew your first breath, and He will walk with you into heaven when you draw your last, and He will never leave your side all the days of your life.

We do not know what 2022 will bring, what blessings and struggles, hellos and goodbyes, joys and sorrows.  But we can greet the coming year confident that the Alpha and Omega is already there.  Beloved, I invite you to begin the New Year with words of this beautiful old hymn:

I don’t worry o’er the future

For I know what Jesus said

And today I’ll walk beside Him

For He knows what is ahead

Many things about tomorrow

I don’t seem to understand;

But I know who holds tomorrow

and I know who holds my hand.

I Know Who Holds Tomorrow – words and music by Ira F. Stanphill, @ 1950.