I don’t hear your words, I hear your heart

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I have hundreds of verses marked in my Bible, but two have very special significance to me.  Isaiah 51:16 says “I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand.” God pricked my heart years ago through that verse and I asked Him to put His words in my mouth and let me be His spokesman. I used that exact word. The very next day I read, “If you utter worthy, not worthless words, you will be my spokesman” (Jeremiah 15:19).  The connection was a clear as day to me.  I remembered hearing about ancient Scribes who copied the words of Scripture and every time they wrote the name of God they would use a brand new pen to write that one word and break it immediately afterward so that the pen that wrote the holy name could never be used to write anything profane.  If I wanted to fulfill my calling, my words – my mouth – would have to radically change. I thought, “okay, I can do this – I will diligently watch what I say.” Then something made me angry. And someone said something I didn’t appreciate. And my boss asked me to do something I didn’t want to do. And you know what – I didn’t say a “worthless word.” But I sure thought them. In my mind and heart I was spouting off left and right. That’s because my tongue wasn’t the real problem – my heart was. Jesus said: “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34) I didn’t need to watch my mouth, I needed to watch my heart.

Have you ever noticed how many celebrities and politicians have to hastily take down tweets or backpedal comments trying to soften their words?  Sure, most of them have speechwriters and handlers who prepare well-worded messages for them, but they always seem to get in trouble over words said (or tweeted) in unguarded moments.  Because those words were coming straight from their heart. You and I are the same, just without all the publicity. The words we speak, especially when we are not “in control,” reveal the true condition of our hearts. It’s so much deeper than the words we speak. Beloved, what do your words – spoken, posted, or thought – say about your heart?

Roots and Fruit

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It’s the twenty-first century and everybody has an opinion and a platform from which to share it. Which is good because all opinions are equally valid – even if they contradict one another. (Except Christians of course.) How do we know who’s right and what’s wrong? Jesus has some pretty sound advice for us in the Sermon on the Mount. “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16). He said a good tree will produce good fruit and a bad tree will produce bad fruit. It’s a horticultural fact: the fruit proves the root. The Bible even tells us how to discern the difference between good and bad fruit. Ready to go to the orchard?

Bad fruit is full of false hopes and self-made visions; good fruit offers real hope and visions from God. Bad fruit is heretical, denies the sovereign rule of God, leads many astray, questions the truth, and exploits believers. Good fruit is truthful, submits to God, leads by following Christ, upholds the truth, and builds up believers. Bad fruit is the product of liars who walk in darkness. Good fruit is truthful because it grows in the light. Bad fruit hates fellow believers. Good fruit “loves one another.” Bad fruit denies that Jesus is the Son of God and rejects the truth of His human nature. Good fruit acknowledges that Jesus is fully God and fully man. Bad fruit rejects the message of God and speaks from a worldly viewpoint – and the world listens. Good fruit listens to God, speaks from His point of view, and those who love God listen. John summed it all up this way: “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). Righteousness and love are the good fruit. You can trust that tree. You can trust that person.

When it comes to your faith life you need to be certain the messages you are hearing are right and true. You need to be sure you are chewing on good fruit that comes from good trees. Who is feeding your mind and heart? Beloved, you need to be a fruit inspector.

Why Are You Here?

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What is it you’re here for? What is God’s good plan for your life? I’ve asked myself that many times and my answer changes over the years and seasons. To be a teacher? A writer? A scholar? A grandmother? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. But something inside me always believed there was something more. Oh, a speaker? A published author? Is that even enough?

One of the great scholars of the Renaissance, Erasmus, told a mythical tale about Jesus’ return to heaven after His time on earth. The angels gathered around Him as Jesus told them of His miracles, His teaching, and then of His death and resurrection.

When He finished, Michael the archangel asked, “But Lord, what happens now?”

Jesus answered, “I have left behind eleven faithful men who will declare my message and express my love. These faithful men will establish and build my church.”

“But,” responded Michael, “what if these men fail? What then?”

And Jesus answered, “I have no other plan.”

This may be a mythical story, but the concept is true – the church – that is you and I – is Jesus’ sole strategy to bring the Plan of the Ages to the world. We are Jesus’ plan A – and He doesn’t have a plan B. He said, “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). We have an urgent mission – a Great Commission – to tell His story, bring those who receive Him to the waters of baptism, teach them to walk in obedience to His Word, and train them to be the next generation of Great Commission followers.

Beloved, this morning, when you look at your reflection in the mirror remind yourself: “I’m it.” Then go fulfill your mission.

Godly People in an Ungodly World

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“Be wise about what is good and innocent about what is evil” (Romans 16:19). Turn on the television, open a newspaper, log onto the internet and you are face-to-face with evil. You don’t even have to look for it; it’s on roadside billboards, flashed in commercials, and reported daily in the news. Satan rules the world – for now. Yet believers are called to live godly lives in an ungodly world. How?

Jesus said, “Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). I love this verse and the two contrasting words. “Shrewd” means “wise, sensible” and comes from “thinking and understanding.” Simply put, we need to think, then make a wise determination. Let’s be honest – we can become mentally and spiritually lazy – accepting as truth whatever we are told. If you don’t believe me, spend a day on Facebook. We need to be discerning about everything our minds take in. Because we must live in this world, Jesus tells us to “think and come to a sensible conclusion.”

In contrast to being shrewd, Jesus commands us to be innocent which means pure, not mixed with evil. His command here is to not allow ourselves to be mixed up with the world’s philosophies and ideas; to not allow them to be poured into our minds and hearts. In the Old Testament, the people of Israel tried to compromise with the Lord and the world, believing that they could dabble in paganism as long as they continued to also follow the sacrificial Law of God. They “poured” paganism into with their worship of God Almighty, and in their dulled minds, believed they were still being obedient to the Lord. Despite what the bumper sticker claims, God’s people cannot “coexist” with ungodliness. It didn’t work for Israel and it won’t work for you and me.

We must let the Word of God be the determining factor in everything we do and say and think. The world will not tell you the truth. The Word will never tell you a lie. Beloved, be wise – consider everything through the lens of Scripture. It will never steer you wrong. Be innocent – keep your mind and heart pure from the world’s philosophies and attitudes. It might help to turn off the T.V., put down the newspaper, and log off of the internet. That’s how we live “in the world,” but not “of the world” (John 17:15-16).

Where Did Jesus Go?

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One of Joy’s favorite games is “Where’d it go?” She’ll cover her toes with a blanket and put her hands up in an “I-don’t-know” gesture and say “Where toes go?” She does the same with pictures in a book, or a stuffed animal, or a bean under the edge of her plate. We’ll look around until she reveals the hidden thing then laughs with glee at my surprised face.

Do you suppose God was playing Joy’s game with the devil that Sunday morning: “Where did Jesus go?” He’s not on the cross. He’s not in the tomb. And then the great reveal – “He is not here; He has risen!” (Matthew 28:6). I wonder if He laughed like she does when He saw the shocked and terrified look on satan’s face. He knew the resurrection of Jesus spelled his doom.

It’s Easter Sunday around the world and the Church will gather to celebrate the risen Son of God. Teachers and preachers will tell “the old, old story” of the empty tomb.  Oh, but it’s more than a story and much more than a game. It’s the single most important event since creation that changed everything. The whole world was dark, but the darkness gave way to the Light. Mankind had no hope until Hope walked out of that tomb. Satan saw his plans crumble like dust.

That’s awesome on a cosmic scale, but what does Easter Sunday mean for you? It means eternal life if you have put your faith in Jesus. It means that you have a place in heaven for all eternity. It means no more sickness (no more COVID and no more facemasks!), no more sorrow, no more evil, and no more death. It means being with loved ones who have departed this life. It means you will see your Savior face-to-face in all of His glory and worship Him forever and ever.

“Where did Jesus go?” From heaven to earth to the cross to the tomb to life again. I guess it’s true: You can’t keep a good man down.

Do You See the Man in the Middle?

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“Two robbers were crucified with Him, one on His right and one on His left” (Matthew 27:38)

All four of the gospel writers note the presence of two others with Jesus when He was crucified.  They were thieves – most likely “career criminals” to be put to death for their crimes.  Jesus was the “Man in the middle.” Matthew tells us that these thieves joined in the crowd’s mocking and jeering against Jesus; they “heaped insults on him” (Matthew 27:44).  But at some point, something changed for one of the men.

Luke reports that “one of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: ‘Aren’t you the Christ?  Save yourself and us!’” (23:39). But we see that the other criminal had a change of heart saying, “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for we are getting what we deserve.  But this man has done nothing wrong” (23:40-41).  This enlightened criminal realized that Jesus was an innocent man, falsely accused, and wrongly crucified.  That in itself would be an amazing turnaround, but he understood even greater things than that.

He tells the Lord, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (23:42).  He recognized, by divine knowledge, that Jesus was, in fact, a King who could give him eternal life.  He also knew that he had nothing to offer Jesus in return for this gift of eternal life – but he asked anyway.  “Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23:43). 

I don’t know what was happening in the mind and heart of this man, but I believe, as he turned his head to gaze upon Jesus, his eyes were supernaturally opened to the Truth.   I believe he witnessed the intensity of Jesus’ suffering under the weight of mankind’s condemnation – including his own.  I believe he heard Jesus’ plea to His Father for forgiveness for the ones who nailed Him to the cross.  I believe he saw past the blood-matted hair and bruises and looked beyond the skin shredded to ribbons and saw a glimpse of who this Man in the middle truly was.  And a divine glimpse is all he needed.

Oh, Beloved, will you open your eyes to the Man in the middle and receive eternal life?

Love Your Enemies

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Our Ladies Bible study group continues to study through the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7. Six times in chapter five Jesus said, “You have heard . . . “ and followed it with “But I tell you . . ..” In matters of murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, and, in verses 38-48, revenge, and enemies. Maybe you should grab your Bible and read those verses. In vs. 38-42 He said “Do not resist an evil person” and gave specific examples of people who persecute and take advantage of you. He established the principle of “going the extra mile and turning the other cheek.” He said when someone makes demands of you – not only should you meet their demands, but you should exceed them. Peter took this to heart when he said, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing . . .” (1 Peter 3:9). In our “stand up for yourself” culture, that rubs the wrong way.

In verses 43-48 He said we are to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Again, that is so completely counter-cultural. But there is a purpose in all of this. Peter continued in his letter by saying “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (3:15).

My family was stationed in Mannheim, Germany in the early-mid ’70s and my oldest brother was working at one of the base stores as a stocker. Jim carried his Bible with him to work and read it on his break. One of his co-workers constantly ridiculed him. Jim never said a word back, but was gracious to the guy and often helped him complete his work. One day the co-worker took his box cutter and slashed several pages of my brother’s Bible. Again, Jim never said a word but spent his break taping the pages back together. Finally, the offender asked, “Why?” And Jim was able to lead him to faith in Jesus. He asked my brother if he could have the very Bible that he had tried to destroy.

That’s why we don’t resist and we love those who hate us. Because our example could be the bridge to brings them to Christ. Beloved, who comes to mind when you think about people who do you wrong? That’s the very one you need to pray for and love into the Kingdom.

You Must be Righteous

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Continuing our study of the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew’s gospel is all about the Kingdom of Heaven and revealing Jesus as the rightful King. So far we’ve learned about who the Kingdom people are in the Beatitudes. We’ve learned about the influence Kingdom people should bring to the world in 5:13- 20. In Matthew 5:17-26, Jesus taught about Kingdom righteousness. I’ll jump ahead and give you the key to this passage: “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” (v. 20). The Pharisees and teachers of the law were considered the most righteous people in Jerusalem. They built their righteousness on following every jot and tittle of the law – and most of those jots and tittles had been added to God’s Law by man. Their lives were consumed with following rules and rituals, even washing their hands was an elaborate process that was more about the show than about cleanliness.

Who does the Bible point to as “righteous?”  Matthew 1:19 says, Joseph [Mary’s husband-to-be] was a righteous man, but not because he adhered to the letter of the law. When Mary announced that she was pregnant, and he knew this baby was not his, by the Law he should have taken her out to be stoned to death. But “he did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” Joseph chose to treat Mary with mercy. That is why the Scripture called him “a righteous man.”

Jesus later called the religious leaders hypocrites (and a brood of vipers!) because, though they did everything right, they did it all for the wrong reasons. He said “You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill, and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matter of the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former” (Matt 23:23).  They obeyed the letter of the Law but neglected the heart of the Law, which is love.

So how could anyone be more righteous than the religious hierarchy? By understanding that God commanded obedience to the Law, but not for obedience’s sake. The Israelites were to obey the law because they loved God. And love changes everything.

Have Faith

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What does it mean to “have faith?” And in what is our faith to be placed? In a culture with a thousand different philosophies, how can we know what to believe?  For the Christian, faith is what we believe about God and about what He has said through His Word, His Son, and His Spirit.  God spoke two distinct things about Jesus: that Jesus is His Son (Matthew 3:17), and that God has given us eternal life through Him (1 John 5:11).  Faith that honors and pleases God holds those two professions as truth. True faith stakes everything on them.

When I say I have faith in God, I am not making a statement about my assent to the truths of Christianity; I am making a statement about the truthfulness of what God has said about Jesus Christ.  I believe that Jesus is the Son of God who came to earth, lived a perfect life, died bearing my sins, was buried, and rose to life.  When I say that I believe in Jesus, I am putting all my hope and confidence in God’s power to save me as He has promised.  That is why “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).  I cannot see Jesus with my own eyes, nor have I ever seen heaven.  But I believe that He is the risen Lord and that His sacrifice is sufficient to save me and give me eternal life.

If you believe in Jesus Christ, you are blessed in every way; for this life and life eternal.  You are blessed because you stand on the confidence of God’s testimony, not on the traditions of men.  You are blessed because “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:10). But for us who believe, “we will see the glory of God” (John 11:40).  Our faith will be made sight and our hope in Christ will be confirmed.  In the chronicles of heaven, our names will be recorded among the great saints of human history, and we will be commended with those who pleased God by their faith.  Oh, what a blessing it is to believe!

The Power of One Light

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In our continuing study of the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7, we’ve learned through the Beatitudes the characteristics of the citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. In verses 13-16 Jesus taught about the influence Kingdom people have on the world. These are the “Salt and Light” verses. Jesus declared: “You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world.” I have previously written on verse 13 – the salt verse. I will add a link to that post in my blog in the comments. Today we will look at the Lord’s teaching about being “the light of the world.”

From creation, light’s purpose is to shine in the darkness (John 1:5a). Light has power over darkness (John 1:5b) because darkness is nothing more than the absence of light. When light is introduced into the darkness, darkness no longer exists. When I was a kid we took a trip to the Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna. There are caves for exploring all through the park and our group was standing in one of the caves when the tour guide turned off the electric lights. It was pitch black, the darkest darkness I’d ever experienced. You literally couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. Several of us became afraid and started whimpering (and not just the girls). Then he flicked on a lighter and the darkness was gone. One small light overcame the darkness. And every eye was drawn to that light. You couldn’t miss it.

Jesus said that we are the light of the world. This directly identifies us with Him as He declared “I AM the Light of the world” (John 8:12). That means you and I have power over darkness – not our own power, but Christ’s. The world is a very dark place. Evil is everywhere. But you and I have the His light to overcome evil and darkness. When we shine with His light, the darkness has no choice but to flee. And when we shine with His light every eye will be drawn – not to us – but to the Source of the Light.

Don’t hide your light. Don’t bury it under sin and worldliness. You have the Light that overcomes darkness. Shine, Beloved. The world desperately needs to see the Light of Christ in you.