Hebrews: Open Heart Surgery

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“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” (Hebrews 4:12).

Yes, we’re still here – but I have a reason. Last devotional we saw the Word of God as a mighty sword. Today I want you to see it as a surgical scalpel. A surgeon wants to help people get well. But he first has to cut through skin and tissues to get to the problem.

The Word of God penetrates and divides “soul and spirit, joints and marrow . . .” The soul (psyche) is the immaterial and eternal part of the inner person – it is translated in the scriptures by personal pronouns – me, myself, I, mine. The spirit (pneumo) is the immaterial part of the inner person that can respond to God. While the soul is fixed on self, the spirit is the part of man that hears that still, small voice and follows – or turns away. The Word also divides “joints and marrow.” Joints are connective parts of the skeletal system and marrow sits deep within the bones producing blood cells that keep us alive. Consider that the root word for marrow speaks of “hidden or concealed things.” Hang in here with me, this is all going to make sense.

The Word of God also “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” It goes right to the heart – the seat of our thoughts and emotions. But not just the random thoughts that flit through our minds. God’s Word is judging our deliberate thoughts – the ones we draw up from those deep places where we think they are safely hidden. But, “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” (v. 13).

You and I cannot hide our hearts from God. His Word penetrates, divides, and judges the state of our hearts. It digs into the deepest parts of us. It exposes our thoughts, especially the ones we try to hide, the ones that are feeding our emotions. Surgeons go after the things in our bodies that make us sick. The Word of God goes after our thoughts that make us sick. Beloved, God wants you to be well and whole. Will you let His Word do the work of healing your heart?

A Strong Foundation of Love and Peace

I began praying for my granddaughter before she was born and have prayed every day since. I pray for her health, protection, provision, and growth and I pray Ephesians 3:17-19 over her. “That Joy, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that she may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” That part, “to know this love that surpasses knowledge” always puzzled me.  It brings to mind Philippians 4:7 that says that “the peace of God, which surpasses understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” How can you know something that surpasses knowledge and understanding? This is a beautiful expression in both verses and it means to take firm possession of something that has complete authority over you and gives you an assurance that cannot be overridden. Specifically, in the terminology for Philippians 4:7, it means to have a superior hold of the mind in reference to “alarm and agitating emotions.” So I am praying that the love of Christ would rule and reign over her. Yes, she is only 2 years old, but I’m praying a foundation for the rest of her life. And I’m partnering with God in “rooting and establishing” her in love so that one day when she is a little older, she will be able to grasp the immense love God has for her. Is there a more important job for a grandmother?

Beloved, the love and peace of Christ are available to you too – today – right in the midst of anxious, frustrating, heartbreaking circumstances. The key is in the verses that surround these two verses – about living in God’s grace, rejoicing in the Lord always, trusting in His presence, praying about everything with thanksgiving, and keeping your thoughts focused on the good stuff.

I encourage you with all my heart to sit with your Bible and a fresh cup of coffee and meditate on Philippians 4:4-9. Then “the God of peace will be with you” in ways you cannot understand, but you can certainly know and rest in.

What Does It Mean to Be a Christian?

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The world has many different views of what a “Christian” is.  In fact, the church is pretty confused about what it means as well. The title “Christian” was not coined by the Lord Himself or by His disciples. “Christian” was a designation given to the “Followers of the Way” – the first believers – by those outside the church (see Acts 11:26). It meant, “little Christs” because these people were keenly identified with Jesus by their words and actions. Not so much today.

To the culture, a Christian is someone who is filled with hate and intolerance. Strangely enough, the only ones the tolerant culture will not tolerate are true Christians.  In many churches today, a Christian is someone who shows up semi-regularly for church and throws a couple of bucks in the plate.  Oh, and they must not speak out against anything anyone chooses to do or be all for the sake of “love.”  Individually, a Christian is someone who posts Jesus memes on social media, right after posting something laced with profanity. They know just enough Scripture to prove themselves right in their own eyes.

Saying “I am a Christian” does not get you into God’s heaven. Paul said the key to heaven is a profession of faith. “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

There is an important distinction between saying “I’m a Christian” and saying “Jesus is Lord.” What we are to confess with our mouth is the Name, the identity, and the Lordship of Jesus. And it’s not just words we spout, it must be a confession of our heart. I tried an experiment with this when I had to interview several non-believers for my Apologetics class. I asked each one to say, “Jesus is Lord,” and every one of them refused because they said, “I don’t believe it.” Remember what Jesus said – “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). And the heart that believes that Jesus is Lord will lead the mind and body to act like it.

Claiming to be a Christian has no saving power. Professing the Name and Lordship of Jesus Christ does. The true confession of faith is not what I am, but what Jesus is.

God Knows Your Heart

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My friend had been trying for 20 minutes to explain why she kept doing something she knew was a sin. She honestly wanted to put this thing behind her, but she kept going back to it like a drug. We’d had this discussion many times over the years.  She stayed in this continuous cycle of sin and defeat. “I guess I’m just weak,” she sighed. “In my heart, I want to do better, isn’t that good enough?” “After all,” she said with a shrug, “God knows my heart.”
I threw out one of those breath-prayers, took her by the hand, and said, “Yes sweet friend, God knows your heart – that’s why He sent you a Savior.”
God does know our hearts. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts” (Luke 16:15). God knows that in its natural state “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9). He knows that our hearts are very human and prone to mislead us by our own desires (James 1:14). It’s why we struggle to break away from sins that we cherish (Psalm 66:18).  It’s why the devil has such a grip on the world – because sin, at its core, is not so much a matter of what you and I do but what our hearts desire. Our actions will always follow our hearts. And there’s only room in our hearts for one. If our hearts desire what the world offers, we will not desire God.

But there is hope for the human heart. He is the divine Savior, Jesus. He knows your heart and mine and He came to redeem our hearts through His death on the cross. Covered by the blood of the Son of God our hard, stone hearts can become living flesh again (Ezekiel 36:26).

Beloved, God knows your heart – does your heart know Him?

The Living Word

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I thought I needed a new Keurig. Every morning it would whirr away but the coffee didn’t come out. I always had to shut it off and do all the steps again before it would work.  But the problem wasn’t with the machine it was with me.  I was trying to be quiet in the morning so I wasn’t pushing the lid down hard enough to piece the top and the bottom of the coffee pod. The pod would fill up with water, but it had no exit hole so it stopped pumping. Duh. I just had to give it a full stab to get my morning cup of life-elixir.

A verse has been bumping around in my head since I solved my Keurig problem. “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” (Hebrews 4:12).

Now, I am all for getting into the Bible in every possible way, but I’m concerned that when we settle for a five-minute daily devotional we are not letting the Word of God do its full work in us. This is a “living and active,” power-packed Word and its purpose is not just to encourage us – though it does that well. It is meant to penetrate our soul and spirit – the part of us that responds to God. Do you see the reference to “joints and marrow?” Joints are where bones connect. We must let the Word of God connect the truths of Scripture to our lives. Marrow is the spongy center of major bones and it produces blood cells that keep us alive. The Word of God supports life in the believer. And it also “judges the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts.” It will tell us if what we are thinking is true or a lie. It will chasten us for unChristlike attitudes. It’s a sharp Word that goes right to the heart.

Oh, brothers and sisters, you and I don’t just need a good word for the day, we need to let the living Word of God pierce deeply and let life flow into – and out of us.  We need to give the Bible full access to our minds and hearts. That’s gonna take more than five minutes a day.

Do You Trust God?

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God doesn’t always do what I want Him to do. He doesn’t always answer my prayers according to my wishes or follow my well-laid-out plans. There are things I’ve prayed about for years that remain unresolved. Hard situations that didn’t magically get better. People I’ve laid at His feet over and over who get up and wander back into sin and self-destruction. What are we to do when – let’s call it what it really is – we’re disappointed with God?  I know. It seems almost sacrilegious to say it, but if we’re not honest with God we will always be stuck with this gnawing sense that He can’t be trusted. And while we’re being honest – that is the root behind our prayerlessness and our half-hearted study of His Word.

So what do we do when the doubts creep in? To borrow from my sister-in-love, we “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). I’ve told you before that I’m a word-nerd, and the Holy Spirit asked me – “What do those words mean?” Two key things stood out to me. First: “trust” – it means to “have confidence in.” Do you have confidence in God? Do you have confidence in His goodness and His love?

Then – and this was huge to me – three words: “heart,” “understanding,” and “acknowledge.” The “heart” is the seat of our thoughts, emotions, and understanding. “Acknowledge” means to know, recognize, understand. Did you see the word“understand” in both of those definitions? “Understand” at its root – this is key – means “to consider with full attention.” There it is. When we lean on our own understanding – we are giving our emotions our full attention. But when we“trust in the Lord with all our heart” we give Him our full attention.

I don’t know about you, but my emotions will take me all over the place. But God is the one who sets my path straight. Where are you focusing your attention today? Your Father is your solid rock. He will never betray your confidence in Him. Beloved, you really can “Trust in the Lord.”

I Believe

The elders of Israel were invited up the mountain to worship God. The scripture twice says they saw God, even eating and drinking with Him (Exodus 24:10,11). The disciples saw the risen Jesus. They touched the marks of their salvation. We count them as remarkably blessed. We somehow think we would have greater faith and confidence if we could only see Him with our physical eyes. Yet when the elders came down from their mountaintop experience, after waiting forty days for Moses to return, they gave up the glorious vision and pressed Aaron to make them a god they could see and touch. And Luke reports that despite seeing Him in the room with them and even after touching His hands and feet, “they still did not believe.”

Jesus said, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:21). I’ve never seen God physically. I’ve never seen nor touched Jesus. But I believe. I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Resurrected Savior, the KING OF KINGS, and the LORD OF LORDS. He is the Way and the Truth and the Life. He is the second member of the Trinity, the Alpha and the Omega, the One who was and is and is to come. And He is my Redeemer, my Savior and my Lord.

No, I don’t have the advantage these men had. But I don’t need to see Him with my eyes to believe. I’ve already seen Him with my heart. #Ibelieve

Are You Sure About That?

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I was in the 5th grade and was doing my math homework one night (and anyone who knows me knows how much I hate math) and I kept asking my mom, “What’s so-and-so times so-and-so?”, over and over until she lost her patience with me and snapped, “Figure it out!” So I did. I added and added and added and . . . well you get the idea.  I know for certain that 7×8=56 and you can bet it will remain with me for the rest of my life.

Why do you believe what you believe? Because your childhood Sunday School teacher told you a Bible story? Because your pastor preached about doctrine on Sunday? Because you read something profound in a book by a smiling author? What we believe is too often just what we’ve been told – but not what we know. And there is a difference. What you’ve heard just sits in your ears, but what you know takes deep root in your heart and, like your circulating blood, affects every part of you. If your faith is built on other’s thoughts and opinions, how can you be sure you are building on solid ground? When someone challenges your belief, you can’t make a good defense and it all starts to crumble. But if your belief is built on what you have mined from the Scriptures and chewed on and have wrestled your heart and mind into submission then your faith will stand up against the questions of the world. Like my math equation, what you invest in stays with you. Paul said, “I know whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day” (2 Timothy 1:12). As Christians come under fire in the coming days, it’s more important than ever that you know what you believe, and why you believe it. And it’s eternally important that what you believe is the truth. Beloved, you don’t just need to know about religious-sounding stuff. You need to know and be convinced of the truth.

Take Control of Your Heart

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Several years ago, I had an “SVT Episode,” supraventricular tachycardia – or extremely rapid heartbeat.  In the Emergency Department, I was hooked up to an EKG machine to monitor my heart rate, which was soon brought back to a normal rhythm.  During a follow-up echocardiogram, the technician turned the monitor toward me so I could see my heart in action.  It was fascinating.   We all know how vital the heart is to human existence.  The heart, spiritually speaking, is also the core of our Christian life..

Often when we think of the heart, we think of emotions.  However, that is a 21st-century understanding of a 1st-century word. The Greek rendering for the word “heart” is kardia – which you should easily recognize as the medical term for all things concerning the physical heart.  In Greek, it points to our conscience self – our thinking and understanding. That should give us a great deal of insight into the role of the heart in the Christian.  The heart is where we find motivation based on reason and conscious thought and it is the root of our emotional nature. In simpler terms, the heart is the place where we talk to ourselves because that is what thinking really is. And our thinking controls our feelings. No wonder Proverbs 23:7 says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”

2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” How? We mentioned “conscious thought” – that’s what you think about intentionally, like when you’re focusing on the steps to a project. We also have to pay attention to our “unconscious” thoughts – the ones we don’t initiate. These come from our subconscious and reveal the raw condition of our hearts. We have to bring those thoughts into submission to Christ, casting out anything unChristlike and intentionally choosing Philippians 4:8 thoughts. (Go look that up if you need to.) It may seem silly, but I will often do a lasso motion with my arm to take my errant thoughts captive. Let me tell you, paying careful attention to your thoughts all day is exhausting. But over time you and I can retrain our hearts to think rightly and truthfully.

Diet and exercise can help our physical hearts. Our spiritual hearts need a workout as well to become healthy and strong. Beloved,  take control of your thoughts because your thoughts control you.

Higher Love

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Some of you (at least from my generation) may remember the 1980’s song “Higher Love.”

Think about it, there must be higher love

Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above

Without it, life is wasted time

Look inside your heart, I’ll look inside mine

Bring me a higher love

Bring me a higher love, oh

Bring me a higher love

Where’s that higher love, I keep thinking of?

In 1986 when this song was released, I wasn’t walking with Christ. I enjoyed the catchy tune – but I didn’t even think about the lyrics. Now, as a Christ-follower, I hear these words and understand a little better the love of God through them.  

I doubt that Steve Winwood realized he was singing about the love of God. But “think about it,” God’s love comes from a place even higher than “the stars above.” It comes from heaven. “God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5). Without God’s love life is wasted time. “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8). Life is wasted without God. Winwood’s song is the cry of every human heart: “Bring me a higher love.” Solomon said, “What a man desires is unfailing love” (Proverbs 19:22). God set the standard for love, and His love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8)

Yes, Beloved, there is a Higher Love. But it’s not found in your heart or mine. It’s found in the great heart of God who answered our cries from the cross of Jesus Christ. There is no higher love than that.