22 Inches

“Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent”  (John 17:3).

It’s been a long dry spell in my heart lately.  I’ve sensed a distance between me and God.  Not that He has moved away, but more that my focus is off and my passion has cooled.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not abandoning my faith.  I love the Lord, I am committed to follow Him and live for Him, but something seems – off. Prayer has been a struggle and while I continue with my daily devotions and Scripture reading, I’m not all in like I once was.  I’ve tried to figure it out.  Maybe it’s the turmoil of the past year and the uncertain future we are facing.  Maybe it’s disappointment or disillusionment. Maybe it’s a lot of heartache. Maybe . . . maybe . . . maybe.

One recent morning, as I rolled this over in my mind again, I had the urge to grab a tape measure and measure the distance between my head and my heart.  22 inches.

“What does that mean Lord?”

“That is the difference between what you know in your head and what you know in your heart.”

Last fall I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Biblical and Theological Studies.  It was four years of hard work, study, and pounding out acres of papers, reports and tests.  I loved it! I learned so much about the Bible, God, Jesus, creation, the Church – and yes, even algebra.  I read hundreds of pages every week in my textbooks and read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation with courses dedicated to individual books. I dug into words and context and history and ate up every minute of it.  Mind you I am not a biblical expert – far from it.  I don’t know it all; in fact, I barely scratched the surface.  But I learned a lot.  You would think all that I learned would cause me to draw closer to God, but in truth, the opposite seems to have happened.  You see, I was so busy and so focused on learning all I could know about God and His Word that I failed to know Him.  All that knowledge does me no good if it just sits in my head and never reaches my heart.  It’s like a seed lying dormant on the surface rather than under the ground where it can put down roots and grow strong.

So how do I make all this knowledge jump from my head to my heart?  I don’t think it’s something I can do but only the Holy Spirit.  Still, I do have some responsibility, like blocking out all the distractions (can you say Facebook?) and inviting the Spirit to speak to me as I read His Word.  By sitting still before Him and listening with intention and focus, praying about what I’ve read, then living it out.  Then again, experience is often the best teacher.  Sometimes we don’t know who God really is until we have to.

Through my studies I learned that God is El Roi – the God that sees – but how do I know that He is the God that sees me. He is Yahweh Maphalti – the God who delivers – but I won’t know that in my heart until He has to deliver me.  How will I know Yahweh Chereb – the Lord—the sword – unless He fights for me? Is He Yahweh Sali – the Lord my rock? Do I know El Simchath Gili is God who brings me joy? Is He El Hayyay – the God of my life?

I used to think it was enough to know all I could learn about God, but I’m finding that when it’s all head-knowledge, it doesn’t move my heart – and my heart is what God is after.  My heart is where change happens.   So every morning when I come to meet with God, I will turn my phone off, log out of Facebook and email and soak in His Word.  I will come in a spirit of humility and be still and listen.  I will meditate on the Word and let the truths—and the Truth—take root in my heart.  I will pray about what God says to me and ask Him to help me receive it and believe it.  I will “come near to God and He will come near to me” (James 4:8).

Twenty-two inches isn’t much on tape measure, but it is the difference between knowing about God and knowing God. I’m not satisfied with a head full of knowledge anymore.  I want to know God with all my heart.

I’ll share my journey with you in this blog.  I pray you too will discover the difference 22 inches can make.

El Hayyay, God of my life, please don’t let me waste all I’ve learned about you.  Take all my head knows and make it take root in my heart.

God Knows My Heart

My friend had been trying for 20 minutes to explain why she did something she knew God would not approve of. She wanted to put this thing behind her, but she kept going back to it. “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). The only hope for the human heart is a divine Savior. Jesus. He knows your heart and mine and He came to redeem our hearts through His death on the cross. Will you always get it right then? I’m living proof that the answer is “No,” but a heart that has been rescued by Jesus is a heart that can be renewed and restored.
Beloved, God knows your heart – does your heart know Him?

Search Me O God

bright-light“The lamp (light showing the way of truth) of the Lord searches (examines, tracks down) the spirit (breath, life) of a man; it searches out his inmost being (heart, chamber, bedroom, the most intimate part of the heart),” Proverbs 20:27.

When we are searching for something important, we turn on every available light and look throughout the room.  We move things that might be covering up what we’re seeking.  We check every corner, hunt through drawers, closets and shelves and we keep looking until we find our target. Sometimes we even go back where we’ve already looked, just in case we missed it the first time.

God has a holy light, a brilliant, powerful light that illumines every corner and crevice of our lives.  He shines that spotlight on us, searching our hearts and minds, out thoughts and intentions, our desires and passions and our actions.  He moves everything we use to cover over our hearts. He looks far deeper than we even know exists, to the most intimate levels of our being, to the place where we find the truth about ourselves.  His purpose is to locate and root out everything in us that does not meet the perfect standard of His children. 

 I need this holy light of truth to examine my life, to track down everything in me that is not conforming to the image of Christ.  I need God to search out every offensive way in me (Psalm 139:24).  In the deepest part of my heart, there are passions and desires that need to be crucified to Christ Jesus (Galatians 5:24) if I am to truly love Him and be a vessel for His glory. 

Lord, I want to be fully open to the Spirit’s examination, I want You to roam throughout my heart, mind and body and expose me to the core. 

What are You Looking For?

  • “Look to the Lord and His strength, seek His face always” (1 Chronicles 16:11)

    He stared into the open refrigerator for the third time in an hour. “What are you looking for son?” I asked. “I don’t know,” he answered “Something.”

    Something. We’re all looking for “something” and most of us don’t know what that something is. Like my son, we sense a lack, a hunger, a desire – but can’t quite put our finger on what will fill us. He eventually settled on a sandwich, but I knew he would be back before long, looking for “something” more.

    The craving of the soul is far more powerful than the craving of an empty stomach, and the world we live in offers a myriad of things to fill that aching hole. Some of us run after success and all the material things that go along with it – houses, cars, fine things and finer people, vacations in exotic places. For others, it is physical pleasure. This world overflows with sensual pleasures to feed the lustful nature; but lust can never be satisfied and the quest for pleasure becomes an insatiable appetite. Maybe it is power – the hand of authority and influence; or popularity, after all who doesn’t like to be liked? Many have turned to food in excess, or stuff – just piles and piles of stuff. Sadly many lose themselves to the numbing effects of drugs or alcohol.

    What is it we really want? What is it that our souls are desperately seeking? A simple statement by Saint Augustine of Hippo answers our questions: “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.”  It is God that we want. God our hearts crave. Because God created us and put His own image in us, our spirits yearn to be in fellowship with our Creator. That emptiness is meant to cause us to pursue God, but the world steps up with everything else and if we are not earnestly seeking Him we grab hold of what is set before us instead. We were not made for all these other things. We were made for God.

    David understood this. Listen to his words: “O God you are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for You in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1). David is on the run in the desert from the evil King Saul, who is seeking to take his life. He is thirsty and weary in the dry desert heat, and in his physical needs, he turns to God. Yes, he needs water and rest, but it is the ache in his soul that causes him to cry out to the Lord, to seek his God. Notice his is not just a passing prayer, but he is earnestly seeking, a passionate longing, a determined searching. The original Hebrew offers the image of foraging, like a starving animal seeking food to stay alive. That is the earnest seeking of a man who knows that only God can satisfy him, only God can fill the empty places. God is what David craves. God is what our own empty heart craves.

    What happens when we pursue God this way? Scripture is full of His promises to the earnest seeker. “Those who know Your name trust in You, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek You” (Psalm 9:10) God is faithful to the one who seeks Him. “Glory in His holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always” (Psalm 105:3-4). God promises joy and strength when we seek Him. “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him” (Lamentations 3:25). God pours out His goodness on those who seek Him. “This is what the Lord says to the house of Israel: ‘Seek me and live’” (Amos 5:4). God offers life to the one who seeks Him. Real life. Abundant life. Eternal life.

    The most precious promise to the seeking heart is found in Jeremiah 29:13 – “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Listen to the very next verse: “I will be found by you” (v. 14). God is inviting us to seek Him, and in the same breath promises to make Himself open and accessible to us. He said “I have not spoken in secret… I have not said…’seek me in vain’” (Isaiah 45:19). Your Creator doesn’t play a divine game of “hide and seek.” He says we can “seek and find.”

    God has been making Himself known since creation. He had made Himself visible in the world around us. Every tree and star and mountain testifies to Him. He had given us His Word, the Bible, and every page is telling the story of God and His love for you and me. As if that were not enough, He sent His Son, Jesus to walk among men and women and children, that we might be able to reach out and touch the very flesh of God, to see His face and hear His voice and – oh, hear this with your heart – to seek you.

    What are you looking for my friend? Listen to your aching heart. Hear the cries of your empty soul. It isn’t wealth or pleasure or power or things that you want. Deep within, you are longing for God, because you were made for Him. Seek Him, and you will find Him, because He has already found you.

     

    Holy Father, my Creator and God, ”You have said to my heart ‘Seek My face!’ Your face Lord, I will seek” (Psalm 27:8). Amen

Closed Heart Surgery

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”  Ezekiel 36:26

My brother-in-law recently underwent heart by-pass surgery.  He had for several months been experiencing symptoms such as shortness of breath, lack of energy and eventually, chest pain. Tests revealed blockages in several of the vessels of his heart, blockages that had slowly and quietly built up over years.  The symptoms were minimal at first, easily dismissed in the middle of his busy days. But they became more and more severe until he could not ignore them any longer.  He wisely sought medical help and found himself lying on a table counting backwards from 100…99…98…97… .  .   .    .     .

The symptoms my brother-in-law encountered are similar to those you and I experience when we encounter spiritual heart problems. We find ourselves short of spiritual breath, our spiritual energy begins to wane and eventually, we suffer the pain of a hardened heart. Hardened hearts also happen slowly, and over time, can lead to a very serious problem.  My brother-in-law’s condition has a fancy medical name, but I remember it being called “hardening of the arteries.” God calls our heart condition “a heart of stone.”  A heart of stone is unhealthy and resistant to God.  This kind of heart is closed to God’s love and in desperate need of surgery.

How does our heart get so hard?  Almost always, a hard heart happens with small steps away from God, seemingly insignificant things that, one by one, don’t seem to be that threatening.  It is the simple choices we make each day. Like hitting the snooze button and sleeping through our morning quiet time, once, then another morning and another morning, until we’ve just reset the alarm altogether and forgotten all about morning devotionals.  It happens when we spend so much time reading our email that there is no time to read the Bible.  Our prayer life suffers as we look to the world for advice, rather than seeking God’s counsel for our needs. When the our kid’s sports games take us away from worship with our church family on Sunday morning, and when we skip Bible Study class for our favorite TV show, our hearts are becoming hardened to the things of God.  The choices we make in entertainment, online usage, conversations and relationships can cause us to become numb to sin and push us into the danger zone.

Hard hearts also happen when we experience hurts and struggles and do not allow God to bring us His healing and restoration.  When unforgiveness, bitterness, disappointment and envy fester, one more brick is added to the wall that has encased our hearts.   This is not God’s desire for you and me.

Ezekiel was a prophet and priest to the nation of Judah, a people with a serious heart condition.  They had allowed their hearts to become hardened by sin and now they faced God’s discipline for their rebellion. They were being taken captive by the Babylonians, taken far from their beloved homeland.  The nation of Israel had been chosen and set apart by God, called to be His people, for His glory.  But they had drifted away from Him, one decision, one compromise, one person at a time.  Soon the entire nation had turned cold and hard toward God; and they fell into captivity.

But the story of Israel doesn’t end in captivity, and our story doesn’t end with hard, cold hearts.  Our key verse from Ezekiel 36:26 is a beautiful promise from God – His promise to perform the kind of heart surgery that only He can do.  He will take away our heart of stone and in its place give us a heart of flesh.  I love that He doesn’t just say he will remake our hearts, but that he will do a complete “heart transplant.”  God gives us a heart that is tender to His Spirit and moldable in His hands-as He says in the very next verse-“I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees” (Ezekiel 36:27)

What do you see when you look honestly at your heart?  Has your heart become hard? Have you become bitter and cold toward God?  It does not have to be so.  If you are in need of “heart surgery” remember that God is the Master Cardiologist, and is always willing to do a “heart transplant,” if we surrender our heart into His hands.  There really is no better place for our heart to be.

God of my heart, life is filled with struggles and challenges that have caused my heart to become hard and cold.  Please take my heart of stone away and give me a heart of flesh – a heart like Yours.  Amen

The Sponge Principle

Read Matthew 12: 33-37

A few of years ago I had an “SVT Episode,” a Supraventricular tachycardia – or extremely rapid heartbeat.  In the Emergency Department, blood was drawn for lab tests and I was hooked up to an EKG machine to monitor my heartbeat, which was soon brought back to normal rhythm.  It was not a life-threatening episode, but it was very frightening.  In follow up visits to a Cardiologist, he ordered an echocardiogram or ultrasound test to determine how my heart was functioning.  During the echo, the technician turned the monitor toward me so I could see my heart in action.  It was fascinating to watch my heart beating on the screen, and I was grateful that there was no damage to my heart and no major problem was found.  Modern medicine has developed many techniques and procedures to examine every part of our human body.  Doctors can assess our health with near pinpoint accuracy, and prescribe appropriate measures to restore or maintain our body’s health.

As wonderful as these medical marvels are, they cannot measure the health and wellbeing of our spiritual heart.  But there is a sure way we can know the true condition of our heart.  “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”  Matthew 12:34  Jesus says that what comes out of our mouth exposes the condition our heart.   Did you just wince like I did?  What do our words say about our hearts? I confess that my words of complaining and grumbling reveal a heart that is often ungrateful.  Gossip stems from a jealous heart.   Words of hatred or anger boil up from a heart full of bitterness.  Think what vile heart condition is revealed by the use of profanity.  But it doesn’t have to be so ugly.  Words of praise, thanksgiving, encouragement and kindness surely reveal hearts that are rich in love, joy, gratitude and peace – a heart steeped in the Lord.

“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.”  Matthew 12:33

In verse 33, Jesus said that the condition of a tree’s fruit  reveals the condition of the tree.  Likewise the fruit of our lips reveals the health of our heart.  Good words come from a healthy heart, and bad words from an unhealthy heart.

Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t just leave us hanging with unhealthy hearts. He offers the remedy.  In verse 35 he says “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.”  The condition of our heart is caused by what we store there.    What we store up feeds our hearts and tumbles out of our mouths.  Jesus is telling us what computer programmers call – GIGO – “Garbage in, garbage out.”  What we choose to take in – what we look at, listen to, read and discuss – becomes, by definition, the “treasure” in our hearts.  What am I reading? What kind of music do you listen to? What television programs and movies am I watching? What websites are you visiting online?  Who do you spend time with, and what do you discuss? Now I know you are probably not dwelling on the “dark side.”  Your choices are not so bad.  But here is the question I ask myself continually – will this program, this magazine, this movie or online site, or this conversation strengthen my Christian walk?  Will it help me to grow deeper roots?  Will it help me become more like Christ?

It’s what I call “The Sponge Principle.”  Whatever a sponge absorbs, it will express when squeezed.  If I am exposing myself to sour attitudes, sexual content, anger or violence – when I am “squeezed” I will express ugliness.  But what if the things I choose to take in aren’t as bad as all that?  The principle still applies. If I am only sitting in tepid water, I will produce a tepid spirit.  But – if I am purposefully absorbing God’s Word, enjoying the fellowship and influence of godly people, and the goodness of praise – when life squeezes me, what comes forth is the evidence of God in my heart, things like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).  I want my life to always express the beauty and blessedness of God.

Jesus tells us how to measure and recognize the condition of our heart, and how to restore an unhealthy heart back to wholeness.  What does the fruit of your lips say about the status of your heart?  Do you need to make some changes in what you are soaking in?

Holy Father – I want my lips to reveal the heart of Christ in me.  Please help me to make godly choices that will grow a godly heart.   Amen