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.

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.

The (Complete) Nativity Creche

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When we set up our nativity scenes, we place the star above the stable, and we add the animals – cows and sheep (but no pigs, this is a good Jewish family) – and an angel or two (which the Bible doesn’t mention in the birth scene) and the shepherds. We set Mary and Joseph beside the manger where the little baby sleeps. We even add the wise men, though they didn’t actually come on the scene until some 2 years later. Now everyone is present and accounted for.

The truth is, Satan is also part of the Christmas story, for the Holy Child in the manger was born to break the curse of evil. He was born to set men free from their sins (Romans 6:18). He was born to bring light and life where death and darkness reigned (John 1:4-5). He was born to set right what had been made horribly wrong (Romans 8:22-24). This little baby was the fulfillment of God’s promise, the seed that would crush the head of the enemy (Genesis 3:15). When this newborn baby’s cry pierced the silent night, all of hell trembled.

As you celebrate Jesus, the reason for the season, remember the reason Jesus came and praise God for the greatest gift ever given. The Savior of the world is born.

Hebrews: And Now, a Word of Encouragement

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Parenting – and grandparenting – is not for the faint of heart or the weak of conviction. My granddaughter is 2 ½ now and is equal parts sweet and sour. She is struggling to learn how to listen and mind.  We often have to put her in “time out” because she ignores us when we tell her to stop or ask her to pick up her toys. I know it is all part and parcel of her age, but I’m pretty sure there is a familial stubborn streak there that is a mile wide and just as deep.  After a time-out session and after she has complied with my requests, I take her in my lap and thank her for (finally) minding me. I always tell her I love her and that she is still Nana’s sweet girl. I think it’s very important to follow discipline with affection and affirmation.

The writer of Hebrews followed a similar pattern. After a difficult discourse on not falling away from Christ he was careful to tell his readers, “Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation” (Heb 6:9). “I know you are struggling, but I love you and know you will prove faithful.” Follow the hard words with encouragement. He added, “God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them” (v. 10).  God was well aware of the genuineness of their faith, as evidenced by their faithful work and more so by their love toward Him and fellow believers.

He returned to the theme with which he started as a gentle reminder that endurance in the Christian life requires more than just good thoughts. “We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure.  We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (vv. 11-12). Ah, there’s that word again – lazy. If you want to endure to the end, you cannot become lazy and apathetic. A lazy Christian is really an oxymoron. Jesus said, “My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I, too, am working” (John 5:17). If, as Paul said, we are “being transformed into the likeness of His Son, (Rom 8:29), we will always be at work.  That work involves love, diligence, faith, and patience.  But it’s worth it because God has promised us “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade” (1 Peter 1:4). That, Beloved, is worth hanging onto.

Devoted

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I’m writing a paper for my grad class on Romans 12:9-21. Paul wrote the book of Romans to address the tension between the Jewish and Gentile believers.  He explained that they were all sinners in need of God’s grace through Jesus Christ and that God didn’t favor one group over the other. Then he told them how that grace should be lived out every day as a community – a unified body.  He talked about choosing good and overcoming evil.  He talked about being zealous in serving the Lord, about being Joyful, hopeful, patient, generous, and hospitable.  He talked about how to endure persecution with grace. All good stuff and all very important.  But the verse that keeps drawing my attention is “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (v. 10). I have to ask myself, “Am I?” and I don’t like the answer.

The word “devoted” implies affection that parents feel for their children (and grandchildren). It is tenderness and compassion. It is concern and earnestness to do what is best for the beloved. If you know me at all you know I am “devoted” to my granddaughter and I will do whatever is necessary to care for and about her.  I know you feel the same toward your own children and grands. But how am I toward those outside of my own home? Not as devoted if I’m honest. Ah, but in my defense, I’m busy. I work. I’m a grad student. I am very involved in caring for Joy. I teach Sunday School. I write every day. I’m trying to keep my household running. (I don’t cook much – props to my husband.)  And your life is very full as well. We probably all feel that we’re doing the best we can.

I think busyness is one of the devil’s favorite tools for shutting down real relationships – and real evangelism. With work, school, family, church, and community responsibilities, we just don’t have a lot of time to get involved in other people’s lives.` But then again, it comes down to love, doesn’t it? I don’t know . . . maybe this word is just for me today.  Maybe not.  The truth is we will always make time for what we love: making money, sports, entertainment, leisure, T.V., scrapbooking, gaming, Facebook . . .  and hopefully squeeze in some time for Jesus, Bible study, prayer, and people. Beloved, who or what are you devoted to?

God is With You

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Bette Midler sang a song with the line: “God is watching us, from a distance.” In this age of “spirituality,” fewer and fewer people can testify to a close and personal relationship with God. Could Ms. Midler be right? Hardly.

Beloved, God has made a promise to you and me: “the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). He has promised, no matter how far we roam, He goes with us and will never leave us. He commanded the Israelites to build a tabernacle for Him, that He might dwell among His people. Jesus was God in frail human flesh who walked among the very ones He would give His life for. And He has sent His Holy Spirit to all who will believe in Christ for salvation; His indwelling presence to be with us through this earthly life.

Paul declares “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any power, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). God has vowed to always be with His people, and there is no power or force, or thing that can take us from His love. God is never distant from His beloved child. If you are in Christ, He can never separate Himself from you.

Pop songs are not theology; God is watching us, but not from a distance. He is watching us, caring for us, and loving us from within our own hearts, as He lives in us through His Holy Spirit. When you cannot detect His presence, You need only call His Name, for He is always with you.

The Highest Fashion

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The saying, “Clothes make the man,” is attributed to Mark Twain. The Bible agrees.  How we dress as representatives of Christ is so important.  No, I’m not talking about suits and ties for men or dresses vs. pants for women, and I’m certainly not saying we should only wear our “Jesus” T-shirts.  And hear me loud and clear – I’m not saying that we should judge others by the clothes they wear.  Paul talks about a different kind of “clothing” that all Christians should wear –“Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14).  If the mission is to make Jesus known to the world, then dressing “in Jesus” is the best way to do it.  He expounded on the idea in his letter to the church in Colosse.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothes yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).  This is the kind of “fashion” that never goes out of style.  Every piece is an expression of the character and nature of Jesus Christ.

Compassion is simply a feeling of concern for someone else.  Compassion sees others’ needs.

Kindness does something about that need. Kindness responds to what compassion feels.

Humility sees self as the least important person in the picture.  Hear this carefully, humility is not self-abasement or self-condemnation.  It is simply saying, “I am second – I will put you first.”

Gentleness doesn’t get its feathers ruffled.  Gentleness is meek – but it’s not wimpy.

Patience doesn’t give up on others. It is in it for the long haul. (This is my personal word from God today.)    

In the fashion world, one piece – a belt or scarf – can “pull the whole outfit together.”  Likewise, there is one more item we must not forget, one that Paul says “binds them all together in perfect unity”:  love.  He said, “Over all these, put on love” (v. 14).  The truth is, many people are doing all these good things.  The difference is love.  But it’s more than “love” in the Western understanding of the word.  It is a love that flows from God into our own hearts and spills out on those around us in the form of all these other “garments.”  It is the kind of love that seeks the very best for another, to the point of self-sacrifice.  And like every good fashion show, it throws the spotlight back onto the Designer.

So what will you wear today Beloved?  A striped shirt?  A pair of jeans?  Your favorite sweater?  Don’t forget to put on Christ – the world needs to see Jesus in you.

Pointing Fingers

“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do good, but I cannot carry it out” Romans 7:18
One of the biggest challenges of being a Bible teacher is the tension between expressing what the Bible says about sin and recognizing my own sinful nature. How can I stand before a class or post something I’ve written that tells others “how to live” when I fail so often in my own walk? Who do I think I am?
That’s why I find great comfort in Paul’s letters. Paul addresses every kind of sin we can imagine – sexual sin, lying, stealing, hate, laziness, idolatry, marital unfaithfulness, abuse, self-centeredness, drunkenness, and yes even gluttony (Ouch!). He is very outspoken about sin and points a finger wherever he sees it. But he also points a finger back at himself. Paul frequently admits his own human failure to walk the walk of which he talks. In Romans 7, he laments this all too common push-and-pull of righteousness vs. sin. “What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (v. 15). “The evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (v. 19). From Paul’s words, we realize that the sinful nature we inherited from Adam constantly “wages war” against our new nature in Christ (v. 23).
So what do we – as those called to share the gospel and the truth of righteousness – do with that conflict? First, we stop focusing on ourselves. That’s a guarantee to keep failing. Instead, we follow Paul’s example and shift our focus upward. He wrapped up his lament, by recognizing his failure: “What a wretched man I am!” He admitted his need for a savior: “Who will rescue me from the body of death?” Then he rejoiced in the goodness and faithfulness of God: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (vv. 24-25).
You and I are part of the fallen human race, and even though we have trusted in Christ as our Savior, we still fall to our sinful nature. Satan would have us languish there in self-hatred. But we are no longer under the sentence of condemnation (Romans 8:1). We have been rescued and redeemed. When we focus on Jesus we live more in the freedom of our new nature and less in the bondage of our sin. Yes, Beloved, you will still fail – but thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord – you don’t have to stay there!

I’m Sorry

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We’re trying to teach Joy to apologize when she does something wrong, especially when she hurts someone. She’s picking up that lesson pretty well. Tonight during her bath she was playing with finger paints again (it’s a bribe to get her in the tub) and she started to stick her paint-covered finger in her mouth. I said, “No Joy! Don’t put the paint in your mouth!” She looked up at me and said “Sorry, Nana.” “It’s okay,” I said, “You didn’t do anything wrong. Just don’t put the paint in your mouth – it’s yucky.” That was different from the other night when she got mad at me for taking something away from her that she was misusing. She lashed out – literally – and scratched me with her fingernails (that need trimming). Let me tell you – it hurt! Her mommy took her to time out in the other room and told her she had to tell Nana she was sorry. After a few minutes, I came into the room, and she lifted her tear-streaked face and said, “I sorry Nana.” I scooped her up in my arms and this time I said, “Thank you for saying ‘Sorry’ Joy. Nana loves you.” I didn’t tell her it was okay because what she had done was definitely not okay. It was wrong, and she needed to know it was wrong. But she also needed to know that saying “Sorry” was the right thing to do – and that Nana would always love her no matter what.

You and I have done wrong – we have sinned against God (Romans 3:23). We have broken His laws and offended His holiness. What we have done is not okay. Our actions deserve punishment – much more than a time-out. According to the Bible, we deserve death (Romans 6:23).  But God is gracious to us sinners (Romans 3:24) and that grace cost Him everything – “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed . . . but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18, 19).

Beloved, of Jesus, when you and I sin, we can look to God and say “I’m sorry,” and know that, while our actions are not okay, our relationship with God is. Because Jesus paid the highest price to make us okay. Because God loves you – no matter what.