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?

Beloved

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If there is one consistent theme throughout the Bible it is that God loves people. From every tribe, nation, and tongue God loves human beings – the pinnacle of His creation. He doesn’t love one gender more than the other. He doesn’t love one race more than the other – in truth, there is only one race – the human race – and He loves them all. I love Psalm 107 because it is all about the love of God for mankind. The first verse says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, His love endures forever.” The last verse says, “Consider the great love of the Lord” (v. 43) and in between the Scriptures speak of ”His unfailing love” four times (vs. 8,15,21, 31).

The Psalmist describes people who are poor and desperate, people who were imprisoned by their sin, people who have foolishly rebelled against God, and people who are “at their wits’ end” because of life’s storms. I think that pretty much covers all of us. I know I fit in at least a couple of those. The point is, God’s love is for everyone. No one is exempt or excluded. No one is cast aside or rejected.

In each scene, when they “cried to the Lord in their trouble,” He “saved them from their distress” (vs. 6, 13, 19, 28). He led the poor to “by a straight way to a city where they could settle” (v. 4). He brought [the prisoner] out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains” (v. 14). He “sent forth His word and healed [the rebel] and rescued them from the grave” (v. 20). He “stilled the storm to a whisper and hushed the waves of the sea and guided [the distressed] to their desired haven” (vs. 29-30). They all “gave thanks for . . . His wonderful deeds for men” (vs. 8, 13, 19, 28).

Where do you fit in these scenes? Are you desperate, bound by sin, rebelling against God, or distressed and anxious because of a storm in your life? God loves you. He who makes springs in the desert, who feeds the hungry, who lifts up the humble and desperate,  loves you. Yes you.  And now you understand why I call you “Beloved.”

But I don’t want to be a cattle rustler

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Genealogy is a big deal these days. But then again, it’s always been so. In the very early years of the nation of Israel, land rights, property, and position were determined by genealogical records. Many of the ancestral lines held certain positions for generations.  Like the lines of Issachar and Zebulun who, during the forty years of wilderness wandering were commanded by God to guard the tribe of Judah, the royal line from which the kings of Israel (and the King of Kings) would come. These two tribes took their charge very seriously. The Bible notes that almost a millennium later, the sons of the sons of the sons of Issachar and Zebulun were still at their post, protecting the king in his palace.

I love that. I love a strong, godly heritage that continues through the generations. I think of the family of Billy Graham and his many children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who serve in ministry. I know of many families who have multi-generational pastors, missionaries, and ministry leaders. I love to see several generations crowded together on the church pew every Sunday. A godly heritage is a precious thing.

But maybe that is not your heritage. Maybe your family tree, like mine produced a lot of bad fruit and more than a few nuts. My maternal great-great-grandfather was a cattle rustler and my great uncle spent more of his life in jail than out of it. There is a long sinful thread running through my paternal family. Does that mean that I am destined to follow their paths? Not if God has anything to say about it.

2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”  When He saved me, God gave me a new name, a new lineage, and a new future. I am now a child of God and my family lineage is that of Jesus Christ and all the saints who have gone before me.  My family heritage is godliness, obedience, endurance, faithfulness, righteousness, holiness, and blessedness. When the enemy tells me who I was I tell him who I am: God’s daughter. Beloved, don’t accept the lie that you can’t rise above the past. Take God at His Word and grab hold of the new life and the new destiny that awaits you in Jesus Christ.

The Heart of Sin

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Warning: this devotional contains sensitive and, quite frankly, disgusting information.

An Old Dominion University assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice, Dr. Allyn Walker, has been suspended after writing a book defending what he* termed, “minor-attracted persons.” Dr. Walker stated, “It’s less stigmatizing than other terms like pedophile. A lot of people when they hear the term pedophile, they automatically assume that it means a sex offender. And that isn’t true. And it leads to a lot of misconceptions about attractions toward minors.”[1] In a nutshell, Dr. Walker was seeking to “normalize” sexual attraction to children by contending that people can have the desire without acting on it. That’s much the same message many pastors and Christian counselors claim about homosexuality. But that is a dangerous and wicked lie.

The point of this devotional isn’t to disgust you or to call for comments about how insane the world is. My point is to tell you that sin is rooted in the desires of the heart. It’s what James meant when he said that “each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed” (Jas. 1:14). Our desires – or “attractions” as Dr. Walker termed it – will always lead to action and if they are for sin, they will always lead us away from God. The psalmist said, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Ps. 67:18). Desire and cherish all describe something that is deeply rooted in the heart. Listen to Psalm 37: 4: “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Many claim the second part of this verse without regarding the first. God is not promising to give you anything you want if you “put Him first.” He wants to be the desire of your heart – the only desire of your heart.  That is why “minor-attraction” or “same-sex attraction” or “food attraction” or “money-attraction” or “anything-sinful-attraction” cannot coexist in a heart that desires God.

Please hear me – I am not preaching condemnation nor am I saying that faithful believers will not struggle with the pull to sin. But if we desire God more than sin we will fight tooth and nail to be set free from it – we will “resist to the point of shedding blood” (Heb. 12:4). Beloved, if you want to be in relationship with God you must put every sinful desire to death (read Romans 6:1-14 – no, seriously, you need to read it). God is not after your good behavior, He is after your heart.

*I am assuming male as Dr. Walker has identified as non-binary.


[1] School places professor on leave after controversial interview defending ‘minor-attracted persons’ | Fox News

Hebrews: Judgement’s Coming

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Its earliest origins were in the 1720s in a small Dutch Reformed Church in New Jersey, but the First Great Awakening caught fire in 1741 when Jonathan Edwards preached the sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Edwards’ message revisited the biblical truth of God’s wrath on unbelievers. He reminded his listeners that all men are sinful creatures and under the condemnation of God. ButGod is withholding His righteous wrath so that all may have an opportunity to repent and turn in faith to Christ. Faced with the fearsome wrath of God, people fell trembling and wailing, “What must I do to be saved?” I wonder why people are not asking that question anymore.

The final subject in Hebrew’s “elementary teachings” is “eternal judgment” and I daresay that is even rarer today than it was in Edward’s day. We talked about God’s wrath when we dug into Hebrews 2:2-3 so I won’t belabor the point (I will post a link to that devotional in the comments) because there’s something else I want you to see. 

The writer had previously listed “the resurrection of the dead” as another foundational truth of the faith. The two are intrinsically linked. The church has claimed “resurrection from the dead” as something saved people have to look forward to, and rightly so. But Jesus didn’t teach resurrection as a “saved-only” deal. “A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28-29). The wicked will be raised also, but for the purpose of judgment and eternal punishment. Paul said, Those who do not know God (through Jesus) “will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord . . . on the day He comes to be glorified” (2 Thess. 1:9-10). Yes, God is infinite love, grace, and mercy, but He is also infinite holiness that cannot tolerate wickedness. The world needs to hear the whole gospel.

I ask the same question I’ve asked again and again throughout this section. What does the church know of this today? Very little. I say that because if we did every lost person in the church (yes, there are many) would be trembling and wailing, “What must I do to be saved?” And every saved person would be begging sinners to come to Christ. No one will be left in the grave – everyone has an eternal destiny. Beloved, your family members, neighbors, friends, and coworkers need to know.  Will you tell them?

Dance Anyway

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David danced before the Lord with all his might.” 2 Samuel 6:14

Deep within the soul of a little girl beats the heart of a dancer. When she was very small she would twirl around the room making her skirt billow out wide, curls bouncing as her feet leapt with the joy in her heart. But sometimes life can just knock the breath—and the joy—right out of us. We start out well, full of dreams and enthusiasm, but real-life struggles and heartaches come along and we find those dreams fading and our excitement waning.

Perhaps you are not a dancer at heart, but you have a God-given desire to step into something that would bring Him great glory, yet you also have a past that has weighed you down with shame and regret. You think, “I can’t dance (or sing or write, or whatever that desire is), people know my past and they will not approve.” My friend that is the very reason you need to tie on your ballet slippers.

King David tried to return the Ark of God to Jerusalem after it had been captured in battle. But his first attempt was a humiliating failure. At his second attempt David celebrated, “dancing and leaping before the Lord,” and his wife chastised him saying, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would” (v. 20). Sound like some voices you’ve heard lately? David replied: “It was before the Lord [that I danced]” (v. 21). He didn’t care what she thought because God was glorified in David’s dance.

Why do we think we can’t live for the glory of God when we have made mistakes – that we have to sit down when we’ve stumbled in life? Everyone out there has made mistakes. If we all sat out the dance because of the mistakes we’ve made, no one would ever dance again. And that is all the more reason why we should– to show the world that Jesus forgives and restores and makes life worth living again.

Beloved, someone else has stumbled over the same rock that brought you down; let them know they can get back up again. Celebrate before the Lord with all your might. The world doesn’t need to see you dancing out of perfection, they need to see you dancing out of redemption.

The Ministry of Experience

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Ever done anything foolish in your life? Yeah, me too. What do we do with the failures of our past? We put them in God’s hands so that others can benefit from our hard-earned wisdom. I believe that’s what Paul meant when he said, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). As survivors redeemed by Christ we reach back and help someone else who is fighting the same battle. Why is AA so powerful? Because it is built on experience and a shared struggle. It is one person who has found freedom from addiction walking alongside someone who is trying to break free.

I can minister to a child who is bullied by her peers, to a teenager suffering sexual abuse, to a woman abandoned by her husband, to a person who struggles with depression, to someone battling anxiety and fear, to a mom with a wayward child, to a couple who has lost everything, but most of all, I can reach out to someone suffering the consequences of their own foolish actions because I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt to prove it. And because I have the grace of God to show how He ministered to me in the midst of it all.

It is the deepest belief of my heart that God will take what the enemy meant to harm me and turn it into a means of blessings for others. When I allow God to turn my misery into ministry, Satan loses.  Then I can say with Joseph, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

This is how we redeem our foolish past—we take our experiences, our failures, and our sins to the table and say to another struggling soul, “I know where you are, I understand what you’re feeling and I will walk with you until you are free in Christ.” Beloved, don’t let the enemy bury you in shame. Let God use you and your scars to turn mistakes into ministry and heartbreak into hope.

Hebrews: Faith in God

In June of 1995, British actor Hugh Grant was arrested in Los Angeles, California for hiring a prostitute for a sexual encounter. After a few weeks of hiding out with his PR people, Grant went on an “apology tour,” which famously led to an appearance with Jay Leno who called the actor out. Grant sheepishly said, “I think you know in life, pretty much, what’s a good thing to do and what’s a bad thing. I did a bad thing, and there you have it.” Come to think of it, Grant acknowledged his “bad thing,” but never apologized for it.

It’s one thing to be sorry for our actions. Lots of people have apologized publically and privately for things said and done (or not said and not done). Lots of people have even prayed for forgiveness, but few follow that prayer with “faith in God” (Hebrews 6:1).  In our last Hebrews study, we talked about “repentance from acts that lead to death.”  We defined repentance as a spiritual and moral change of attitude toward God which turns an individual from sin to God.  And we pointed out that true repentance must have both sorrow and turning.  If repentance is turning away, faith in God is turning to. Repentance for the Jewish readers of this message was turning away from the Law as a means of righteousness and turning to God through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.

But I’m pretty sure the vast majority of you reading this devotional are, like me, not Jewish. We’ve never been a slave to the Mosaic Law. So what does this mean for us?  The same thing. It means we must come to God with both a sincere heart of repentance and faith in God through the work of Christ.  It is saying, my old way of life, my selfish, self-centered, it’s-all-about-me attitude is wrong and the ways of God are right. It’s saying I am a slave to sin and I cannot redeem myself, but I trust that God can through His Son.  And remember, the writer contends that this is an “elementary, foundational teaching.”

I love to expound on things in Scripture, to take you deep into the truth of God’s Word and help you grow, but you and I have to get this right first. Beloved, “today is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). Have you, will you, turn away from sin and turn to faith in God through Jesus Christ?

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!