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?

Hebrews: Awe and Wonder

Quick! What are you thinking about right now? Right now, I’m thinking about the pain in my knee. I’m thinking about my next course coming up in two weeks. I’m thinking about all the things I didn’t get done this weekend added to all the things I need to do this week. I’m thinking about getting Joy to her nanny and me to work on time.  

The writer of Hebrews said, “Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess” (3:1). One of the first things we learn in Bible study is to pay attention to the word, “therefore” and ask ourselves, “what’s it there for?” Therefore always refers us back to the previous text – in this case, the author has just listed eight reasons why God would send His one and only Son from glory to earth. He is saying, in light of all that Jesus is and has done, our natural response is to “fix our thoughts” on Him, meaning to mentally focus with intentional consideration. That sounds a lot like studying algebra to me.  I would stare at my textbook for hours but just could not wrap my mind around those useless equations and formulas. Thankfully, that’s not what’s happening here.

Glance back just a few words, where the author, speaking to his “holy brothers” (and sisters), said that they – and we – “share in the heavenly calling.” That calling is a divine invitation from heaven to consider all that Jesus is. Redeemer. Savior. Brother. Victor. High Priest. Sacrifice. Helper. Apostle. The book of Hebrews is all about discovering Jesus. Like looking through a kaleidoscope, we keep turning the dial and seeing new and wonderful sides to Him.  

Fixing our thoughts on Jesus is more than a mental exercise we have to push ourselves through like my algebra book. It’s lifting our thoughts above the mundane things of this world and filling our minds with awe and wonder at the Son of the Most High God. It’s not something we have to do, it’s something we get to do! What a high and holy privilege we’ve been given.

That brings me back to the question we opened with. Beloved, what are you thinking about right now?

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.

Treasures of your Heart

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“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21)
The heart is so much more than an organ or a feeling. In the Scriptures, “heart” is emotion driven by reason and conscious thought.” That alone makes so many verses take on a whole new context. Which is why Matthew 6:21 jumped out at me recently, specifically the words “heart” and “treasure.”
When Jesus said, “Where your treasure is . . .” He was referring to what is stored up. Now He wasn’t talking about a stored up treasure of jewels or money. The treasure in your heart is what you think about. Because a treasure is something of great value to you, it is what takes up the greatest space in your conscious thoughts. Your treasure may be money, or it may be status, or your job or your children (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). It’s what you assign the highest value with respect to the amount of thought you invest.
Here’s the point: you control the treasure of your heart. Because you choose your conscious thoughts – you choose what you will focus on and what you will talk to yourself about. I know this is true. When I spend more time in Bible Study, my conscious thoughts – and thus my treasure – are being shaped by the Word. By investing in the words of my Lord, my treasure has eternal value.
Beloved, what treasures are you storing up in your heart? Where are you investing your thoughts? It’s your choice you know. Choose eternal treasures.

Your Shield of Faith (Part 2)

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A couple of days ago I wrote about the importance of the Shield of Faith and how faith is more than thoughts but is, by definition action.  In a word, faith is obedience.  But I want to come back to faith as a thought because our actions are born out of our thoughts.  Proverbs 23:7 says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (KJV).  Our thoughts hold the key to our actions and attitudes and behaviors.  What you think matters.  That’s why Paul exhorts us to think about “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

Consider once again the Roman soldier in battle.  When the enemy advances, swinging his sword, the soldier raises his shield to protect himself.  And when the enemy is shooting arrows and throwing javelins at him, he can crouch behind his shield as the weapons of warfare bounce off.  Likewise, you and I have to become adept at taking a position of safety behind our shield.  Obedience is faith in action and faith is our defense against the enemy, but we often have to “think” ourselves into raising that shield of faith.  We have to think about what is true and noble and right and pure and lovely and admirable and excellent and praiseworthy.  And not just one fleeting “God is good,” but a continuous monologue of faith.  We have to speak truth to ourselves and let it permeate our hearts so our arms have the strength to raise that shield and hold it in a position of obedience.  When we claim what we know is true about our God, when we remind ourselves of His power over our enemy, His goodness even when we don’t deserve, His faithfulness despite our unfaithfulness, His promises that never fail, His sovereign rule over every aspect of our lives, His wisdom that is working out the perfect battle plan, His everlasting, never-failing, rock solid love for us —we are standing firm behind our shield of faith.

One more thing – when the battle is at it fiercest and the enemy is swinging hard, the soldier knows that he cannot lower his shield; he must keep a firm grip and stay behind his protective barrier.  A wise soldier knows that if he sticks his head out from behind his shield, he’s going to get clobbered.  You and I cannot lose our grip or lower our shield.  We’ve got to stay in our protective position.  Picture yourself crouched down, your head safely lowered behind your shield, behind everything you know is true about your God. Looks a lot like the position of prayer doesn’t it?

The battle is on and the enemy is relentless.  But you have a strong shield when your thoughts are fixed on what is true about God.  The soldier who stays behind his shield is a soldier who survives the battle.  Raise your shield of faith Beloved –Yahweh Magen – the Lord your Shield will protect you.

What Do You Think…

“What do you think…” Matthew 22:42a

What are thinking about right now?  What should I make for supper? What is that noise in the engine of my car?   What are my kids up to now?  Every moment, a vast number of thoughts are running through your mind, many you are not even conscience of.   Did you know that your thoughts make up who you are?  Proverbs 23:7 says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” (New King James Version) Your attitude, beliefs, words, and actions are all the culmination of your thoughts.  Perhaps it is time to think about what we are thinking about.  I think there are at least three important thoughts we need to consider.

We should think high thoughts of God – When Jesus asked the question we see in our key verse, He was speaking to the Pharisees.  He asked them specifically “What do you think about the Christ?” The fact that He was addressing the religious leaders of His day makes it all the more important.   These learned men spent their days pouring over the Holy Scriptures, the very words that not only described Christ, but were inspired by His very Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21)  Yet they still missed the essence of who Jesus was – they could not see that He was God.  Because they did not have the right thoughts about God.   Their image of God was cast in their own minds from their own image.  They had a very human view of God.  I wonder if Jesus were to ask the same of you and me, how we might answer.  Truly, it all depends on how we think.  We are to have a high view of God. We are to think of God as He has described Himself in His Word. Leviticus 19:2 is God’s most important self-declaration: “Be holy, because I, the Lord Your God, am holy.”  When we think of God, we must first and foremost think of His holiness. Jeremiah 9:24 gives another high view of His attributes: “I am the Lord, who exercises … righteousness on earth.” (Jeremiah 9:24)  The Lord is righteous in all His ways. He has also testified to His might and power: “I am God Almighty” (Genesis 17:1).  Jesus identified Himself as one with God when He said: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.” (John 14:6) It is only as we think rightly of God that we can see Him as He is – Holy, Righteous, and Mighty; the Way and the Truth and the Life.

We should think loving thoughts of others – In addressing the question of (again) one of the Pharisees, Jesus reiterated the Greatest Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” He then added a new wrinkle: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37, 39)  In addition to thinking high thoughts of God, we are to think loving thoughts of others.

Paul expounded on Jesus’ words in Romans 13:9 when he wrote, “Whatever other commandments there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”  He is simply stating that when we regard one another in love, as Christ has commanded (John 15:12), we will never think of lying, cheating, envying, stealing from or harming others in any way.    He says we are to “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves,” (Romans 12:10) and adds that “Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.”  How would your life and mine be changed if we thought of others with honor and brotherly love?  How would their lives be different if we sought the good of others before our own?  Paul said that we have a “debt to love one another.” (Romans 13:8) It is a responsibility that we bear as Christians to express love to others – it is the commandment of our Lord and Savior, who showed His love for us on the Cross.

 Lastly, I believe God would have us think true thoughts of ourselves.  One of the hardest things for us to do is to think of ourselves as God does.  Perhaps that is because the world and Satan continually works to focus our thoughts on what is wrong with us.  The message of the world is that we are terribly flawed if we are not the right height, weight (especially weight), or body shape. If we don’t have the right hair style or perfect white teeth, if we don’t drive the right car, have a successful spouse or brilliant children, we are of no value.  If that weren’t enough to destroy our sense of worth; Satan works on the flaws in us that others cannot see – flaws that we know are there.  He taunts us with temptations, then ridicules us because we succumb to that same temptation.  He continually reminds us of every failure, every wrong thought and every harsh word; and when we grieve these terrible things about ourselves, he drags us even further into the pit by insisting that in God’s eyes we are worthless.

But God wants us to know that Satan and this world are liars.  He wants us to think of ourselves as His Word declares: We are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), “accepted by Christ” (Romans 15:7), “the righteousness of God in Christ” (2 Corinthians5:21), “chosen , holy and blameless before God” (Ephesians 1:4), “redeemed and forgiven” (Ephesians 1:7), “God’s workmanship, created to produce good works” (Ephesians 2:10), “light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8), “chosen of God, holy and dearly loved” (Colossians 3:12), and “made complete in Christ” (Colossians 2:10). The ultimate evidence of your worth is the same evidence of God’s love for us – “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)  The truth is that Christ thought so highly of you and me that He gave the most valuable thing He had to redeem us – He gave Himself.

Philippians 4:8 is a great lesson in how to manage our thought life, we would do well to put these principles into practice. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”

Holy Father, High and lifted up, please keep my mind focused on praising You, loving others and thinking rightly of myself.  Transform my mind Lord to think thoughts that please You. Amen