Hebrews: Hold On

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“Do you want goldfish?” Joy’s mommy asked her. “Yeah!” she answered enthusiastically. “I’ll give you some if you take two more bites of spaghetti.” She quickly shoveled in two forkfuls and beamed at her mother with noodles hanging out of her mouth. Some might consider that bribery, but in our house, we call that toddler negotiation. If you do this, I’ll do that.

When the author of Hebrews used the word “if” it’s wasn’t arbitration as if God is negotiating with us. ”If” as it’s used here is a statement of fact. “We are His house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast” (Hebrews 3:6b). That doesn’t mean if we hold on to our faith, then God will save us. It means we prove the genuineness of our profession of faith if we hold fast to the courage and hope we claim to possess.

I just rewrote that last statement because I originally said, “if we hold fast to Jesus with courage and hope.” The Holy Spirit stopped me. “Look at that verse again. What do those words mean?” Courage in this verse means boldness, confidence, and public openness of speech. With that in mind, look back at the end of this verse, “. . . courage and the hope of which we boast.”  A “profession of faith” is a public statement – not that we “chose Jesus,” but that we are confident that He will do what He promised – to save us now and eternally.

As an example, he referenced the Israelites who rebelled against Him by questioning His faithfulness. Quoting from Psalm 95, he said that they “hardened their hearts . . . during the time of testing in the desert.” They whined and complained and doubted God every time they come up against a challenge. They asked, “Is the Lord with us or not?” (Exodus 17:7). Why? Because “they have not known my ways.” They doubted God because they didn’t know Him.

As believers, we should grow in our faith. Our confidence in Jesus should become deeper, not more shallow. If we begin to doubt Him and question His faithfulness we should reconsider the genuineness of our profession and whether or not we really know Him.

Because “if” you know Him, Beloved, you will love and trust Him. All the way to the end.

I don’t hear your words, I hear your heart

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I have hundreds of verses marked in my Bible, but two have very special significance to me.  Isaiah 51:16 says “I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand.” God pricked my heart years ago through that verse and I asked Him to put His words in my mouth and let me be His spokesman. I used that exact word. The very next day I read, “If you utter worthy, not worthless words, you will be my spokesman” (Jeremiah 15:19).  The connection was a clear as day to me.  I remembered hearing about ancient Scribes who copied the words of Scripture and every time they wrote the name of God they would use a brand new pen to write that one word and break it immediately afterward so that the pen that wrote the holy name could never be used to write anything profane.  If I wanted to fulfill my calling, my words – my mouth – would have to radically change. I thought, “okay, I can do this – I will diligently watch what I say.” Then something made me angry. And someone said something I didn’t appreciate. And my boss asked me to do something I didn’t want to do. And you know what – I didn’t say a “worthless word.” But I sure thought them. In my mind and heart I was spouting off left and right. That’s because my tongue wasn’t the real problem – my heart was. Jesus said: “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34) I didn’t need to watch my mouth, I needed to watch my heart.

Have you ever noticed how many celebrities and politicians have to hastily take down tweets or backpedal comments trying to soften their words?  Sure, most of them have speechwriters and handlers who prepare well-worded messages for them, but they always seem to get in trouble over words said (or tweeted) in unguarded moments.  Because those words were coming straight from their heart. You and I are the same, just without all the publicity. The words we speak, especially when we are not “in control,” reveal the true condition of our hearts. It’s so much deeper than the words we speak. Beloved, what do your words – spoken, posted, or thought – say about your heart?

Tested and Tried

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I am a “word nerd” – I love words. I especially love to discover the root of Biblical words because that brings a deeper understanding of what the original text was saying, which is crucial to studying the Bible for life transformation. Hebrews 11:17-19 describes the account of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac to the Lord. The passage says that “God tested [Abraham],” and, as He often does, the Spirit whispered in my heart: “what does that mean?” So I grabbed my exhaustive concordance (my favorite tool for deeper Bible study) and discovered something so vital to the Christian’s walk I knew I had to share it with you.

The word “tested” (peirazo in the Greek) has two meanings: to temp and to examine. Listen to the follow-up: “The difference between a test and a temptation is found in the tester’s motivation and expectations: the devil tempts that the believer might fail God’s standards of faith and so sin; God tests that He might determine and sharpen true character, with no focus on making the believer fail.” The devil will put you in tempting situations with the intention of bringing you down. God puts you through tests with the express purpose of perfecting you. Sometimes it’s difficult to understand who’s behind the test, but the way through is always the same. Keep your eyes on Jesus and your heart firmly planted in the Word. In either case you will emerge with deeper roots of faith and a testimony of God’s power and goodness.

Beloved, I don’t know what temptation or test you are facing in this season, but I now that there is only one right way through: with God. He will not let you fail.

What is the Church Talking About?

*Steel-toed boots warning*

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Ever stood outside a church or in a classroom as the folks gather and listened to the conversations? “Man, did you see Harris hurdle that defender?” “I see you bought a new truck.” .My neighbor shot a 12-pointer this week!” “You gotta try the new diner down the road – boys, that’s some good eating!” “I didn’t vote for him and I’m not gonna support him!”  I’m guilty too. I talk about clothes and kids and grandchildren and work and I admit that too often more of our ladies’ prayer and accountability group is eaten up with everything but prayer and accountability. Conversations among believers aren’t always about God, are they?

A verse in Malachi is very convicting and I think should be written on every believer’s heart: “Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard.  A scroll of remembrance was written in  His presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored His name.  ‘They will be mine,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Malachi 3:16-17a). Did it ever occur to you that God is listening to the conversations of His people? Of course you know that, but did you know that He is paying very close attention to what we say when we are in each other’s company? That He is “taking notes?” I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty sobering. What do you suppose Paul and company said to each other as they gathered together? Did they talk about tents or politics and grumble about the state of the Roman government? I don’t think so.  I think they ran up to one another and said, “Did you hear what God did for me this week?” “Will you come and kneel with me? Brother so-and-so needs our prayers.” “She was a woman of low morals, but Christ saved her and she loves Him so much!” “Let us pray together right now for our persecuted brothers and sisters!” The Scriptures say they were immediately and constantly in prayer together. Perhaps we’ve found the cause and the cure for our dry and fruitless churches.

When the people of God are together, shouldn’t our conversations center around awe of God’s deeds and honoring His name? How it would delight His heart to take note of those discussions.  Jesus said our words reveal the condition of our hearts (Matt 12:34).  To the world and to God. Beloved, what are you talking about?

Make Every Minute Count

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A verse came to me this morning: “Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You” (Psalm 73:25). Then another: “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). They were very convicting to me.  If I can truly say that earth has nothing I desire above God, and that Jesus alone has the words of eternal life, then why do I spend more time on Facebook than I do in the Good Book? Why do I listen to the opinions of others rather than listening to the only words that matter? And why does my quiet time get derailed by social media and emails and news and checking my bank account?

So I asked the Lord, “Have I forsaken my first love?” In Revelation, the Lord Jesus addressed seven churches, the first was the church in Ephesus (2:1-7). He commended them for their perseverance, endurance, and not tolerating wickedness and false apostles. But He also chastised them for “forsaking their first love” (v. 4) He said, “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Remember the things you did at first” (v. 5). I remembered the days before the internet was part of my daily life. I would spend long stretches of time studying God’s Word and writing – prayers and devotions and lessons. I would spend days chewing on one passage or theme in Scripture. Those are the “things I did at first.” Granted, a lot more has changed in my life: work, school, my granddaughter, but those legitimate things should make me all the more determined to make every minute count when I have one.

Yet social media is a ministry platform, a way to speak life and truth and encouragement to others – to you. I believe God has called me to this.  But it should not take away from Him. I must allow the Holy Spirit to work the fruit of self-control in me.

Beloved, are you paying attention to how you spend the gift of precious minutes? Who gets the most – God or a hand-held device?  (Yes, I know, you’re probably reading this on your phone.) I would ask the same question another way – who sees your face the most – your children or your screens?  If I stepped on your toes, know that mine are also throbbing. To adapt Moses’ words: “Lord, teach us to number our minutes aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). What will you do to make every minute count?

Out With the Old Man (and His Mouth)

“Who in the Bible do you most identify with?” the teacher asked. Most of the class said they are most like Peter, the brash, impulsive, reckless disciple.  In many ways, I think I am as well. In fact, I identify with several Bible characters for a variety of reasons, but I truly believe I am most like Paul in at least one way: Paul was under the grace of God but he still struggled with sin. He said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). In that statement, he perfectly expressed the battle within me of the old (wo)man and the new. Though I am a new creation in Christ, the old me who lived for sin and self is still hanging around. That showed itself very clearly this week.

A few nights ago I had rocked my granddaughter to sleep and was carrying her to her bed when she shifted in my arms and whacked her head against my shoulder – the one I had surgery on just a few weeks ago. The expression that came out of my mouth was very un-Christlike – very much like the old man. The Holy Spirit quickly reminded me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 15:18: “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart.” In other words, there is still some ungodly, impure stuff in my heart. Mind you, I am careful with my words  But it’s at my most unguarded moments – when I respond out of fatigue, pain, or raw emotion – that the ugly stuff comes out of my mouth. But the answer is not just watching what I say – the issue is much deeper than that.

My prayer since that night has been David’s prayer: “Create in me a pure heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10). Watching my mouth only masks the root of the problem. I need God to take my impure heart of stone and replace it with a pure, soft heart so that I speak worthy words at all times, especially when my guard is down.  My desire in those moments is that when I “open my lips, my mouth will declare God’s praise” (51:15). Even when pain rocks my body and my life.

Beloved, what do your unguarded moments reveal about your heart?

What’s your favorite verse? Do you know what it means?

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There are many Bible verses that we’ve come to know and love. We mark them in our Bible and post them on our desk or fridge. That’s a good thing. They are also big business for the Christian marketing industry with Scriptures sold as wall art, purses, teapots, decorative pillows, and doormats.  Don’t get me wrong, I am all for surrounding ourselves with God’s Word. But do we really know these verses?  What good are they if we just leave them on the wall?

One that I see often is Psalm 19:14: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock, and my Redeemer.”   Psalm 19 is a song of praise. David says the heavens “declare the glory of God” (v. 1) – this is “general revelation.” It’s what Paul was referring to when he said “what may be known about God is plain . . . because God has made it plain. God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen . . . so that men are without excuse” (Rom. 1:19-20). David then moves to “special revelation” – God’s Word – which is “perfect, trustworthy, right, radiant, pure, enduring, sure, righteous, precious, and sweet” (19:7-11). Now that we know more about God, verses 9-14 are our response to this amazing revelation – turning from sin and living to please the Lord.

When David says, “May the words of my mouth . . .” he is speaking of the evidence of his faith. Jesus said, “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). Your words reveal the state of your heart – the place where your faith lives. Ugly, bitter, vile, profane words reveal an ugly, bitter, vile, profane heart. Kind, gracious, loving, gentle words reveal a Christlike heart. “The meditation of my heart” is my private thoughts – it’s what I choose to think about. I don’t know about you but this verse has become very convicting now.

When we know God, our response should be to please Him, on the inside and the outside. Here’s my challenge to you today, Beloved: Take your favorite verse and dig a little deeper. Read around it, chew on it, take it apart and examine the pieces, then put it back together. It will mean more to you than ever before.

What’chu Talking About?

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Just an observation:
I’m studying Titus and came to 2:7 – Paul is exhorting Titus to always set an example for younger Christians in all things, but especially in his words, with “integrity (that’s speaking the truth), seriousness (which has at its root ‘dignity’) and soundness (words that build up and promote healing). Paul said if Titus (and by extension you and me) will let these things govern our mouths, the people who try to oppose him (and us) will be put to shame. And “they will have nothing bad to say about us.”
That tells me a couple of things:
– Our mouths can make or break our testimony. (Yikes!)
– Our words can bring about opposition or they can bring shame on those who mock us.
– Our words (and yes our behavior – but keep reading) reflect well or poorly on the whole Body of Christ. What you say affects the reputation of the Church and of Christ.
People can hear you even if they can’t see you. Think about it. Paul spoke with written letters. Radio and television spread voices even farther. But when in human history, have you been able to share your words with so many people outside of your physical sphere of influence. Some of you reading this have never met me nor I you. But you are receiving my words. So I’d better be speaking truth with dignity to encourage you and build you up.
Why do our words matter? Because God is the author of words and language. “In the beginning, God said . . .” The universe was created by the power of God’s spoken word. And John called Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God – “The Word” (John 1:1). Words have their beginning in the eternal God who created all things and rules all things.  Paul said that “faith comes from hearing the message . . . through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). And salvation comes with the spoken confession: “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9-10). Our words matter because they represent God. Beloved, remember that the next time you open your mouth.

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