Sunday, November 7, 2010

Our Mysterious Hearts

     In the core of our being, we are driven through life by something that is complex and unknowable; our heart. Sometimes it is called our soul, some refer to it as our essence, but in
the Word it is referenced as our "heart" so let's go with that. The Bible is full of references and instructional wisdom about this essential piece of us: it is our character, it is what defines us, it is who we are. We are told that we cannot trust our heart because 'it is wicked, deceitful, ....who can know it!' Our heart is easily broken and easily hardened, it can be like stone or it can melt like wax. It is capable of empathy, sympathy, and great courage and equally susceptable to blindness, greed, and paralyzing fear. When the apostle Paul spoke to the dichotomy of "doing the things I would not do, and not doing the things I know I should", he is defining the the mystery of our heart's and the struggle we face in answering God's call upon it.
     The heart is intricately partnered with our mind: the portion of ourselves that reasons, remembers, extrapolates, conjectures; the hard drive that navigates us through our day. Our heart is the "feeling" part of us while the mind is the "thinking" part. This is the simple version of "us" as agreed upon by science and culture. We are a biological machine that lurches around with our brains computing what we are seeing and doing, while it trys to deal with the troublesome software application called the "heart" that complicates every decision with concepts like sorrow and kindness, parameters of selflessness and love. The world has no time or patience for the complexity of our constitution, our blend of reason and feeling: it is much easier to call the Heart and Mind two seperate entities and science naturally elevates the brain above the heart.
     Intrinsically, we know the truth of our complexity. God has made us in His image and we realize that we have been "fearfully and wonderfully" made. There is an element of "Him"
alive in us: it is what He calls back to Himself, it is His claim on our hearts and lives. Our  problem with the reponse and with knowing and understanding that call is sin. It has been between our hearts and God and it has made us confused and confounded: sin has corrupted our hearts and minds so that we are subject to the wrestling match that Paul described so eloquently. Even though we are redeemed from sin by Christ, our sanctification is incomplete and we struggle to reconcile our heart's longing to emulate Him with our old nature: painfully aware of our inadequacy but joyous and hopeful that we might succeed.
This mysterious duality seems to intensify with age and wisdom. Having more experience and resources would seem to guarantee some semblance of progress in "knowing the heart"
in the same way a mechanic of 30 years understands machines better than a teenager.
In matters of the heart, the man is wise who professes to know nothing.

Jeremiah 17:9 (Amplified Bible)

9The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly perverse and corrupt and severely, mortally sick! Who can know it [perceive, understand, be acquainted with his own heart and mind]?(A)


Sunday, October 24, 2010

What are you "believing God For?"

      In the course of pursuing God it is not uncommon to go through periods of reflection on the nature of the relationship we have and where it is leading. The Bible is full of accounts of individuals and cultures struggling to understand the methods and motivations of God. In trying circumstances some people feel separated from Him,while others feel His presence is strongest when life is hard. Sometimes it is in the midst of calm and serene conditions that the heart grows uneasy and begins to query, "What am I believing God for right now?" If you are subject to thoughts and feelings around this subject, you may know what I am trying to convey: a sense of unease that something is being missed or that you are not quite 'getting it'. It doesn't qualify as anxiety or fear and it is certainly not despair but is more fairly described as an annoying wonderment at what exactly do I expect of and from the maker of all things.
     If we are honest, we realize that we cannot grasp the depth and breadth of God and how he operates in His creation. We simply are not equipped to comprehend His magnificence or His complexity; at best we have an infant's perspective. Spurgeon says it well "we have learned the first letters of the alphabet, we cannot read words yet, much less put sentences together." We are attempting to ascertain the infinite with a mind and heart that are woefully insufficient. That doesn't stop us from trying. I believe it speaks more about the heart of God than our hearts, He has written that longing into us, that desire to know and comprehend who He is. It is that missing piece of us that was lost in the beginning that we hunger for: the relationship that defines and completes us.It is unquenchable and we see a world full of lost people who are desperately trying to plug that hole with every conceivable distraction, destruction, dereliction imaginable.
     I have been quietly probing this question for some months now coming from a stormy volatile landscape into a fall season of peace and reflection. It has been like a kernel in the teeth, something you cannot dislodge but something you continue to run your tongue over hoping it has gone away or worked itself loose so you can be rid of it. It has been a casual cycle of asking the question and then wondering about the question, what does it mean that I have the question, what if there is no answer to the question? I have even gotten rather fond of the question because it is consistent and reliable in a day and age when that is generally not true of much of what we experience.  It is really not a question of what do I know about God because His Word explicitly details His character and His consistent behaviors in His relationship with men. It is more a question of what do I understand God to be about in the day to day of life that I am experiencing? What follows is a list of attempts to rephrase the question to better dislodge the kernel

"What part of me is more like Christ now than it was before I surrendered, and is it me changing or has He changed me?"
" Do I believe I am making progress in this journey, or does that really even matter because I am not part of the process?"
"Will I always feel like I should or could be better in following Christ's example, or will I always feel like I am struggling with a standard that is beyond me?"

These are different ways of trying to address the feelings of inadequacy we have when it comes to understanding the mysterious God who has called us to Him. We cannot rest easy in the knowledge we have of grace and mercy because it is foreign to us. We know instinctively that we are not worthy of the sacrifice God endured for us and wince at the thought of accepting Him at His Word and being done with guilt and angst and despair. Our enemy works tirelessly to convince us that we are not worthy of God's love and are undeserving of mercy and grace; he desperately wants us to question God's motivation and methods in remaking us into the image of His Son. That is the real source of the question...."did God really say?"

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Journey

Matthew 7:14
But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Luke 13:24
He said to them, "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.

Part of our consternation and difficulty in discovering who God is and what it means to know Him is the length of the journey and the “carry on” restrictions.
We travel heavy as humans and our culture of self, me, now, self, first , me, mine, self only amplifies and magnifies the load. We have elevated self-esteem and self -sufficiency as character traits so much that humility, gratitude, and community have become discarded as hindrances to achieving what is really important: our best possible self. We have all this “weight” of need and want for things and activities that serve as distractions from what we are really longing for;
the answer to who God is. Jesus came to tell us what is necessary, what is essential and what we need to discard.
The journey to knowing God is partially about examining who we are and what we have “picked up” along the way. This is by no means easy or simple because from childhood we have been learning to protect our self , to guard our perception of what we are. We have built an idol of ourselves that we carry around in our minds and hearts to worship our good qualities and admirable traits. God’s word puts us on our heels and we protest the “truth” that there is nothing good or admirable in us, especially our hearts and minds. So, our first obstacle, and the most difficult “carry on” we cling to is our self: our perception of what and who we are, and most of us are dragging it along, with the knowledge that it is too heavy and oversized. We are standing on line ( love the British) with our I-pods on detach, texting irrelevant babble, looking for a Latte and wondering why nothing is really changing in our lives. We would rather do anything except open our self file and examine who we really are in spite of the fact that the signs
all indicate that our “carry on” will not make it through the gate.

So, granted that we realize that we have to lighten up to make “weight” and
we are going to get around to that reformatting of our self (someday), we still have a journey and we are clueless on the starting point, rest areas, exits. If you want to make good time you may want to go ahead and start on the self cleaning thing because the wind resistance is ridiculous and it is like trying to row against a sail in a strong headwind: you are going backwards. Until we have addressed ourselves and have a “word”’ perspective on our worth and value without Jesus Christ as our intercessor, we are not really on the road at all. The weight of self-importance, self-righteousness, self-centeredness is not going to let us get started, its too heavy and burdensome. So remember, we are still working on getting to the dollar menu self and we can no longer be content with our Golden Corral self that we are so fond of and lets proceed.

Our GPS (God Positioning System)

The other part of our journey that gives us problems is that we don’t want to use the map, the owner’s manual, service recommendations, right fuel, etc. WE
are driving and we can find our way. Part of our self- reliance is that we don’t need or want help or instruction; we can do it. Delusions of adequacy.
If our “self” has been a hindrance, our lack of direction or willingness to ask is an even bigger obstacle. God’s word is the source of truth, the atlas for time and space, the version of reality that is real. It is His communication to us about how to find Him and we still will not consult it. It has all the information we need to determine where we are, who we are, what we need, what obstacles to avoid. We still don’t want to use it. “this is all messed up….what’s that verse about not mixing in with the world, being separate or something?” we mutter as something goes badly for us and we are clueless. God tells us to attach the Word to our heads, to know it and our journey will be smoother but we still don’t want to use it. We don’t want to use it. Strange really, don’t you think?
Having God’s word as our map and travel guide is essential to understanding our relationship with Him and with one another. It is also filled with “eye-witness”
accounts of people who experienced great blessing or tremendous sorrow depending on how they received and acted on God’s instruction. Wouldn’t it make sense to know the things that disappoint God by learning where others have failed and by avoiding their mistakes. Faithful study of the Bible will show us how to live a life that pleases God, keep us off the wrong roads and make us servants who can help others who are struggling to figure out life. Just like the GPS in your car, the word will show you where you are in the journey and how to proceed safely and expediently to your destination: an intimate knowledge of who God is and what He wants for your life. Jesus told us, the way is narrow and many will try and enter through the broad gate that leads to destruction. Why risk that result for your life when the word is clear about how to avoid that end. Be honest about who you are and realize you don’t know who God is. Ask Him to show you who you really are and who you could be. Discard the heaviness and falseness of being the center of your own world and look at the heart of the one who made the world. Break out the word and get a hunger to find out who God is calling you to be; the narrow way is not always easy, not always scenic, but it is absolutely the best and only way.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Prodigal Son ( A tale of the Good Father)

Luke 15:11 -32

11Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them.  13"Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
 17"When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' 20So he got up and went to his father.
      "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
 21"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.[a]'
 22"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.
 25"Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'
 28"The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'
 31" 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' "

     Traditional teachings on this parable focus on the younger son's journey from being  lost and destitute to being restored to his father. Christians who rebel in their teens and spend long years separated from God before returning to faith are called 'prodigals' after the younger son in Jesus' teaching. I want to suggest another layer of meaning that I believe is a valid interpretation for the truth that Jesus was attempting to convey regarding 'being lost' and the significance of relationship in our understanding of who God is. Consider that the two sons are simply people who have heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and the rest of the story relays their response to the 'inheritance' that we receive through our belief that Jesus took our sin upon himself. The younger son requests his 'inheritance' in advance and proceeds to separate himself from his father and follows the desire of his heart: indulgence in the pleasures of the world. The relationship that the son has had with the father to this point is not powerful or strong enough to influence or alter the desire to embrace the world and squander the gift that the father has bestowed upon him. Similarly, a person who hears and understands the message of redemption through Christ's sacrifice but has no change in their heart or life, has squandered the inheritance and chosen to disregard any relationship with God. Just as the younger son makes a choice of seeking his satisfaction in the "distant country", the unrepentant choose to continue living as if God's offer has never happened or has no value. Many people in churches are deluded into thinking they are saved , when they have had no change in their heart or living. There are churches everywhere with prodigals sitting smugly and attentively every Sunday. No relationship, no change of heart, no living that honors the "inheritance" purchased with the blood of Christ.

The Older Son

Because of the "lostness" and restoration of his brother, the older son is often neglected or ignored in sermons or teachings from this parable. The older son is the faithful one; diligent, respectful, hard working, dependable.
He has done the right things and has always been "good" and in his mind he deserves the "inheritance" that is due him. His problem is that he does not 'know' his father any better than his younger brother does. He believes he has earned his salvation by being good and that he has nothing in common with his wicked brother. His error is that his relationship with his father is based on rules and keeping them and the belief that this gives him merit. This is clearly seen in his response to his brothers return and his disgust with his father's reception for him. He cannot comprehend his father's relief and joy over the return of a lost son; he can only find anger over the inequity of the father's response. He doesn't know the heart of the father and his relationship is transactional, based on a currency of good behavior and anticipated reward. The older son's
response to the 'inheritance' is no better than his younger brother and sadly he is equally lost.

The Father

The point that Jesus makes in this parable is that the Father is the focus of the story. He is the source of the 'inheritance' and He bestows it without hesitation or restrictions. He loves his children in their lostness and he anxiously longs for their return and restoration, for relationship, for them to know His heart. He is standing in the door searching the horizon for those who have exhausted themselves with "bad living" and are humbly making their way home.He is patiently watching for the heart change in those who are busy doing their best to be good but who are still missing out on what His heart is really about. He is our refuge and our hope and He has promised an inheritance that we cannot afford to squander.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Self Pity

When Circumstance and Self- Pity conspire and tempt us to feel that God has abandoned us or left us hanging,
we must remember how incredibly fortunate we are to be counted among His children and that knowledge alone should sustain us through the darkness, and shame us for requiring more. Our self esteem, our self centeredness,
our self absorption all separate us from the true 'self ' we will discover if we will examine our motives and allegiance in light of what God's word has to say about us.There is nothing commendable or good within in us that is not imparted by Christ's righteousness. When we are tempted to say "I deserve better" or "I don't deserve this", we would do well to consider the abundance and provision we enjoy relative to the truly destitute and disadvantaged that have endured lives of hardship that can only be described as hellish. As we look at the world objectively (not subjectively) we will be confronted by our wealth, health, and opportunity relative to the millions of truly poor who cling to life with little hope of their situation improving. That knowledge should humble us for being discontent with whatever difficulty or trial we may be temporarily moving through.. A cheerful ( and grateful) heart is good medicine. 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Responding to Christ

If you have heard and understood "the good news", then you are accountable for the manner in which you live your life from that point forward. The Bible is definitive in the assertion of this truth: your life is your response to the knowledge that Jesus died for your sins and the life you live is your response to God's desire to have relationship with you. The living of our lives, our response to God is dependent upon two things; what we know about Him and our willingness to accept and believe the truth of His word. If we do not know God's character or nature then we do not really know him. Many people have the mistaken belief that knowing there is a God is sufficient for a relationship, for their redemption." I believe God exists so I am saved." That is a tremendous misunderstanding of God's word and a false interpretation of what it means to "believe."
If we do not know His word, then we are relying on the interpretation of others to know
 God's character and what He requires of us as His children. How can we have a response that honors the life and death of God's son if we do not know who God is or what he says about " our living"? A relationship with God and his son is the only hope we have for redemption; how do we respond if we have no knowledge of God or His word? Relationships have costs. If you are married or have children you understand that truth intrinsically.
To know someone requires time, energy, listening, speaking. It is dependent upon interaction, consideration,
concession. Knowing God  is more than putting in a few hours on Sunday morning. We have to seek Him.
We have to pursue Him. He has made the way for relationship to be restored but we are responsible for finding our way to Him. Where do I start you may ask? By inviting Him into your heart and asking Him to set you on fire for Him and His ways. By simply saying "God, I am sorry I have been so about me that I have never really considered you, can you show me what I have been missing?" He most assuredly will.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


The consumer mentality that drives and sustains our culture has infiltrated the church and created "shoppers" who come to Sunday services with an empty cart and a list of expectations. The fundamental essence of worship should be the unrestrained joyous response of a grateful heart:
an acknowledgment of the faithfulness of God, a humble offering of genuine remorse tempered by the promise of new life. Sadly, we find disgruntled customers who find the music too old or too new, the sermon too long, the fellowship not genuine. They move around "shopping" services in search of a brand of experience that is comfortable, non-threatening, and worth their time. Even lifelong
customers of churches can fall prey to this mindset if change or new direction disrupts their experience on Sunday. This "my need" mindset is antithetical to what the essence of worship truly is. Worship is not the 90 minutes we set aside for God on Sunday mornings like an oil change or dentist appointment (our needs being met). Worship is our life, lived in a grateful acknowledgment
of the grace of our loving God who has delivered us from ourselves, from our sin, from death. Our lives should be a love song or ballet that we work at continuously, correcting the sour notes and missteps as we respond to the music of mercy and love that permeates our lives if we would only listen. Worship is appreciation for the cool of morning, heartbreak for the wrong we witness,
kind encouragement for someone who is in a trying circumstance. Worship is the acknowledgment that grace is holding the world together and that as children
of God we have that same grace preserving and empowering us: to humbly live without shame while declaring that grace is available for all who would seek it. So pray each morning as you begin the new day that your thoughts , words and deeds would be an offering that reflects your appreciation for the cross and the love that God poured out upon us in the blood of his Son Jesus Christ. Sing , Dance, Smile, and explain to someone that God has promised them life if they would only listen.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Believe: We enter each day with a singular decision, to trust in the maker of all things or to trust in ourselves. Will it all hinge upon me or will I trust that God has orchestrated events to bless and grow me; that unexpected setbacks will bloom into new opportunities?
The biggest hindrance to fellowship with one another and relationship with our God is our stubborn insistence on self sufficiency. We have it under control , we have a plan, we are doing it. We are determined to make our lives
as clean and pain free as we can, even if that means ignoring and avoiding those who have not been so fortunate. Believing in God requires relaxing our grip on our lives and becoming available for the service of others, gratitude for our abundant blessing and humility in the knowledge that we have done nothing to deserve all that we enjoy. It means spending less time on 'things' and 'mine' and more time on others and Him. Being dependent upon God is a process, a journey. You release things gradually. It isn't easy but it is necessary. As long as you can keep it all going on your own, you don't really need God. When life crushes you and you have no answers, where will you turn? Believe