Heart Surgery

God cares about the position of my heart rather than the actions of my hands.

 

What is my motive for serving God? What is my motive for sharing my faith with others? Am I learning God’s word so that those who see me will think I’m great, smart, or something else about me? Or am I learning, sharing, and serving out of a grateful heart? Which describes you? Motives are often more important that the act.

“Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!” Psalm 119:33-36 (NIV)

The fourth plea from the Psalmist comes now to change the position of his heart. The Psalmist wants his heart to be bent toward God’s testimonies. That is really cool if we think about it. The psalmist wants his heart bent toward God. Why would he use such language?

“Incline my heart to your testimonies…”

Well, if we think about this I believe that the answer will be apparent. The heart of man is evil, that much is true from Scripture. Every inclination of mankind’s heart is toward evil, toward rebellion against God and His commands.

Nothing much has changed in the years since the first rebellion in the Garden of Eden. We continue to fight God for control. We continue to kick back at His commands. We scream and yell about our freedom and how God’s rules impinge on our freedom. We are indeed a selfish and arrogant people. God has placed His law to protect us. His rules form boundaries that will keep us from harm. Our harm is from not observing His laws.

The Psalmist is asking God to change the inclination of his heart. He is asking God to change how his heart is oriented. In essence he is asking God to correct the incorrect bend of his heart from rebellion and evil toward God’s righteousness. What a prayer this is to ask.

If God is to “re-bend” our hearts, we need to be ready to experience pain. This pain will be deep. To change the bend of one’s heart means that our every behavior—our every motive—must be changed. But can I change it myself? No. Only through God can our evil heart of stone be turned into a heart of flesh that seeks after God and His righteousness. It is only through the transforming work of God that we can do anything right or good.

The “re-bending” of our heart is a life-long process. It is like progressive sanctification I wrote about earlier. We continually become more like Christ. The process we undergo in this “re-bending” is fueled by trials. We get placed in trials to change our attitudes, heart orientation, and motives. Courage is needed—faith is required—to ask God to re-bend one’s heart. Do I have that faith and courage? Do you?

“…and not to selfish gain!”

The Psalmist wants his heart—himself—to be bent toward God’s testimonies—God’s words—but that is not the end. He desires that this re-bending will cause his motives will be toward God and not toward selfish gain.

Every church has experts in everything who are quick to judge, critique, and condemn. Sometimes these folks are pastors and elders. Other times they are those who sit in the pews. If a man can not serve quietly in submission to an elder or pastor, that person should never be allowed to lead a church. Someone who constantly draws attention to himself instead of being as quiet as possible should examine his motives. Sadly though these folks will probably never truly look at their motives. Remember, they’re the smart ones. But this problem has been around since the church began. It will remain until after the millennial reign of Christ.

We see this in the Judaizers in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. We also see it in John’s 3rd letter when he referenced Diotrephes (3 John 9-10). When we read about Doitrephes we read about a man who out for his own gain, his own position. He wants to be first. He wants to be “the man” when it comes to things of church. He always wants to be first. He is not so much a servant as he is a taskmaster.

Have you ever met on of these folks? You probably have. I have both seen these types of people while sitting in the pew as a congregant and preaching form the pulpit as a pastor. I like how Chuck Swindoll refers to these folks. He calls them “Boars in God’s Vineyard.”

What about me? How are my motives? Am I overly critical about tiny things? Do I want to bend toward God’s testimonies? How about my motives? Do I serve to truly build the body of Christ or do I have selfish motives? The motives of the heart are more important than the actions of the hands. How about you?

Crush me O Lord! Make me into YOUR workmanship and not mine. Conform me, shape me, change me, use me for YOUR glory, not mine. Re-bend my heart toward you and not toward selfish gain.

Hittin’ Nerves

 

“Leaders aren’t born, they’re made.”

I remember this mantra being drilled into my head as I served in the Marine Corps in the 1980’s. Yes I know I’m old. But an aspect of a good leader that is often lost is that a leader is first a good follower. A good leader is willing to be led and has been led.

“Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!” Psalm 119:33-36 (NIV)

In saying “Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.” the Psalmist again hits a nerve in our modern culture. Actually I think he hits a few nerves. Especially for those in the Church.

The first nerve is that of being led by someone else. How long will we wrestle with God over just who, between man and God, is sovereign and who is not? How long will we battle with Him over control? And before you think I’m being holier-than-thou in asking these questions, I’ve already asked them of myself. Our battle for control goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. How much simpler and enjoyable would life be if we simply observed God’s leading and His sovereignty over us.

Another nerve is the one of knowing everything, or being the smartest. Being led means I have to admit that I don’t know it all. That can be tough sometimes. Well OK, often times! If you haven’t noticed I am quite an opinionated person. I like my opinions. I think my opinions are right. But I hope I know enough to know I don’t know it all. While I may believe my opinions are right, I know that I’m probably incorrect in some of them. I need to be teachable enough to admit I’m wrong when I’m demonstrated to be wrong. I need to be willing to be led to the truth regardless of how many degrees I have on my wall. Being willing to be led means that I don’t know it all but the One who is leading me does. Am I humble enough to be led? Are you?

“Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.”

And that is exactly what the Psalmist is asking God to do. Look again at our verse for today: “Lead me in the path of your commandments…” The Hebrew word here means “to tread on a path, to march or to cause to march”. Another meaning which I find interesting is that it can mean “to tread a bow (bend a bow to string it) by stepping on it with a foot”. It appears that the Psalmist is desiring that God make him conform his steps to His path. The Psalmist longs to be led into God’s commands, not into a particular place, circumstance, or anything else. Just lead me into the path of YOUR commandments! Are we willing to do this? There’s another nerve! Conform me to You, God!

The Psalmist also states his attitude: “for I delight in it.” Wow, what a great attitude. The Psalmist has his head screwed on correctly. Perhaps this is because he had seen so much disregard for God’s commandments in his life. Perhaps he had seen so much unrighteousness, so much ungodliness that his heart cried out for this. The Psalmist may have seen man at his worst and realizes that man at his worst—or even at his best—requires God to be center of all of man’s desires. Only God can save us from ourselves and our wicked ways.

 I delight in being led to God’s commandments

So the Psalmist not only desires the right thing (to be led God’s way) but also for the right reason and result: delighting in the way of God! How cool is that. Wouldn’t it be great to have a congregation full of folks this way? Wouldn’t it be great to have friends like this? To have those around me (and you) with this type of attitude would be encouraging and a huge blessing.

While we don’t necessarily have this universal attitude today, I know one way we can improve that situation. I can begin to have this attitude. I can desire to be led of God in His commands. I can delight in being both led in a certain way AND in the commands of God. And if every one of us dedicate just himself or herself to becoming this type of person, well, do I have to finish describing what this would look like?

Break my will, break my heart. Crush me O Lord that I might delight more fully in Your commands and Your leadership over me.

Shopping at God’s Feet

“Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!” Psalm 119:33-36 (NIV)

 

“I want this!” is sometimes heard in my trips into a store. Sometimes the demands for stuff are accompanied by kicks, screams, and tears if the person demanding the stuff doesn’t get what they are demanding. Our selfishness is often on display in the acquiring of stuff.

Sometimes our selfishness can slide into our spiritual life. I once heard a man say that he wanted all the rewards he could get. He wanted ALL the rewards. One of this person’s chief disciples said he wanted a huge crown. In fact he expected his crown was going be soooo big because of all the work he was doing. These folks didn’t seem to be serving God out of a thankful heart. They seemed to be serving God out of selfish motives. Is that really service? Motives are very important to God. James 4:1-3 come to mind when thinking of motives.

Some demand things to make our lives easier, life more certain, family more enjoyable. But How often do I ask for something to make a difference in my friendship with God? How about you?

Returning to our text in Psalm 119, we get a glimpse of such a person. Here we read the second thing that reflects a person who is teachable and one I think is used in a mighty way:

“Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.”

“Give me understanding…” 

The familiar “Give me!” is here but look at what the Psalmist asks: “Give me understanding…” Notice that he asks for understanding. This type of understanding is not just mental acquisition of facts. No this includes the idea of discernment. The Psalmist is asking for the ability to discern between things. But to what end?

“that I may keep your law and observe it…”

The Psalmist is not asking for understanding so that he will have a good reputation, be respected, or idolized. No the Psalmist wants to keep and observe God’s law. The Hebrew is interesting here. After the “give me” part, the two words translated “keep” you law and “observe” it are constructed in such a way as to show the purpose of the request or the result of the request.  A translation could be “Give me understanding for the purpose of me keeping and observing you Law” or “Give me understanding with the result of that understand being that I keep and understand your law.” Either way we decide to take this (purpose or result) the motives of the Psalmist are clear.The Psalmist is focused on God’s desires, not his.

Do we have this attitude in prayer? How often do we focus on what God wants for us rather than the things we want? I don’t mean the “if it be your will” caveat we attach to some of our prayers. I’m talking about prayers regarding our sanctification. How about asking God for trials so that we become more like Him? What about asking God to take us to a foreign land? What about asking God for the ability to understand His word so that we might conform to it all the more? How about asking God for challenges so He can glorify Himself in my life? And what about living a life more righteously?

As I look at these few questions, I think “YIKES! Do I have the faith to ask God for understanding so that I will conform to His will more?” How about you?

“…with my whole heart”

Finally, look at how the Psalmist wants to observe God’s law;  the Psalmist doesn’t want to give a half-hearted effort. He doesn’t want to give 90% effort at this. No, he wants to go at it wholeheartedly. He doesn’t want to hold anything back. In sports verbiage, he wants to leave everything on the field.

Have you ever seen someone serving God with their whole heart? Someone totally committed to serving God—totally committed to observing God’s will for their life is a sight to behold. I wish I was that person. I want to be that person. So what keeps me from being that person? What keeps you from being that person? I’ll work on the answers to thee questions and get back to you!

More than a great teacher, fantastic preacher, or renowned theologian we should want to be a teachable people.

We should want to be one who does not know everything but wants to continue to learn. We should never want to think that we have “it” all together but always want to be putting “it” together. We should want to desire to have understanding so that I can discern the things of God from the things of man. We should want to pursue God’s will for his life with our entire being rather than pursuing our own goals.

Will we be satisfied with the respect and admiration of man…or do we desire conformance—and the work that comes with it—to God even though the process of conforming is often painful?

O Lord, how I want you to give me understanding so that I can discern correctly your will from mine and that I would pursue You with all my heart, mind, and soul.

Guard Duty

Stand your ground, fear no man, and guard the truth with enthusiasm, vigor, and humility.

While I was stationed in California during my time in the Marine Corps, I once had to perform guard duty on the flight line. Now the flight line is where the aircraft for the squadrons would park in the evening. I was on guard duty because I was substituting for a friend. When I took my post, I was instructed to enforce all general orders as well as some special orders for the area I was guarding. I was told I was in a “deadly use of force” area. That meant that if I felt the situation warranted it, I could kill someone. Hmmm, not really what I want to do but I understand that it may be required.

Not long into my time on duty I noticed a person waking towards me. He was an older guy in jeans, white Nike shoes, and a plaid (!) shirt. As he approached my area, I yelled “Halt! Who goes there?”

He answered “General Important”. (his name is changed here but he did claim to be a General)

I replied “Step forward to be recognized.” He took a few steps forward. I then said “Halt! Where is your ID card?”

He answered “In my right breast pocket.”

I commanded “With your left hand, slowly reach into your left breast pocket and remove your ID card. When you remove your card, you will show it to me.” He did as I had told him. After he showed me his ID card, I said “Slowly place your ID card on the deck in front of you, picture side up. After you do this, you shall take ten steps to the rear while facing me.” The man did exactly as I told him. When he had finished taking his ten steps to the rear I said “Remain there. Do not move one inch.” I walked to where he had paced his ID card. I bent down to pick up and inspect his ID card. As I began to pick up his card he began to walk toward me. I stood up and barked “Halt!” I think the fact that I was pointing a loaded shotgun at him helped stress the importance of obeying me. He stopped. I continued “Place yourself on the deck, face down.” He complied. I came up to him and said “Sir, I have chambered two slugs. I am pointing this weapon at your head. If you try to get up, deadly force has been authorized and I will exercise it. Please don’t move.”

“OK. I won’t” he replied.

I notified the head of the guard detail that I had a problem at my post and waited. The head of the guard, a Lieutenant, arrived and assessed the situation. I told him where the ID card was located. The Lieutenant retrieved the card. He ordered me to allow the General to stand. I obeyed the order, stood at attention and rendered a salute. When the General stood up, he looked to me. “Good evening, sir” I said. The Lieutenant started apologizing to the General. The General looked at the Lieutenant, looked at me and acknowledged my salute.

He turned to the Lieutenant, who was still apologizing and hyperventilating, and said “Lieutenant, this Marine did his job. He performed the duty that was demanded of him. Stop apologizing.” The General turned to me and said “Good evening, Marine.”  He turned and walked away.

So why the long story? What does this have to do with anything spiritual? Actually a lot. Let me explain.

 

“O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowedge’ – which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith” 

In 1st Timothy 6 Paul gives Timothy some orders that sum up what he has tried to address in his letter. The first thing he says to Timothy is in v. 21a “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you”(NASB)  Paul is telling Timothy to take charge of all Paul had taught him and committed to him. This would include this epistle, the gospel and his ministry in general (see 4:12-14; 6:2; 2 Tim 2:2). In other words Paul puts Timothy on guard duty. Timothy’s responsibilities would also include opposing the false teachers that had infiltrated the church while keeping his own life pure. In the verses that follow here, Paul tells Timothy to specifically avoid the controversies and false teaching that Paul had  taught Timothy about,  as well as the other characteristics of the the world system. These controversies have no value, says Paul, as well as those who espouse them.

Basically Paul told Timothy to guard the gospel and his ministry from those who would try to pervert it.  Those same words have meaning for us today.

False teachers existed not only in the first century when Timothy was living, but also in every time since then…and yes, even today there are false teachers. These false teachers may teach various other things but one thing they all seem to have in common is that they teach a perverted grace. They make grace something we earn, work for, or deserve. None of those things are true. I wonder sometimes if the false teachers are more plentiful than genuine Christians. They are all over the place, are generally charismatic, and are ruthless in their approach.

We hear sometimes that we need to “show grace” or “give a grace card” to those who are false teachers, or legalists. Nothing could be farther from the truth!

We need to be willing not only to guard what has been entrusted to us – the gospel, Scripture, the true meaning of God’s grace – but also oppose those who teach these false teachings. Now that isn’t easy. Not at all. I’ve been through the battles with legalists and those who pervert God’s grace into some type of human effort. The struggle eventually led to a split in the church I pastored which in turn led to the death of that church. But if I take God’s word seriously, I had no other choice. I had to stand my ground, challenge the false teacher and his teaching, regardless the cost to me personally. And you know what, you need to do this too.

When you hear something that changes who God is or changes the essentials of the Christian faith, you need to oppose them. You need to fight them. You need to draw you weapon and command them to stop. Just like I did all those years ago in California when I made a General lay face down in a tarmac, I must be ready, willing and able to do the same when a false teacher approaches those I have been entrusted with. The cost may be very high. But the cost of failing to “guard what has beed entrusted” to me is much higher. And so it is the same with you.

Take time to get prepared to defend truth. Know what the Bible teaches about the essentials of our faith. Learn how to effectively wield the “sword of the Spirit” which is the Word of God. And then get posted on guard duty.  Do what you’ve been commanded to do by Paul here in 1 Timothy 6.

 Stand your ground, fear no man, and guard the truth with enthusiasm, vigor, and humiity. 

What Wait?

Use your time to invest in one another and remember the good things that have been taught.

As I have aged I am reminded that our time here on earth is limited. Quite a few of my high school classmates have died. Still more folks I have met, while walking the path God has cut for me, have died as well. Then there are those who have died that are related to friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, who have died. Still more are those related to me – my dad, my grandmother, my first daughter – have died. Each death and how it is handled is different. There are different ways to have a funeral, a viewing, and the like. But each person is surely dead. But there is one thing that is pretty common to every death, viewing and funeral. That my friends, is the eulogy.

The word Euologyaccording to Meriam-Webster.com,  means 1) a commendatory oration or writing especially in honor of one deceased; 2) high praise. It comes from the Greek word eulogia which means to praise. If you have been to a funeral you surely have heard high praise about someone by those who knew that person.

When these eulogies are said, they are very encouraging to hear. They typically point out the very best of the recently deceased. They are always laudatory. I have never heard a eulogy that began “He was a real jerk and doofus! I’m glad he is dead. The world is a better place without him alive!” Somehow I don’t think someone saying that would be very welcome. I also don’t think those statements would go over very well with those attending the funeral. Even if the deceased was a jerk and a doofus. Even if the deceased did more for humanity by dying than when he was living, those words should never be uttered.

Why is that?

Well first, the eulogy, by definition, is a praise of the person who died. It is meant to remember the good that was done, the positive aspects of a person’s life not the shortcomings. Second, and probably more importantly, since funerals are for the livg and not the dead, the eulogy can be an encouragement to those who were related to or friends of the deceased. That is a very important aspect: we should encourage those who loved the person who just died. We should look for the good that person did and remember the positive aspects of the life that was lived. But why do we wait until someone dies to do this?

“Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NASB)

In the passage that precedes this verse Paul has been encouraging the believers at Thessalonica that they have not missed the Day of the Lord and their dead relatives won’t miss it, should it come soon. Paul is saying “encourage each other…build up one another…you’re doing fine, you haven’t missed anything. Be of good spirit. Keep doing what is right.” Paul is basically saying to use their time to invest in one another and remember the good things they have been taught.

 

“But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Hebrews 3:13

In the Letter to the Hebrews, the author is encouraging these Jewish believers to continue on to maturity. He is also encouraging them not to turn back to the Law for their righteousness since they have already be declared righteous by God because of Christ’s sacrificial work on the cross. The author uses the same word here for encourage that Paul used in 1 Thessalonians: parakaleite. This word basically means “to come alongside and help.  Hmm, I’m starting to see a pattern here.

Whether we are pressing onto maturity, looking for the return of Christ, living with the loss of loved ones or simply living through the trials of life, our duty – yes DUTY – is to encourage one another. While we are alive. 

I can tell ya from experience that encouraging words are far too few and far too distant these days. When I was a Pastor, the negative comments far outweighed the encouraging words. Even as a former Pastor, the negative far outweighs the positive. Why is this so? Why do we tear each other down during life, then praise each other when one dies? That seems hypocritical to me.

Surely the reason can’t be that folks around us do nothing good! If they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they will do something good. If they are exercising their spiritual gift, they are doing something good. Why not encourage them and their family NOW regarding what they are doing? I’m not saying spew out meaningless platitudes and empty words of praise. I do mean that we should seek out ways to encourage one another EACH DAY.

I know, life is complicated and time is at a premium. We all have commitments that seem to urgently require our attention all the time. We have work, family, and church with all it’s busy-ness. Busy, busy, busy! Why should I (or you) make time to say a few kind words to a brother or sister in Christ? Why should I (or you) seek out ways to encourage another Christian? Do we really need to make time – time we don’t really have – to encourage others?

Yes. Yes. Yes. We should look for ways to encourage each other, after all the world knows enough ways to DIScourage us! So take a little time this week and find someone – anyone – who needs some encouragement. Give them a little praise. Say something nice about them now instead of waiting for them to be dead.

GIve them a eulogy while they still live. And help someone face their day with all its problems being a little encouraged.

Your Conduct Reflects Your Heart

I love the way Jesus taught. He didn’t try to impress others with His knowledge. He didn’t try to impress others by using big words hoping that others would think He is super-intelligent. When Jesus taught He usually used every day examples to reinforce His point. He used experiences that His students knew so that they would be able to relate the teaching to everyday life. I really want to teach as Jesus taught. I want my conduct as a writer and teacher of God’s Word to demonstrate humiity. I don’t need to impress anyone…I need to serve Christ. After all, my conduct reflects my heart. And if I am being sanctified by Christ, my heart should be humble.

In my last article I introduced the idea that humility is a necessary part of the Christian life. I introduced it through discussing Matthew 6:1. In this article I want to continue through that passage but use some examples from my life that I think everyone recognizes. But before we meet these two men from my life, lets observe what Jesus said in Matthew 6.

  “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” Matthew 6:1-8 NASB

Since we already discussed verse one, let’s start this article with verse two and continue through the examples Jesus gives.

“So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” 

In these verses Jesus is specifically speaking about giving to the poor among us. But I think we can take a general approach to this and include al types of service to others. We sometimes get caught up serving others while making it known that we’re serving others. That really isn’t the type of giving or serving that Jesus desires from us. The stress in this passage is on quiet giving. Jesus wants us to give to the poor without making a fuss about it. He wants us to give without receiving any attention from others or accolades from others for what we give. This can also be applied to serving others as well.

Don’t be like the hypocrites

A hypocrite is someone who says one thing and does another. The Greek word was used of actors who hid behind a mask as they payed their part in a play. That is an excellent image of a hypocrite as used here by Jesus. A hypocrite is an actor. He isn’t truthful about who he is or what he does. Everything – or at east nearly everything – he says and does doesn’t match with WHO he is.

During Jesus’ day, the Pharisees made a show of their giving. They made sure that everyone saw them give to the poor. They were so concerned with looking concerned about the plight of the poor. But that is where it ended. They only wanted to look concerned…they didn’t really care about anyone except themselves.

The Pharisees were masters of looking holy and righteous. They were great actors. They could put on a show that could win an award for the best actor category. We have some of these guys around today, we just don’t call them Pharisees. I bet you have met some of these modern-day Pharisees. As a Pastor I had a few in the flock I shepherded. I’ll call one of them George (not his real name).

Communication with God

“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

Prayer is intimate communication with God. We should be willing to bare our souls to God in prayer. We need to be totally honest wit God. After all He already knows what you’re going to say before you say it. An important aspect of prayer is the effect it has on us. It should humble us. When we call out to God we acknowledge that we are not self-sufficient. We acknowledge that we do not have all the answers. Prayer humbles us. Or at least it should.

The Pharisees in Jesus’ day and George from my own life experiences loved to pray for a show. They would stand up, project their prayers so everyone around them would see how holy and righteous they were. But that is just their problem. They only look to be holy. It is all an act. But not everybody acts this way.

But just like we have folks like the Pharisees, we have folks who imitate Christ today. A person like this in my life is a young man named Jerry (not his real name). When the church I pastored was split and we found ourselves without someone to lead the singing part of our worship, I turned to Jerry since he is a gifted singer and worship leader. I asked if he knew anyone in our area that could help us out. After a few days of looking for someone, he texted me and said “I’m coming up with nothing…I guess you’re stuck with me.” At first I couldn’t believe what I read. I confirmed he was serious. wow, what a blessing this was. Jerry led singing for us for a number of months. He travelled about 90 minutes one-way to get to us and serve Christ in our small, dying congregation. He was faithful and humble. He wouldn’t accept money from us for even his expense in driving up to us. He was – and is – a servant of Christ.

So who do you resemble more, Jerry or George? I know both these men and I can tell you without hesitation that I want to be like Jerry. There are many Georges in the world…and the church. We need more Jerrys. We need more Christians like Jerry who simply want to serve Christ. They care more about the Church than about themselves.

So, are you a Jerry or George? Do you want to be seen or do you want to serve? Do you want to serve or beserved? What kind of heart do you have? Your conduct reflects the state of your heart.

Is your heart proud or humble? 

Look Ma! No Hands

Humility is not natural to us. But it is necessary to develop it. Humility is  a by-product of a sanctified life.

I was riding down Ezelle Avenue in my hometown in the 1970’s. I had tried to ride my bike without my hands on the handlebars before but always chickened out at the last moment. But this time I was determined to make it work. i sped down the hill that is Ezelle and built up my speed. When the street flattened out at the bottom I released my handebars. And there I was. My bike was moving straight ahead. I was pedaling it. And I was doing this without either of my hands steering my bike.

I let out my best “Yahooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!” I continued to scream as I sped towards the stop sign at the end of Ezelle I screamed “Look at me! Look at me!” All my practice finally paid off. I was riding with no hands. I had arrived to the elite of bike riders. And I wanted everyone to know I had arrived and I had achieved this great accomplishment. Do you remember ever doing anything like this? I bet you did.

Parading our accomplishments in front of others, showing off and drawing attention to ourselves is a natural part of growing up. Hopefully though we no longer feel the need to say “Look at me! Look at me!” when we accomplish something once we are adults. This is also true of us as we grow in Christ. Actually is it more important when we consider this attitude in spiritual things.

In Matthew 6 Jesus has some sobering words for us regarding showing off our righteous deeds in front of others hoping they will notice us. He seems to say that the person who does this is not mature – not very far in his or her sanctification process – but needs the attention and approval of others. How are you doing with this? Lets look at what Jesus has to say about this and how we can apply it to our lives

 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” Matthew 6:1-8 NASB

Jesus gives us a warning about displaying our righteous deeds so that we will be noticed by others. Why is this a problem? Should we be ashamed of the righteous things we do? Well the problem with having an attitude that displays one’s good deeds for recognition is a heart issue. If I (or you) am doing things just to show off or draw the adulation of others, do I really care about what I just did? Or, did I do something nice for someone else simply as a way of drawing attention to myself. I think the meat of Jesus’ warning it toward our heart and not our action. If we want attention from others for the good we do, we are in trouble. At best we are immature.  At worst, well, lets leave it for the next article.

But notice here that Jesus begins with a broad statement of warning saying if our motivation for doing good lies in the recognition we receive from others, then our Father in heaven will not reward us for the good thing we just did. I want to concentrate on that first statement for now. though Jesus continues with the specific examples of giving and prayer. These were two things the Pharisees did out in pubic quite often. They displayed their holiness for all to see. Sadly though, it was just a show.In giving us the warning in the first broad statement Jesus is basically saying “Don’t be like those guys!” And why? The Pharisees were quite proud and loved reminding everyone of their status and accomplishments. Their motive for doing good works was the recognition they would receive (see Matthew 13 for more on Jesus’ thoughts on the Pharisees)

You see our motivation for doing good is more important than the good deed itself.

If we are looking to get something for the good we do, then the good we do is really not of any eternal consequence. Our heart will be exposed as more concerned with looking good rather than truly helping others.

If I could sum up Jesus’ instruction in this passage in two words, those words would be “Be humble.” Humility is not natural to us. But it is necessary to develop it. Humility is  a by-product of a sanctified life. If one is being more and more sanctified, that person will be more and more humble about the good deeds accomplished through him.

Do you have a problem with being humble? do you struggle with how much to do good works in the presence of others? Yeah, me too. I think we all have difficulty in this area because we all are, to a greater or lesser degree, arrogant and proud. The key is to know that I (or you) have a probem and being willing to work on it.

In my next article or two I’ll continue to work through Matthew 6 and uncover more truths to apply to our lives as we walk this pilgrim’s path. In looking at this passage I hope to help you if you are struggling with spiritual pride. I’ll not only use the truths in this passage but also through some experiences I have had throughout my life. Some of these experiences will bring back painful memories for me. But these things happened so that I can share them as examples with you and hopefully spur you on to a life that pleases God and not yourself.

 You see our motivation for doing good is more important than the good deed itself.

After all isn’t bringing glory to God the reason we do good things anyway?

Until We Cross The Bridge

Our sanctification wont be compete until we are judged by Christ and we receive our glorified body. What a day that will be! Until that day –  until we cross the bridge that seems both close and distant all at the same time – we will learn, practice, work, strive and press on to that goal.

I entered recruit training aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, SC, in August 1982.  Parris Island is, well, a rock covered in sand in the middle of a tidal swamp. That is it. Nothing more to see. It is inhabited by Marine Drill Instructors and recruits trying to become Marines. It is not a fun place to live. I spent three months on that island. The three months I spent there are some unforgettable moments.

One thing I’ll never forget is the bridge to the mainland. My barracks was right next to the swamp. I could easily see the bridge that would one day take me off the island. Every day it seemed to get a little closer. In fact a friend of  mine and I would encourage each other every day with a simple reminder: that bridge is getting closer. Until the day came for us to leave the island, we would continue to grow and mature into Marines…and we would look forward to the day when we would cross that bridge.

The same is true for us Christians. In many ways we are on an island that is seemingly disconnected with the rest of the universe. We live among hostile folks who not only don’t believe like we do but are also hostile to our beliefs. But we have a mission here on this island. We have a role, we have things to learn. The lessons may be difficult sometimes but they are necessary. We also have a bridge we can see from here. One day we will cross that bridge when we leave this world with all its problems and difficulties and go to be with our heavenly Father. But until we cross that bridge, we must press on as we press forward.

Paul addressed this in Philippians 3. There he wrote

“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may ay hold of that for which I was also aid hod of by Christ Jesus.Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12- 14 NASB

There are many important truths being taught in this passage. I cannot cover them all in one article and do them all justice. So I want to focus on one and really emphasize the attitude I think we Christians should have as we walk through this life.

We are passing though this place much like I passed through my time on Parris Island. But the goal in different. When I was on the island, my goal was to become a Marine and then leave the island. In my life as a Christian, I want to grasp the goal for which Christ grasped me. That goal is to be like Him. I am to be perfected in Him, to the glory of God. I am to be conformed to the person of Jesus Christ. That is what I have tried to focus on in this first series of articles: the progressive sanctification of us as Christians. Our sanctification wont be compete until we are judged by Christ and we receive our glorified body. What a day that will be! Until that day –  until we cross the bridge that seems both close and distant all at the same time – we will learn, practice, work, strive and press on to that goal.

A key to achieving that goal is total abandonment of our previous accomplishments. Paul wrote that he practiced “forgetting what lies behind” while he pressed forward. 

One possible way to take this statement is that Paul chooses to forget his previous failures as he draws closer to Christ. Another way to take this is that Paul chooses to forget his previous accomplishments as he was progressively sanctified. So which is it? And why?

Because Paul so often is combatting those who denied biblical grace and relied on their own efforts, I really think that he is referring to his own accomplishments rather than his past failures. This emphasis would make it clear to those who read this letter that Paul rejected human effort and accomplishment when considering his goal of being Christlike. And so should we.

We like to talk about ourselves and about what we have acomplished. But we are called to a different life. We must not rest in our accomplishments or achievements. We must focus on what Christ is doing in us and through us. We must never look at our accomplishments as important. No, we must…we MUST focus in what Christ is doing rather than what we have done.

So how are you doing with this? It is tempting to say to ourselves and to others “look at what I have done!” But we must resist this. We must forget our accomplishments and focus on what Christ is doing…how we are becoming like Him, which is what we are to do anyway.

So keep pressing on this island existence. Keep reminding yourself that the bridge to this life to come is getting closer by the day. But until we cross that bridge, we must continue forward. We must continue to be more Christike. We must continue in our progressive sanctification Because one day – one glorious day –  we will cross that bridge and we will be like Christ.

Our work will be done, our goal accomplished. One day…one fine and glorious day. 

 

The Soul Canal

“YEOOOOOOOOOOOOW!

Dang dude, that hurt. What did you do?”

The dentist look back at me in disbelief. He said “You have a massive cavity there. I must have hit the nerve. You obviously need a root canal.”

“A root canal?” I thought. “How come I didn’t feel any pain before the torture master hooked me up?” The dentist seemd to sense what I was thinking and answered my question before I could ask it: “The reason you probably didn’t feel it is because your gum had grown into the cavity. Your nerve was never exposed to the air and irritants in your mouth so you couldn’t do anything about it.”

And that was my introduction to the wonderful world of root canals. It wasn’t pleasant or fun. But it was necessary so that there could be something salvaged of my tooth.

That was over twenty years ago. My teeth haven’t improved much. I must have inherited someone’s bad teeth. Being diabetic doesn’t help either. One may say safely that I am intimately aware of the process involved in root canals. I’ve even had a soul canal too.

A soul canal is similar to what needs to be done when we sin.  When we sin there is a cavity forming. Now we can choose to ignore it or allow the gum of excuses to grow into it and cover the damage done to us. That will work for awhile. But the sin will continue to grow.

Now the first thing I need to address is the fact that Christians do indeed sin. With all due respect to Mr. Wesley, we are not perfected in this life. Our perfection awaits us in the life to come. Since we are still imperfect individuals we can expect to sin and mess up. This isn’t ideal of course, but it is true. And it is reality. If you need proof that Christians sin, hang out with me for a day. I’m not proud of that fact, but I;m not going to hide from it either.

So what do we do when we sin? 

“If we confess our sins, He is righteous and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 NASB

When, not if, but WHEN we sin we need to confess them. This word confess is important to understand because we could easily misinterpret it if we are not careful. The Greek word translated confess is homolegeo. Homolegeo basically means to “say the same thing.” SO when we sin, we confess. But confession is not something we necessarily do in front of another person. No, if I understand homolegeo correctly, we name our sins the same way that God names them: they’re sins! They are not mistakes, blunders, poor judgments, etc. We don’t make excuses for them, we see them the same way that God sees them. When we do this we are indeed connected with God in a very deep way. 

“He who confesses and condemns his sins already acts with God.

God condemns thy sins: if thou dost also condemn them, thou

art linked with God.”      –Augustine

When we confess – when we name sin the same way God does – we demonstrate our linkage with God. We do not hide our sin or excuse it away. We name it sin, rely on God to cleanse us and then move on. Think about how our lives would be transformed if we just internalized this truth. God will cleanse us. God isn’t waiting to club us with His hammer or hit us with a lightening bolt when we sin. No, He is waiting for us to recognize our sin the same way He does. Once we do this, He cleanses us.

When we sin there is a cavity forming. Now we can choose to ignore it or allow the gum of excuses to grow into it and cover the damage done to us. That will work for awhile. But the sin will continue to grow. Believer me, I know. Eventually that sin will grow and grow until God has no other choice but to perform a Soul Canal on us, just like I needed a root canal because of ignoring pain in my teeth. When God performs a Soul Canal on us, we can expect it to be less pleasant that the root canal a dentist performs. But is is more than necessary.

So how are you doing recognizing sin in your life? Do you even recognize it? If not, you need to do a little inventory into what you believe.

If you do recognize it, do you make excuses? Do you simply name it sin, agree with God that you did it and was wrong, and have Him cleanse you? I hope you recognize it, name it, and get cleansed from it. That is the best way to avoid the soul canal.

 

Serenity Now!

SERENITY NOW!

SERENITY NOW!

For fans of the show Seinfeld, do you remember this episode? For those who never watched Seinfeld, well, “Serenity now” sounds a little dumb. This is another Seinfeld moment that one must witness to understand fully. But I’ll try to explain it anyway.

A new craze has hit the Seinfeld cast: whenever one is stressed, all one must do is say “Serenity Now!” and all the stress will melt away. A subplot throughout this episode is George’s successful nemesis, Lloyd Braun, who had been the advisor to the mayor of New York, has just been released from an psychiatric institution. All through the episode Kramer is busily trying to make sure Lloyd feels like he is completely sane regardless of the event that is happening. But back to “Serenity Now!”

Through this episode, Kramer and Frank (George’s dad) keep saying “Serenity Now” whenever they get a little over-stressed with a situation. Kramer explains that he has learned this coping technique and finds it to be a wonderful tool. As the episode continues, Lloyd and George team up to sell computers from the garage of Frank Costanza, George’s dad. Predictably Lloyd is completely outperforming George. Well this little fact prompts George to hatch a plan. He’ll hide the computers in Kramer’s apartment, say they’re all sold, claim victory after the competition is over, and then sell them later. Foolproof, right? What could possibly go wrong with this plan?

As it turns out, all that is achieved by saying “Serenity Now!” when stressed is a bottling up of the stress which leads to a major explosion. George learns this fact from one Lloyd Braun who tells him that the reason he (Lloyd) ended in a psychiatric hospital was because of “Serenity Now”. He told George “Serenity now, insanity later”.

George rushes to Kramer’s apartment after the competition ends and finds Kramer flipping out. We hear the sound of glass breaking, things crashing to the floor, all while Kramer repeatably yells “SE-REN-IT-TY NOOWWWWW!” The scene ends with George learning that Kramer just destroyed all the computers George was hiding in Kramer’s apartment. It was great. But I guess you just have to see it to appreciate it. So to refresh your memory or just for the first time, here are the highlights from “Serenity Now!”

 

SERENITY NOW!

So where did Lloyd, Frank, and Kramer go wrong? Is it wrong to seek serenity when times get tough? Well, no it isn’t. But the WAY they sought serenity in the difficult times was wrong. They thought through their effort they could find the peace they needed. But in the end, the serenity they sought eluded them and their situation was worse at the end than at the beginning. Before we judge too harshly, don’t we do similar things? Don’t we sometimes run from the very One we need to run to – to depend on – for our peace of mind and serenity? If we’re honest, we must answer “yes” to that question.

Jesus said “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” Matthew 11:28-30 NASB

How often do we actually go to Jesus? Yeah, I know, this is mostly about repenting and turning to Him in our salvation. But do you notice the on-going effects here?

His yoke is now my yoke

This means that the yoke that Jesus places on us – His teachings and restrictions – are not as burdensome as the ones we leave behind. This is an on-going condition too. Whatever we face in this life, we’re having it placed on us by Jesus Christ who is, of course, God. So if I am to be burdened, why not have the ones that have their root in the all-knowing, all-loving, all-sufficient God of the universe?

Learn from Jesus

So now this comes into sharper focus. Jesus is talking about discipleship here. He is the One who is teaching me. That is why His yoke is on me and I am tied to Him. He is teaching me all I need to know. Maybe (probably) I won’t know everything that I could know, but I will know everything I need to know. And who better than Jesus to teach me. So are you – and me – being taught by Christ?

Jesus is gentle and humble

Do I really need to explain this? Both genuine gentleness and humility are self-evident. Jesus is the definition of both these traits. As His disciple, I should take on these traits at some point. If you are His, you should too. Are you becoming increasingly gentle? How is your humility? What about those who are your Pastors? Are they gentle and humble? Or are they overbearing, arrogant, and harsh? Take a look at not only the leaders of your local church but those in general authority regarding Christian things. How do they measure on the gentle-meter?

Rest is in Him

Rest. That is one thing we don’t seem to get enough of these days. But it is exactly what Jesus promises us. If we come to Him, strap His yoke on, we will find rest for our souls. How good is that!

His yoke is easy

This refers to how well the yoke fit the oxen or other animal it was on. Jesus is saying He customizes the yoke He places on us so that it fit us well. This is a far cry from the one-size fits all mentality of Israel’s leaders at the time…and some leaders around today. Each of us have a highly-customized and individualized encounter with Jesus. I am not saying that we all get saved in different ways. No, we are all discipled and trained in a way that fits us, not the masses. So Jesus IS concerned with us as individuals with various personalities and differences. He is not looking to treat us all the same…but He does treat us equally.

SERENITY NOW!

So, where are you and your dependence? Are you, like Frank and Kramer, relying on “SERENITY NOW!!” to give you rest and peace from the daily struggles of life? Are you trying to get stress-free through a psychological trick or by denying there is stress in your life? None of the tricks will work. Denying stress won’t work. Heck, even getting out and performing works of righteousness won’t grant you peace or serenity.

Only Jesus can bring you the peace that defies explanation. Only Jesus can give you rest for your soul. If you haven’t come to Him to save you, won’t you do that today? Find peace and rest – Serenity – for your soul…find that He is concerned for you and your well-being.

If you already belong to Him but have been distracted by the stresses of life, stop and spend some time with your Savior. If you have some sin in your life, admit it and move on. Jesus isn’t about to shame His own when they come to Him in sincere repentance. You are never alone in this life. I don’t care if you’re married or not married. You are never alone because God is always with you. Getting weary is part of being human. We complicate things by trying to be busy “about the Lord’s work” 24/7. When we do this and don’t take time to simply experience the presence of Christ, we cheat ourselves and grow more weary by the moment.

If you are weary…if you are weighed down by the rules and regulations someone else has placed on you…come to Christ and find relief. Find peace. Find rest. And find serenity.

And find that serenity now.