Category Archives: Having the Right Heart

Balm for the Soul

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”  Mark 8:35-37

Last weekend didn’t go as expected.

It started well. On Friday afternoon,  I went to Chewacla State Park with my friend Marisha, her daughter Makenzie, and our little friend Lexie.  It was a beautiful autumn day, and we had a wonderful time together.

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But then everything else I had planned for Friday night and Saturday fell through — two sets of people coming over for dinner and a women’s get together.  My spirits plummeted.  I knew it shouldn’t be a big deal, but I couldn’t help but feel down.

So I was wrestling with this, but then I thought, “Well,  I can have Saturday with my husband.  That will be great!  We haven’t had a Saturday together in awhile.”  I started thinking of how we could ride our bikes and go to coffee.  Then we could run errands and get caught up on some things we need to get done.  Wonderful!

Well, on Saturday morning, my husband dropped the bombshell.  “I want to go door knocking today,” he said adamantly, out of the blue.  I wanted to cry.  I didn’t feel like I had the emotional energy to go up and knock on the doors of strangers.  This was something I needed to pray about days in advance so I could get strength to do it.  I didn’t have to go with him, but then I would have felt like a spiritual slug and a selfish wife if I didn’t.

To make the story short, after awhile, the Spirit helped me get on board with this, and Ken and I went out in the cold grey afternoon for an hour or so and met some great people.  In the end we were very glad we pushed through.

What really got me, though, was what I realized when I was praying through my prayer list the following morning.  The second request on my list is for my husband’s evangelism.  I’ve started praying specific things for my husband that he’s mentioned to me, and that is one area he wants to grow in.

So that means that God was answering my prayer, and I didn’t even see it!  Instead, I wanted to oppose it.  Oh boy.  It makes me laugh and shake my head.

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Last weekend was a great illustration of the root character weaknesses that God has been revealing in me   — the need to control, and the need for personal affirmation (i.e. glory hogging).  It was so hard for me when things didn’t go according to plan.  And it was hard when I thought I wouldn’t be able to accomplish things, because doing things makes me feel important and valued. It assuages my insecurity.

I’m declaring smackdown on these weaknesses!  Here’s the verse that has been helping so much: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  Matt 10:28

Do you know what brought that verse to my attention?  It was quoted by Max Lucado in response to the Texas shooting. Lucado could have said a lot of things to help us deal with such a horrific event.  But instead, he got to the root of the matter.  We aren’t to fear the evil outside.

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We’re to fear what will happen if we don’t deal with the evil inside.

I have a lot of inappropriate fear.  I fear that I will do the wrong thing today.  I fear that I did the wrong thing yesterday.  I fear that things aren’t going as they should. I fear that something bad will happen and mess everything up.

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And what is appropriate fear?  It’s to fear the things that are destroying me on the inside.  And those things are the need for control and the need for affirmation.  Or in Biblical terms, they’re pride and more pride, with a side of unbelief.

So all of this leads up to today’s passage from Mark, and how Jesus said, “Those who want to save their life will lose itbut whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”   My heart is so convicted to realize that my efforts to control, so I can “save my life,” are having the opposite effect.  They’re causing me to lose my life, my soul!  I keep trying to figure out how I can fix what seems to be going wrong.  Doing that is hurting instead of helping!  My way of operating is innately destructive.

Now I’ve started to say, “No” to my deep craving for stability, and instead plunge myself into the goodness that is God.  I’m looking to him, not myself.  I ‘m losing my life a thousand times a day, to save it.

When Jesus said these words, he was dealing with people who didn’t get it.  They were worried about bread.  They told him he shouldn’t suffer.  In this passage, he was trying to key them in on what they really needed — to have a purity of heart and singleness of mind.  To know that the only thing that matters is the soul.

Because it’s the double mindedness that drives us crazy.  James wrote,  “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”  (James 4:8b )   And he explained what this can look like: “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there there is disorder and every kind of evil. .” (James 3:16)

If our desires are for anything else, we end up like I was this weekend, feeling disordered,  emotional, confused and fearful.

Having a singleness of focus will see us through the troubled waters of our days.

troubled4Learning to be single minded has been like balm for me.  I can feel healing in the places I’ve inadvertently been damaging.

Here are some ways I’m working on being constructive, instead of destructive.  Perhaps they will be balm to your soul, as well.

  • Repeating passages over and over to myself that remind me what my inner state should be,  “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, etc.” (Phil 4:8) and, “The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, etc.” (Gal 5:22) 
  • Praising God throughout the day, which is much more appropriate than micromanaging him!
  • Picturing myself, like the elders in Revelation 4:10, laying my crown at the feet of Jesus.
  • Picturing myself going to God and drawing from his well of  goodness, rather than giving into my desires for control and affirmation.

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Fighting Godzilla

fighting godzilla

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”  Mark 7:14-15, 20-23

Recently I had the great idea that I would try to wean myself off my menopause hormone therapy.  Ack!  What was I thinking? I know I’m going to have to come off of it at some point, but doing so was miserable.   I started feeling listless and unmotivated.  I found myself experiencing depression, paranoia, insecurity, low self-esteem, fear and negativity.

It would have been easy to blame all of this on my med change.  And in a way, that’s true.  But what is also true is that the new chemical imbalance was a catalyst to bring out what was already in my heart.

Jesus said something radical in the passage above.  He said it doesn’t matter how good our life looks.  What matters is what is in our heart.  Because if there is bad gunk in there, it will come out at some point or another.  It will affect us and others.

I had this moment of clarity a couple of Sundays ago.  Ken and I were driving to church, and I was picking at my husband.  (Don’t we always struggle with something on a Sunday morning?)  But this time, instead of taking the niggling issue to its conclusion, I stopped and looked at my heart.

If my heart was like a pool of water, I could see that the water was brackish, slimy with bitterness, anger and fear.  I saw that the thing I was talking to my husband about wasn’t really the problem at all.  The problem was my fear.  I was afraid that my husband’s actions would trigger a downward spiral.

And I saw more clearly than ever that this fear is the theme of my life.  I fear so much that one bad thing is going to lead to another.  Chaos will win, and I will be powerless to stop life from going down the drain.  I hate that feeling. (I know,  I’ve blogged about this before.  But I keep grappling with it.)

So my solution is to be like the Dutch boy who keeps his finger in the dike.

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I’ve got to stop every leak to make sure chaos can’t get in.  I work very hard at making sure everything goes right.  I try to be a good wife, mom and Christian.

But keeping my finger in the dike never really gets rid of the fear, the fear that is so huge, so solid, that all my years of Bible study have only chipped away at it, not done away with it.

It’s like a Godzilla Fear!

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It’s like a Terminator Emotion.   Remember those movies and how they kept trying to kill the bad Terminator, but it kept coming back?

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That is what my fear can be like.

Probably a lot of us have Godzilla Terminator Emotions — anger, bitterness, hurt, or insecurities  — feelings that we think we’ve gotten under control, but reemerge in the pressure cooker of life, and then loom so big and real that we act out of them instead of our faith and convictions.

And this is the stuff Jesus says defiles us, that we need to clean out of our inner selves.  But how?  It seems impossible!

Here are a few things I’m learning that are helpful.  (And also, let me be sure and say here that emotions themselves aren’t necessarily bad.  But they can come from sinful thinking, and lead to sin.)

Find the root. I do a lot of yard work. One of the most frustrating parts of it is dealing with the vines and small trees that grow out of my bushes.

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Sure, I can snip at them when I trim the bushes and my yard will look nice for a while, but they’ll be back, fouling my nice landscape!  The only real way to get rid of these “weeds” is to go under the bush, find the root, and pull it out.

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The same thing is true with our heart.  We need to go under the surface, find out what’s really bothering us, and deal with that.   In gardening, pushing through stubborn branches and digging in the dirt is unpleasant.  So is digging through our emotional baggage.   But we’re not going to be able to get rid of it if we don’t see clearly what the problem is.

There are effective tools in helping us with this.  I recommend reading a book like “Spiritual Discovery,” and having someone to talk with (even a professional) to help you process.

Look for the shoots.  In the passage above, Jesus listed a whole number of nasty things that can come out of our heart.  It reminds me that sin doesn’t just sit there passively.  It propagates more sin

There are weeds in my yard that have a root system.  I can pull out one weed, but others still pop up because the weed has sent out shoots into the soil.

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The two sprigs in front are connected weeds.  I’ve tried to get rid of these things a thousand times!

In my life, I see how my root of fear leads to other sins popping up – faithlessness, self-hatred, and the big one, PRIDE.  Pride shows up when I think I have to fix the world to keep the chaos out.  It’s up to ME.

So trying to get rid of sin can be like nightmare weeding!  Is there hope?  I have found that what is most effective is to not only seek to take out the sin, but to replace the sin with something good.  In my yard, Ken and I took out this huge oleander plant that was getting out of control.  Once it was gone, the other nice plants in my landscaping thrived, and I put a knockout rose in the empty space that also took off.  (Okay, the rose bush is kind of obscured in the picture.)

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So here is what we can put in our heart that will really help us:

A more total dependence on God!

I recently read this great book, “No Place to Hide.

It was written by W. Lee Warren, a neurosurgeon and admitted control freak who was a military doctor in the Gulf War.  He talked about a pivotal moment in his life when he was out in the open and bombs began to rain down:  “During that attack, huddled against a concrete wall in nothing but a running outfit, it became laughingly obvious to me that even my own survival was utterly out of my control.“

It was then that Warren finally let go of control, finally let go of fear.  When he did, he said, “The mental clarity that resulted was stunning to me, and the list of things I could not control played across my mind like movie credits rolling up the screen. . . And then, at the end of the list of all the things I couldn’t do, I finally understood the one thing I could do:  have faith that whatever God intended to do would be best for me and for my kids.”

In the end, what we really need is the Big Guy with the Big Guns.  We need to give EVERYTHING to him, every bit of control, every worry, every insecurity, every failing, every hurt.  Ultimately, the most effective thing we CAN do is have faith.

“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”  John 6:29

Having faith takes work.

Last week I watched a Ted Talk that was utterly compelling.  It was given by a Colombian woman, Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped by rebels and held captive in the jungle for six years.

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She talked about how much faith helped her get through this terrible time.   She said, “Faith isn’t rational or emotional. Faith is an exercise of the will. It’s the discipline of the will. It’s what allows us to transform everything that we are — our weaknesses, our frailties, into strength, into power. It’s truly a transformation. It’s what gives us the strength to stand up in the face of fear look above it, and see beyond it.”

Wow.  I want that kind of faith.  But, as Betancourt said, I’m going to have to exercise my will to build it.

So that is what I’ve been doing, having “faith workouts.”  Every time the emotions start to rise, I start doing “reps,” telling myself over and over what I believe.   Here are a few of the truths I repeat:

  1. God loves me incredibly.  Romans 5:8, Matt. 18:12-14
  2. God is merciful and compassionate.  Lam. 3:22-23, Titus 3:5
  3. God is a provider.  Phil. 4:19, Gen. 22:14
  4. God is good.  I Chron 16:34, Ex 33:19
  5. God is perfect in all of his ways. Ps 18:30
  6. God is my father.  Matt. 6:9
  7. God is faithful.  II Thes 3:3, I Cor. 1:9
  8. God will fight for me.  Ex 14:14
  9. God will mature me.  Phil. 1:6
  10. God wants to give me good gifts, and all things.  Luke 11:13, Rom. 8:32
  11. That I can approach the throne with confidence.  Heb 4:16
  12. That my name is written in heaven. Luke 10:20, Heb 12:23, Phil 4:3
  13. That there is hope. Rom 5:5
  14. That Jesus is willing.  Matt. 8:3
  15. That my prayers will be answered.  Mark 11:24

This is just a starting point.  Let’s all think of many more truth exercises.

I’m still fighting my Godzilla Terminator Emotions.  But I have to tell myself that the good thing about this is that they reveal what is in my heart.  They help me see the “roots” and the “shoots.”  I am beginning to see, too, the dysfunctional patterns they cause in me, like my efforts to control everything.

All of this brings me on my knees before God, and that is the best place to be. More than ever, I know that I need to keep putting things into HIS hands, doing this a thousand times a day with every concern and upsetting feeling.  My efforts have to be put into having faith, not control.

And faith feels good.  It is purifying and healing my heart.  And that is the goal.

 

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But I’m Trying So Hard!

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The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. . . So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” 

He replied, Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules’  . . .  You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!”  Mark 7:1-2, 5-7, 9

I’m the “Pharisee” in our family.   I feel like you have to go by the rules.  For example, when I bike, I always wear a helmet and stop at the stop signs.

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Biking in Albuquerque

When Ken and I bike around Auburn, there’s this one place where you are not supposed to make a left turn, but instead make a long detour.  That might be fine if you’re in a car, but it’s a drag when you’re riding a bike.  I’ve seen bicyclists make the left turn anyway.  But I’m so legalistic, I have to stop, and walk my bike across the intersection to make sure I’m not disobeying the sign.

What were the real Pharisees like? They were the party of Jews who ministered to the common people.  Their thing was keeping a set of oral laws in addition to keeping the written laws.  They believed that Moses gave oral laws that told people how to apply the written law.  These oral laws were handed down from generation to generation, and were just as binding as the laws of the Old Testament.

And one of the oral laws was that you had to wash your hands in a prescribed way before you ate.  According to my research, if you were going to eat the ceremonial offering, you were supposed to wash your hands all the way up to your elbow.  If you ate with an individual, you would wash your fingers.

This went much further than the written law, which only listed one short verse about the washing of hands: “Anyone the man with a discharge touches without rinsing his hands with water must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening.  (Lev. 15:11)

But it does seem like a good idea.  Modern science tells us that it is certainly hygienic.  And the Pharisees were trying to be zealous.  They were trying to ensure that everyone would be sure to be obedient to the scriptures.  You would think God would like people to expend all this effort to try and please him.

Instead, Jesus let us know that God was highly displeased.  Something had gone way wrong.  His people had gotten to the point where their focus was on following on their traditions instead of following the commands of God.

Isn’t this what can happen with all of us, that our focus gets off of God and onto man?

We think we are serving God in a better way, but our gaze subtly changes to our own efforts and plans.

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Ultimately, we can get so wrapped up in seeking to DO things for God that we don’t seek to KNOW God.

Last weekend I hosted my daughter and a young woman who was one of her best friends while she was growing up.

 

It was a wonderful visit.  We shared a lot of memories, and it reminded me of the highs and lows of raising children.

You know, I thought I could do all of the right things and my kids would make the right choices.   I came up with all of these plans and implemented them.

But in their teen years, things still went south.

I confess, I was angry and discouraged.  I had tried so hard to do the right things.  Why didn’t that work?

But then I felt like the Spirit taught me that God didn’t want me to rely on my plans, even though they included many good things. If I did, I would think that success was due to following the plans.  God wanted me to, instead, completely rely on him, and know that success would only come from that.

God wanted me to seek to KNOW him.  And that is what I started doing.  I stopped thinking that I knew what I should be doing, and instead, like a desperate beggar, prayed, each day, that he would give me the wisdom and insight to know what I should do that day.   I lived by the verse, “Your grace is sufficient.

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And every day his grace was sufficient.  He supplied what I needed to raise my teens.  (By the way, my kids are awesome!)  I’m still learning to apply this today.

What is a Pharisee?  Let me tell you about something scatterbrained I did last week.  I vacuumed the whole house, and I was so intent on watching where the vacuum needed to go that I didn’t notice that the canister was missing.  I hadn’t replaced it after I emptied it.  I vacuumed everything, but all the dust went right back into the air!

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That’s what being a Pharisee is like.  We get so intent on doing things for God that we forget the component that makes it all work.

That component is understanding God.  It’s learning, day by day, to have his heart.

We’re trying so hard!  Let’s make sure our efforts are taking us closer to God, and not further away.

This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.  Jer 9:23-24

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Being Refined

But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes.  Mal 3:2

Malachi prophesied that the coming of the Messiah would not be the wonderful feel good experience the Jews were expecting to have.

It would be tough and scary — a time of refining.

This past week I went out sharing with a sister who had never invited strangers to church before.  “It comes so naturally to you,” she said as she watched me.  I had to laugh.  I told her how hard it was for me when we moved to Atlanta to join a new church.  The church was running this “Just Do It” campaign where everyone was challenged to invite two people a day to church.

Whoa.  I thought I wanted to be a part of this fellowship.  It sounded great to be around people who were joyfully sold out for Christ.  But then we got down to the brass tacks.  It meant that I would have to give up my complacency and do things that were very uncomfortable for me.  I remember looking around at the church service, and thinking, “What have I done?”  I wasn’t sure I wanted to join after all.

We think following Christ is going to be all warm and fuzzy.  But when we actually have to do more of the things that Jesus did, it tests our hearts.

And this is what God intended, that with the coming of John the Baptist and Christ hearts would be tested.  The status quo would be challenged.

You see, the Jews kept going along, thinking everything was hunky dory between them and God.  When Jesus came, he made it very plain that they needed to be purified from the inside out:  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

And Jesus especially attacked the religious leaders:  Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”  Matt23:15

Jesus came to refine hard hearts.  He came to challenge all of those who thought they were clean with the truth that they were dirty on the inside.  As Malachi 3:2 said, they needed strong soap.

A few days ago, my friend Markeya and I had lunch with a friend who’s studying the Bible.   We sat at a table in the bright spring sun, and ate crepes and stuffed squash, and bonded.  We opened up about the hurts we’d gone through in the past.  We talked about how we’d all hardened our hearts as a result of these pains and shut ourselves off so we couldn’t be hurt again.

We read Luke 7:36-50 about the sinful woman who poured perfume on Jesus’ feet, wet them with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  We discussed how amazing it was that this woman could have a soft heart.  Sin and pain hadn’t hardened her, as it had us.  And we prayed that we would all be more like this woman, able to let down the walls, able to come to Jesus in tears, admitting our sin and our need for his forgiveness.

This is what God is looking for.  This is the goal of refining:  a tender heart that reaches out in humility.

A heart that can see and admit sin.

I read a great passage in The Guilty Soul’s Guide to Grace by David Laing about what our attitude should be towards sin.  Laing writes that in Ps 51 David was essentially saying, “God, I have sinned.  But I want to see it like you do.  I want more than head knowledge.  I want heart knowledge.  I want you to remove all my rationalizations and excuses and show me my sin and myself in all their ugliness.”

The Jews didn’t have heart knowledge.

I’ve been praying lately that I would see my sin as God sees it, that the grime which clouds my vision — guilt, people pleasing and perfection seeking — would be removed.

Create in me a pure heart, O God!  (Ps 51:10)

Jesus came to create pure hearts.  And the process of creating them is intense, it’s a fiery furnace that exposes the truth in our inmost parts and brings to light those weaknesses we’d rather keep hidden.  It shows us the things we need to change.

And we want to run away.  We rationalize and fling out excuses.  We hold tightly to our complacency.

Until finally, we fall to our knees, and understand.  Blessed are the poor in spirit.  Blessed are the meek.  Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

We need God like the air we breathe.  We can’t do it on our own.

Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.  II Chron 7:14

We need to be God sufficient, not self sufficient.

That is what Jesus came to teach us, that it’s not the religiously accomplished who are the heroes, or the wealthy or successful, but the widow who gives her last penny, the tax collector who prays for mercy, the sinful woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her hair.

Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.  James 4:10

The end of the story of me seeking to join the church in Atlanta is that I pushed through.  I found out I could do it, I could share with strangers.  And when I did, I was energized!  That pattern has continued over the years.  Things get hard.  I don’t know how I’m going to continue.  But I persevere, I rely on the Source, and I end up overflowing with joy.

God tests us, but we can put our hand in his and get through to the place on the other side.  And in the process our hearts are strengthened.

This past Sunday we had an AWESOME service.  Our little church of 50 people had 200 in attendance.  We commemorated all God has done for us over the years.  We’ve been through so much, but God brought us through!  We celebrated and praised him with all our hearts!

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Yes, Jesus came to refine us.  Yes, it will be tough and scary.  But it is so worth it.

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Pure Offerings

“My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD Almighty.  Mal 1:11

I just love this verse.  It has so much good stuff in it.

It talks about a time when God’s name will be great among the nations.  The “nations” are foreigners, people other than the Israelites.  In other words, they are Gentiles.

God is saying that although at this time only the Jews know him, a time is coming when He will be known more greatly — known in every place on earth.

And He will be revered more greatly than He was by the Jews, revered by the very people who didn’t know him.

He will be revered so much that the peoples of the earth will bring PURE offerings to him, not the second best offerings that the Jews were giving Him.

It reminds me of what Jesus told the Samaritan woman in John 4:21, 23:

Believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem . . . Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”

God’s goal was for there to be a time when people would worship in spirit and in truth.  They would not only serve Him in righteousness, they would do it WHOLEHEARTEDLY!

But how would it get this way?  How could He bring people who didn’t even know him to the point of wholeheartedness, when the Jews had NEVER been able to do this for long?

Look at this prophesy in Isaiah 11:10:

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.

The people of the world will rally to the Root of Jesse, as they would to a banner lifted on a battle field.  We believe the Root of Jesse is Jesus, who descended from David, Jesse’s son. So this prophesy meant that Jesus would have a strong impact on people.

And this is absolutely what happened.  As Jesus foretold: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  John 12:32

Nothing could have the impact that Jesus has had on earth.  Think for a moment what the world would be like if he had never come.  Now think of all the amazing things he brought.  He brought such an example of service to one another, of valuing each individual person, of goodness, of self sacrifice.

It is NO WONDER that God said that His name would be great among the nations. Jesus is an immensely POWERFUL picture of who God is, one everyone could see and experience.  His influence has spread far and wide.  It has changed innumerable lives.

I think of a couple of examples I’ve seen lately.  One of my friends is training her baby to sleep through the night.  It is hard to listen to the baby cry.  It is hard to go through the dark hours with little sleep.  But she said she thinks of Jesus and the way he died for us to save us, and that gives her the strength to do the things her daughter needs.

There is a woman I am studying the Bible with who has had a very tough life.  After many years of trials and being mistreated, she encountered an incredible example of a Christian forgiving a group of people who had done egregious wrong.  When she saw that, she was profoundly changed forever.

The story of Jesus is POWERFUL.  And today, WE are the ones who are impacted by it.  We are the ones who will spread the news, so that it will be known to the ends of the earth, and His name will be great among ALL nations.

I am so thankful that God gives me a way to be wholehearted, to worship in spirit and truth.  I revel in the example of Jesus.  There are so many shining facets of his life that shape me daily.

I can only glorify.

…for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
 Isa 11:9

The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his. Gen 49:10

I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles.  Isa 42:6

 

 

 

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Filed under Abundance/Greatness of God, Having the Right Heart, Malachi, Uncategorized

Clearing the Inner Courts

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’ ? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” Mark 11:15-17

It is challenging enough to think that Jesus was zealous for the integrity of the temple, and we need to be the same way with the church.  I could choose to write a great blog on this.

But what is on my heart is a deeper application.

Because today, WE are the temple.

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?   I Cor 6:19

And thus we see the zeal of Jesus as a call to fight for the integrity of the inner temple — our hearts, where the Holy Spirit resides.

Whatever we allow in our hearts, we allow into the presence of the Holy Spirit.

We talked about this verse last week in our house church:  “Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? ‘” Acts 5:3

Simply by the act of lying, Ananias lied to the Spirit, because the Spirit was inside of him.

The Spirit experiences our sin.  This is so convicting!  If I am grumpy or angry, I am imposing this on the Spirit.  It’s like taking the Spirit and forcing Him to dwell with a repulsive unsavory character.

I mean, look at this passage —

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

Bad attitudes towards others grieve the Spirit.  And why wouldn’t this be true?  God is love.  These attitudes are the antithesis of love!  And we expose the Spirit to our unloving attitudes all the time.

So I’ve been speaking generally, but I want to confess that this idea has been kicking MY booty.  I’ve realized how much bad attitudes dominate my inner self.

I’ve tried many times to get rid of it, but I have at times self hatred.  It seems not so bad, because I’m not hating anyone else, or even God.

But when I realize that the Spirit has to live in the midst of this, I see how bad it is.

I’ve also been resentful a lot lately.  Again, it doesn’t seem like something outside of normal struggles.  Until I think of how my resentment is crowding out what the Spirit is and what He wants to do inside of me.

Because the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.  These things should be multiplying inside of me.  The Spirit’s trying to make my inner self a wonderful, ever expanding oasis of God’s goodness.

Instead, like the thorny soil, I choke out goodness with worry and grumpiness.

Really, upon deep reflection, I’m appalled to realize that I’m actually a spoiled child who keeps stomping her foot because she’s not getting her way.  So much of the time, if I’m honest, I have this strong uneasy feeling that things are going wrong, that they should go differently.  In my pride I feel there’s a better way for them to go.

And I realize that my self hatred and resentment stem from this feeling that things aren’t what I think they should be.  It’s really just a temper tantrum.  No wonder the Spirit gets grieved.  He’s trying to do what’s best for me, best for those around me, and instead I rage against Him.

If I am the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, I’m making the Spirit live with a whiny surly teenager! I’ve been a parent and I know that’s  miserable!  If I’m going to be like Jesus, and clear the temple of impurity,  the grumpy arrogant teen has to move out!

You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? . . . What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the spirit God has placed within us is filled with envy?  James 4:4-5

 Jesus was zealous for the whole space of the temple to be dedicated to God, not crowded with those who sought worldly gain.  In the same way, the Spirit is zealous for the whole space of our heart, and jealous when we let anything else crowd Him out.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.  Col 3:15

The awesome thing I am finding is when I respect and cherish the Spirit within me, when I stave off the bad attitudes and let Christ’s peace rule, I can feel the Spirit swelling within me.  It’s like the Spirit can finally act!  There’s a bounty I’ve only begun to discover and experience!

Let’s listen to the Spirit and NOT SELF!  Let’s drive out the worry, the resentment, the insecurity, the anger, and so on, and make God’s house — our hearts — a place of prayer.  He has so many blessings He wants to lavish on us, if we’ll clear the way.

How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty!

My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord;

my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. . . .

Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. . . .

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere  Ps 84

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Filed under Having the Right Heart, Mark, Spirit

Producing Organic Fruit

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The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.  Mark 11

Like Jesus, I REALLY want to see fruit.

I love productivity.  I love accomplishing things.

And I hate feeling like I am spinning my wheels.  The boon and bane of not having a paid job is being able to be “flexible,” which, for me, really means distractable. (Ok, spell check says that’s not a word, but it needs to be.)   I live a life of getting sidetracked.  And when I’m feeling tired, it’s even worse.  I’m sucked into a vortex of puttering.  Ack!

So after vacation, I wanted a new start.  Time to be more productive!  I became more intentional about scheduling my time.

And it worked.  I had d times, coffee with friends, a hospital visit, a Bible study, lunch in Montgomery, someone over for dinner. I wrote the newsletter, wrote an article, did the books, ran errands, organized kingdom kids, oh, and got my toes done.

But later in the week, as I prayed during my quiet time, I was reminded that all of this is nothing if it isn’t accompanied by the sweet soft voice of the Spirit.

It’s like Paul asserts in I Cor 13:1 — “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”

We can do great things, but if we don’t do them out of love, they’re just empty efforts.  Love is what turns the cacophonous notes of our actions into music.

And love is only one of the fruits of the Spirit.  This is true for them all.  When we work without the Spirit, it’s like laboring in a garden all day without planting anything.   It’s like running around in a silent movie.  The vibrancy is missing.

Because God created life to be more than empty actions.  It’s a dance.  God plays the music and our souls respond.  Life is the personal experience of God’s art taking shape.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  Eph 2:10

For the ground that has soaked up the rain that frequently falls on it and yields useful vegetation for those who tend it receives a blessing from God.  Heb 6:7

There’s a beauty in soaking up the grace God gives us and producing a crop.

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And perhaps the best grace He gives is His Spirit.

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!  Luke 11:13

This, I believe, is the fruit that Jesus looks for — not just good deeds, but actions that well up from the fruit of the Spirit in us.

“I am the vine. You are the branches. Those who live in me while I live in them will produce a lot of fruit. But you can’t produce anything without me.”  John 15:5

Today we live in an age where we can live in Christ, and he can live in us.  THAT is the source of fruit.

And back then, even though Jesus’ followers didn’t all have the indwelling of the Spirit, they had the Word, and they still could act out of a heart of love, reverence and gratitude.  That is fruitful.

Blessed is the one . . . whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.  That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season.  Ps 1:1-3

“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”  Hos 6:6

But we have more.  When we walk in the Spirit, we have this amazing power of life within us.

. . . life is at work in you.  II Cor 4:12b

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,  Eph 3:20

And with this power we can GENERATE.  The fruits of the Spirit do not come back empty.

Love never ends.  I Cor 13:1

We’re productive.

And it’s not this burdensome labor.  It flows.  It’s organic.

To me it’s the most beautiful thing.  God’s glory shining here on earth.

Campus weekend at AU

 

 

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Filed under Beauty of God, Having the Right Heart, Mark