What’s in your heart?

The heart is an important part of life. It’s not only physically important, in that our heart pumps blood through our entire body and without it we cannot live. Any medical problem with the heart is a really big deal. Even more important than the physical heart, though, is the deeper meaning of “heart” we often talk about as an invisible quality someone has. Rocky Balboa had “heart” to stay in the fight and keep going. Physically he should have been done, but he kept going because of a deeper, invisible quality.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. – Matthew 5:8

The heart as we use it here is defined as “the soul or mind, as it is the fountain and seat of the thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, endeavors.” (https://lumina.bible.org/bible/Matthew+5). That is what the heart is. It’s much deeper than the physical.

Someone pure in heart is “one whose motives are unmixed, whose thoughts are holy, whose conscience is clean.” (William MacDonald, “Matthew” in Believer’s Bible Commentary, 3809).

Pure in heart is more than doing good things or being a good person. This is down to the very core of who I am as an individual, made in the image and likeness of God. There is something more going on beneath the surface of someone pure in heart. It is worked out in the physical realm, we can see it, but it comes from somewhere deeper.

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. – Proverbs 4:23 NLT

A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart. – Luke 6:45 NLT

The pure in heart will see God because they are living faithful lives, following God, and determining in their hearts to live for Him instead of themselves. This is the person who realizes his or her selfish tendencies and lays them at the feet of the cross, looking to Jesus Christ as an example of how to live and trusting in Jesus Christ for eternal life.

 

How can we live consistently pure in heart? I think there are at least 4 things that can be very beneficial, maybe even essential, to living as someone who is pure in heart:

1. Cultivate daily faithfulness.

Living pure in heart is not a one-time decision that can be over and done with one day and forgotten about the next. This must be a daily, moment-by-moment determination that Jesus Christ is Lord of one’s life. It is a daily recognition we are poor in spirit, mourn after our sin, and live in humility. The pure in heart are comforted because they shall see God.

 

2. Live in disciplined pursuit.

This is our “personal growth plan.” It must be something intentional and consistent. There’s that old adage, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” We need to make a plan to succeed and be disciplined to do it.

 

3. Be quick to confess and repent.

The pure in heart are not perfect in heart. Temptation and sin is still an unfortunate present reality while living on this earth, but confession and repentance (a turning away) of sin renews our relationship with God and brings healing and freedom. We should be quick to confess and repent, turning from sin toward God.

 

4. Live in community.

“No man is an island entire of itself” – John Donne.

We need each other. We need to live in intentional community for the help and healing that come through it. A person who is pure in heart is not living it alone, because it is, if not impossible, incredibly difficult to live pure in heart on our own.

 

 

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Active Mercy

The first four timeless principles are more “inner” principles (poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness) ; the last four are the living out of those inner principles, or the outward signs of the inner change.

The poor in spirit recognizes his or her need for mercy and, because they have received mercy from God, strive to show mercy to others.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy – Matthew 5:7

Mercy is often talked about. It is talked about from the Old Testament to the New Testament in the Bible, to TV shows, movies, news programs, books, magazines, and person-to-person in struggles and triumphs. But what exactly is MERCY?

Mercy is usually shown with the attitude, “You give it first” or the expectation that if I show you mercy, you will show it in return. Selfish people don’t help and don’t show mercy unless something is in it for them. Jesus, as He usually did, upends this selfish, self-serving attitude and says in Matthew 5:43-47 that I should love those who won’t love me back and pray for those who mistreat me (not praying for them to be judged or God to take vengeance on them, but that Jesus would be merciful to them). Think of Jesus on the Cross. He asked God the Father to forgive the people who were putting Him to death. That is loving and praying for those who treat you wrongly.

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end – Lamentations 3:22

Mercy is the same thing as lovingkindness, or hesed, which is literally “compassion in action.” Mercy is meeting people’s needs. It is not just FEELING compassion, but it is action-oriented in feeling. It is not sympathy, but actually lending a hand and helping out. “Mercy is giving food to the hungry, comfort to the bereaved, love to the rejected, forgiveness to the offender, companionship to the lonely” (John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Matthew 1-7, p. 190).

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved… – Ephesians 2:4-5

What is the “reward” for showing mercy? You will receive mercy from God. You showing mercy to others brings mercy from God. There is a reciprocity here that is only between God and human, not human to human. You or I may never receive mercy from another human being, but if we show mercy toward others, God will certainly reciprocate that and show mercy to us.

Whether others deserve it or not, show mercy. Actively live out mercy. See someone in need, and do what you can to meet that need even though you might be in need yourself. Show mercy because you have been shown mercy.

Remember that you are poor in spirit, that you NEED the mercy of God and, because He gives it to you, who is undeserving, you can give it to others even if they don’t deserve it. Live out mercy today.

Can we remain unshaken?

We are reading through the Bible in a year together as a youth group, and we have finally made it to the book of the Psalms. Reflecting this morning on the reading in Psalm 16, one particular passage stuck out to me. There are different times and different seasons where certain verses or passages or even whole books of the Bible seem to impact a little more than they had before; they seem more applicable to the time. Here’s the verse:

“I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8 ESV).

David had a foundation that was unshakeable.

“Because the Lord Himself was the main focus of David’s attention and satisfaction, he knew no one would shake him in any major way from his stability in life” (https://lumina.bible.org/bible/Psalms+16).

I found this encouraging in the wake of all the violence that continues to get so much prime time media coverage. It is a daily occurrence. More police officers have been shot and killed this week. There was a truck rampage attack in Nice, France. There was an axe rampage on a train in Germany. There have been bombings, shootings, threats, robberies, and many other things that have not even been reported on. And to top it all off, Pokemon Go is getting almost more news time than some of these.

Then there is this whole “politics” and “election” thing going on. The Republican National Convention just seems to be a joke. They have perfectly set themselves up to be the laughing stock of our nation and have walked straight into the jokes seemingly unaware? Melania Trump giving Michelle Obama’s speech, a room full of white people talking about race problems, and on the list unfortunately goes. Many popular TV Talk Show hosts and TV personalities are ridiculing and making fun of the Republican party, and it looks like Hillary is a shoe-in to win.

Wherever you stand on the issues, I think we need to remember to keep the main thing the main thing. The right perspective on these issues can eliminate anxiety and worry. We know the One who is in control. We know the One who created the heavens and the earth; the One to whom “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” (Prov. 21:1). The One who “changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding…” (Daniel 2:21).

If the Lord Himself is the main focus of our attention and satisfaction, we can know with confidence that whoever is elected, whatever happens in the world, cannot shake us from the stability of our foundation. Let’s build our house on the Rock, instead of the shifting, sinking sand of societal opinion which changes without warning and is as fickle as the weather in West Michigan.

Put your hope and focus on the right thing. A political candidate will not fix everything. A new law, or series of laws, will not fix everything. New mandates will not destroy everything we hold precious. It will, however, make it more difficult to be a bold, outspoken, true follower of Jesus Christ. But hey, we can have confidence because “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4) and, as Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

What would happen if you were intentionally vulnerable?

Looks can be deceiving. Sometimes the outside of something can look really nice, but the inside is disgusting. I actually have a coffee cup like that in the cupboard. The outside of it looks normal and clean, but the inside of it is stained with coffee. Even washing it doesn’t clear up the stains! Maybe it has been used one too many times.

Sometimes as Christians we get really good at “the game.” We can look the part without actually being the part. We can look happy or act like our lives are put together when really everything is falling apart. We can act nice to other people but be a tyrant at home. People see us and ask how we are doing and, maybe to avoid the gossip train or prayer chain, we just respond with “good” or “fine” and don’t tell what is really going on. We don’t always do fellowship and intentional community very well, but we can be really good at talking about surface-level topics.

I think we are sometimes too afraid of being vulnerable and known by others that we keep our mask on. That way we our pride is safe and we can keep going smoothly through life.

The Book of Proverbs is full of wise and applicable sayings for us. Here is one that I think is very timely:

“All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,
    but the Lord weighs the spirit.” – Proverbs 16:2 ESV

What is the reason behind our lack of vulnerability? Why aren’t we intentional and honest in loving community? Honestly it seems like sometimes the world does a better job at loving others than we do. That’s not how it should be! Jesus says we should be known by our love!

Take the time today to weigh your spirit. What is holding you back from being vulnerable and intentionally honest in loving community? My guess is, if you’re anything like me, there is some sort of fear of being fully known. I want to control my “ways” and how others know and see me so they see the right version of me. That’s not a good thing.

As the Lord weighs your spirit today, allow the Holy Spirit to do a work and convict. Ask God through prayer to bring intentional, loving community into your life and then ask Him to give you the courage to actually be vulnerable and honest.

Honesty and confession bring healing.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” – James 5:16

 

God loves you

God loves you. Did you know that? I think we all want to know and believe that is true. I think we want to believe it in the depth of our heart. But He doesn’t just love us so that we can do whatever we want to do. God loves us and wants us to know Him. He wants to have a relationship with us; He doesn’t just want to be a salve or a bandaid we put on our wounds.

God is not someone who only wants to be contact when we are in pain or when we are sad so He can make it go away. He wants to walk with us through the good and the bad, and have us realize that we can’t do really much of anything at all on our own. We can only breathe because God is constantly sustaining His creation. God wants us to be in relationship with Him when we are thankful, when we are happy, when we are in need, when we are sad, when we are in pain, when we are in tears, and when we are in laughter.

God-loves-youThat is what His love is there for. He wants us to know that He loves us. He wants us to know Him, be known by Him, and spend our lives getting to know Him more. God sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, so that we could know God as our Heavenly Father. This is an intimate knowledge, more than some big guy in the sky, or the man upstairs. God sent His Son to show us His love. Romans chapter five verse eight says that God demonstrates His love toward you and me in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

 

God knows we are not perfect. He created us. He knows we’ll mess up, that we have messed up, and that we will never fully arrive in getting it right all the time. But God still loves us. He wants us to know Him, but more than that He wants us to follow after Him. He wants us to see the example of Jesus Christ in the Bible and to follow it. He wants us to follow His commands because that is the most abundant and blessed and fulfilled way to live.

To follow Him means following a different Way… a better way. It is a way that is not easy and is often uncomfortable and selfless, but it is much, much better than the normal way of the world. God’s Way is a Way of fulfillment, satisfaction, and wholeness. It is a place where love and forgiveness abound. It is a place with a high calling to live life in the right way and to tell other people about this different Way. It is a challenge, for sure. But it is well worth the struggle.

What’s holding you back from following The Way?

You’ve still got work to do

Life is perpetually moving forward. Even as I’m writing this right now, life is moving forward, not backward. We can use our memories, photos, scrapbooks, journals, Facebook, Timehop, to Moving Forwardremember things in our past, but life will never move in that direction. Everything that has happened to us or that we have experienced or that we have done is in the unchangeable past. What we do with what happened to us or what we have experienced or what we have done makes up our present and our yet-to-be-determined immediate future. There are some things that are determined to be in the future, but even the normally safe assumption, “I will wake up tomorrow morning,” is not a guaranteed truth.

Sometimes our circumstances can become so overwhelming that we develop a narrow tunnel vision. We begin to lose perspective. We begin to fear, to doubt, to question, to lose sight of what is most important. I think that if we focus too much on our circumstances we become self-focused and have a hard time seeing the bigger picture..seeing the purpose behind pain, difficulty and suffering.

Keeping a broad view doesn’t diminish the acuteness of agony that pain and suffering bring, but it does help us to understand that Jesus Christ endured torture, beatings, mocking, and horrific crucifixion so that you and I could have a right relationship with God. This doesn’t take away the present hardships and difficulties but I think it gives us a hope and joy that this is all worth it. This is all worthwhile to serve the risen Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. No matter what we endure, he is there to walk through it with us.

God may not take us out of the circumstance or choice or situation, but He is faithful to walk with us through it. Guiding, directing, leading, loving, caring, restoring, healing, conforming, drawing.

Acts 27:24 reveals God’s response to a crazy situation the Apostle Paul found himself in:

and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’

Paul was in the middle of a storm, at sea, in a boat that was getting ready to sink. An angel of God appeared to him and told him not to be afraid because he still had work to do for the Lord.

When I am in the middle of a storm in life, I know it is my normal reaction to focus on the stormstorms-of-life, to see how big the waves are, how strong the wind is blowing, how cold and dark everything around me is. But, I also know that my normal reaction is not a reaction based in faith, but is a result of my flesh. So my encouragement to you is to keep pushing forward, to keep strong in your faith, to trust in God and His Son, Jesus Christ, to walk with you and trust in God’s Holy Spirit to guide and direct the way you are going.

The way out of a storm? Moving forward through the storm through the power of God available to you when you trust in Him. Put away insecurities and fears and trust in God. Keep moving forward because if you’re still alive, you’ve still got work to do.

Don’t hold yourself back

Delayed adolescence is an increasing trend in our society. What is meant here by delayed adolescence is the increase in young adults that choose to live with their parents into their later 20’s and even early 30’s. I am a product of this trend myself. I moved back home after college and lived in my parent’s basement until I was 24 years old.

Stop Holding Yourself BackThere are many reasons given as to why we move back home and live with our parents for so long. One of those reasons include the difficult job market. There are a large number of Starbucks baristas who have college degrees… it’s tough out there. Another reason is that there are so many opportunities we don’t know which one to choose; we don’t want to be tied down into one career for the rest of our lives like many of our parents are/were. Another reason is that it is so expensive to move out and live on our own. Unless we have roommates or wealthy parents who will foot the bill, money is a problem, especially considering we have all that college debt to deal with. So these factors, and many societal messages, have contributed to the trend of delayed adolescence.

Another issue that fits into this delay is that many middle school and high school students are not challenged well to become strong people of character, integrity, hard work, principle, or responsibility. Parents and schools and churches have done a poor job of calling a generation to a higher standard, and I think we are paying the price for that. We do not often challenge them to take on responsibility or to develop principles they base their decisions on. We do not often teach them how to gain wisdom and discernment and integrity, but often expect them just to have it. We often do not lead well in the realm of character and integrity, so they do not always have the best examples to follow. This is a harsh word, I get that, but I think it is the truth. Now, obviously, there are always exceptions. But be careful immediately thinking that you are the exception. Take an honest look and examine the facts.

Jeremiah from the Bible is one who wanted to avoid his challenge. He did not want to live up the potential God saw in him, and he did not want to live out the hard work and responsibility placed on his life. Here is what Jeremiah says he did when God called him to a great work that would require wisdom, integrity, and discernment, as well as hard work and perseverance:

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” (Jeremiah 1:7, ESV)

Jeremiah made an excuse! It is so easy to do, and we have so many good ones to give. But I don’t think there is a person who made excuses that ever made much of a difference in this world. We aren’t on this earth to make excuses and live in our comfort zones, but we are here to make a difference for the Kingdom of God. We have an opportunity to be His hands and feet, and to minister to His creation as His children and ambassadors.

How does God respond to Jeremiah’s excuse? Check it out in the next two verses, 7-8:

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.”

God’s response is to say that He will be with Jeremiah. There is comfort in knowing that we are not doing this alone. No matter how great the potential or responsibility, we don’t have to go it alone. God is with us. We don’t have to fear responsibility or fear failure or fear what others will think or fear not knowing what to say or do. Through the power of God’s Holy Spirit we will receive discernment, wisdom, comfort, help, healing, guidance.

So DO NOT BE AFRAID. DO NOT HOLD YOURSELF BACK. Instead, take up the challenge, challenge those around you, and make a difference in this world as you bring glory to God by following His example and His Word. GoKeep moving forwardd receives glory when we obey Him and trust Him. Obey and trust God and you will be able to move forward in faith, knowing that God is with you. If God is for you and with you, who can stand against you? “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26), so start doing some impossibly difficult things and see how quickly they become possible when they are done through God’s plan and strength and for God’s glory.

Keep Moving Forward

Going on this journey of finding the Bible talk about being free from fear, not being afraid, not fearing something or someone, has been a tough one. There are many days I don’t feel like writing anything, because who honestly reads this? But then there is the other side, where I want to be a man of my word. I semi-publicly committed to going through this for 365 blog posts. I have rarely committed to doing anything for that length of time, let alone writing that many blog posts. That is more pages than a full-length book. But, here we are, on day 26 writing a post about doing it anyway! So, let’s do it, and let’s keep going with this.

The majority, in fact maybe all, of the posts I’ve done in the first 25 days have had to do with not fearing, not being afraid, not being frightened, etc. There is a pretty common theme. But, today’s passage from Nehemiah 2:2 presents a slightly different message. Here is Nehemiah 2:1-5:

During the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was set before him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had never been sad in his presence, so the king said to me, “Why are you sad, when you aren’t sick? This is nothing but depression.” I was overwhelmed with fear and replied to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should I not be sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” Then the king asked me, “What is your request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven and answered the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor with you, send me to Judah and to the city where my ancestors are buried, so that I may rebuild it.”

Nehemiah was overwhelmed with fear! The key here is that Nehemiah was overwhelmed with fear, but he was not made inactive by fear. Nehemiah wasn’t so overwhelmed that he was paralyzed. Nehemiah was so overwhelmed with fear that he had to pray to God at the same time that he responded to the king’s questions!

Keep moving forwardNehemiah is overwhelmed with fear, yet he continues saying what he needed to say. He was afraid, but he acted anyway. He could have kept his mouth shut, but he opened it and talked anyway. He did it anyway, no matter the consequence. The king could have had him killed for being sad in his presence, but Nehemiah, in his fear, continued on anyway and trusted God.

Where are you overwhelmed with fear? One of the pieces of advice we can take from this passage I think is this:

When you are afraid, trust God. When you are overwhelmed, trust God. When you are in over your head, trust God. When you don’t know what to do, trust God. The message is to trust God. If you are following Him, living out His Word, living out a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, then you have nothing to fear.

But, when you encounter fear, turn it over to God. Don’t just stop there, but continue on. Trust God and keep moving forward in spite of your fear.

Remember where you’ve been

Remember where you've beenMemory can be a good thing or a bad thing. Memories can hold you hostage or bring happiness. Memories can also bring stress or peace. It depends on what the memory is of! I’m sure we all have things that we regret, memories we wish we had never made, but often these memories are things that have made us who we are today (for better or worse). Remembering is a powerful, and necessary, habit to develop.

God brings the power of remembering to light in our “365 Days Free From Fear” passage today:

But the Lord told me, ‘Do not be afraid of him, for I have given you victory over Og and his entire army, and I will give you all his land. Treat him just as you treated King Sihon of the Amorites, who ruled in Heshbon.’ (Deuteronomy 3:2, NLT)

The message of this passage is in part to remind us to remember. Moses and the Israelites had just done battle, and now someone else, King Og, was coming out to attack them. As Og comes to attack, God reminds Moses & the Israelites not to be afraid of him, because God has already won the battle. God went before them and defeated the army, just like he had the King of Sihon. God seems to basically be saying, “Moses, remember where you have been and remember what I have done. You can trust Me.” Moses could confidently say, keep calm, Israelites, God’s got this.Keep Calm Because God's Got This

I think He says the same thing to you and to me. Maybe remembering is painful, maybe it is hard, maybe it is full of shame and guilt and stress. But that’s when we remember our history. When we remember His story, who He is, what God has done, how faithful He is even when we are faithless, how holy, good, just, loving, kind, gentle, and caring He is…we don’t have to be afraid!

Really, when fear starts to come up in our minds, hearts, or lives, the fear should push us to our faith because our salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is the only promise that never fails and the only constant that never changes. We can trust God because He never changes, never leaves us, and never forsakes us when we are accepted into His family through faith in Jesus Christ.

“The fear of the Lord…” (Proverbs 1:7)

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline (Proverbs 1:7, HCSB)

I really enjoy learning. I like reading and studying, but usually only on my own time. When it comes to assigned reading, I am not so excited about it. But, when I get to read on my own time, it is something I really enjoy. It appears that much of life is devoted to the attaining of knowledge and its application.

We pursue degrees, the higher the education the better, and the more prestigious the university the better. We pursue perfection in our jobs–always striving for a better position or promotion and pay raise. Our entire lives are devoted to gaining more knowledge. We have a chance to “learn something new every day.”

The Bible, as it so often does, speaks directly into our pursuits as humans and reveals how in fact we can gain this knowledge and apply it as wisdom. God’s Word does not say that we gain more knowledge by studying harder, going to a better school, or spending more time in the library or out on crazy adventures. God’s prescription for the gaining of knowledge is simply to be in awe of the One who gives wisdom and the One from Whom all knowledge is derived.

Fear of the Lord

Why not be in awe of the Source of all knowledge? The fear of the Lord is a reverential awe and understanding of His sovereignty and power. He is all-knowing, all-powerful, and ever present with each of us. He desires a relationship with us and He wants us to gain knowledge.

Why else would God tell us how to get knowledge and wisdom if He didn’t want us to have it? So apply His strategy for gaining wisdom and put your fear in the right place! Have a healthy fear, awe, respect for Who God is and spend time getting to know Him. I guarantee it’ll positively impact your life and the lives of those who interact with you!