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.

 

 

How can we be known for our love?

Jesus says in John 13:34-5:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

As followers of Christ, I think we are called to be known more for what we are for than what we are against. I’ve written about this before, but I think it cannot be overstated how important this is. Too much of the world knows the church for a religious, legalistic center who is against many things. That’s not what Jesus was known for. That’s not what His disciples were known for.

They preached Jesus Christ and Him crucified rather than a complete set of do’s and dont’s. The young adult group from Calvary is in New York City right now, and were able to visit Hillsong NYC on Sunday evening. While there, one thing was very clear. They did not take political or societal stances. They stood on the side of Jesus and gave an invitation for people to surrender their lives, their pride, their selfishness, and give it all to Jesus Christ.

There were homosexuals and transgenders in the crowd feeling loved enough to show up to church. And they heard the full Truth of the Word of God, that we are all sinners in need of a Savior. The tone was grace and truth. We need a Savior, His name is Jesus, and He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

How can we be known for our love for others?

The key is to love God.

Love Him first and most.

The more we love God the more we will love others. The more we love God, the more He gives us the desires of our hearts.

I think that the more we love God, the more we will love others because we will love them as God loves them.

We will see them as God sees them; we will want what is best for them, which is not always what they think is best for them but what is actually best for them.

We’ll be determined to not give up on them, but will constantly be willing and able to show grace, love, mercy and forgiveness.

If we love God and pursue Him, we will become more like Him. If we want to be known and defined by our love for others, we must first love God.

Our love for others is not blanket acceptance or approval of actions, but it is all-encompassing, truthful, grace-filled love. The same type of love that God has shown us we are called to show others.

What do you need to do today to start being known for the love of Christ that is evident in your daily actions?

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).

Every life matters

Yesterday afternoon I got in my car to drive home and was immediately bombarded with the most recent piece of news regarding yet ANOTHER shooting. This one hit a little closer to home, as we live in Holland, MI and this happened in St. Joseph, MI. Three more people died in this shooting.

This recent wave of active gunmen has sparked so much debate, hate, and ridiculous opinions on who is right, who is wrong, and why. Sadly, there were some who call themselves “Christians” that were a vocal minority celebrating those in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando got what they deserved because of the lifestyle they were living (Just a quick side note: No murder should be celebrated. Ever. No lifestyle should be so vilely opposed that one should wish they would go to Hell. That is not a Christ-like response).

Then there came the killing of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. It is sad and disconcerting that it appears that cops are more quick to pull the gun and shoot when faced with a black man than a white man. That isn’t okay.

Yes, there are corrupt Police Officers. Yes, there are Police Officers who act wrongly, who react too quickly with deadly force, and who make the wrong judgment call and a black life is taken, like the above examples. Yes, too, there are Police Officers who don’t react quickly enough, or aren’t expecting deadly force to be used against them, who die too often in the line of duty, even during routine traffic stops.

After the killing of Sterling and Castile, there was the Dallas shooting where police officers who were providing security for a protest that was protesting police brutality were being fired upon by a sniper. The sniper killed 5 officers, wounded 7 other officers and 2 civilians.

This is where the polarizing opinions come in. They have been coming in since the first killing. Blacks versus cops. One side or the other. No space in between.. Trevor Noah, who hosts the Daily Show on Comedy Central, weighed in after both Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were killed and very wisely and intelligently communicated to his entire audience that we don’t have to be forced into following the loud polarizing voices of our society.

Noah says, “It always feels like in America, it’s like, if you take a stand for something, you automatically are against something else.” This is a good quote for everyone, and one that we need to keep in mind regarding all of the polarizing topics today in our society.

Just because I stand for something, doesn’t mean I hate the other thing. I like Coca Cola more than I like Pepsi. It doesn’t mean I hate Pepsi. I stand on the fact that Jesus Christ is THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life. That does not mean I hate any single person who opposes that view. In fact, it means I love them all the more. Because that’s what Jesus Christ, the One I seek to model my life after, would do.

In the wake of murders and snipers and hatred and polarizing forces, we have to stand up and say, “Enough.” As a Christian, I need to have the courage to stand up and speak loudly and boldly that whether white, black, civilian, police officer, straight, gay, transgender, Christian, non-Christian, every individual is made in the image and likeness of the Creator God and therefore every individual has inherent value and worth. I will not love one person and hate the other. We cannot fall victim to the mentality and attitude that we have to join one side or the other in this fight.

The thing that truly matters is pursuing every single individual with the love of Jesus Christ. The only solution to the brokenness, the hatred, the hopelessness, is the Person of Jesus Christ who makes a way for us to be with God and to live in a peace that surpasses all understanding, a joy that is not based on situation, and a hope that is eternal.

Let freedom ring!

Happy fourth of July, and happy 240th birthday America! A lot has happened since 1776. We have cars, air conditioning, a “unified” country of fifty states, and the freedom to do pretty much what we want when we want to. Yeah, we have to obey laws and stuff, but we are still free to do what we want. We just have to pay the price for doing what we want if it happens to break a law.

Freedom is really a special thing. Not everyone in the world gets to experience it, and those of us who do often take it for granted. It can be too easy to forget those who have paid the ultimate price so that we could experience freedom. Days like Memorial Day or Independence Day help us as a country to remember, but in normal day-to-day life, unless we have a loved one who recently served, is currently serving, or who paid the ultimate price for our freedom while serving, we don’t think too often about how we are able to live in freedom.

Today, of all days, let us celebrate well and joyously our country, and those who have given us the ability to live in freedom. Our soldiers have made possible the freedom to worship in the open whoever we want, to walk down the street without fear of a car bomb or being at home and not worrying about a terrorist group rolling through the street taking us captive. We are free to pursue education and careers that many don’t have the ability to do. We have the freedom to sit at home and play video games all day, read books, watch TV or go to the movie theater if we choose. We have the freedom to vote for our leaders and to have a say in how our country is run.

All of this is made possible because of the sacrifice of normal men and women doing extraordinary things.

This is all for our physical freedoms. There is One who paid the ultimate price so that we could be spiritually free. Jesus Christ came to earth, died on a cross for you and for me, and rose again from the dead three days later so that we could have the freedom to choose not to sin. He died so we could be saved from the wrath of God and so we could live in freedom from the power and penalty of sin. He died and rose again so that you and I could receive the free gift of eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. – John 1:12

But everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. – Acts 2:21

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:23

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. – Galatians 5:1

Christ has set us free so that we could have a relationship with God and have eternal life with Him when we die. He also set us free so that right now, living on earth, we could live in freedom from the slavery of sin and so we can live the full, satisfying life that Jesus promises (John 10:10).

Remember today why you and I get to live in freedom. Remember those who have paid the price for freedom. Remember the Ultimate Sacrifice that gives us the ability to live in spiritual freedom for eternity. Remember. And let the remembrance lead you to thankful action.

The Strategy of the Great Commission

Every follower of Jesus Christ has at least one responsibility. That responsibility is called the Great Commission. It is not something just for someone who has the “gift” or “skill” of evangelism. It is the call to every disciple of Jesus Christ.

Recently I was reading a book by Greg Stier and he was writing about the idea of a Gospel Advancing Strategy. As I was reading I couldn’t get the idea out of my head about how truly strategic Jesus was in giving His disciples the Great Commission.

This is the method that Jesus Christ has given us to share good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to set free those who are oppressed (Luke 4:18), to be witnesses of who God is and what He has done through the Person of Jesus Christ, His Son.

So how exactly is this commission strategic? The answer is in Matthew 28:19-20:

  1. Go make disciples
    • The strategy begins with our daily lifestyle and attitude. As we are going about our daily life, we are to make disciples of other people. This means that every part of our lives should point to the Gospel.
  2. Of all nations
    • There is no exception. Every single person regardless of color, language, political party, social standing, or financial status needs to hear the Gospel.
  3. Baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
    • After sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, when someone believes and puts their faith in Jesus as their Savior and Lord, they should be baptized in water. This is a public profession of that new follower of Christ that their life has been transformed and they are committing to follow Christ.
  4. Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you
    • The work is not complete. Now we must train and teach the new believer about the Bible. Bible reading and prayer are key here. We must get the new believer plugged into a church and a community of believers so they can learn and grow together in community. This new believer is now ready to go and make disciples.
  5. And Jesus is always with us to give us confidence and power
    • None of this has to, or can, happen in our own power. God works in us and through us to spread the Gospel from where we are to the end of the Earth.

Let’s be passionate about pursuing the lost with this strategy Jesus Christ has given to us to reach the entire world with the Good News that we are set free from bondage, rescued from the wrath of God because of sin, and redeemed to live a life of joyful fellowship with God.

 

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

 

Are we able to have a conversation with someone outside of our “group”?

“This splintering and polarization of American culture has made it more difficult than ever to have a good conversation, especially about faith,” says David Kinnaman (President of the Barna Group).

I recently read the article quoted from above, and just had to write a post about it. Barna is a research powerhouse, and one of their recent studies found that evangelical Christians “have a particularly difficult time talking to those outside their group.” In fact, the research found that 9 in 10 (87%) would find it difficult to have a natural or normal conversation with someone from the LGBT community, while only 6 in 10 (58%) from the LGBT community felt the same way toward having a natural or normal conversation with someone from the evangelical community.

Reading this, it struck a chord in my heart. Jesus consistently, often, controversially spent much time with people outside of his “group.” He spent so much time with people outside the religious community that the religious community questioned him on the topic:

“And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?'” – Matthew 9:10-11 ESV

The Pharisees, the religious elite, could not understand why Jesus went outside of his “group” and hung out with them, ate with them, valued them and cared about them. Jesus had no difficulty having natural and normal conversations with people very different than Himself, and actually people outside of His group wanted to be in His group because of the way He treated them. He was contagious to be around. Why aren’t followers of Christ today contagious to be around? There are certainly many reasons, including because we believe and state emphatically that Jesus Christ is the only way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

However, I think one of the biggest reasons Christians are not contagious to be around is because we can be harsh. We can be off-putting and sometimes just downright mean. Truth without grace and love can simply be mean. We must balance truth with grace and love. We must extend love. We must allow people to belong before they believe. We must allow them to be in our community before the Holy Spirit convicts and they are converted from their old life of sin and death to a new life of freedom and life.

This post can by no means deal with all of the varying viewpoints and all the theological, social, political, and relational intricacies of what it means to love the lost, but it is something we must do. We cannot hold the world to the behavioral standards of a Christ-follower because they are not Christ-followers. The only way to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19-20) is to go into the brokenness, go into the lostness, with the love and grace of Jesus Christ. Loving the world so much that we can’t help but proclaim with love and compassion the necessity of repentance of sin and belief in Jesus Christ, while at the same time journeying with them as they work to figure this out and understand the implications of a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Let’s be the light and the salt, not the judgment. Let’s bring Christ with us wherever we go, living out our faith and changing the world around us as we are known for Who we are for rather than what we are against.

Do you remember your first car?

What was your first car? Do you remember it? I’m sure you made some great memories in that car! One of the first cars I ever had was a little white Ford Ranger. It was a manual truck and it had no cruise control. At the time I loved it! I still remember when I first was learning to drive it, it was a clear day, and it was the first time I was driving a manual transmission. My dad and I were practicing in the church parking lot, and it was a clear, sunny day. After a little while my dad told me to drive home. A couple minutes after pulling onto the road, a crazy thunderstorm hit, and it was so bad I could hardly see out the front windshield! I had just learned to drive it, and now was the first real test (we made it home safe, just in case you were worried :)).
cruise-control
Back to the fact that it had no cruise control… I love driving manual and I didn’t really take long trips with the truck, so cruise control wasn’t much of an issue. I do vividly remember this one time, though, when my sister was attending Taylor University, I drove that manual truck down to Taylor from our hometown in Mishawaka. The drive is only a little over two hours, but without cruise control and having to keep a foot on the gas pedal the entire time, my right leg was almost numb when we got there. It was a grueling drive! I was not looking forward to driving it home!
But what in the world does this have to do with Christianity, you might wonder? Well, at first glance, not much. When we take a closer look, though, I think it has a lot to do with it.
It has to do with comfort. Cruise control is a luxury. Not all cars have it, but you know when you don’t have it. Taking a long trip without cruise control can literally be painful.
The Christian life really needs to be a life that does not have cruise control. There should never be a time when we’re not pressing the gas, when we’re not growing, when we’re not pressing forward.
We should never get stuck in comfort with these control on. When cruise control is on, the only thing pushing or driving us forward is the mechanics of the car. There is no real work being done, and it is much easier to be distracted, to text and drive, or to take in the scenery around you. In Christianity, on cruise control, the only thing driving or pushing us forward is a habitual obedience, just doing what we’ve always done (whether that is good or bad).
Are you surviving on cruise control today? Did you know we were made to thrive and live an abundant, joy-filled life through the power of Jesus Christ? A life that is uncomfortable, but full of power; a life that is extraordinarily out of the ordinary, but full of passion; a life that is seen as weird, but is full of purpose.
Take off the cruise control and live with power, passion, and purpose for the glory and Name of Jesus Christ! You’ll never regret it!

‘Round and ’round we go

There is a question that came up a few weeks ago that got me to thinking. Here’s the question: “How can I be okay with continued struggles and suffering?”

This question is a tough one. So you have a new relationship with Jesus, you are starting to read your Bible, you think maybe this is it, maybe you’re done with sin and you can move on, move forward in your life. Until temptation comes and you sin again. Ever been there?

Being a Christian, a genuine follower of Jesus Christ, does not guarantee or even promise perfection while still living on this earth. Instead, there will be continued struggles, continued suffering, and continued failure in the face of temptation. How is that possible? Is that normal? How can I be okay with this?

Thinking back to Christmastime, do you realize that Jesus becoming a baby automatically put God’s seal of approval on a slow process? The angel announced salvation to the shepherds, but what they saw in the manger was a normal baby boy—a baby who needed time to grow up. It would take 30 years for Jesus to begin the earthly ministry that He came to do. When considering the life of a Christian, patience and process are not things we enjoy hearing about.

The fact of the matter is that Jesus Christ, in His forgiveness and grace and method, uses a patient process to make us new. We are transformed in an instant, into a new creation in Jesus Christ. We are reborn and receive the free gift of salvation. The Holy Spirit immediately comes to live in us, guiding and directing us. But, this is a new thing. It will take time to get used to, time to figure it out, and time to grow and heal and live out of the newness.

Wherever you are in your life, whether you have put your faith in Jesus or not, we are all in process. My prayer for you, if you haven’t put your faith in Jesus, is that as you move forward in the process of life, you are moving closer and closer to Jesus. I pray that you would come to know Him as your personal Lord and Savior. It is the most incredible thing you will ever experience, and the best and wisest decision you could ever make. If you already have put your faith in Jesus, I pray that you would be encouraged to know that the struggle is real, and doesn’t end until we reach heaven. Know that sin is temporary, God is forever. While on the earth, we will have trouble, we will face temptation, but God is good, God is full of forgiveness, and as time goes on, God continues to reform our hearts and minds, our desires and eventually our desire for sin decreases because of the increase in our desire for more of God.