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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The enemy of the everyday

The Christian life is an everyday thing. I previously wrote a post describing how there is no day off, no vacation, for the true follower of Christ. This is a continuation of that post as I continue to grow in that understanding and think things through on this topic.

The enemy of our faith is the everyday mundane-ness of the Christian faith.

There is power and abundance and joy, for certain. There is security and love, compassion, forgiveness and acceptance.

But faithfulness is an everyday battle we must engage.

There’s a funny Nyquil commercial that’s going around, where a dad walks in to his baby’s room and says, “Dave, I’m sorry to interrupt, I gotta take a sick day tomorrow.” And then the commentator chimes in and says, “Dads don’t take sick days. Dads take Nyquil.”

It’s the same way in our Christian walk! The enemy of everyday is that it’s every day. We don’t get a break. We can’t take a day off.  We don’t get a sick day.

The encouraging news?

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

It can be exhausting and discouraging and overwhelming to realize that we never get a day off. But take heart, because as we live in this world, God gives us rest and joy and courage. He gives us strength and endurance, and gives us the power to persevere.

Let the enemy of everyday drive you to the feet of Jesus. Take up His yoke and His burden. Keep your eyes focused on Christ and your everyday becomes just a little bit easier because it’s not under your own power but under the power given to you by the Holy Spirit.

I was there, but I really wasn’t there

One of the most powerful things we can do in our lives is to be present with the people we are with. The invention of the smart phone, with Facebook and Instagram and Twitter Snapchat and now Periscope right at our fingertips, has made it difficult to be content to be present where we are.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this struggle. I have to consciously choose to put my phone away in my pocket, or face down on the table, or else I will constantly be checking e-mails, scrolling through Twitter feeds, Snapchatting my wife at work, or wondering what I should Periscope next that people would actually watch. I even changed the settings on my phone so that when I flip the switch on my iPhone it doesn’t vibrate, it completely silences any noises. I was getting too distracted and putting all of my presence into the phone rather than into the people around me. Cell phones and tablets and social media can cause us to be somewhere but to not really be there. We could go to a friends house and “be there, but not really there.”

Have you thought about how much time you spend on your phone every day? I’d be a little nervous to see the real data on that for each of us. The answer is most likely “more than I should.”

Presence is a powerful tool.

There is this crazy story in Matthew chapter 17 where Jesus Christ goes up on a mountain with some of the guys that are following Him (actually His three best friends: Peter, James, and John). While on the mountain, Jesus is transfigured before these guys and becomes like His true likeness–He is unveiled as the Son of God in all His glory. If you can imagine this…someone brings you up on a mountain and then all of a sudden they start to transform in front of you and two people who have been dead for a long time appear, and there is a voice talking to you from heaven… Kind of an intimidating situation to be in! Here is what Jesus says after these guys had fallen on their faces in fear:

But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.”

Oh okay. After what they just saw? As simple as that? Just don’t be afraid?

It’s as easy as that. Things with Jesus are just that easy. Believe. Abide. Trust. Follow. Get up. Don’t be afraid. How? How could they just get up and not be afraid? The answer is because Jesus was there with them. He was present and caring and considerate.

Jesus’ presence makes all the difference. It does in your life too. You have nothing to be afraid of when Jesus is there. Instead, you have forgiveness and love and security and redemption. You and I may struggle with actually being fully present in any given situation, but Jesus does not have that problem.

powerofhispresenceWhen we pray to God, we have His full attention. Not a piece, not a moment, not a sliver of His attention; the whole thing. When we pray, God hears us. When we pray according to His will, God hears and answers. Be encouraged. God is there, really there, when we call out to Him. Trust in Him. Follow Him. Call out to Him. He wants to know you and you to know Him.

Don’t always fear what you don’t yet understand

Lost and Confused SignpostThere are a lot of things in this world we don’t understand. Many things are happening all around us, almost daily, that just don’t make sense. Where is the logic? How could the scientific method answer questions like why do bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people? How could reason and intellect answer why an 18-year-old, recent high school graduate died in a tragic car crash?

The problem is, we are finite. We are incomplete. We are not all-knowing, all-powerful, or really in control. When things happen that we don’t understand, it seems natural to rebel against these facts. We can rebel against the notion that we are finite and are not invincible. “What do you mean I won’t live forever? I mean, I know at some point I will pass away, but I have so many years left! I don’t have to worry about facing death!”

Or maybe we rebel against not being all-knowing. When something happens we don’t understand, we seek an explanation, because there has to be one, right? If we can’t figure it out, then we don’t rest until we have an answer. If we don’t find an answer, we use clever verbiage to develop an answer that delivers us an escape from the reality that there is no answer.

Maybe we rebel against not being really in control. Everything in our lives is neat and orderly. We have all our i’s dotted and t’s crossed and we know what to expect, how to handle it, and we always know what to do. But then something unexpected happens that places us in the backseat because it is something beyond our control. Someone does something to us or to someone we love, and we weren’t able to stop it. So we spend the rest of our lives devoted to never letting this sort of thing happen again.

What if our negative impulse to being out of control, to being incomplete, not all-knowing or powerful or invincible, is really just a fear-focused reaction? It really does seem like when we are out of the drivers seat, not in control, that decisions come from the fear instead of the faith inside of us.

Matthew 1:20 comes in the middle of the proclamation that Jesus is going to be born from the virgin Mary. Joseph, Mary’s husband, who has not had sex with her, finds out that Mary is pregnant and is going to react in a way full of integrity and grace. He decides to divorce her quietly. The situation is beyond his control. But, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph, as recorded in Matthew 1:20, and says,

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”

The angel tells him to not be afraid to take Mary as his wife. Taking Mary as his wife must have brought the fear of shame and fear of rejection and fear of bad reputation and fear of a difficult life because of marrying a woman who was already pregnant.do not be afraid

The angel gives advice to Joseph that I think is very applicable to our lives when we feel out of control, afraid, and uncertain: “Do not fear…” Even though we may  not understand what is going on right now, “that which is conceived…is from the Holy Spirit.” Trust in Him. Believe in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Follow God’s Word. We may not get it, we may not know why, we may have no answers, no solutions, no clue… but what we can know is Jesus Christ as our Savior (1 Timothy 1:15), God as our refuge and strength (Psalm 46:1-3), and Jesus as our burden bearer. We can lay our burdens down at His feet (Psalm 55:22), and He will walk with us through it all (Psalm 23).

Unexpected Things

This past Sunday was Easter Sunday, or better termed: Resurrection Sunday. The purpose of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday is really to celebrate and remember that Jesus Christ came down to earth as God in a body and dwelt among us (John 1:14). We praise and worship Jesus Christ because He came not only to dwell among us, to be tested and tempted in every way like we are so that He could identify with us (Hebrews 4:15), but He came to die for us and to rise from the dead three days later to show His victory over sin, victory over death, and victory over Hell and Satan.

The fearless passage we are looking at today comes on the heels of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Matthew records that on the third day, Sunday morning, “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb” (28:1) that Jesus had been buried in. he_is_risenWhen they got to the tomb, the stone blocking the entrance had been rolled away and an angel of the Lord was sitting on the stone just hanging out, waiting for them. The guards were so afraid of the angel that they passed out! Here’s what happens next in Matthew 28:5-6:

Then the angel spoke to the women. ‘Don’t be afraid!’ he said. ‘I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying.

This is crazy! They went to see the dead body of Jesus and instead they encountered an empty grave.

The angel continues on, telling the women to go back to tell the disciples what had happened. As they are running quickly away from the tomb to go to the disciples, Jesus greets them. When they saw their Risen Savior, Jesus Christ, the women “ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him” (Matthew 28:9). After the women run to him, Jesus tells them this, in verse 10:

Then Jesus said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.’

 Why don’t we have to be afraid? How can we live a fearless life? We can because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. He is not the God of the dead, but is the God of the living (Luke 20:38). We can live with confidence and hope because Jesus Christ is risen, He gives us the opportunity to respond in faith to the Gospel, and He sets us free from the power of sin, becomes our righteousness so that we can have a right standing with God through the righteousness of Jesus.

Place your faith and your hope and your trust in Jesus Christ. He will never let you down. He will never leave you. He will never forsake you. He is with us always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). Don’t be afraid and don’t lose hope. Jesus Christ is alive and the source of all our hope, joy, freedom and righteousness.

4 Thoughts on Building a Legacy

Listed below are four thoughts on building a legacy. In our small group on Sunday night with the 11th-12th grade guys, I asked this question: What do you want to be known for? Ultimately we will all be known for something. People we know, or those who have maybe heard of us, will hear our name and think of a certain aspect of our lives. What do we want to be known for?

Merriam-Webster defines legacy as: “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.” Each day we live, we leave something in the past. What you ate for breakfast this morning is now a part of your past. Whatever decisions and choices we made yesterday have become a part of our legacy. Here are the four ideas I have about building a legacy that matters:

1. Be intentional – The sad reality is that we can accidentally and unintentionally, almost unconsciously, develop a legacy. Most of the time this accidental legacy will not end up being a positive thing. We can accidentally build a legacy by not considering our actions on a daily basis, just kind of going through the motions of life, and not living with purpose. But, when we are intentional, we can basically choose how people will remember us. When we live with purpose, we get to determine the defining characteristics in our lives because we have chosen to live in that way. We can never be perfect, and we can’t always choose what exactly people remember us by, but as we live intentionally we increase our chances of becoming the person we have always wanted to be.

2. Keep your eyes forward – Building a legacy is built on past decisions and choices, but we cannot live in the past. If we have not built a good legacy up until this point in our lives, then focusing on the past will just be a sad endeavor. Instead, keep your eyes forward, focus on the decisions you can make right now, today, that will rebuild the foundation of your legacy. Intentionally choose to live in the present, looking toward the future, knowing the choices you make today can one day bring you to a place in the future where you look back at your life and can say with confidence that you lived well, positively impacted the lives of other people, and loved and served others over yourself.

3. Consistently consistent – The easiest way to build a legacy is to do the right things habitually. Think about who/what you want to become, or how you want to be remembered. Then, think about what actions and attitudes and decisions will get you to that point. Now, do those things over and over, day in and day out, whether you feel like doing them or not. Consistency is the key to developing a strong legacy. Consistency increases trustworthiness and reliability, and people know they can count on you in a real way.

4. Avoid shortcuts – Shortcuts are very tempting. I look for shortcuts on my drive to most places, because I want to get there as quickly as possible. But sometimes when using those shortcuts, they backfire and end up taking longer than the normal route would have. In building your legacy, avoid all shortcuts. They are not quick routes to success or to where you want to go. Often shortcuts in life necessitate a sketchy decision or a “grey area.” Intentionally avoid shortcuts because they can tarnish a legacy. Instead, consistently and intentionally choose the right things and your legacy has a good chance of becoming what you would like it to.

Lastly, our legacy is ultimately not for ourselves. All of the things I have written above are best done when the focus is not on self but in considering: “What kind of legacy can I leave that will draw people to Christ, that will reveal how real and true He is, and that will be a positive impact on the kingdom of God when I leave this earth?” Thinking of this question will help direct and guide our steps as we seek to imitate Jesus Christ.

Two passages of Scripture deal very clearly with our actions and the result of our actions (our legacy). The first is Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” The second is 1 Peter 2:12, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”

Live purposefully in such a way that brings glory to our Father in heaven. If you choose to live with God’s purpose as your central focus, you will almost guarantee a legacy that will reveal the love and salvation of Jesus Christ to everyone who knows or hears of you.

What kind of legacy are you leaving right now?

Real Faith. Lived Out.

I wrote this post awhile ago, but for some reason left it as a draft and never made it public. I re-read it and decided to post it without changing much of anything. There’s some good stuff here. Good job younger Ben. :

Studying this week from Exodus 19:1-9 for the Bible study on Sunday morning, I was intrigued by the Life Application Bible’s statement under Exodus 19:5.  The application says, “God chose one nation and put it through a rigorous training program, so that one day it could be a channel for his blessings to the whole world.”

When I see this:  Israel was set apart in order to show the world how to properly live in communion with God and was set apart so God could work out His blessings to the whole world, I see a responsibility for each one of us who has been saved through faith in Jesus Christ.

Through the love, compassion, forgiveness, grace, mercy and acceptance of Jesus Christ, we all have the ability to establish a relationship with God. Each of us is able to freely approach God, and God wants us to approach Him, to receive the free gift of eternal life through Christ Jesus, His Son.

When we have established this relationship, what then is our purpose? The name of this blog I’ve entitled, “Real Faith. Lived Out.” I believe that is what God has called each of His children to do. Through the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20), we as followers of Jesus Christ are called to go and make disciples. We are called to go tell people about the life-changing relationship with Jesus that we have experienced, that is available to every individual in this world.

As we go throughout the world doing this and living this out, I believe God is working out to the whole world His blessing through us. We are the vessel God uses to extend His Word, grace, mercy, and Gospel.