“The Heart of the Matter”

(Matthew 15: 15-16) 15 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Explain to us the parable that says people aren’t defiled by what they eat.”  16 “Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked. 17 “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. 18 But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. 19 For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. 20 These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.”


Jesus came to bring freedom…freedom from sin, and yes, freedom from the legalism of the past.  The life and death of Christ, though not easy or simple in any way, took place so that our faith could be simplified and our redemption more accessible. 

In his ministry, Jesus told many parables and gave even more examples of and metaphors for the moral situations we face in life.  He was a gifted teacher…a relatable source of God’s own mind and heart…and through His words we find that a life of faithfulness and righteousness is attained through living out one word:  love.

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”  (Matthew 22:37-40)

It isn’t about rules…what foods are bad, when to wash your hands, whether or not you should shave your beard or get a tattoo…rather, it is a matter of the heart.  In all things, the condition of the heart is what governs our choices and actions. 

I teach children at church, so I spend a lot of time finding ways to make scripture easy for them to relate to their lives, and I have found that the thing that I say to them most is that it all comes back to love.  Is it hard to memorize a bunch of laws?  Sure it is!  Is it hard to remember to love others?  Nope.  Well, it certainly shouldn’t be hard to remember that.  Sure, it’s hard to do at times, but we all know that it’s what we are supposed to do.  Right? 

Think about the ten commandments:  would you commit any of them if you are loving God first and others next (above yourself)?  Noooo.  Many times we try to trick ourselves and justify things we are doing that are contrary to the truth…things that don’t reflect God’s love.  When we are not reflecting His love, we are rejecting Him, because His very existence is just that…love

7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.  (1 John 4: 7-12)

Because of Jesus, the very embodiment of love…because He came that we might have abundant life…because He died to free us…we don’t have to hem and haw over every detail of our lives wondering, “Is this wrong?  Am I sinning?”  It’s basic really.  Ask yourself, “Is this loving?  Is this kind?”  If the answer is no…well, don’t chance it.  The acronym that was so famous in the 90’s might be corny but it’s always applicable to EVERY situation:  WWJD  (What Would Jesus Do)?  The answer is:  Jesus would love


Prayer:  Heavenly Father, help me to keep a watch over my heart and what I allow to occupy its space.  Fill me with Your love, so that I am walking and living a righteous and faithful life, reflecting and magnifying You in all that I do. 

“You Gotta Have Faith”

(1 Kings 17: 10-15)  When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” 11 As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”

12 “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.” 13 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’” 15 She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16 For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.


Choosing to obey when it’s difficult is putting your faith into action.  I’ve always wondered why the widow in this account chose to believe what Elijah was telling her… promises that must have seemed lofty and somewhat sketchy at best.  But she did it.  I wonder, did she give up the last of her food because of the strength of her faith, or was it more of a gamble at seeing if this God would be true to His promises?  Maybe she said to herself, “It’s our last meal anyway.  We are going to starve either way, so I may as well feed this fellow too.”  However, it is also possible that something within her organically and innately just believed.

In our own lives, our faith often mirrors this widow…on both ends of the spectrum.  Sometimes our faith is strong and we jump right off of the cliff, KNOWING that we’ll be cushioned and held.  Yet at other times, it really is just a gamble.  We want to believe, but circumstance has brought us to a place of insecurity and doubt…yet off we go, over the edge, because we have nothing left to lose. 

Whether you act out of excitement or because of desperation, it’s all faith.  The faith is there, because movement and action…obedience…they require faith.  So don’t worry that when you jumped you were desperate or afraid, questioning even.  YOU JUMPED.  That’s what matters.  Moving forward in obedience…that’s faith.  When you’re still just standing there on the edge, questioning…pondering…trying to figure it all out…deciding…that’s when you should be worried about the measure of your faith.  Big faith isn’t always believing for the miraculous.  Sometimes big faith is making the sacrifices that are necessary.  Big faith is active.  So even when it hurts, move.  Even when you’re afraid, just jump.  Step over the edge and revel in the freedom that comes when you just obey.


Prayer:  Heavenly Father, I recognize that weakness comes from being sedentary.  Give me faith to continue on, no matter the sacrifice, regardless of how I feel.  My strength comes from You alone, and I am made stronger in my faith by moving forward at all times.  I trust You, Lord, in all things.  Amen.

You Want Me To Do WHAT??

(John 13:12-15) 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

Feet can be very gross.  Unless you have just been for a pedicure, your feet are probably kind of rough and maybe even sweaty and stinky.  I don’t know of anyone, beyond maybe a person with a weird hang-up with feet, who would just think, “Man, I really want to get on my knees and scrub those dirty feet!”  It’s an awkward, uncomfortable, and undesirable thing to think of doing!  Well, serving often means doing the stuff that no one else wants to do.  It is having the humility to go beyond your talents and the things you’re comfortable with, and just doing what needs to be done.  Jesus was a gifted teacher and somewhat of a celebrity…everyone knew who he was.  To his disciples, he was Teacher and Lord — their rabbi.  Jesus would never have been asked to wash their feet!  No one had to ask, because he selflessly volunteered.  He was doing what all good teachers understand is necessary — he was modeling the desired behavior.  Did Jesus mean that we should all literally get down and wash one another’s feet?  Well, yes and no.  Yes — because sometimes an old-fashioned foot washing can be a symbolic and spiritual way to show humility and love toward someone else, just as Christ did when he washed the feet of his disciples.  No — because Jesus wasn’t just modeling physical behavior.  He was showing his disciples (and ultimately us) what it means to humble and to have the heart of a servant. 

Galatians 5:13 says, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh ; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”  Because of the love and the sacrificial blood of Christ, we have been set free.  When we use that freedom to serve our own flesh, we are squandering the priceless and precious blood that was shed — the blood that paid the price for our freedom.  Serving others takes on many different shapes, colors and sizes.  It changes and shifts as we grow and mature in the Lord.  Sometimes it looks like ugly feet waiting to be scrubbed (you know…like changing poopy diapers and rocking crying babies in the nursery on Sunday…like scrubbing church toilets and floors…like pulling weeds and stacking chairs…), and sometimes it looks like that thing you’ve always wanted to do (you know…that thing you know you’re good at…that thing you feel called to do).  I’ll be honest, there’s a lot of the dirty feet…and more dirty feet means more hands are needed to wash them!  Literally, figuratively…either way, there’s work to be done.  If Jesus Christ — Savior of the world, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Alpha and Omega — could get down on his knees and wash the dirty feet of his followers…if he could suffer humiliation and pain like nothing we have ever known…then surely there is nothing that any of us is above doing when it comes to serving one another.  We are the church…we are family…brothers and sisters in Christ…joint heirs with Jesus.  It takes a village, friends.  When we come together in love, humility, and with a spirit of commitment and purpose, there is nothing we cannot accomplish. 

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, it is by You and through You that we are free.  May we never waste that freedom on selfish motivations.  Instead, help us to find joy in serving…however YOU see fit for us to do so.  Give us willing hearts, and humble spirits, so that we reflect You in all that we do.  Amen.

“There Will Come a Day”

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”  And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.  (Revelation 21: 3-7, NLT)

Of every promise in the Bible, this is the one that I hold onto with the most desperation.  I can’t tell you the many times that I have had to close my eyes for just a moment to meditate on this very thing – to know, on the bad days…when I am hurting…when I am frustrated…when I am lowly and discouraged, that one day I have the promise of EVERYTHING being made new…restored…perfected…that one day my tears will forever be wiped away by the very hand that created me.  That’s something I can be comforted by no matter what happens.

I can’t help but wonder…what will that feel like?  It is truly unimaginable!  We live amongst so much heartache and hatred.  We face it every day of our lives.  It’s in everything that we watch and listen to, and it’s on the faces of strangers that we encounter, and even in the eyes of our loved ones.   Because of the rapid progression of sin in our world, hostility, distrust and heavyheartedness have become commonplace for us all.  We are used to it, so a life lived without that is not something that I think any of us could ever envision.  However, even though I can’t fathom it, I desire it.  Life without worry, pain, uncertainty, and depression – without hatred, vengefulness, mockery, and prejudice – without death, destruction, destitution, and despair – I don’t know this life…but I want to live it.  I am not worthy of this sort of freedom, but because of God’s love for me, for us, it is a gift that He stands holding out to us.  We simply have to reach out to Him and accept it.

It’s like a gift card.  It may not seem like much at the moment – just a seemingly small thing – but it holds so much promise!  I can tuck it away, and sometimes just knowing that it’s there is enough to make me smile.  When I am having a bad day, I know that I have the promise of something good, something that is completely free to me.  Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Chick-fil-A, they are all great and something nice to look forward to, but SALVATION, PEACE, ETERNAL JOY… now those are promises that I can live for each day!

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, thank You for the promise of a day when we all will forever be reunited with You.  Though things here get worse what seems like every day, there is nothing I can’t endure when I know that I have the fully redeemable gift of freedom in You that never expires.  Until that day, I will hold onto that assurance, and I will give this life the best of me while I am here.  May it be all for Your glory.  Amen.

Proof Through the Night

Matthew 1:18-25- Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But, as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “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. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save (free) his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means God with us). When Joseph woke from his sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name, Jesus.

 

July 4, 1776. When we hear that date, what word enters our thoughts before any other? Freedom. Although fireworks have become a little more commonplace these days, I still catch myself getting a little teary-eyed at times when I see them light up the sky. For a moment, I’m overcome with gratitude for the sacrifices made, pride for the victory that was won, and a genuine contentment that overshadows any disappointment I feel because I understand how it feels to be free and live in a land of opportunity.

And yet, the freedom I’ve just described, doesn’t even begin to compare to the freedom I feel because of Jesus Christ. I was bound by depression, extremely low self-esteem, panic, shame, guilt, etc. until I encountered the One that could set me free from all of that. It is, after all, the very reason He came to live among us, right? She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save (free) his people from their sins…

So many people are quick to write Him off, because they can’t “see” Him. They aren’t sure that He “really works.” It all just seems too easy to be true. But- just as this fact is true for everything else- you have to experience something to know how effective it is; You have to take time to get to know someone before you can knowledgeably determine their character and abilities, right? I guarantee, if you open your heart up to Him and allow Him to reveal Himself to you, you’ll see what I’m talking about.

There have been several times throughout my life when my faith was tested. Severe sickness, losing a loved one unexpectedly, false accusations, loss, criticism, financial surprises, infertility, etc. etc. etc. knocked on my door a time or two, and led me into some extremely dark times. But, because my freedom did not lie in my circumstances, but in the One Who set me free, I knew I’d be okay. I’m not saying I didn’t shed a tear or deal with worry; I’m just saying that I was quickly reassured somehow by Him that all would work out in the end. I felt His peace. I saw His hand working in my life. I watched situations “mysteriously” turn themselves completely around “without explanation.”

Jesus Christ has been tried and proven to be alive and working on behalf of His children… on behalf of me.

If you read the words of our national anthem, you’ll understand this beautiful song was written in the midst of a chaotic battle… … …  but one sight… was enough to provide hope that in the end, the victory would belong to our great nation:

Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?

Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,

O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?

And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.

Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

As I mentioned before, I’ve fought many battles during my Christian life. And I’ll jump on out there and guarantee you that the biggest majority of us have. But, just as bombs, cannons, and gunfire provided the light that made our flag visible in the midst of war- somehow – the situations that blow up in our faces during the darkest times of our lives are sometimes the very things that draw our attention back to Him. We look up and see Him standing there in the midst of chaos and raging battles, and that’s enough proof that we will be more than okay.

There is so much freedom offered through Jesus Christ. If you don’t know Him, today is a good day to let Him introduce Himself to you. You won’t regret it. No one ever regrets the gift of freedom…

 

Prayer: Lord, thank You for the freedom we have in this great country. But, I thank You even more for the freedom You provided us eternally by coming to this earth just to give Your life for us. Help me draw closer to You, fully live in this freedom, and share it with all those around me. In Your name, amen.

 

 

 

My Ear is at the Door

Deuteronomy 15:12-17- If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. And when you let him go free from you, you shall not let him go empty handed. You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your wine press. As the Lord your God has blessed you, you shall give to him. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today. But, if he says to you, “I will not go out from you,” because he loves you and your household, since he is well-off with you, then you shall take an awl, and put it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your slave forever. And to your female slave you shall do the same…

 

Because of how wicked the world has been, when we hear the word “slave” we immediately think of someone suffering the worst of conditions. However, as you can tell by reading this chapter in Deuteronomy, God had a much different concept of how “slaves” were to be treated. They were paid, taken care of, loved, treated with respect, etc. They were “contracted out,” if you will, for a certain amount of time… like a business agreement, per se.

Picture this- the average American, required to work to survive in this world, limited “fun” time, getting up early, working late, rushing to get personal things accomplished during those precious evening hours, catch a few zzzz’s – only to repeat the same thing again the next day – until that dreamed of day you get to (or got to)… retire! No more schedules, deadlines, requirements, or restrictions. You’re free to come and go as you please. *Sighs* Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Seems hard to imagine anyone wanting to stay tied to an employer. If you’re given freedom, and you’re financially secure, why wouldn’t you take it? Could you really love someone you worked for that much?

Apparently so.

Visualizing that scenario humbles my heart. There have been a few times throughout my life that I felt a gratitude toward someone that couldn’t satisfactorily be shown; an appreciation that couldn’t be expressed sufficiently; an admiration that remained inadequately conveyed. Still, there has never been one that I continuously fall short of demonstrating my affection for so much as that of Jesus Christ.

People that don’t know Him on a personal level look at Christians like we’re still “slaves” of some type. All they understand is “they don’t say that, do this, or go there.” To unbelievers, we only appear to follow a set of rules day in and day out, taking away from the pleasures of life. What they aren’t able to comprehend without experiencing it first, is that freedom that He gives. We accept Him as our Lord and Master. But then, He immediately bestows on us a grace that is undeserved. He transforms our lives. There’s a measure of mercy there to cover our mistakes and shortcomings, but when you encounter His love, you don’t abuse it or take it lightly. Instead, you march over to that door and lean your ear against that post.

I don’t run away with my freedom. No, I stay close to Him. I dwell daily with Him. I’m “well-off” with Him, and my love for Him is undying and unmatched. Trying to live in a way that I feel would please Him is that outward expression of that inner love and devotion… and it’s a lot less painful than that of earlier times!

The unconditional love He has for us is worth giving up everything for. There’s a special bond between us and our Savior that can’t be paralleled. There’s nothing more amazing than realizing a life of service and dedication to Christ provides more freedom than one can explain or even comprehend. There’s nothing anyone or anything could offer me that would make me want to leave Him. He’s been too good to me. That’s why I’m standing with “my ear to the door.”

 
Prayer: Lord, thank You for loving us like You do, and providing us with a freedom that goes beyond our comprehension. There’s no way to repay You or express my appreciation for what You do in my life, but I’ll do what I can to bring glory to Your name. I love You, Lord. Help me live a life that makes you smile! In Your precious name, amen.

“I Give Myself Away”

(Psalm 43: 3-4, NLT)

3 Send out your light and your truth;

    let them guide me.

Let them lead me to your holy mountain,

    to the place where you live.

4 There I will go to the altar of God,

    to God—the source of all my joy.

I will praise you with my harp,

    O God, my God!

Looking back on the early days of my experience with motherhood — the pregnancy, the birth, bringing home a helpless infant and having no idea what to do with him or how to care for him, potty training, learning to discipline…just the newness of it ALL — the common denominator…the thing that governed my every waking moment…was sacrifice.  I sacrificed my body, my mind, my rest, and even my individuality.  I lost myself in this tiny human being, because becoming a mother meant that I must lay down my life in surrender to this gift — motherhood.  Those early days were hard ones.  I was learning so much…and I felt like I was failing every day in different ways.  Yet somewhere amid the loss of sleep, the crying (both my son’s tears as well as my own), the mistakes, and the endless amount of poop (soooo much poop), I found joy that filled me to the brim.  My sacrifices for my son were the source of what felt like the greatest joy of my life.  I had been given this extraordinary treasure, and because I felt endlessly unworthy to receive such a blessing, I willingly paid each price that this baby boy required of me. 

This is the great mystery of sacrifice — while inconvenient, and often painful, it has this odd way of producing joy.  It feels good to give.  It makes our hearts sing and and our spirits soar.  It is in the act of sacrifice that we find our greatest joys, our every freedom, and the fullness of peace and restoration that we seek. 

The fabric of who we are, what makes us human and sets us apart from the rest of creation, is that we are the image of God Himself.  He breathed into us His own breath of life.  He created us to love Him, to honor Him, to be like Him.  It is the natural inclination of our spirits to desire closeness with our Heavenly Father, and it is only through the mutual sacrifice of God and His children that this intimacy is fulfilled.  Sin is what separates us from God, but because of the blood of Christ (the greatest sacrifice) we have full and complete access to the throne of God — all of His love, grace, provision, and peace belongs to us.  We have only to kneel at the altar of God, in His holy place — His presence, and sacrifice our lives (every hope, every plan, every part of who we are).   When we offer ourselves to Him, in spirit and in truth, we become a living sacrifice, and that sacrifice is what unlocks the door to all that He has to offer us. 

So we must find within ourselves that sacrificial love, so often freely given to our friends and family, and we must be willing to pour it out on onto Jesus.  Like the oil from that alabaster box so treasured by Mary, we must break open our hearts and yield our everything, the most precious parts of who we are and what we hold dear, to the Lord. 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for this reminder today that a life without sacrifice is a joyless one.  Help me have the devotion and strength to lay down my life fully, for others as well as for You — and when I start to get weary of the pain and struggle that sometimes comes with it, help me find the joy that comes from pleasing You.  Amen.

491?

(Matthew 18:21-22 ESV) Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.


Forgiving is love’s toughest work, and love’s biggest risk. If you twist it into something it was never meant to be, it can make you a doormat or an insufferable manipulator. Forgiving seems almost unnatural. Our sense of fairness tells us people should pay for the wrong they do. But forgiving is love’s power to break nature’s rule. ~Lewis B. Smedes

You’ll be glad you read what I’m about to say because it is profound. Are you ready? Here it is… “Forgiving someone is hard to do.”

See? I told you. It’s tough. There are many reasons why forgiving someone is difficult. It’s unnatural. It feels bad. We feel entitled to be angry. Sometimes, we  feel justified in holding a grudge. I could go on.

In this conversation between Jesus and Peter, we are made aware of how very important it is to forgive someone. Peter makes a good faith effort to forgive by offering to do so 7 times. Jewish law required forgiveness to be given 3 times daily. So, Peter was being very generous by offering a 2x+1 deal. Jesus’ counter offer seemed ludicrous; 490 times! 490? Ok. I can do that.

But what about 491? Nope. Not in a million years. Ain’t gonna happen. Have you ever thought about the limits of forgiveness? I don’t believe that Jesus was trying to teach Peter to limit forgiveness. Instead, He was very clearly teaching “unlimited forgiveness.”

If we’re keeping count, then we probably haven’t really forgiven anyway.

If at 457, we’re counting up to 490, we’re more concerned about tracking the offense than releasing it. To be like Jesus, we must not only forgive 490 times, but we must also be willing to extend forgiveness at 491. If you can do that you are well on your way to being a mature disciple of Christ. And if you can’t, maybe you ought to ask Jesus to forgive you for not forgiving! Forgive me for saying so… 🙂


PRAYER: Father, thank you for forgiving me when I was so unworthy of it. Help me to be like You and extend forgiveness when it is needed. #forgiveness=freedom. Amen