“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. 

“Come to Me”

(Matthew 11: 28-30, The Message) “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

If you have come to the place where you are so tired that you’re saying it every day, and you’re dreading doing the things that you once loved to do, then you’ve gone too far for too long. 

When we think about strongholds in our lives, our minds typically go to the “big” things like anxiety, depression, or addiction (to name a few), but did you know that being overtired can also be a stronghold over you?  A stronghold is something that is part of your life that you cannot seem to bring under control.  Strongholds are lies told by Satan, with which we have come into agreement.  These things take hold of parts of (or even all of) our lives, and we have adopted them as our norm.  Becoming too tired is a direct result of overcommitting and lack of self control.  We have to learn, at some point, to use wisdom when we are asked to do things.  We have to ask ourselves, “Is this too much for me right now?  Can I fully embrace this commitment with a Godly spirit of excellence?  Am I saying yes to this because of my flesh or because of my spirit?”  The lie here (that becomes a stronghold in our lives) is that if we say no we are not being good friends, children, spouses, parents, employees, or even Christians. 

The Bible reminds us in 2 Corinthians 10: 3-5, “We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.”  Every lie that Satan tells is evident when we recognize that if it is contrary to the word of God, if it keeps us from knowing and serving God with full and complete joy, then it is a LIE!  We have to expose these lies for what they are, and cast them down, as we have been given all of the power and authority by Jesus Christ to do! 

Being continually beat down, tired, sluggish and stressed is NOT part of God’s will for your life…nor for any of our lives.  It is bondage.  It keeps us from Him, it keeps our family lives in disarray, it tears down our physical wellness, and it slows our minds…leaving us vulnerable to spiritual and mental attacks from the enemy. 

So what do we do about it?  Well first of all, say no…and say it a lot, at least for a while.  Slow down and breathe.  Take time to enjoy things and people again.  Mediate on the word of God and ask the Lord to reveal the things in your life that have led you into bondage and allowed this stronghold to be built.  Then tear that sucker down!  Replace it with the good things that God intends for our lives, and make the Lord your fortress and shield against these kinds of attacks on your spirit. 

Remember 2 Timothy 1:7… “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”  We have power over the enemy when we recognize his wiles and reject his lies. 

Today and every day, begin anew, with a refreshed spirit and a new perspective on how you intend to lead your life from this point forward.  We have to be our best selves if we want to make any sort of difference in this world. 

St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Do few things but do them well.  Simple joys are holy.”  There is something quite sacred about taking the time to experience joy, and to be clear and focused enough to do few things with great excellence.  The result is a tremendous testimony and a positive witness to the grace and blessings that come from God our Father.  Do not let Satan lie to you any longer.  You do not have to be so tired. 

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, I cast down the strongholds of stress and exhaustion in my life and I replace them with joy and rest.  Thank you for making me whole, for giving me peace, and for helping me have the wisdom to see the lies of the enemy and the boldness to say no to the things that will cause me to become burned out and exhausted.  I embrace your perfect will for my life.  Amen.

“All the things we want are free…”

(1 John 2: 15-17) 15 Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. 16 For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. 17 And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.

There is freedom in simplicity. 

I always thought by now that my life would be much different than it is.  I must admit, I have been guilty of measuring my success by the standards of society, against the “American Dream,” and by what I have seen in the lives of others my age.  I had imagined more kids, a quiet and settled life in a house somewhere on a shaded street, and a general feeling of easiness that I thought (for some reason unbeknownst to me) would come to my life.  I had been lied to by life…by the things that I’d seen and been enticed to dream of for myself…and it took growing (both in age and in spirit) to realize that this particular ideal is not for everyone…

Everything that the world has to offer comes with a price, and it’s up to us to decide (because God is merciful and allows us the freedom of choice), “Am I willing to pay that price?”  The world is full of things that have been white-washed and bedazzled…situations and circumstances that have been made to look like the norm…all of which begin to feel like expectations…and when we are not careful about our intentions and our plans, we begin to desire much more than we are ever able to attain without greatly sacrificing our time, our resources, and our core values.  That same desire then twists our dreams until they morph into pressures and burdens, and we then become oppressed by a distortion of what used to be pure intentions and innocent goals. 

There isn’t anything wrong with working hard to provide nice things for yourself and/or your family, but what can easily happen is, when you become so focused on (and distracted by) perfection and living up to the rest of the world’s standards, you begin to want more and more…and nothing is ever going to be good enough again.  You see, when the things of this world become your ultimate goal and prize, there is no space left in your life for Christ to live and move.  You may have the house, the cars, the gadgets…you may take big vacations and have the grandest Christmases and birthdays…but at what price?  Do you work so hard, at two and three jobs sometimes, just to maintain a way of life that you really can’t afford?  Are you so deep in debt that you can’t ever see a way out of it?  Do you miss out on making memories and spiritual connections with friends and loved ones because you are always going and working?  Do you forfeit your time in worship because your work comes first?  These are questions you absolutely must be asking yourselves.  We have to be honest with ourselves about our intentions…about the what and why of our lives…because much of the time we are paying a much higher price than we should. 

Matthew 6: 33 tells us, Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

I want to encourage you today, if you have been moving at a pace that is unhealthy both physically and spiritually…if you have lost sight of your purpose and God’s will for your family…if you have become beguiled and distracted by what the world has dangled in front of you all of your life, there is always hope…there is always peace…and there is freedom in simplicity.  Scale back financially.  Make time to sit down and truly enjoy your family.  Give as much and as often as you can.  Just slow down!!  And minimize the stuff.  Keep God at the head and the center of your life, and trust Him enough to let Him take the lead.  Let go.

Free

All those memories

Free

Didn’t cost us anything

All the shiny cars, perfect yards

Chasin’ store bought dreams

We work so hard to have it all

When all the things we want are free

– Free by Little Big Town

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, I realize that I cannot love both the world and You, so I ask that You would forgive me for setting my sights on excess when I know that as long as I seek You above all else, I have all that I will ever need.  I pray that as I let go of the distractions of the world, and I fix my eyes on You, that You would help me to revel in the sweet, simple things of life that are freely given to me by Your kindness and grace.  Thank You for the freedom of simplicity that is found when I am obedient to You.  Amen.