The Heart Speaks

“The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God…'” (Psalm 14:1).

In recent years, this verse has been applied to people who do not believe in God. We may come to this verse and immediately think of atheists or even agnostics, but in ancient times there was no such thing as an atheist or agnostic. Everyone was religious and everyone believed in at least some type of deity. Although this verse could apply to people who don’t believe in God, I believe the psalmist has something else in mind as well.

The key to understanding this verse is the word “heart.” What do we say in our hearts? I’m reminded of the wonderfully simple (yet profoundly deep) advice given in Proverbs 4:23: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” What we keep in our hearts is what we love and desire. A person can believe in God but not desire God. A person can confess God but not love God. A person can say they are following God and do nothing to follow Him. The psalmist is not speaking about whether or not a person acknowledges God’s existence. The psalmist is concerned with what is in our hearts.

If God is the focus of our heart’s desire, then that will be seen in how we live our life. Our desires become our priorities. If we desire watching TV, then we will find ways to watch TV. If we desire a healthy relationship with someone, then we will make sacrifices to please them and honor them. If we desire God, then we will want to worship and serve Him every opportunity we get. We will want to be of use in His kingdom and tell others about Him. We will model our lives after Christ. We will spend time contemplating the things of God. What a person desires is usually pretty obvious. Others can see it in their lives. Even if we can fool others, we can’t fool God. The psalmist says that if we are wise, then we will love and desire God with all of our heart.

The Story of God

As Christians, we must have a working knowledge of the story of God. It is essential to questions of identity. We must know who we are and where we fit in the story. It is equally important that we be able to explain why the world is the way it is and what God is going to do about it. Knowing the story of God gives us hope. We long for the next chapter in the story. We also need to possess this knowledge so we can tell others. The story of God is good news, and everyone needs to hear it.

Although the Bible is a big book comprised of many smaller books and letters, the story of God can be summed up rather simply. There are six movements we should be able to identify. It begins with CREATION. God created and everything was good. After creation, the humans that were placed in the garden of Eden sinned. We refer to this as THE FALL. The introduction of sin into the world explains why the world is the way it is today. Next, God calls Abraham and promises to make a great nation from his descendants. This is the story of ISRAEL. God has a plan to address the sin problem that is wreaking havoc on the world. Through Israel, comes the Messiah, JESUS. He is the Son of God and dies on the cross for the sins of the world and then overcomes death by being raised from the grave on the third day. Jesus’ apostles begin a new community of people called the CHURCH. These followers of Jesus are to continue His ministry on earth. Finally, Jesus will return one day to right all wrongs and the people of God will dwell with God in the NEW HEAVENS AND NEW EARTH. There will be no sin, death, sickness, etc. Everything will be as it should be. This is the story of God.

May we commit this story to heart so that we may be encouraged by it and share it with others. May it fill us with hope as we anticipate the return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus.

Today

“This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

There are many verses one could begin their day with, but this one seems especially appropriate. We need to be reminded daily that each day is a gift from God. This is the framework for how we should see each day, but how often do we view our day through a different lens? We may use different words such as burdensome, hectic, stressful or others to begin the day. Our day may have elements of stress or burden, but it is essential that we do not lose sight of the bigger picture.

We live in a day and age where calendars and notifications rule. We plan weeks and months in advance. We worry about next week, next month, and next year. Scripture calls us to live in the moment. Jesus tells us to pray for our “daily bread” (Matt 6:11). Don’t worry about next week or next year. Focus on today. We can do something about today. God blesses us so that we can bless us others. God has given us this day, so how will we bless someone in return? Tomorrow, this day will be gone. We will not be able to get it back. We must focus on the moment we are in and wisely use the time in which we have been blessed.

The psalmist tells us to “rejoice and be glad.” He doesn’t say, “I hope you feel like rejoicing and are glad.” We are to choose each day to rejoice and be glad. Certainly, there will be days when tragedy strikes or something else happens, and it will be difficult or even impossible to rejoice, but the majority of our days should be filled with rejoicing and gladness. If they are not, then we do not see things as we should. It could be that we have a misunderstanding of God and His plan, or it could be that we are giving too much credence to worldly things (work, politics, etc.) and not enough to God. As Christians, we should always be aware of who is in control and what He is up to in the world. God is working toward this goal each day, and because of this, we can rejoice.

Submit to God

“Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)

We are in a battle. This is not news to many. You don’t have to be religious or attend worship to understand there is a war raging. We know it when we open our laptops or turn on our TV. We know it because we have lived long enough to endure multiple attacks. We know casualties of war, and we have witnessed the devastation of this attack on the souls of human beings. For many, a battle is a reasonably accurate description of life.

What are we to do? James provides a brief answer in 4:7. Most Christians are familiar with James’ declaration to “resist the devil.” We know the temptations we face, and we understand this as a charge to run away from lust, greed, envy, anger, or any other ploy that Satan uses. The problem is that we sometimes forget the first part of the verse. The first step in resisting the devil is submitting ourselves to God. If we focus on God and give more of our time and attention to Him, then we might not face the struggles with lust, greed, envy, anger, etc. that we were dealing with before.

If the best way to combat Satan is to submit to God, then busyness and distraction are sometimes more significant threats than lust or envy. The first question we need to contemplate in our battle against the evil one is, “What is taking me away from God?” A busy schedule might not seem like a threat at all, but if it keeps us from God, it can be deadly. Spending hours on Facebook may seem innocent, but if it distracts us from prayer, study, and helping others, then Satan is winning. James has provided us with the key to winning the battle. We must submit to God. We must guard against busyness and distraction. We must resist the devil, and he will flee from us.

Real Life

In the temptation of Jesus, Jesus is enticed by Satan with bread after He has been fasting in the wilderness for forty days. Jesus replies, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4). This is an important reminder for all of us. Life is more than the food we eat. We need more than a roof over our head. From time to time, we will hear of someone who is quite wealthy who commits suicide. Some people are puzzled by these accounts. Why would someone who has so much, choose to end their life? It is because life is more than possessions. It is more than food, clothing, cars, houses, etc. One does not live by bread alone.

 

The true source of life is God. Every person needs spiritual nourishment. Without it, we will perish. We need to be connected to God. We need to be fed from his word. We need to be in conversation with Him through prayer. We need to worship the One who is greater than ourselves. This is real life. The problem with modern society is that we often try to make life about things which are not life-giving. A brand-new car, for example, may make you feel good, but it will not make your life better. If we want to improve our lives, then we must turn to God.

 

Jesus promises us abundant life (John 10:10). The life He gives does not begin after we die. It begins now, but we must trust Him and follow Him. The life-giving practices that Jesus wants us to adopt are quite different from the world. Our culture teaches us to seek after more things. Jesus teaches us to desire less stuff. Our culture wants us to believe that fame will fulfill our ultimate desires. Jesus teaches us that being known by God will make us whole. Abundant life is available. We must make sure we are connected to the source and walking in the paths that are truly life-giving.

Changing the World

Bobby Hill, the 13-year-old son of a U.S. Army sergeant stationed in Italy, read a book about the work of Albert Schweitzer. Deciding he wanted to help, Bobby sent one bottle of aspirin to Lt. General Richard C. Lindsay, Commander of Allied air forces in southern Europe and asked if one his planes could parachute the bottle to Dr. Schweitzer’s hospital. An Italian radio station heard of this and issued an appeal for other help. In all, more than $400,000 worth of medical supplies were donated. The French and Italian governments each supplied an airplane to help fly the supplies and the boy to Dr. Schweitzer. Upon meeting Bobby, Dr. Schweitzer said, “I never thought a child could do so much for my hospital.”

 

When we are young and life doesn’t seem as complex, we are able to dream of doing great things for God. But life has a way of turning us to more cynical ways of thinking that actually deaden our faith and make us believe that nothing we can do really makes a difference. Who really believes they can change the world?

 

“There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?” (John 6:9)

 

Part of living the life of faith is to recognize that God is at work in the mustard seed, the few loaves and fishes, the storms, and the everyday elements of our lives. A question we should all ponder is this: How is your faith finding expression in your everyday life? Occasionally someone does something so big and grand for God that it catches everyone’s attention. Give God glory for that, but also realize that this is rare. By far the greatest and most amazing things done for God are hidden from all but His eyes. The bread for a hungry soul, water for the thirsty, love for the lonely, a listening ear for the frightened, a helping hand for the helpless, or mailing a bottle of aspirin to a General. Those are the things that God can use to change the world. We change the world when we change our world. One small act of love at a time.

 

Time

“Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Genesis 2:3).

 

The first thing God deems holy is time. He sets apart the Sabbath day as a time to rest and reflect on all that God has done. The Sabbath will go on to play an integral part in the life of Israel. It is one of the ten commandments. It distinguishes them from other nations. When Israel is taken into captivity, the observance of the Sabbath becomes a counter-cultural practice. Israel views time differently than the people around them.

 

This distinct view of time for God’s people continued into the New Testament. Christians began gathering on the first day of the week to worship God (since this was the day Jesus was raised from the grave). Even though Jews and Gentiles might be going to work, Christians stopped to pray, sing, share the Lord’s Supper, and listen to God’s word. The people of God do not allow the culture to dictate how they view time, or what they do with it. They view time as belonging to God, and are therefore more than willing to cease from what culture says is normal in order to honor God.

 

What we do with our time matters. Paul instructs us to “be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15,16). We are to honor God with our time. The world may look at worship or Bible study as a waste of time, but for the Christian, we see it as a way of acknowledging and praising the Creator of time. To cease from our daily activities in order to honor God is an essential part of the Christian life. Our actions related to time are a profession of our devotion. We devote time to whatever has captured our heart. For many, this is entertainment, sports, family, politics, work, etc., For the Christian, however, our time should first and foremost be devoted to God. Although these other things are meaningful in their own ways, they are ultimately meaningless if we fail to honor God who has given us life, time, and the means to enjoy them.

The Crux

What is the Christian message today? What is the essential core of Christian teaching?

What is the crux? Because nothing has happened in the past 2,000 years to change God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or the needs of man, today’s message is the same as it was in the beginning.

At Pentecost, the first sermon that was given by the apostles of Jesus remains the authentic message: “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know— this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power…This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses…Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:22-24,32,36).

 

Those who gladly responded to this message repented of their sins and were baptized in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38). This was the beginning of the church. Throughout the lifetime of the apostles, the essential, saving message was always the same: Jesus Christ was crucified, buried, resurrected, seen by witnesses, ascended, is reigning, and is coming again.

 

We will never outgrow these fundamental truths. The popular “theology light” or “health and wealth gospel” centering on felt needs and consumerism perverts the original message. It’s only in the cross and the resurrection that God forgives our sins and puts us right with Himself (Romans 1:16,17; 4:25). Faithful believers will want to “know Him and the power of his resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). May we be able to say with the apostle Paul: “But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).

Fully Committed

“Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, since I know that you will do even more than what I say.” (Philemon 21)

 

Have you ever sat at the dinner table with a group of people, and noticed that everyone has finished their meal? Everyone, that is, except for the child who is also sitting with you? He stares at his food and asks, “How many bites do I need to take to be finished?” He wants to know the least amount of bites it will take to be excused from the table. He is interested in the bare minimum and nothing more. This is pretty typical behavior for a young child, but if we were all honest with ourselves, we would admit there are areas of life where we behave the same way. In those areas, all we want to know is what we need to do to get by.

 

Paul makes a fascinating statement in his letter to Philemon. He boasts of his confidence that Philemon will do even more than he asks. He is certain Philemon will go above and beyond what is required of him. Paul knows Philemon, and when it comes to following Jesus, he knows he is not just interested in the bare minimum. Philemon is all in. He is committed. He is fully devoted to serving God and living out his faith.

 

What do people see when they look at you? Do they see a Christian who is only interested in the bare minimum, or do they see a Christian who is entirely committed to following Jesus? This is not about perfection; it is about commitment. It’s fine for a person to stumble while striving to go above and beyond. As Christians, we are to love God with ALL of our heart, mind, and soul (Matthew 22:36,37). We are to seek FIRST the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33). Before becoming a Christian, we are told to count the cost (Luke 14:25-33). Christianity is not about bare minimums or doing just enough to scrape by in life. It is about understanding that Jesus died to save us, and therefore, we now fully, wholly, and completely give our lives to Him. Don’t hold back anything!

A Brick

A successful businessman was traveling down a neighborhood street, going a bit too fast in his new Jaguar. All of a sudden, THUD, a brick smashed into the door of his expensive car. He slammed on the brakes, put the car in park, and swung open the door, bounding out of the car, desperate to catch the culprit.

 

He spotted a young boy, and thinking him to be the one who threw the brick, ran up to him, grabbed the boy around the arm, pushed him up against the rear bumper of a parked car, and shouted, “Just what do you think you are doing? That’s a brand-new car and that brick you threw is going to cost a lot of money. Why did you do it?”

 

“Please, mister, please,” the young boy pleaded. “I’m sorry, but I didn’t know what else to do. I threw the brick because no one else would stop.” Tears were dripping down the boy’s cheeks as he pointed around the parked car to another young boy laying on the ground. A toppled over wheelchair was on the ground next to him.

 

“It’s my brother,” the first boy explained. “He rolled off the curb and fell out of his wheelchair, and I can’t lift him up.” Sobbing, the boy asked the businessman, “Would you please help me get my brother back into his wheelchair? He’s hurt, and he’s too heavy for me to move.”

 

Quite surprised, and moved beyond words, the businessman tried to swallow the rapidly swelling lump in his throat. He walked over and lifted the brother off the ground and into his wheelchair. Taking out his handkerchief, he wiped the scrapes and cuts, checking to see that everything was going to be okay.

 

“Thank you, thank you,” both young boys said. The businessman then watched as the protective young boy pushed his brother down the sidewalk and toward their home.

 

It was a long walk back to the Jaguar for the businessman. A long, slow walk. He never did repair the side door of his car. He kept the dent to remind him to not go through life so fast that someone has to throw a brick to get his attention.

 

Does it take a brick to get your attention, or are your eyes and ears opened to people in need?