The Condition of My Heart

When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.” The crowds asked, “What should we do?” John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” Luke 3:7-11

#DailyBibleReading  #BibleReadingPlan

  • Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins
  • Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire
  • Give to the poor . . . help those in need

Saying that I’m a Christian doesn’t make me a Christian.

Getting baptized doesn’t make me a Christian.

Repenting of my sins, turning to God, and putting my faith in Jesus makes me a Christian. And if I’ve truly turned from my sins and am following God, my behavior will show it. I’ll love others. I’ll care for the poor and needy. Just like Jesus did.

My actions aren’t the measuring stick that God will use to let me into heaven.

But my actions are a litmus test so I can see the true condition of my heart.

 

 

Advertisements

Am I sinning on Facebook?

They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone. Titus 3:2

My siblings and I quarreled frequently over petty things like a brother having his leg touching “my seat” in the car; a little sister touching my stuff; a sibling “looking” at me (seriously, how is that an offense? My girls get mad about the same thing!).

I’ve noticed in my #DailyBibleReading a command to “avoid quarreling” today as well as a few days ago, so I’m giving this seemingly simple – even childish – concept a bit more thought and study.

  • The original Greek for that verse is: ‘To Be “Amachos” (peaceable) and “Epieikēs” (gracious).’
  • Other verses translated “Quarreling” from the Greek word  “Eris” (altercation, strife, contentious disposition).
  • Strife: “Angry or bitter disagreement over fundamental issues, conflict” (Dictionary.com)

The Bible is full of strife. There was strife between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot’s livestock. The Israelites fought among themselves. There was quarreling in the early church.

Today is no different. Read the Facebook comments on any post on a hot topic. Over the last two days, my Facebook feed has been full of posts about NFL players kneeling at games, Donald Trump, etc. Reading through the posts and comments is pretty depressing, no matter what side you are on. Hate and anger dominate so much of discussion  . . . regardless of the topic.

I’ve made comments or occasionally posted to stir up discussion or make a point . . .  but does it ever lead to peace? In the Bible, “strife” is listed along with sins like murder and sexual promiscuity.

Paul is pretty clear that strife/quarreling are not godly: “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” Galatians 5:19-21 (italics/bold added for emphasis)

Christians are to be known by their love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control. We should avoid altercation and strife. This is a real struggle – how do I stand up for my beliefs and/or influence public discourse without causing strife? How do I fight injustice without causing quarrels? By even writing this blog post am I adding to the strife in the world?

As a Christian, how am I called to respond? I don’t have all the answers, but I do have at least one. I am called to Love.

What is the loving response?

  • To the NFL player kneeling during the anthem? Love Him
  • To Donald Trump cursing at the players? Love Him
  • To the people on Facebook bashing Donald Trump? Love Them
  • To the people on Facebook protesting the NFL? Love Them

My battle isn’t against flesh and blood and my calling isn’t to judge or to solve all the world’s problems. My two greatest commands are to Love God and Love Others. And my Facebook activity should reflect that.

 

 

 

 

The Underdogs

In today’s #DailyBibleReading, my Reading Plan emphasized God’s love for the underdog:

But I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice; only if you stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows; only if you stop your murdering; and only if you stop harming yourselves by worshiping idols. Jeremiah 7:5-6 (italics added for emphasis)

Blessed are those who are generous because they feed the poor.  Proverbs 22:9

A person who gets ahead by oppressing the poor or by showering gifts on the rich will end in poverty.  Proverbs 22:16

Don’t rob the poor just because you can, or exploit the needy in court. For the LORD is their defender. He will ruin anyone who ruins them. Proverbs 22:22-23

If God’s heart is with the underdogs – the orphans, widows, foreigners, and the poor – I need to do a self-check. Where is my heart in terms of those who are suffering or marginalized?  What concrete actions do I need to take to love them like God does?

How to Love God

The LORD says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them. I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation.” Psalms 91:14-16  #DailyBibleReading #BibleReadingPlan

Psalms 91-14-16 NLT

I came across these verses today in my #DailyBibleReading.

How I want to claim these as promises as mine: God will rescue, protect, answer, be with me during times of trouble, honor me, etc. But these aren’t blanket promises. They are for people who love Him and trust Him.

As Christians, our #1 command is to “Love God”. But what does this mean? How do I know if I am loving God the way He wants? Am I loving Him with all my heart, soul and mind?

What does it mean to truly love God?

  • Obeying His commands

  • Loving others

  • Hating evil

  • Holding tightly to God 

  • Searching for Him

  • Praising God

  • Storing up His words in my heart

Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:3

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

You who love the LORD, hate evil! He protects the lives of his godly people and rescues them from the power of the wicked. Psalms 97:10

Be careful to obey all these commands I am giving you. Show love to the LORD your God by walking in his ways and holding tightly to him. Deuteronomy 11:22

Loving God with All My Heart, Soul, and Mind:

Loving God with what is inside of me . . . and with what I do and say.

Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts. Psalms 119:2 

I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Psalms 119:11

Give me understanding and I will obey your instructions; I will put them into practice with all my heart. Psalms 119:34 

My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “LORD, I am coming.” Psalms 27:8 

If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. 1 John 2:4-6 

And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. 1 John 2:17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Musings on the Kingdom of Heaven

#DailyBibleReading #BibleReadingPlan

“But what do you think about this?

A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway.

Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go.

“Which of the two obeyed his father?”

They replied, “The first.”

Then Jesus explained his meaning: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. For John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live, but you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to believe him and repent of your sins.” Matthew 21:28-32 

I am a poster child for “fly over” America. I live in the middle of the United States in a nice, middle-class house. I have a husband, two kids, and a dog. I drive my kids to sports and school.  I am a typical “soccer mom” (minus the soccer and the peppy smile and cute blonde pony-tail . . . I’m the mom hanging out in her car with no make-up and lots of gray hair, trying to finish an overdue library book while drinking lukewarm coffee).

I am rarely pushed out of my comfort zone. I’ve traveled internationally and seen poverty, but it doesn’t touch my day-to-day life. I go to church with a lot of other hard-working, suburban, mid-westerners.

Yes, there are hipsters and hippies and refugees in our midst, but the count is small.

Sure, there are probably a lot of us living paycheck to paycheck, but not too many who are skipping meals due to lack of money.

This is my little piece of the world.

Not to say there isn’t pain and drama and sin in my church – there is – plenty of it. Just like every church in the world, the seats are full of people silently suffering from depression and anxiety. Whether in their past or present life – there is the struggle of addiction to porn, drugs, alcohol and gambling. There is divorce. There are past childhood wounds. There is future baggage being created. There is gossip and anger. There is hurt. There are struggles.

There are also the same faces that are seen every Sunday – the church leaders, the greeters, the childcare volunteers.

And then there are the invisible Christians. There are those who walk in and walk out of church, unnoticed. There are those who never even walk in the doors, because they are ashamed of the baggage they carry. There are brothers and sisters in Christ who go to church in prison as they serve a life-sentence. There are those who never show up on Sunday morning because they are in a nursing home or hospital.

In my mind, I see the “Kingdom of Heaven” being my church on a bigger scale, just without the ongoing sin and pain.

And it some ways it will be. But in other ways it will be much different.

In heaven, the invisible Christians will finally be seen. And they won’t be last. They will be first. The death row inmate who gave his life to Christ in the final hours will be leading the choir. The former thief will be at a place of honor. The invisible Christians – the poor and the hurting – will be those with the best seats at the table.

There will be people from every nationality and ethnicity, worshiping together. The prostitute with the preacher. The murderer with the cop. The man who struggled with same-sex attraction and the man who struggled with judging others. The republican and the democrat. The liberal and the conservative. The socialist, the libertarian, and the communist. The rich and the poor. The elderly and the infant.

Maybe it is time that I open my eyes and see others the way Jesus sees them. Love them the way Jesus loves them. Show compassion like Jesus showed. For all I know the homeless man I pass on the way to church might have a seat reserved for him in heaven, at the right hand of Jesus. The woman who keeps her head down at the grocery store and looks like her life is a mess . . . might be first in the Kingdom of Heaven.

About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Then he said,“I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Matthew 18:1-4 

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” Matthew 5:3

“God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” Matthew 5:10 

“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” Matthew 7:13-14 

“I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” Then Jesus said to his disciples,“I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. Jesus looked at them intently and said,“Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” Matthew 19:23-26 

Matthew 20: Showing up Late for Work

Today’s #BibleReadingPlan had me read Matthew 20:1-19. Recently my pastor taught on this passage, which showed me this parable in a light I’d never seen before. You can listen to the sermon here on Journey Church’s website.  Pastor Phil Human does a great job illustrating what this parable means . . . but I’ll take a shot at summarizing as well.

  • God is the boss of heaven. He is a kind boss. He is merciful. He is generous. He is loving.
  • Someone can turn to God in the twilight of their life – and God will welcome them into heaven just the same as someone who served Him their whole life.
  • Our focus shouldn’t be on what others are doing, how much money they are making or rewards they are getting . . . our focus should be on the tasks God has given us and our relationship with Him.
  • I need to humble myself and be grateful for the gifts God has given me.

The Parable:

6 a.m.: A landowner went into town to hire people to work in his vineyard. He found a group of laborers and agreed to pay them a set amount for working the full day. (For example, $80)

9 a.m.: Same landowner is back in town and sees some people standing around doing nothing. He offered them a job to work in the vineyard for the rest of the day. They didn’t negotiate a pay rate, but he said he’d pay them whatever was right at the end of the day.

Noon: Same as 9 a.m.

3 p.m.: Same as 9 a.m.

5 p.m.: Same as 9 a.m.

7 p.m.: Everyone comes in from work and stands in line to get their pay. They line up from how long they worked. At the front of the line are the guys who only worked for a few hours. I imagine they aren’t even tired after only working a few hours. The landowner hands them each $80.

When the guys who had been working all day see this they start to do the math and get excited, thinking if the landowner paid these guys $80 for working 2 hours they are probably going to get $520 for working 13 hours!

But as they go down the line, the landowner hands everyone $80.

The guys at the end of the line were extremely upset with the landowner and didn’t think he was being fair.

But in reality, he was paying them exactly what he had agreed to pay them. They weren’t getting ripped off. They were being paid the going rate for the work they did. But, the landowner was being kind to the others and the 6 a.m. workers were jealous.

As Pastor Phil said in his sermon, most of us hear this parable and get a little indignant just like the 6 a.m. worker.

But now switch things around a bit . . . let’s get real. I’m not a 6 a.m. worker. I may have been a “Christian” from a young age, but I wasn’t actively running the race until a few years ago. And when it is hot, I take a lot of water breaks. I give into temptation. I get easily distracted from the tasks God has given me.

Am I really a 6 a.m. worker? Not by a long-shot.  Not even a 9 a.m. or noon worker. I’d probably say I’m a 3 p.m. worker . . . but if I’m honest I’m actually a 5 p.m. worker. I spend the majority of my day hanging out in town. And I give God the left-overs of my energy and time.

God asks me to spend time with him. To love him with all my heart and soul. To love my enemies. To love my neighbors. To care for the widows and the orphans. To be patient, kind, merciful and humble. 99% of the time (or more) I am none of these and do none of them.

But God, in his kindness, is going to give me the same reward of admission into heaven as He gave our mentors from the Bible – Peter, Paul, Mary, Stephen. By God’s grace, I will enter heaven just like martyrs, missionaries, apostles and saints.

Instead of getting indignant about the 5 p.m. workers getting $80 . . .  I need to look in the mirror and see myself for what I am: A 5 p.m. worker.

I should be on my knees thanking God for his kindness and mercy because I am being given a gift far more generous and wonderful than I could ever earn or will ever deserve.

 

 

 

Jonah: A Love Story

I love how my #BibleReadingPlan brings together similar themes throughout the Bible. Yesterday’s theme was God’s compassion . . . even for our enemies.

Jonah 1-4 #BibleReadingPlan

I started in Jonah. This is a story I thought I knew inside and out since the time I was a kid in Sunday school. Jonah ran away from God; God pursued him; big fish ate him. He finally obeyed God, but was mad and pouting. I’ve been Jonah a million times.

But yesterday I discovered something different in the book of Jonah.

Why was Jonah so reluctant to go to Nineveh and so mad when God didn’t destroy the Ninevites? Nineveh (located in modern-day Mosul, Iraq) was the capital of the Assyrian Empire. Going back even further in childhood Sunday School lessons . . . remember Noah’s three sons – Shem, Ham and Japheth? After the flood they got off the ark and went out to re-populate the world. Ham’s descendants built the city of Nineveh.

Nineveh and the Assyrian empire were enemies of Israel. Nineveh was the capital of the most powerful empire in the ancient world. Throughout the Old Testament Assyria attacked Israel and had taken it captive (2 Kings 17) and was known as a ruthless nation (Isaiah 10).

Dr. Simon Anglim, a historian in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, wrote:

The Assyrians created the world’s first great army and the world’s first great empire. This was held together by two factors: their superior abilities in siege warfare and their reliance on sheer, unadulterated terror. It was Assyrian policy always to demand that examples be made of those who resisted them; this included deportations of entire peoples and horrific physical punishments. One inscription from a temple in the city of Nimrod records the fate of the leaders of the city of Suru on the Euphrates River, who rebelled from, and were reconquered by, King Ashurbanipal:

I built a pillar at the city gate and I flayed all the chief men who had revolted and I covered the pillar with their skins; some I walled up inside the pillar, some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes.” Such punishments were not uncommon. Furthermore, inscriptions recording these vicious acts of retribution were displayed throughout the empire to serve as a warning. Yet this officially sanctioned cruelty seems to have had the opposite effect: though the Assyrians and their army were respected and feared, they were most of all hated and the subjects of their empire were in an almost constant state of rebellion (185-186).

Psalm 83 #BibleReadingPlan

Yesterday’s reading also took me to a song asking God to destroy Israel’s enemies. There was a group of countries that were plotting to wipe out Israel. They wanted to destroy even the memory of Israel’s existence. They had signed a treaty as allies with the purpose of destroying Israel. The list of countries that had signed the treaty included Assyria. 

In Psalm 83 the author is crying out to God to destroy these enemy countries:

“O my God, scatter them like tumbleweed, like chaff before the wind! As a fire burns a forest and as a flame sets mountains ablaze, chase them with your fierce storm; terrify them with your tempest. Utterly disgrace them until they submit to your name, O LORD. Let them be ashamed and terrified forever. Let them die in disgrace. Then they will learn that you alone are called the LORD, that you alone are the Most High, supreme over all the earth.” Psalms 83:13-18 

God saw the evil in Assyria. He knew what they had done to Israel in the past and the destruction they would do in the future. He had heard the prayers from Israel for the complete decimation of Assyria.

But our God is merciful. Loving. Patient. Compassionate.

When Jonah looked at Nineveh he saw ruthless enemies who deserved to die.

But when God looked at Nineveh he saw “120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals.”  (Jonah 4:11).

God had Compassion.

And he chose to send Jonah to give these enemies a second chance.

Jonah didn’t run from God because he was scared. Or lazy. Or jealous.

Jonah ran away because he hated Nineveh. He wanted Nineveh to be destroyed. He would have rather died than see God showing compassion to Nineveh.

When the people of Nineveh repented and turned from their evil ways God showed them mercy.

“So he complained to the LORD about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, LORD? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people.” Jonah 4:2 

The book of Jonah isn’t just a story about a man spending three days in the belly of a big fish. It isn’t just about a man running away God. It isn’t just about Jonah complaining and a worm eating his shade plant.

The book of Jonah is about God’s compassion for humanity.

It is about God’s slowness to anger and His eagerness to forgive even the worst offenders.

The book of Jonah is a love story.