Category Archives: 05. The Heart

The Heart—Psalm 73

I am writing from a Hilton Hotel patio appointed with the finest in outdoor furniture. It overlooks an enormous pool with its own lazy river. Beyond that there is a golf course appearing in the early morning light. The scripture for today?

But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling, 

My steps had almost slipped.

For I was envious of the arrogant

As I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 

For there are no pains in their death,

And their body is fat. 

They are not in trouble as other men, 

Nor are they plagued like mankind. 

Therefore pride is their necklace; 

The garment of violence covers them. 

Their eye bulges from fatness; 

The imaginations of their heart run riot. 

They mock and wickedly speak of oppression; 

They speak from on high. 

They have set their mouth against the heavens, 

And their tongue parades through the earth. 

 

Therefore his people return to this place, 

And waters of abundance are drunk by them. 

They say, “How does God know? 

And is there knowledge with the Most High?” 

Behold, these are the wicked; 

And always at ease, they have increased in wealth. Psalm 73:2-12

I owe some thanks as well to another friend who faithfully sends me wake-up-from-your-materialistic-dream articles. Today’s just happened to reference Neil Postman’s prophetic “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” And what do I see just beyond the golf course? Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom, of course. God’s timing is impeccable.

I am at the National Asphalt Paving Association’s (NAPA’s) annual conference in Orlando, which is the ultimate reminder that we are a nation governed by interest groups—not just people. This association and a thousand others are encamped at the D.C. gates of our nation to incentivize our leaders to create policy that is favorable toward their industry. I wonder where the National Association of Arms Dealers is having their annual conference?

By being here in Orlando—the Mecca of amusement parks—have my feet come close to stumbling? I could go down this road of self-reproach and condemnation; I know it pretty well, but I believe I will avoid stumbling better by entering into the sanctuary of God and casting my troubled thoughts upon him. From this place I gain perspective by simply reminding myself of things I know to be true about God. He does not discriminate against race, religion, gender, or even trade associations. This might be entirely self-serving, but I don’t believe God has written off every person or family here who has attained a degree of prosperity, as some schools of religious thought (and even this psalm) might propose. I know there are exceptions. I’m sure the imaginations of some in this crowd are running riot with ambition and pride, but there is something else going on here as well.

One gentleman received a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to the asphalt paving industry. In his humble and gracious acceptance remarks, he expressed heart-felt gratitude for God’s agape love—the indestructible and unmerited love that God had shown him in Jesus Christ. Then, as if it were an extension of the same, he acknowledged the people of this industry who had shown him a lifetime of phileo love—fraternal good will in the context of his chosen vocation.

This is not just a convention of prosperous people who are asking, “How does God know? And is there knowledge with the Most High?” This group (if their applause for this man’s words means anything) seems to be keenly aware that God does in fact know and is due thanks for his blessings. I don’t believe these road builders can be classed in a wholesale fashion as “wicked people, always at ease, insulated from pain or death by their increasing wealth, setting their mouths against the heavens, with their tongues parading their glory through the earth.

What is going on here then? I suppose the same thing that is going on all over the earth. God is endeavoring to grow his kingdom, one heart at a time. His kingdom and the affairs of earth strategically overlap where he deems fit and often where his children are leaning into this reality. I’m trying to lean in.

But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; 

I have made the Lord God my refuge, 

That I may tell of all Your works. Psalm 73:28

I had the opportunity to speak to an associate about Islam—the primary religion of his native country. From his childhood, he recalled coups regularly taking place and not-so peaceful transitions of government occurring overnight. While he doffs his cap to religion (as if there might be something going on with a higher power), he sees a grand conspiracy being underway with the religious (from whatever faith) as pawns in a huge game that is driven exclusively by man’s lust for power. We were interrupted by the event’s MC, who was calling us to attention for the Awards Assembly. Power… Is power the end game on earth?

The first wave of awards were given to those people and organizations who funded NAPA’s political action committee, which exists unapologetically to incentivize our nation’s leaders to share our vision of a well funded black (as in asphalt) infrastructure versus a white (as in concrete) one, or worse yet—an underfunded one altogether. One award recipient after another was paraded across the stage, receiving applause and plaques of proportional size for their level of contribution. Plaques and applause as incentives? I don’t sense that heaven is overlapping the earth too much here. In fact I think someone’s imagination may have run at least mildly riot in planning this part of the ceremony. Ugh… that was gross. Due to my flesh, which seems to regularly flirt with stumbling and failure, rarely does an hour pass that I must fall back onto my primary reality:

Nevertheless I am continually with You;

You have taken hold of my right hand. 

With Your counsel You will guide me, 

And afterward receive me to glory. 

Whom have I in heaven but You? 

And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. 

My flesh and my heart may fail, 

But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:23-26

Father, I pray that neither my flesh, nor the flesh of any man, might prosper too long without your loving correction, lest we all run riot, more than we already have, in our imaginations. Before we are utterly swept away in some moment of terror like senseless and arrogant beasts, awaken us from our dream that you might become our end as well as our beginning. Amen.

 

The Heart (Sunday) – Psalm 51:10-17

The Heart – Psalm 51:10-17

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit …The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise … Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You. 

A good deal of my Christian life has been spent with this prayer on the tip of my tongue and it is not hard to imagine why. My heart was unclean, I did not have a steadfast spirit and being cast away and stripped of the Holy Spirit was a real possibility, or so it seemed. Living in this state of uncertainty constituted my broken and contrite heart. I was on fire for God and I did my best to convert other sinners to this revelation of brokenness but I didn’t have many takers. (Thank God!)  I should have given closer attention to the following sentence from today’s passage;

You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering…

 

Nor any offering, we might imagine currying favor with God. The truth is, when I was singing my dirge of brokenness, thinking I was red hot for God, I was missing a good deal of what Christ died for – my ability to rest in his love, in spite of whatever sacrifices I have or have not made.

Where did the idea come from that my heart was unclean and that I deserved to be cast away? In the Middle With Mystery is the long answer to that question. The short answer is that it came from the hell created by religion. Here, I’m not speaking of religion in its organized expressions. I’m speaking of the heart’s entanglement with deception. It was a blatant lie that God’s love and commitment to me were contingent on my performance, yet this was the operative principle in my heart, even as a born again follower of Christ!

There is a certain type of zeal generated when the devout look in upon their depravity. A man will go to great lengths to cleanse himself of the darkness he finds, by way of his sacrifices. He will tithe and serve and congratulate himself for his devotion, knowing that he has made a contribution to God’s work. This is the defiled math of religion. I’ve lived inside this calculation.

God made his point in the old testament. Men, even chosen ones, do not have the capacity for holiness in themselves. It would require a new heart and a new life to birth anything truly holy. It was going to have to come from Love not Law. The Jew’s labors to cleanse themselves never touched the inside of the cup. Jesus came to give us new life. He would fill the cup with his very own life, that we might become an utterly new creation – citizens of a kingdom which knows no end.

New Testament math sounds like this. We must live within this calculation …

Thank you Lord that you have created in me a clean heart and renewed a steadfast spirit within me. Thank you that you have not cast me away from Your presence. Thank you that You have given me Your Holy Spirit. Thank you that you restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. Oh Lord, that I may teach this truth to transgressors and see sinners converted to this gospel. So be it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Heart (Saturday) – 1 Samuel 16:1-13

The Heart – 1 Samuel 16:1-13

If ever there were a next king of Israel, Eliab was the man. He height, he had build—he had presence. Samuel said to himself, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before me.” First impressions were not going to serve Samuel well on this mission. Actually, he was going to go 0 for 7 in the discernment department. No doubt Samuel continued in prayerful thought, “Okay, Lord, what is wrong here?” What God spoke next to Samuel was both timeless and priceless:

 “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him… for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

I love it when I can find connections between the Old and New Testaments. This was one of those blessed mornings because Paul too understood matters of the heart:

 

Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Cor. 5:16-21

How often in our process of electing leaders, hiring people and choosing mates do we size the candidate up, look at their resume and say something to the effect, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before me. This is the one!” only to discover “anointed” was hardly the word. When I think of the society this kind of discernment has formed, I sigh. So then, how do we cooperate with God in the relational dimension of shaping society? Hang with me as we explore a new and different vision, make a proposal, and pray a prayer.

Because today’s passage has to do with the selection of an ancient king we may miss a modern parallel.

 Jesus was sacrificed, and with His blood He purchased men unto God from every tribe and language and people and nation.  And He has made them a kingdom (a royal race) and priests to our God, and they shall reign [as kings] over the earth! (Revelation 5:10)

The Message Bible refers to those who have been cleansed by Christ’s blood as Priest-kings who will rule over the earth. When modern Christians stretch their imaginations, rarely in their self-image do they reach this far. They may conceive that their becoming new creations has saved them from hell and insured them a mansion in heaven, but John Q. Evangelical’s vision often falls tragically short of including what God had in mind when he made their new identity. This is no doubt a delight to the principalities and powers, the rulers and authorities that oppose God’s agenda on the earth.

 Where there is no vision (no redemptive revelation of God), the people perish; but he who keeps the law of God, happy, fortunate, and enviable is he. (Prov. 29:18)

In the past few years I have come across new ideas (and salvaged existing ones) that have helped shape a vision I can live out of, one to which my heart has awakened and said, “Yes and amen!”  One of the contributing ideas is the following definition of a leader: anyone who takes responsibility for the potential in another person or process.

This idea is in perfect harmony with God’s intentions for His priest-king children whom He is endeavoring to shape into His image and unite into a communal statement to both His enemies and His friends throughout the cosmos.

As we live out the lives He has given us, we will learn to recognize and see each other, not by the flesh but rather by the potential of Christ within (the only hope of glory in the earth). We will not assess each other by the good or the bad of our pasts but rather by the unlimited potential within (which is Christ Himself), which is shaping the future kingdom of God. We will discover that Christ intended us to be a community of interconnected spirits who take ownership of each other’s potential above our own and thus fulfill the mandates of servant leadership and the two new commandments He gave to His new creations:

            The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these. (Mark 12:30)

David was a singular king under an old covenant inferior to our own. We are a community of priest-kings who, like David, have been anointed and are now citizens of God’s kingdom, governed by a new covenant. In Christ the horn of oil has been poured out on us in His Holy Spirit. One day, like David, we will collectively realize that the Spirit of the Lord has mightily come upon us, and we shall begin reigning in life.

 For if because of one man’s trespass death reigned through that one, much more surely will those who receive God’s overflowing grace and the free gift of righteousness—putting them into right standing with Himself, reign as kings in life through the one Man Jesus Christ. Romans 5:17

Father, may we see that Your horn of oil has been poured out upon us. Crystalize our identities as beloved new creation-children and priest-kings entrusted with each other’s well-being and the kingdom of God. As this world sees us loving each other in this way, may they see that we love You. Make your appeal through us. Anoint us with the credibility of new creations. Teach us to watch over our own hearts and each other’s so the springs of living water may overflow from us into the lives around us. May our ministry of reconciliation be effectual, demonstrating that any man who believes is reconciled to God through Christ. Let your priest kings arise and take dominion. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Heart (Friday) – Proverbs 4:20-27

The Heart – Proverbs 4:20-27

My son, give attention to my words; Incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your sight; Keep them in the midst of your heart, for they are life to those who find them and health to all their body. Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you a deceitful mouth and put devious speech far from you. Let your eyes look directly ahead and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you. Watch the path of your feet and all your ways will be established. Do not turn to the right nor to the left; Turn your foot from evil.

Embedded in today’s passage is a verse which has become true north on my spirtual compass; “Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that’s where life starts.” That is how the Message puts it. My heart has been entrusted to me to watch over for a brief season. It is the talent I can bury or invest. If you read The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-21, particularly Jesus’ punch line, you will understand my incentive …

For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

My heart was unknown to me until 1976 when I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. I didn’t understand it in the moment, but I had abandoned my heart to God as his Son’s residence on earth. Christ had come and occupied the house which had been haunted. The dark spirits were evicted and the Holy Spirit moved in. It was the ultimate flip. I had a new heart! To my astonishment I had become born again, a concept that may have escaped the Denominationarians, who oversaw my Communicant’s Class.

Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again. John 3:7

My new heart was enveloped in an atmosphere of OMG. I was living at a very high altitude and I loved the view. I had never seen vistas like this before. Having been the quintessential ne’er-do-well, I vowed to walk the straight and narrow path lest I fall back down into the dark misery of my recent past. In God’s word, I learned how to take my first steps …

When you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall write them (God’s words) on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 11:19-20

This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Joshua 1:8

And then, there is a verse from today’s passage …

 Let your eyes look directly ahead and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you. Watch the path of your feet and all your ways will be established. Do not turn to the right nor to the left.

I came into the kingdom knowing, as well as anyone, how much God loved me. Yet, as I took one step after another, my joyful OMG waned and was replaced with an, “OMG, I am standing on a tightrope at an impossible height!” To walk, I believed I must have God’s word going on in surround-sound. I must diligently watch over my heart with exacting obedience lest I come off the rope. Even in the presence of a very personal assurance from God that he would pick me up, I walked as though the fall would kill me.

When I say that I have a personal relationship with God, that statement involves, to a large extent, his rescues. They have been numerous and humbling. I have learned something valuable though as I have walked, and stumbled – I’m no tightrope walker. That is for sure. But all is not lost, because for those who are in Christ, the rope has been cut. Our safety does not depend on our balancing act. Right here, we enter more deeply into the mystery, because we must still watch over our hearts and invest our precious talent. Keeping my balance though today is so different than it was then.

Today, when I feel I am about to fall, when my knees bend and my arms extend, I remind myself that Christ is my life. My life is not dependent on improving my old one. That old life is buried in Christ. The man who walks today has been raised up in Christ. He knows it because of decades of falling and having been picked up. If I feel shaky today, I still go to God’s word but not in a feverish, white-knuckled fear of falling. I protect my heart from these fiery fear-laden darts with Christ-centered truths, such as …

                                         In him we live and move and have our being. Acts 17:28

Right at this point, the religious spirit says, “Knowing the net is there will give license to him who walks, to cavort and spin and walk without righteous principle.” False. In him whose heart is occupied by Christ, there is a predisposition to righteousness. The born again heart instinctively thirsts for it. The Spirit who convicts us of righteousness would describe the narrow path differently. Please listen …

He stood me up on a wide-open field; I stood there saved—surprised to be loved! Psalm 18:19  The Message

I knew this when I first encountered Jesus yet I strayed onto the tightrope of religion – believing my acceptance and security rest in my balancing skills. Loving God with all our hearts, watching over our hearts, investing them in the kingdom has much to do with rest and little to do with work. It is likely though that we must experience the tightrope in order to discover the love and security of the wide open field. Mary (Martha’s sister) has taught more than anyone about walking.

Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her. (from Luke 10)

Mary invested her heart wisely. She knew, even then, that everything really does depend upon Christ alone. A song comes to mind …

My hope is built on nothing less / Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; / I dare not trust the sweetest frame, / But wholly lean on Jesus’ name. / On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; / All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils His lovely face, / I rest on His unchanging grace; / In every high and stormy gale / My anchor holds within the veil. / On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; / All other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, His covenant, and blood / Support me in the whelming flood; / When every earthly prop gives way, / He then is all my Hope and Stay. / On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; / All other ground is sinking sand.

When He shall come with trumpet sound, / Oh, may I then in Him be found, / Clothed in His righteousness alone, / Faultless to stand before the throne! / On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

Father,

Lead us to that wide open field where we are delivered from our fear of falling and we discover that your life is our life and that, regardless of our circumstances, you are our broad, safe foundation which cannot fail. You shall have your victory. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Heart (Thursday) – Mark 12:28-34

The Heart (Thursday) – Mark 12:28-34

The Heart – Mark 12:28-34

One of the religion scholars came up. Hearing the lively exchanges of question and answer and seeing how sharp Jesus was in his answers, he put in his question: “Which is most important of all the commandments?” Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.” The religion scholar said, “A wonderful answer, Teacher! So lucid and accurate—that God is one and there is no other. And loving him with all passion and intelligence and energy, and loving others as well as you love yourself. Why, that’s better than all offerings and sacrifices put together! When Jesus realized how insightful he was, he said, “You’re almost there, right on the border of God’s kingdom.” The Message

I am unsure if the western Church has even found its way to the border. George Barna’s research (in his book; Revolution) verifies that we are certainly not entering in to God’s kingdom. His findings reveal the disturbing fact that a large percentage of those who identify themselves as christians do not even believe in the fundamental tennents of the faith. For many of them the virgin birth and the inspiration of scripture are debatable. There is also a large chunk of those polled who spend little to no time in prayer nor do they give away much of their time or money. For those of us in these camps, Jesus might be saying,

Turn around! You’re heading in the wrong direction. The kingdom of God is the other way.

In the West a kind of spirituality has emerged by focusing on an inspired story outside its original divine context. We have embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ outside the context of the kingdom of God – which was Jesus’ own keynote message. We have embraced God Incarnate as our perfect sacrifice, who died and secured heaven for us, but we have paid little attention to the Son of Man, who lived not just as our ticket to heaven, but as as our example of how to live on earth. With our expectations and faith calibrated on the sweet-by-and-by, the kingdom of God is being overshot and unexplored.

N.T. Wright explains our overshooting. He points out that; “We have skipped (in the gospels) from Bethlehem straight to Calvary with very little emphasis on Jesus in the Galilean countryside. Jesus came as a baby and died as a man and we will see Him some day in heaven. And, need I say, the sooner the better!”  His point is that we have gutted the good news of its emphasis if we skip from the new birth to life after death. When Jesus announced that in Him the kingdom of God had come and that it was in fact within us, He was saying “we too” are called to set captives free, to heal the sick, to cast out demons and relieve the oppressed. 1 John 4:17 says, “As He is so also are we in this world. The Message puts it like this; “Our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s.” Those who think of heaven as starting when they die overshoot the foretelling words of Jesus about His kingdom…

The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing. You can count on it.

When Jesus teaches us to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” so many of us leap forward to a time when our flesh is no more, when in fact, Jesus intended us to shine while living in this earthly house. Our destiny, as children of light, is to radiate life now, just as Jesus did as the Son of Man.

I think those rulers and powers and those spiritual forces of wickedness that Paul refers us to in Ephesians 6 are going to be in shock and awe when the Church puts on the fuller armor of God which includes a kingdom-now, weapons-grade gospel. I believe the battle will become a route when the saints take up the divinely powerful sword of the Spirit (which is the word of God) and destroy the lofty half-truths that have exalted themselves above the fuller kingdom-knowledge of God.

We see the battle for this earth as lost only because we view it with our natural eyes. Could it be that when God answers our prayer that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven that the true Church (that Barna’s polls do not locate) will destroy the existing fortresses inside our vain earth-bound imaginations about christianity? From Christ’s vantage point, (and ours, if we have ears to hear) we are now seated with Him in heaven. It is now a matter of exposing and repenting of the half-gospel we have embraced and all the lies it has spawned, taking them each captive and converting them, by obedience, to the reality of Christ’s kingdom.

Father, make your enemies your footstool and shod our feet afresh with the exceedingly good news of a kingdom gospel. Before the eyes of this skeptical world (and church), may new lives validate the now-proclamations of Your realm! May they see us loving You with all passion and intelligence and energy, and loving others as well as we love ourselves. And may our ears hear You say, “Well doneYou have arrived! Welcome to the kingdom of God.” In Jesus majestic Name. So be it!

 

 

The Heart (Wednesday) – Isaiah 29:13-16

The Heart – Isaiah 29:13-16

Then the Lord said, “Because this people draw near with their words And honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote, therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous; and the wisdom of their wise men will perish, and the discernment of their discerning men will be concealed.” Woe to those who deeply hide their plans from the Lord, and whose deeds are done in a dark place, and they say, “Who sees us?” or “Who knows us?” You turn things around! Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay, that what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”; Or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?

Does the prosperity it has created, in itself, qualify the American Dream as a success? While it is critical, it is obvious that economics is not the guarantor of peace on earth and good will among men. We have growing problems that money can’t fix. It might even be argued that money exacerbates some of those problems.

As I drive through my neighborhood and see the privacy fences and then the larger homes with land and fences between them, I wonder how frequently these neighbors interact? I also wonder what is going on in the privacy of those houses. Are the family members partitioned off from each other? How many of them are engaged with video games, social media, entertainment or any of the (so called harmless?) things that rob them from authentic lives lived out face to face within a community?

Taking this one step further; inside the hearts of these individuals, what is going on?  Might we find our core problem here, hearts that are deeply hiding their plans from the Lord (and each other) and whose lives are being lived out in dark (private) places, where they are essentially saying, “Who sees us?” or “Who knows us?”

I am beginning to wonder if TV producers are not mocking us with their zombie productions. Are they using the images of the living dead as a metaphor for our own grotesque inner lives and the dysfunctional communities we create? Could God be saying through these horror shows that in our isolation from Him and each other, we ourselves are the living casualties of the material world we have worshipped?

If we think of community simply as the connectivity between those created in His image, I believe God is giving low marks to the American Dream in the area of community. Who is taking the vital signs of community? Are there any preventative community-health measures we need to consider? Does God have any corrective measures in play?

For those Isaiah is reffering to in our passage, living with their private and toxic thoughts, God has a plan He thinks will be wondrously marvelous. How marvelous will it seem to the beneficiaries of this plan when God lets them know their worship is repulsive to Him? How wondrous will it seem when society’s remaining lights of wisdom and discernment are switched off? As children of light, we should find this commentary on visibility fascinating and sobering.

When we are healed and restored, we become agents of His kingdom. We ourselves become the credibility of His Good News. We become the safe houses for others. As we live out in the open, knowing we are fully seen, fully known and loved by God, our very lives become an invitation to the enslaved and isolated to venture out of the dark places where the devil has been systematically robbing us of the life of God. There, as children of light, we will demonstrate the liberty and freedom of the kingdom of God. We become the undisputed evidence that God’s Dreams trumps the American Dream. One day, the community of the redeemed, His Church will get high marks as she majors in connectivity, helping all those around her find their way back to the Father and to each other.

Father, even now, set your wondrously marvelous plans into motion. Awaken that communal gene of Yours in our hearts. Help us to find our security in You, that in love, we might lead a host of captivities into the liberty and joy of Christ. May all Your dreams come true in us. So be it.

 

 

 

The Heart (Tuesday) – Ezekiel 11:17-21

The Heart – Ezekiel 11:17-21

When I read the old testament and I hear the decrees God spoke against Israel and the promises He made to them through the prophets I try to keep in mind; that was then; this is now. Israel was living under the auspices of a different covenant than we do. But, even though these words were not spoken to us directly, we can glean much about God’s great heart through His dealings with His initial chosen people.

The scene is familiar, Israel has played the harlot by abandoning her part of that old covenant. She has partaken in the idolatry of foreign peoples. Under that covenant, in this circumstance, God is obligated to fulfill His promise to judge them. This judgement, in part, has caused Israel to be exhiled to Babylon where they will serve as slaves. Yet Ezekiel prophecies some encouraging news to the judged nation. Thus says the Lord God…

 “I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries among which you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.” When they come there, they will remove all its detestable things and all its abominations from it. And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God. But as for those whose hearts go after their detestable things and abominations, I will bring their conduct down on their heads,” declares the Lord God.”

When God is represented by those filled with the guilt and shame of religion, He is portrayed as angry, poised to judge. But there is something crucial we must learn about God’s heart – in the way it was disposed, even to those who had suffered His wrath…

Though I had removed them far away among the nations and though I had scattered them among the countries, yet I was a sanctuary for them a little while in the countries where they had gone.

Even to those whom He had judged He had positioned Himself as their sanctuary! Is God’s heart as fundamentally angry and poised to judge as we have been told? This is a glimpse of His heart in the days of the old covenant. Even then, it seems as though He is at least as ready to restore as He is to express His anger. And, if this was so then what do we have now? So, what do you think? ……

With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? Romans 8:32 MSG

I believe the Jews were hamstrung by not having the promised new and softer heart that Ezekiel refers to. Were the ancient Jews even capable of compliance, shackled with hearts of stone as they were?  The more important question is really, “Are we capable of living in harmony with God as members of a new covenant?”  Being in Christ, having Christ as our life, is the essence of the new hearts He has freely and gladly given us. So I must answer with a grateful and enthusiastic, “Yes! God Himself, in-Christ, is our sanctuary and astonishingly, we are His.”

A friend, just this morning, has given me the perfect adjective to describe the covenant we enjoy. It’s “apocalyptic.”  Here is his offering:

“Apocolyptic” is used to describe a certain genre of literature (and also by some to mean an end times catastrophe).  What the word really means is; the revealing of something that was previously not known.  Jesus’ life, death & resurrection was apocalyptic, not because it signaled the end of the world, but because it revealed things which the Old Testament only hinted of. It is the key that unlocked the Old Testament prophecies. The Gospel is not only good news. The gospel is apocalyptic good news’! 

Oh Lord, how majestic are your ways in all the earth! May the heights and depths of what you have done register in us. Continue to reveal to our new hearts the breadth and the length of your astonishing love until they are filled up to the fulness of You. Now to You who are able to do exceedingly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to You be the glory in Your Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

 

 

The Heart (Monday) – Jeremiah 29:10-14

The Heart – Jeremiah 29:10-14

As soon as Babylon’s seventy years are up and not a day before, I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. “When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen.“When you come looking for me, you’ll find me.“Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.”  — God’s Decree. — “I’ll turn things around for you. I’ll bring you back from all the countries into which I drove you” — God’s Decree — “I’ll bring you home to the place from which I sent you off into exile. You can count on it.

Can a Christian take Jeremiah at his word that God will not abandon him and that he has plans of a hopeful future for him? Absolutely. Is it right for a Christian to anticipate these blessings because of the intensity of their searching and prayer? No. Jeremiah is speaking to Israel – a nation under a different covenant, with a specific calling and with specific transgressions. We are not Israel and we have not been exiled.

Why would we claim old conditional promises when the ones we have in the New Covenant are far superior? This passage implies we are estranged from God when in fact we have been reconciled to him and have access into the holiest place in-Christ. Far from being abandoned because of our deficient fervor, we have been seated with Christ in heavenly realms because of his efforts in seeking us. While Jeremiah’s words imply distance between God and his people, those who have believed and repented have been grafted inseparably into Christ. Zero distance. This is the good news!

These old testament promises, contingent on man’s stony-hearted performance are inferior to the New Testament’s promise of life. Jesus, who is our life, is a gift independent of all effort, however whole-hearted it might be. Sadly, our flesh seems to have a default-religious setting that insists on self-dependence instead of Christ-dependence. The consequence is religion which is both tragic and comical.

It leads us to pray prayers and sing songs in a spirit of desperation. We plead with God to draw near to us while, in that very moment, he is dwelling in us. While we are begging him to come, he is asking, “What gave you the impression I left?” It is no wonder we burn out. We spend massive amounts of energy and resources trying to purchase what we already own. God does not want us going backward, entangling ourselves in an outdated covenant. He could not have made this any clearer to me.

It was the turn of the century and I was in my weeping prophet phase of spirituality. In pitch darkness I ascended the grassy knoll. This was just one of the many lonely places I had found where I offered up my petitions (and perhaps a few modest complaints). On this particular night, I was ratcheting up my seriousness, asking if, as my reward, he would please reveal himself to me and restore the joy of my salvation, “Lord. please do not take Thy Holy Spirit from me!” I was doing some serious Jeremiah-style pleading and I believed my impassioned prayers would surely end my (somewhat undeserved) exile from God. “Lord, rain down your Spirit on me!”… And the Lord, he did smile.

As I was praying, I heard something below and I felt the earth literally tremble beneath my feet. My prayers had reached such a crescendo it would not have surprised me if a burning bush would have appeared! As I was listening intently for the long awaited (and I might add, deserved) word from God, I was assailed, not by the rain of His Spirit from above but by the RainBird below. (I live next to golf course) I was lifted off the ground by a jet of water that had to be 1000 psi. I was standing directly over (as in straddling) a sprinkler head. I was so shocked and disoriented I did not escape its aim before I was drenched. It was as though its machine gun bursts were trained on me whichever way I moved. The heat of my passion had been extinguished and, to make matters worse, I knew who it was who had such excellent timing and aim! Yes, the Lord, he did smile. 

I should have picked up on what God was doing sooner because of an incident that took place in our home 20 years earlier. One evening, when our second daughter was just a baby, she was provoked and had worked herself into an irreversible emotional tailspin. She could not talk but boy could she wail! Mustering all our parental wisdom, we sat her down into a bathtub of unheated tap water. The effect was magical! Whatever had been her problem had given way to a new and more immediate issue. The child we retrieved from the tub was the quieter version of the daughter we enjoyed and preferred. We dried off her wrinkly pink skin and wiped away all her tears. Thankfully, all was once again well with her soul and she was off to her next adventure. I think the word of the Lord to both – my daughter and myself, after our unorthodox baptisms, was (and remains) …

                                                Dear Ones, seriously, You need to chill out.

It is so pivotal to know we have not been exiled – no matter how we may feel. In Christ we can’t even leave home. To many of his super-busy, super-zealous (and often frustrated) children, the Lord is saying something like this …

Its in quietness and rest you will find Me. By all means seek me with all your heart but do it with the new one that I have given you that intuitively knows I have not left you and never will. I want you to learn to rest in me. I am your life, so in every sense, I am your sufficiency. Our lives are permanently entwined. Celebrate that! Repent of your strife. The emotions you desire will follow your renewed thinking. Chill out a little. It is going to be alright. I promise.

Father, It is a good thing to give thanks to you and sing praises to your name. As I take account of the exceedingly great promises you have entrusted us, I am stunned at the wisdom and generosity of your plans and the extravagance of your love! Truly Lord you are The Wonder of all wonders! I love You too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Heart (Saturday) – 1 Samuel 16:1-13

1 Samuel 16:1-13

If ever there were a next king of Israel, Eliab was the man. He had presence. His height and build set him apart. Samuel said to himself, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before me.” First impressions were not going to serve Samuel well on this mission. Actually, he was going to go “0” for “7” in the discernment department on this day. No doubt Samuel continued in prayerful thought, “OK Lord, what is wrong here?” What God spoke next to Samuel was both timeless and priceless…..

Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him ……. for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

I love it when I can find connections between the old and new testaments. This was one of those blessed mornings because Paul too understood matters of the heart….

Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor 5:16-21)

How often in our process of electing leaders, hiring people and choosing mates do we size the candidate up, look at their resume and say something to the effect, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before me. This is the one!” and then discover “anointed” was actually the wrong word for what we contracted with. When I think of the society that these choices have formed, I would answer, “Way too often.” So then, how do we cooperate with God in the relational dimension of shaping society? Hang with me as we explore a new and different vision, make a proposal and pray a prayer.

Because today’s passage has to do with the selection of an ancient king we may miss a modern parellel.

Jesus was sacrificed, and with His blood He purchased men unto God from every tribe and language and people and nation.  And He has made them a kingdom (a royal race) and priests to our God, and they shall reign [as kings] over the earth! (Revelation 5:10)

The Message bible refers to those who have been cleansed by Christ’s blood as Priest-kings who will rule over the earth. When modern christians stretch their imaginations, rarely in their self-image do they reach this far. They may conceive that their becoming new creations has saved them from hell and insured them a mansion in heaven but John Q. Evangelical’s vision often falls tragically short of including God’s intended identity.  This is no doubt a delight to the principalities and powers, the rulers and authorities who oppose God’s agenda on the earth. 

Where there is no vision (no redemptive revelation of God), the people perish; but he who keeps the law of God, happy, fortunate, and enviable is he. (Prov 29:18)

In the past few years I have come across new ideas (and salvaged existing ones) that have helped shape a vision I can live out of, one that my heart has awakened to and said, “Yes and Amen!”  One of the contributing ideas is the following definition of a leader; A leader is any one who takes responsibility for the potential in another person or process. This idea is in perfect harmony with God’s intentions for His priest-king children whom He is endeavoring to shape into His image and unite into a communal statement to both His enemies and His friends throughout the cosmos. 

As we live out the lives that He has given us we will learn to recognize and see each other, not by the flesh but rather by the potential of Christ within, (the only hope of glory in the earth). We will not assess each other by the good or the bad of our pasts but rather by the unlimited potential within (which is Christ Himself) which is shaping the future kingdom of God. We will discover that Christ intended us to be a community of interconnected spirits who take ownership of each other’s potential above our own and thus fulfill the mandates of servant leadership and the two new commandments He gave to His new creations…….

The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these. (Mark 12:30)

David was a singular king under an old covenant inferior to our own. We are a community of priest-kings who, like David, have been anointed and are now citizens of God’s kingdom governed by of a new covenant. In Christ the horn of oil has been poured out on us in His Holy Spirit. One day, as David did, we will collectively realize that the Spirit of the Lord has mightily come upon us and we shall begin reigning in life.

For if because of one man’s trespass death reigned through that one, much more surely will those who receive God’s overflowing grace and the free gift of righteousness – putting them into right standing with Himself, reign as kings in life through the one Man Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17)

Father, may we see that Your horn of oil has been poured out upon us. Crystalize our identities as beloved new creation-children and priest-kings entrusted with each other’s well being and the kingdom of God. As this world sees us loving each other in this way may they see that we are loving You. Make your appeal through us. Anoint us with the credibility of new creations. Teach us to watch over our hearts and each others so the springs of living water may overflow from us into the lives around us. May our ministry of reconciliation be effectual, demonstrating that any man who will believe can be reconciled to God through Christ. Let your priest kings arise and take dominion! Amen.

 

The Heart (Thursday) – Mark 12:28-34

Mark 12:28-34

One of the religion scholars came up. Hearing the lively exchanges of question and answer and seeing how sharp Jesus was in his answers, he put in his question: “Which is most important of all the commandments?” Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.” The religion scholar said, “A wonderful answer, Teacher! So lucid and accurate—that God is one and there is no other. And loving him with all passion and intelligence and energy, and loving others as well as you love yourself. Why, that’s better than all offerings and sacrifices put together! When Jesus realized how insightful he was, he said, “You’re almost there, right on the border of God’s kingdom.”

I am unsure if the western Church has even found its way to the border. George Barna’s research verifies that we definitely have not entered in. His findings reveal the disturbing fact that a large percentage of those who identify themselves as christians do not believe in the fundamental tennents of the faith. For many of them the virgin birth and the inspiration of scripture are debatable. There is also a large chunk of those polled who spend little to no time in prayer nor do they give away much of their time or money. For those of us in these camps, Jesus might be saying, “Turn around! You’re heading in the wrong direction. The kingdom of God is the other way.

In the West a kind of spirituality has emerged by focusing on a beautiful story outside its original wonderful context. We have attempted to embraced a gospel outside the context of the kingdom of God. We have embraced God Incarnate as our perfect sacrifice who died and secured heaven for us but we have paid little attention to the Son of Man, who lived not just as our ticket to heaven, but rather as as our example of how we are to reveal heaven on earth through our Christ impregnated lives. With our expectations and faith calibrated on the sweet by and by, the kingdom of God is being overshot and unexplored.

N.T. Wright explains our overshooting. He points out that we have skipped (in the gospels) from Bethlehem straight to Calvary with very little emphasis on Jesus in the Galilean countryside. Jesus came as a baby and died as a man and we will see Him some day in heaven. And, need I say, the sooner the better!  His point is that we have gutted the good news of its emphasis if we skip from the new birth to life after death. When Jesus announced that in Him the kingdom of God had come and that it was in fact within us, He was saying we too are called to set captives free, to heal the sick, to cast out demons and relieve the oppressed. 1 John 4:17 says… as He is so also are we in this world. The Message says—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. Those who think of heaven as starting when they die overshoot the foretelling words of Jesus about His kingdom…

The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing. You can count on it.

When Jesus teaches us to pray,  Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, so many of us leap forward to a time when our flesh is no more when in fact Jesus mandated us to pray that His kingdom will be revealed as a bright radiating light now while still in our flesh just as it was with Him when He lived in His flesh as the Son of Man.

I think those rulers and powers and those spiritual forces of wickedness that Paul referred to in Ephesians 6 are going to be in shock and awe when the Church puts on the fuller armor of God that includes a kingdom-now, weapons-grade gospel. I believe the battle will become a route when the saints take up the divinely powerful sword of the Spirit (which is the word of God) and destroy the lofty half- truths that exalt themselves above the fuller kingdom-knowledge of God.

We see the battle for this earth as lost because we view it only with our natural eyes. Could it be that when God answers our prayer that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven that the true Church (that Barna’s polls do not locate) will destroy the existing fortresses inside our vain earth-bound imaginations about christianity? From Christ’s vantage point (and ours, as we are now seated with Him in heaven) its a matter of exposing and repenting of the half -gospel  we have embraced and taking that deficient thought (or lie) captive and converting it to the obedience of Christ’s kingdom reality.

Father, make your enemies as footstool beneath your feet and shod ours afresh with the exceedingly good news of a gospel full of Your kingdom. Before the eyes of the skeptical world (and church), may our lives validate the now-proclamations of Your realm! May they see us  loving You with all passion and intelligence and energy, and loving others as well as we love ourselves. And….may our ears hear You say, “Well doneYou have arrived! Welcome to the kingdom of God.” In Jesus majestic Name. So be it!