Does Your Inside Match Your Outside?

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” MT 5:8

Once a father told his child to sit down. The child refused. Again the father told his child to sit down and again the child stubbornly refused. Finally the father said, “If you don’t sit down I’m going to give you a spanking.” The child sat down and said, “I’m sitting down on the outside but I’m still standing up on the inside!” Reminds me of what Jesus said to the Jewish leaders:

You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me…’ MT 15:7-8

Outwardly they honored God. They sang songs and prayed and tithed. But they had no love for God. Their hearts – their inner persons – were impure – they acted religious to be noticed by men, not to please God.  They were hypocrites.

The word hypocrite comes from a word meaning actor. A hypocrite’s an actor, a pretender. He professes some value or belief but his private life does not match it. He’s not pure in heart.  So to be pure in heart means our words match our thoughts. Our outer life matches our inner life.

When God saves us he gives us new hearts:

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. Ezekiel 36:26-27

God gives us new hearts that want to follow and obey him and pours his Holy Spirit into us who motivates us to sincere obedience.

A friend once requested I ask him about his TV watching every time he traveled for work.  This man sincerely wanted to please Jesus and didn’t want to sin when no one else was watching.

To be pure in heart doesn’t mean we never sin.  But it means that now we don’t want to.  We hate it when we do, and are grateful for Jesus’ constant cleansing (1 JN 1:9).

A few ways to cultivate purity of heart:

  • Read your Bible regularly for it convicts, warns and encourages us.
  • Ask God for inner purity. David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart.” Regularly ask God to deliver you from evil and temptation.
  • Be careful what you take in through your eyes and ears.  Flee temptation.  Thomas Watson said, “In a duel a man will chiefly guard and fence his heart, so a wise Christian should above all things keep his heart pure.” 
  • Fellowship – confess your struggles and temptations and ask for prayer of one or a few wise, trustworthy believers. 

The reward for pursuing purity? “They shall see God.”

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure (1 John 3:2-3). 

Because of our glorious hope to see Jesus, the infinitely pure one, face to face, we purify ourselves now, by the power of the Spirit.

 

What Rabbit Are You Chasing?

What are you pursuing in life? At the end of your life when you’ve achieved everything you set out to achieve, what will you have? What are you giving your life to?

I recently came across this illustration that challenged me to think about what I’m pursuing.

When greyhounds race they chase a mechanical rabbit.  The mechanical rabbit whirls around the track with the greyhounds in hot pursuit. In a typical race the dogs never catch the rabbit. But in one race, the mechanical rabbit broke and the greyhounds actually caught it. And when they did, they didn’t know what to do with it.  They stood around this fake rabbit yelping and barking, totally confused.

This is a picture of how so many spend their lives. Chasing something they think will satisfy them only to discover, and often too late, that what they were pursuing was empty and meaningless in the light of eternity. So many things we spend so much time running hard after in this life will have no value in the next life.  How many people realize moments after they pass into eternity that they spent all their lives chasing a mechanical rabbit?

The apostle Paul says, “I had the rabbit and I found out it was fake. I’ve thrown away all my fake rabbits for the one thing that matters most, Jesus Christ.  I want to gain him and know him and experience his resurrection power. That’s what matters in this life.  That’s what I’m running after, and straining to gain.”

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith- that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:7-14

How about you? What are you looking for? What are you chasing? Will you be disappointed when you leave this world? I’ve been asking myself these questions. I don’t want to wind up at the end of my life with a fake rabbit. I want to have a treasure that will last forever.

The Anti-Beatitudes, As Taught By Satan

And Satan, seeing the horde before him, went down into the parched valley. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

Blessed are the kick-butt, independent, self-sufficient, “I’m strong enough on my own,” people, for theirs is the kingdom of hell. 

Blessed are those who feel no sorrow over their sin, and who only express shallow, worldly repentance because of the consequences of their sin, because their hearts shall be hardened.

Blessed are those who have swagger, who make others stagger, who have an entourage, who assert their own rights, who fight for their own agenda, for they shall inherit hell.

Blessed are those who are indifferent to the ungodliness in their own lives and the ungodliness around them, because they will certainly have their fill of sin in this life.

Blessed are those who show no mercy, who demand that every wrong be righted, who easily take offense, and who fight back against their opponents with slander, gossip, and outright brutality, for they shall receive the same in return.

Blessed are those who allow many impurities to infiltrate their heart through seemingly innocent means, such as television, the Internet, relationships, and their smartphones, for they shall not see the face of God.

Blessed are those who cause strife, create division, relish controversy, and pit one man against another, for they shall be called sons of Satan.

Blessed are those who manage to avoid persecution by quietly, “harmlessly”, avoiding public godliness, for they will have large dwellings in hell.

Blessed are you when others think you are fantastic, funny, cool, in, and the life of the party, because of my sake. Rejoice and be glad, for your pain in hell is great, for so they have treated the wicked throughout all of history.

+photo by Kevin Dooley

Let’s Be Crazy Ordinary This Year!

What would it look like to be crazy radical for Jesus in 2013? I’m talking pedal to the metal, all in, no holds barred, “is something wrong with you?”, crazy. No more being lukewarm, no more spiritual fits and starts. It’s time to dive in head first. Do you need to take a missions trip to Vietnam? Do you need to adopt a child from a foreign country? Do you need to do a thirty day fast? Do you need to give away half of your income? Well, maybe. All those things are good, and maybe God has called you to do one of those big things.

But for most of us, being sold out crazy for Jesus will look very…ordinary. At least to the casual observer. Most of the crazy things we do for the Lord will be noticed by exactly no one – except the Lord.

So, you wanna go crazy this year? Here’s what you should do…

Spend time with someone who can’t repay in you in any way, either financially or socially. “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14)

Look for any and every opportunity to serve, rather than to be served, even if it only means giving someone a glass of cold water. ”But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:43-44)

Fight against your sin with a crazy, almost disturbing intensity. “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” (Matthew 5:29)

Show the world that you are a Christian by consistently loving, serving, and blessing those around you. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Commit yourself to regularly gathering with God’s people, giving special attention to how you can encourage them and stir them toward love and good works. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Earnestly love your fellow believers, being eager to extend mercy and grace toward them. “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)

I could go on and on, but you get the point. Most of the time, being crazy for Jesus means doing the hard, right, boring thing, which no one but God will see. It means being patient with your children, giving sacrificially, setting up chairs at your church, making a meal for a new mom, and putting together a spreadsheet for your church finance team. It often means doing what needs to be done rather than what you want to do. These are not glamorous jobs. Nobody wants to read your blog post: “Hey check out all these sweet chairs I set up!”

I fear that in our celebrity pastor, post it to Facebook culture, we think about being sold out for Jesus only in terms of big things that catch people’s attention. The reality is, being a servant and slave of Christ usually means serving in obscurity. Being radical for Jesus means doing hard, yet ordinary things, like confessing sin, changing the channel when something inappropriate appears, serving your butt off in church, and reaching out to the “uncool”. Our spiritual lives are not the result of one or two “big” acts for God. They are the sum of ten thousand small choices – choices to either follow the Lord or follow our sinful desires.

This year let’s be crazy for Jesus. Crazy ordinary. Who’s with me?

 

I’m A Really Comfortable Exile

original photo DVIDSHUB

There are some people who thrive on movement and going and traveling.

They love seeing new places and  taking road trips, and are always reading beat up copies of “Lonely Planet” books. If you go to their house they have travel knick-knacks everywhere – a rain stick from Africa, a miniature Eiffel Tower from France, a souvenir cup from Disney World, a shrunken head from Polynesia (only your weird friends have this).

That’s not me. I more of a “Homey Planet” kind of guy. My favorite thing to do is to relax at home with my family. When I’m gone from home for more than a couple of days I start to really want to get back home. When I lived in Gaithersburg, MD for a year, I desperately missed good ol’ Indiana, PA. I missed being able to take walks down Main St. (yes, we really do have a Main St.) I missed being able to actually see the stars at night. I missed being able to drive without being tempted to swear. I could very happily spend the rest of my days living in Indiana.

I can’t imagine being an exile in a foreign country. My heart is buried here in Indiana, PA. To be an exile in a foreign country would be painful. I would be constantly longing for home and thinking about home. I would be looking forward to the day when I could finally come home. I would never be comfortable as an exile.

The other day in my devotions I read 1 Peter 1:1, which says -

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles…

This verse disturbed me in a good way. The Bible says that I’m an exile. This world, in its present, fallen, crumbling, decaying, sick, twisted, perverted state, is not my final home. My home is with Jesus, in heaven (and then in the new heavens and new earth). I’m an exile here on earth. An alien. A foreigner.

The problem is, I’m a very comfortable exile. I’ve got my little hobbies (video games, writing, running, etc.), the shows that I like to watch with Jen (Heroes, Law & Order), and that one pair of sweatpants that I wear every chance I get. I like my life here, and truth be told, I don’t think about heaven too much. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I’m going there, and I’m sure it’s going to be fantastic (lots of coffee, no dogs), but it’s just not on my mind that much.

When I read 1 Peter 1:1 I stopped and prayed, “Lord, help live more like an exile. Help me not be so comfortable here. Help me long for heaven more.”

I’ve got to admit, I’m a little freaked out by that prayer. Because God loves me and is helping me be more like Christ, I’m sure he’s going to help me feel more like an exile, which will probably be uncomfortable. But I’m also glad that God convicted me, because I want to live for what matters. I want to live and long for my true home.

What about you? Do you ever find yourself getting too comfortable here?

Saved By Jesus, Not Doctrine

At our church we talk a lot about doctrine, sound theology, right understanding of the message of Scripture and the gospel. My bookshelves are loaded with thick books by very smart theologians about things that are sometimes over my head. This is a good thing, because I don’t want to ever think I’ve fully understood the gospel and am ready to move on to something else.

But sometimes it can be discouraging to read part of a book like Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics and realize how little I know about Jesus’ death compared to others who have gone before me! That’s why this quote, nestled in a chapter that was pretty heady, was so helpful to me:

“The power of the death of Christ is independent of the more or less clear interpretation we can give of it…It is indeed not the doctrine concerning the death of Christ but this death itself that atones for our sins and gives peace to our consciences” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. III, p. 382).

Good theology is important, and we must know certain things in order to rightly put our trust in Christ.  But thankfully God does not forgive us on a graded curve based on how well we understand the gospel! Christ’s death objectively accomplished our salvation. We’ll spend eternity plumbing the depths of what He has done, but we are not saved by how much we understand about the His death.

So let us read, study, and dig deep in the doctrine of salvation – but let us also praise God we are saved by something that has occurred outside ourselves, the death and resurrection of our Savior!

The Day I Hooked A Seagull & Thought I’d Be Vaporized

I was excited to be fishing on Lake Ontario with my friend.  That is, until a huge seagull dove at my shiny surface lure and hooked itself in its foot.

I’m reeling this thing from the sky and it’s screaming, flapping, and swooping like some kind of mad kite.  I manage to grab its leg.  It’s a squawking, pecking, furious mass of wings and beak.  Somehow I remove the hook from its webbing without losing my eyes and it flies off quite glad to be away from me.

A little later the wind picks up and we begin drifting.  We’re not concerned – the boat has an outboard motor.  After a while we notice we’re moving toward the intake area beneath the looming stacks of a nuclear power plant, and see the warning signs on  either side of the opening – “Danger: Do Not Go Beyond This Point.”

We try to fire up the motor – it’s dead.  We drift past the danger signs.  A stab of panic.  We grab the oars and begin rowing furiously.  I think we may really be in trouble.  Eventually, with much effort, we row out of the intake area to safety.

Had we neglected the danger signs’ warning and continued to drift, it could have been disastrous. Spiritual drift is even more disastrous.

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. (Hebrews 2:1)

If we don’t pay close attention to the gospel, we’ll drift from Christ.  Hebrews doesn’t say we MIGHT drift, but we WILL drift away. There’s no staying still in the Christian life – we must swim against the powerful current of the world, our flesh and the devil every day.

Drift is gradual

No Christian says I’m going to reject Christ, never read his word again, I’m done with fellowship.  It happens gradually, over time.  We begin to neglect Bible reading and prayer.  It’s not a sin if we fail to read Scripture every day, but if we neglect it for days or weeks on end, there can be consequences.  It’s not a sin to miss a Sunday or small group meeting, but God warns us to be careful, because we can so easily drift.

Drift is imperceptible

We say I really ought to get back to reading the Bible.  I will tomorrow.  I’m going to pray tomorrow.  I really should worship with the saints this morning, but I just don’t feel like it today.  But I will next week.

I once heard someone say that “tomorrow” is the devil’s favorite word.

How do we keep from drifting from Christ?

By paying close attention to the gospel.  By regular Bible reading, prayer, and fellowship.  By daily seeking to apply God’s word to every part of our lives.  If you’ve drifted or are drifting from Christ, repent, ask him for help and get back in the race.  Ask a brother or sister to pray for you.

It’s a fight, but there’s grace in Jesus.

photo by Donald Macleod

The Quest

Sometimes people spend thousands of dollars, and years of their lives and risk danger and death in pursuit of some quest.

Like the British explorer Percival Harrison Fawcett, who was obsessed with finding “the lost city of Z” in Brazil.  He enlisted his oldest son Jack and his son’s friend, and traveled hundreds of miles across the ocean, then through the jungles of Brazil.  The last communication from the expedition was on 29 May 1925, when Fawcett telegraphed his wife that the three were ready to go into unexplored territory.  Then nothing more was ever heard from them.

Most of us are familiar with the quest of the wise men from “the east” to find Jesus.

These men, most likely Persian priests who were experts in astrology, astronomy, and occult arts, had seen an astronomical phenomenon and tied it to the birth of a king like no other.  They went to great lengths and probably great expense to make the 800 mile journey to Jerusalem.  They probably traveled mostly at night over rugged desert terrain.  If they were able to travel 20 miles a day, it would have taken 40 days to make the journey.

Compare them to the religious leaders in Jerusalem.

and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, [Herod] inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’” (4-6)

When questioned by Herod, without a moment’s hesitation, the religious leaders told him the precise location where the Messiah would be born, even quoting Scripture – Bethlehem, which is about 5 miles south of Jerusalem.

What is amazing is that these Scripture quoting leaders hear that the Messiah has been born, accompanied by a miraculous heavenly star, and not one of them even bothers to make the 5 mile trip to Bethlehem to check it out.

What a contrast.  The wise men, who have very little knowledge of the true God, make a long, arduous journey to find Jesus.  Yet the religious leaders who know Scripture and all the prophecies of the Messiah can’t be bothered.

This passage challenges me.  Even as a believer I can still drift into spiritual apathy if Jesus doesn’t help me.  I need to regularly ask him to incline my heart to his word and fill me with love and passion for him.

Let’s be inspired by the example of the wise men.  God drew them first, yet they responded to God’s drawing by actively pursuing the Rewarder of those who seek him.  Let’s make this our quest – pursue, know and love Jesus with all our hearts.

photo by Raoul Pop

Flavorless, Edgeless, Passionless

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. (Matthew 5:13)

If salt loses its flavor, it can’t be made salty again.

If a knife loses its edge, it takes hard work to make it sharp again.

If a Christian loses his passion for God, it’s very difficult to restore that fire.

We need to be wary of anything that blunts or dulls or dampens our passion for God. It’s much easier to lose our passion for God than to restore it.

Distracted Devotion

focus

So many times I feel like my devotion to God is very distracted.

The moment I wake up in the morning, the afterburners in my mind kick on. I’m thinking about what needs to be done, what I already did, what I need to eat, etc.

I sit down to read my Bible and I’m distracted. When I pray I feel like a dog who is always chasing after whatever comes into his path. When I sing worship songs or listen to a sermon, my mind is often zipping in a thousand different directions.

This struggle with distraction really ticks me off. I hate being distracted when it comes to the things of the Lord.

So how can I fight distraction? I find the words of Thomas Manton to be very helpful.

Meditate upon the greatness of God. It is of great consequence with whom we are dealing. O if you could see him that is invisible, you would have more reverence! Imagine yourself in heaven in the midst of the blessed angels standing before the all seeing God. (Voices From the Past, 191)

How would my prayer life, and worship, and Bible reading change if I caught a visible glimpse of God? If my eyes beheld the living God who makes the angels tremble? If I came face to face with the holy, holy, holy God?

There would be no more distraction. No more wandering mind, no more weak, half-hearted devotion. My heart and mind and eyes and soul would be gripped by God.

It is of great consequence with whom we are dealing.

I may not see God, but I am still in his presence. I am still praying to, worshiping, and reading about the living God. It’s no small thing to come into his presence. We don’t just wander into the presence of God with no purpose or goal. We come into his presence to engage with God.

And he is worthy of my focused attention.

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+photo by ssh