Guardian of Your Heart

“God blesses those people whose hearts are pure. They will see him!” (Matthew 5:8, CEV)

Do you want to see God? The sixth Beatitude says we should have a pure heart to see God. What is the heart? If nothing else, it is those feelings we associate with the red shape drawn on our Valentines cards, with two rounds at the top and a point at the bottom… Right?

Nah, the heart is more than that. Like the Trinity is God –Father, Son, Spirit – thinking, saying, and acting the same, there are also 3 organs that “speak” to each other a special way inside your body: the heart, the brain, and the stomach. Did you know that according to research, all three organs have their own neurons and neurotransmitters, meaning the heart can communicate to the brain feelings of pain and emotion? Likewise, the stomach can communicate hunger and digestive feelings. Some websites say different things, implying the heart and stomach can “think” on their own, but then others say they can’t. Really, though, what is “thinking”, and what is “feeling”, if not a collective effort of the body’s functions?

Think about a scenario: a man is waiting for his wife to stride downstairs donned in her little black dress for the date –wouldn’t his heart be racing as he envisions the dinner and car ride home? How about another: a kid walks in the bedroom while her parents are watching a midnight horror film and catches a glimpse of blood and gore – wouldn’t her heart be pounding when she runs back to bed and feels monsters underneath? In the same way, your stomach grumbles and you think, I’m hungry. It’s all feelings, and feelings are the government of your thoughts.

To be what God intends for us to be, you and I need to give our brain the role of guardian. Imagine that your organs are a family, your heart and stomach being dependents (children), while your brain is the independent (parent). They come to your brain with emotions of anger, fear, an adrenaline rush, or a lack of appetite. Your brain executes a plan determined by surroundings. For example, someone is walking nearby in the street, at the same pace as you, oh, but maybe a step or two quicker; immediately, an adrenaline rush begins to occur and your mind works out the facts of whether you have a stalker. Is the person suspicious looking? Is he armed, strong, and are you alone? Then suddenly, he crosses the street and heads towards the other block. Your reasoning grows serene at the realization he is a mere stranger.

In the example above, the heart was an influence to your thoughts. How? A pumping heart can affect your thoughts, making your brain scramble to keep calm.

But whether or not the heart’s neurons can grow fearful or the brain itself does the “feeling” and the “thinking” does not matter for this discussion. We can wait until later for science to discover the details. Right now, whether he means the Valentines heart or the muscly organ, Jesus has our answer in Matthew 15:16-20 regarding the role of the heart:

“Don’t you understand?” Jesus asked him. “Don’t you see that anything you eat passes through the digestive tract and out again? But evil words come from an evil heart and defile the man who says them. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile; but there is no spiritual defilement from eating without first going through the ritual of ceremonial handwashing!” (TLB)

The Old Testament also speaks of the heart. Jeremiah 17:9-10 says:

“The heart is the most deceitful thing there is and desperately wicked. No one can really know how bad it is! Only the Lord knows! He searches all hearts and examines deepest motives so he can give to each person his right reward, according to his deeds—how he has lived.” (TLB)

That’s why the heart needs a guardian, because it needs to stay dependent on the brain to make sense of things, and connect with the knowledge of the Lord and His Word. There may be neurons in the heart (estimated to be 40,000), but there are billions more in the brain and the brain is where laws, principles, logic, solutions, and memories are kept.

“For whatever God says to us is full of living power: it is sharper than the sharpest dagger, cutting swift and deep into our innermost thoughts and desires with all their parts, exposing us for what we really are…” (Hebrews 4:12, TLB)

Meanwhile, the stomach (where an estimated 100 million neurons are!) is temporary to this life, and probably sends signals to keep us alive, but does nothing for our spiritual walk. As Jesus said to Satan when he was starving in the wilderness, to keep temptation away,

Jesus answered, “The Scriptures say:

‘No one can live only on food.
People need every word
that God has spoken.’”

(Matthew 4:3-5, CEV)

Paul also makes the argument, in the context of sexual immorality and how wrong it is, that the stomach and the body is temporary and that the body should therefore be used for God’s purposes instead of man’s whims.

“Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.

And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power.”

(1 Corinthians 6:13-14, KJV)

Therefore, the mind should become the guardian of the heart and stomach, watching over them from a leader’s perspective. The mind is where the higher intelligence of Jesus Christ and his gospel is stored, along with steps on how to get to heaven, saving a person from the “second death”:

But those who are cowards, who refuse to believe, who do evil things, who kill, who are sexually immoral, who do evil magic, who worship idols, and who tell lies—all these will have a place in the lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8, ICB)

We must stay on the “road of right living” to stay safe:

“The road of right living bypasses evil;
watch your step and save your life.

First pride, then the crash—
the bigger the ego, the harder the fall.”

(Proverbs 16:17-18, The Message)

It takes smarts to decipher “right living”! However, it’s not too hard a concept: even Abraham was considered righteous because of his faith, which is the same as it is now, with faith in Jesus Christ.

Genesis 15:6: “And he [Abraham] believed in the Lord, and He [God] accounted it to him for righteousness.”

In conclusion, with the smartness of your brain, the knowledge of Christ, and the grace of God, you can make your heart pure and keep it clean and fearless in the sight of God.  You’ll find a beautiful treasure waiting! Your pure heart will become the loving kindness behind the logic – the brain’s benefactor – and compassionate intuition will aid your deed doing.

 “So let us come near to God with a sincere heart and a sure faith. We have been cleansed and made free from feelings of guilt. And our bodies have been washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22, ICB)

 

 “…Everything about us is bare and wide open to the all-seeing eyes of our living God; nothing can be hidden from him to whom we must explain all that we have done.” (Hebrews 4:13, TLB)

 

”No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God [Jesus], is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.” (John 1:18, NLT)

 

“By the power of your hand, O Lord,
destroy those who look to this world for their reward.
But satisfy the hunger of your treasured ones.
May their children have plenty,
leaving an inheritance for their descendants.
Because I am righteous, I will see you.
When I awake, I will see you face to face and be satisfied.”

(Psalm 17:14-15, NLT)

“You can either doubt God and think he is in no part of your life, or you can believe God and think he is in every part of your life - everything changes.” ~Lacy Andrews

 

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Multifaceted Mercy

"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." Matthew 5:7 (NIV)

The world is full of people who are self-driven: as long as they aren’t in pain or in some sort of discomfort, their lives are just fine.  Their own happiness, reputation, and enjoyment are what’s important. They would rather watch and laugh at other people’s misfortunes instead of lending a hand.

"The earth, O Lord, is full of Your mercy; teach me Your statutes." Psalm 119:64 (MEV)
"This is what the Lord Almighty says... show mercy and compassion to one another..." Zechariah 7:9 (NIV)

We are to show mercy… but what is mercy? It’s surely not something that comes naturally for us, because it’s a trait of God Almighty, but it’s a trait that all Christians must learn to imitate.  It’s part of God’s statutes.

"So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For he who has shown no mercy will have judgment without mercy, for mercy triumphs over judgment." James 2:12-13 (MEV)

Showing mercy is… being able to cry in another person’s skin; it’s feeling their pain, being concerned about their wellbeing, and having a strong desire to do something to help out.  We were put on this earth to show God’s mercy to the people around us.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NIV)

Showing mercy is… realizing that we are no different than our neighbor, and reaching out to show kindness to them.  Before receiving God’s grace, we were the same as those who aren’t saved.  It’s only by God’s mercy (the same mercy that we are required to imitate) that we are set apart.

"...you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the age of this world and according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among them we all also once lived in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and we were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)," Ephesians 2:1-5 (MEV)
"At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life." Titus 3:3-7 (NIV)
"If your brother sins against you, rebuke him. And if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turns to you, saying, "I repent," you must forgive him." Luke 17:3-4 (MEV)

It has been said that the difference between grace and mercy is that grace is giving us what we don’t deserve, while mercy is not giving us what we do deserve. That’s true, but only partially true.  Actually, the difference is that grace takes away our faults, while mercy takes away our pain.

Showing mercy is… knowing when to rebuke a person who is wrong and when to allow the person to have the final word; it’s also knowing how stern or soft to make the rebuke, when you are called to give one.

"But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned." Titus 3:9-11 (NIV)
"Brothers, if a man is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore such a one in the spirit of meekness, watching yourselves, lest you also be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." Galations 6:1-2 (MEV)

Showing mercy does NOT… always follow the moral standards of the rest of the world. Worldly common sense would tell you to give a homeless man a 20 dollar bill to pay for his meal. But mercy would tell you not to buy him a meal. Rather, teach a man how to work and then he can feed himself.

"In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: 'The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.'  

"We hear that some  among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.  

"Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer." 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 (NIV)

Sometimes showing mercy must take an extreme stance: it may require to dis-fellowship a brother or sister in Christ who does not try to follow God’s laws.

"Now if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, then take with you one or two others, that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every word may be established. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile [or pagan] and a tax collector." Matthew 18:15-17 (MEV)
"It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father's wife.  And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this.  So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

"Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch - as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 

"I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people - not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case  you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. 

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. 'Expel the wicked person from among you.' " 1 Corinthians 5:2-23 (NIV)

Most of all, showing mercy calls us to… pray for those who we see living in sin, because “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. So if we know that He hears whatever we ask, we know that we have whatever we asked of Him.” 1 John 5:13-15 (MEV)  

As long as we continue to pray for the people we know, God won’t give up trying to reach them to save and to grant them eternal life.

Today’s Hymn: Immortal, Invisible God

I was doing a Youtube search for the hymn “Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise” and my favorites I will share with you, but something about the lyrics struck a chord in my heart. The lyrics are old; the meaning is magnificent.

First, the lyrics:

Verse 1
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
in light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.

Verse 2
Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.

Verse 3
To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small,
in all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
we blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
and wither and perish, but naught changeth Thee.

Verse 4
Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
all praise we would render, O help us to see
’tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee!

 

Next, how it touched me:

In worship, there was a reading of the lyrics before singing the hymn, so we could better understand the old song’s message. What I interpret from it is this:

  • Verse 1 tells of the unsearchable quality of God, how he is light and yet his light we are not aware, even as we praise him. “Too vague a God” skeptics say, and too big a concept for any of us to fathom, really, but Jesus Christ gives us reason to believe (recommended reading: “A Case for Christ”  by Lee Strobel)
  • Verse 2 expresses the simile “silent as light” which my brain wants to replace the word light with night, due to the popular song “Silent Night”. But then I actually think about it, and how much more silent can anything be, than light? God’s mighty presence is all around us, his handiwork in the sky and mountain peaks.  His plan is carefully brought about by his perfect love. Even in the hurricane, his love never ceases.
  • Verse 3 strengthens the point he is ruler, unchanged by fleeting lives and seasons. Even when the hurricane comes and goes, and the flowers bloom and the grass grows for months on end afterwards, once it is all over, God still remains.
  • Verse 4 finishes the point with the majestic request for God, the invisible, to not let our lack of sight be a hindrance in our faith. God and the angels are there, but our hearts pray, please don’t let our eyes hinder us from seeing the light and believing God is within it.

Last, the spotlight videos from international sources:
Sang by American music group Out of Eden (live performance), along with the song Meditate

Sang by African worship group Soul Winners Worship, an African worship group

Sang by American artist Fernando Ortego

Piano Solo by a member of Singapore church, Life Missions Church

 

Meekness Defined

“Pop, pop, pop! Bom, bom, bom!  throughout the day. No time for memorandums now. Go ahead! Liberty and Independence forever.”

~Davy Crockett, the last entry in his diary, on the 5th of March, 1836

In the battle of the Alamo, do you think you would you hear Davy Crockett telling his fellow patriots “Proud men, we’ll need to be meek in this battle!”  To call the battle of the Alamo meek would be like trying to pronounce Hurricane Harvey as a meek storm in the wake of its devastation at Rockport and its torrential downpour over Houston this weekend. The defenders of the Alamo fought courageously, and the Tropical Storm Harvey still threatens Southern Texas with its strong winds and flooding waters. That’s not the image of meekness, is it?

In today’s world, meekness is labeled as weak.  The Merriam-Webster explains the word meek with 3 definitions.  The first is “enduring injury with patience and without resentment: mild”; the second definition states “deficient in spirit and courage: submissive” and the third says “not violent or strong: moderate”.

The definition of the Greek word πρᾷος, or práos, according to the biblehub.com is “mild, gentle, meek, kind”. HELPS Word-studies gives the example: “the necessary balance of exercising power and avoiding harshness”.

As Christians, we need to show meekness.  But what defines meekness in God’s book?

“So I am not the one living now—it is Christ living in me. I still live in my body, but I live by faith in the Son of God. He is the one who loved me and gave himself to save me.” Galations 2:20 (ERV)

Since it is Christ living in us that inspires our actions, and Christ says “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:29, ASV), we should strive to be meek like Him.

John 2:12-17 shows us an example of Jesus’s meekness.  While God’s temple was supposed to be a house of worship and reverence to the Lord where people would come to find forgiveness through sacrifices that they offered, the Jewish leaders had set up stalls and tables in the temple, and the people were told to buy the perfect sacrificial offerings from the temple, when their own offerings didn’t match the priests’ standards.

…it was almost time for the Jewish Passover Feast. So Jesus went to Jerusalem. In the Temple he found men selling cattle, sheep, and doves. He saw others sitting at tables, exchanging money. Jesus made a whip out of cords. Then he forced all these men, with the sheep and cattle, to leave the Temple. He turned over the tables and scattered the money of the men who were exchanging it. Then he said to those who were selling pigeons, “Take these things out of here! Don’t make my Father’s house a place for buying and selling!”

When this happened the followers remembered what was written in the Scriptures: “My strong love for your Temple completely controls me.” (ICB)

HurricaneHarvey-HibiscusLeaf_2017-8-27

Quoting Psalm 69:9, this is a good example of what meekness truly means.  “My strong love for your Temple completely controls me.”  It’s not mildness or submissiveness or the lack of strength as the world sees it.  It’s zealously letting God’s will be the one to control the actions that you take.  Like Moses, who was called the meekest person on the face of the earth (Numbers 12:3); like Stephen, who portrayed a godly meek spirit with a powerful speech (Acts 7); like Daniel, with his meek request to disregard the king’s orders (Daniel 1:5-21); like Paul, who boldly wrote letters to Christ’s churches “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10-13); and like David’s meekness when he wrote his psalms and praises to the Lord; we need to represent Jesus’s “meek and lowly” spirit in our own lives.

 

 

Psalm 46:9-11, ESV

“Come, behold the works of the Lord,
    how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
    he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the chariots with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”

The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

 

Psalm 69:9, 16-20, 30-36, ESV

“For zeal for your house has consumed me,
    and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me…

“Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good;
    according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.
Hide not your face from your servant,
    for I am in distress; make haste to answer me.
Draw near to my soul, redeem me;
    ransom me because of my enemies!

You know my reproach,
    and my shame and my dishonor;
    my foes are all known to you.
Reproaches have broken my heart,
    so that I am in despair.
I looked for pity, but there was none,
    and for comforters, but I found none…

I will praise the name of God with a song;
    I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
This will please the Lord more than an ox
    or a bull with horns and hoofs.
When the humble see it they will be glad;
    you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
For the Lord hears the needy
    and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.

Let heaven and earth praise him,
    the seas and everything that moves in them.
For God will save Zion
    and build up the cities of Judah,
and people shall dwell there and possess it;
    the offspring of his servants shall inherit it,
    and those who love his name shall dwell in it.”

 

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” Isaiah 26:3 NIV

Be Comforted by the Rock of Ages

Today during worship, I sang the old hymn, Rock of Ages. It is a beautiful song, especially sung by the Mennonite Choir in the video above, and it’s also sung around the world; below there’s another sing-along video with the lyrics both in English and Khmer (the language of Cambodia), and also a third video by the choir at Michael’s Children Home. The choir in the third video has a mesmerizing new arrangement, starting at 1 minute and 28 seconds; I strongly recommend you take a listen.

I believe the diversity we have in Christ, and in our brothers and sisters around the globe, is indeed a pleasure to behold. I invite you to join me in song and praise, wherever you are, so we can make Christ’s joy complete.

Cure for the Guilty Conscience

Paradox of Matthew 5

“What joy of those who mourn…”

Matthew 5:4, paraphrased by Ted Kell

In Matthew 5:4, Jesus tells us that we will be blessed when we mourn. He’s not talking about the mourning that comes with a tragic event or with anxiety of tomorrow.  Nor does he refer to the despairing sorrows of the world or morbid self pity.  There’s a special kind of mourning that Jesus speaks of that brings us blessings.

It’s human nature to want to run away from something that you know you’ve done wrong.  Maybe you want to hide from it or brush it away and try to ignore it as best as you can.  But as Christians, we are called to mourn for our sins.  We mourn because we realize that we will never be perfect.

We are told in Hebrews 12:14 to “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (NIV).  We must live a holy life to be an example for the people around us; but to be holy one must reach perfection, and it is impossible for us to live a perfect life, so we mourn because we fail our calling.  Like David when he wrote Psalm 38:17 & 18, “For I am about to fall, and my pain is ever with me. I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin…” (NIV) and Isaiah in Isaiah 6:5 when he declares that ” ‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty…” (NIV) we must recognize our sinfulness and we must mourn for it, because it’s our sins that lead to our death.

2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us that in Christ we are a new creation: “…the old has gone, the new has come!” (NIV) But when we sin, we return to our old sinful nature, and so we mourn.  We mourn because it is our sins that sends us to death, but Jesus took our place.  He was nailed on the cross for our sins.  We can never be perfect the way that He was perfect.

“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.” Psalm 32:1

In our mourning because of how sinful we are, God sees our grief and He forgives us.  We can take comfort in His forgiveness and be joyful: our sins are erased and we are made alive when we believe in Christ and accept Him as our Lord and Savior.  (Ephesians 2:1-10) Our sinful death has become a merciful resurrection.

A letter from Paul to the church in Corinth, concerning godly grief and forgiveness (2 Corinthians 2:5-11,NIV; 7:2-16, ESV):

“If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent — not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.  Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven — if there was anything to forgive — I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.  (2:5-11, NIV)

Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together I am acting with great boldness towards you: I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy. 

For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn — fighting without and fear within.  But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more  For even if I made  you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it — though I did regret it, for I see that the letter grieved you, though only for a while.  As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting.  For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.  For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. Therefore we are comforted.  

And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. For whatever boasts I made to him about you, I was not put to shame. But just as everything we said to you was true, so also our boasting before Titus has proved true. And his affection for you is even greater, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling. I rejoice, because I have complete confidence in you.” (7:2-16, ESV)

 

God’s Kingdom is for the Empty-Hearted

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

In this week’s cassette tape study, late preacher Ted Kell tells us about the kingdom of heaven, and how we can be in God’s kingdom, starting today into eternity. It’s a glorious existence to serve the King of kings, Lord of lords, Heavenly One, and Creator. Let us define what His kingdom is, and how we go about entering into the gates.

First of all, let’s describe the difference in philosophies between the physical realm and the heavenly realm. With the physical, there’s this philosophy that if you can’t see or touch in tangible form a building or throne, there is no kingdom. People love to visit castles in England, and onion domes in Russia with their colorful tops, and the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, from times gone by; or like the young man who asked our current US President recently on Twitter, “It would be my honor to mow the White House lawn some weekend for you… I have been mowing my neighbors’ lawns for some time” — if there is no stepping into the threshold, no soles of one’s shoes hitting the marble floor before the throne where Abe’s statue sits in the Washington memorial; like that, if it hasn’t been experienced physically, then it can’t be marked off the bucket list, therefore it cannot be said that we ever “entered into the kingdom”.

In heaven’s philosophy, God the Creator made the whole world, and His kingdom is where His throne, and His authority, is. In Isaiah 66:1-2, we can read that God is with the hearts and minds of those who are contrite. (To be contrite means to show remorse or to have the desire for atonement.)

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest? For all those things My hand has made, and all those things exist,’ says the Lord. ‘But on this one I will look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.'”

Kell said, paraphrased, you’re God’s people. Ours is the kingdom. The whole earth is ours — the Alexanders think it’s theirs but it’s not, it’s God. His great victory is ours, too, because God lives in us, within us. We must empty our selves, our egos, in order to receive God’s victory.

With that mindset, we can ask ourselves, what in life can be taken away from a Christian? How does one break a man who is already broken? What’s the victory in beating a man who has already given up the physical? So it is for the kingdom inheritors who accept Jesus’s words as true, and follow His example, becoming brothers and sisters in His blood as we sacrifice our selves on the cross next to Him.

Apostle Paul described his own poor and contrite perspective in 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, as he explained his works, along with Apollos’s (another servant of Christ):

 “So look at Apollos and me as mere servants of Christ who have been put in charge of explaining God’s mysteries. Now, a person who is put in charge as a manager must be faithful. As for me, it matters very little how I might be evaluated by you or by any human authority. I don’t even trust my own judgment on this point. My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide.

“So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time—before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due.”

It’s mysterious to fathom God’s kingdom, both physically and spiritually, and the sooner we admit the answers don’t come from ourselves, the sooner we will enter into the gates and step before His throne.

Finally, Ted Kell told of a sobering example where soldiers from World War II defined the meaning for us, what it means to lose oneself to gain the kingdom:

7 troops from the Ukrainian army bravely volunteered for a dangerous work -utmost secrecy- against the ominous Nazis who came with tanks and artillery in a complete takeover. They volunteered to conduct a Kamikaze-type journey of blowing up the enemy’s tanks. As they stood before their leader, he began selecting the troops who would carry out the mission, and they waited anxiously to find out who among them were chosen. 7 names were on the board. The leader struck out 3 of the names. Immediately, those 3 troops began to protest, as they thought that being struck out meant they weren’t chosen. “We volunteered!” they objected. “We want to go!” The leader was quick to correct the misunderstanding. “Your names weren’t struck out because you were not chosen. You are chosen. After today, you will no longer be accounted for by the army officials. You 3 cease to exist. We are not responsible for your lives.” The chosen volunteers were going to be removed from the roster- proving the extent of deadliness in their mission.

Through it all, the glory of war did not leave those Ukrainian soldiers, because they chose to sacrifice themselves in the most rewarding call of duty, with their very lives, volunteering headfirst for the suicidal course of action. They even protested when they thought their names were canceled. Likewise, we as kingdom inheritors must voluntarily lose ourselves in order to gain possession of the kingdom. Whoever is willing to lose his carnal, physical life for Jesus Christ’s sake will in return find his spiritual, immortal life. Guaranteed!

“Now when He (Jesus) asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:20-21

 

Poor in Spirit, Rich in Blessings

What comes to your mind when you hear the word “poor”?  Homeless? Moneyless? No jacket or socks to keep the chill off your skin?  Sure not the meaning that comes from Matthew 5:3.

In the Old Testament, the word poor was used for the Israelites when they were sent out into the wilderness.  They had refused to trust that God would deliver a nation of giants to them and gift them with the giants’ rich land, even though it was the land God had promised their forefathers.

In Hebrew, the word poor is “ani”, which is translated as afflicted or destitute of worldly (physical) goods.  If you’re poor then you have absolutely no power.

In New Testament Greek, the word poor is “penes”, which comes from the word “ponos”, or pain and anguish.  So when Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God belongs to the poor in spirit, He is talking about people who are suffering and in pain.

Being poor in spirit is the root of the beatitudes; it’s the attitude that all the other beatitudes are built on. The principle of spiritual poverty is humility: to be aware of our sinfulness and our need for God’s mercy. As human, we should know that we cannot escape our sins. We try to do good. We help people when we see trouble. We try to tell the truth and we try to live righteous lives. But we fail every time.  No matter how perfect we become we are still in a spiritual debt that we can never repay.

But then something amazing happened: Jesus was rich, but He became poor for our sakes. He was born into a poor family.  His parents gave two turtle doves for Him when He was born (Luke 2:22-24). This is the sacrifice reserved for the poor. Jesus was later supported by the women who He had healed as He went and preached (Luke 8:2-3). He also took the food that he ate from wild trees in the streets (Mark 11:12-14).

The truth is, Jesus gave up his rich life to live a life that would eventually turn so many people against him that they placed him on a cross.  He became our sacrificial lamb. He bought us so that we can reach the kingdom of heaven with His perfection.

God doesn’t despise the person who is broken spirited. All we have to do is ask Him for strength.

“But it is good for me to draw near unto God: I have made the Lord Jehovah my refuge, that I may tell of all thy works.”  Psalms 73:28 (ASV)

Our Living Hope

We all hope for things: dreams for the future, happiness for a friend, safety and security in a time of distress… What are you hoping for?

As Christians our hope reaches further than the hope of the world.  Our second birth, which is baptism (John 3:1-8, Romans 6:1-7, 1 Peter 3:21), delivers us into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We are promised an eternal inheritance that is kept in heaven for us.

1 Peter was a letter that was written for Christians who were displaced and scattered.  During the time the letter was being written, Christians were being slandered and persecuted and attacked with accusations, often false to get them into trouble with the government.  Rome wasn’t friendly to people who claimed to follow Jesus.

Peter wanted to encourage the scattered Christians to be loyal in their faith, even during suffering.

Things that the world hopes in passes away; but as Christians our hope is in the eternal.  Ours is a living hope, one that never perishes or fades away.  Our hope is in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Romans 6:8-10 says “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.”

We as Christians need to be optimistic.  We have a hope that reaches further than the hope of the world; we have a living hope.

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:8,9

A song that we sung during worship fits this message very well: ­­We Have Heard the Joyful Sound by William J. Kirkpatrick and Priscilla J. Owens.

“We have heard the joyful sound: Jesus saves! Jesus saves! Spread the tidings all around: Jesus saves! Jesus saves! Bear the news to every land, climb the steeps and cross the waves; Onward!—‘tis our Lord’s command; Jesus saves! Jesus saves!

“Waft it on the rolling tide, Jesus saves, Jesus saves; Tell to sinners far and wide, Jesus saves, Jesus saves; Sing, ye islands of the sea, Eco back, ye ocean caves; Earth shall keep her jubilee, Jesus saves, Jesus saves.

“Sing above the battle’s strife, Jesus saves, Jesus saves; By His death and endless life, Jesus saves, Jesus saves; Sing it softly thru the gloom, when the heart for mercy craves, sing in triumph o’er the tomb, Jesus saves, Jesus saves.

“Give the winds a mighty voice, Jesus saves, Jesus saves; Let the nations now rejoice. Jesus saves, Jesus saves; Shout salvation full and free, Highest hills and deepest caves, This our song of victory, Jesus saves, Jesus saves.”

Girls With Swords, Final Week

This week, we’re discussing Chapter 9, Sword of Harvest, of Girls With Swords.  The contents of the pages honestly alarmed me: author Bevere compared Christianity, and the Word of God, to a machete, which is a sword known to be versatile and effective, yet easy to carry and wield. I was alarmed because, at the very beginning of the book, I was lead to believe we would have sympathy throughout our study, for those stuck in situations like human trafficking, sexual abuse, violence, and domestic abuse, and so I found the sword/faith comparison this time a little disturbing, a bit frightening.

To compare our power as Christians to that of a machete, in modern days, is harsh and uncouth. This type of sword may have originally been a North American invention (as author Bevere states), and it may be used for numerous things such as cutting vines, gathering crops, and altering territory, but right now, it is only seen as a tool for murder, at least in the news. I extend a bit of grace to the author for the fact the book’s copyright dates back to 2013, so perhaps she wrote it without modern news in mind. But even that’s not an excuse. Here’s a story from 2008, about churchgoers in Kenya being literally slaughtered by a violent mob who held machetes (click here to read it), which was a story that came before she copyrighted the book. She writes her book for an international audience; then she must write for a broader view than her own!

To strengthen my argument, I took a quick moment on Google to search the term “machete”. At first you can see stores that sell them, the movie from IMDB titled “Machete”, among an assortment of things. But go to “News”, and all you see is violence, killing, and attempts to chase, threaten, and harm one another with the sword. I understand reading the Bible can even be harsh sometimes, and there are times when addressing war and weapons are acceptable, but considering the audience she boasts about having at the beginning of the book, I would think she’d consider their lives, stories, and traumatic experiences. I read a story, about a year ago, in a newsletter I get, where a woman talked about raiders who were Muslim came to her Christian village and horrifically slayed the villagers with the weapon, and she couldn’t get the image out of her mind, the image of her attacker holding the machete. How would she feel after reading Chapter 9? I don’t know, but I thought the book was meant to heal people like these, not remind them of their horrors, even making them feel like they need to hold the sword and wield it, like some sort of revenge or surrender.

Therefore, the uncouthness of the book leads me to say, I can no longer study the book, seeing as I feel betrayed for the sake of the audience (I thought) we both want to reach out to. I started with hope that insight would come; instead, as the book progresses, it gets repetitive (same message about good vs. evil repeated chapter after chapter), it gets shallow and gimmicky, which she herself condemns. Bevere also does interpret the Word and doesn’t teach it deeply; she simply uses it to further her message, which can be misleading.

After all, I’ll even confess. A hint of remorse is in my heart now, when I think of my earlier video activities, where I compared our lives to that of the samurai, or the musketeer, and others – yes, I taught it that way to be excited and zealous for the journey, and help others understand a good message, but I ask myself now, when can comparisons go too far? Can they be used to enshroud the truth, rather than reveal it? I feel that’s true in Chapter 9, that she cannot be straightforward and won’t tell us in more detail what we need to know, for right living, and for being God’s girls.

So after 9 weeks, I am frustrated and disappointed at Girls With Swords. Kat backed me up by saying, “Face it, it’s not the book I thought it would be.” Our study has not been worthless, but I would like to move on to something else now and conclude the study. Thank you so much for being interested, and let me know if you have questions or requests.

A joyful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

Proverbs 17:22