Posts tagged ‘heart’

Do You Have Any Bleating Sheep?

When Samuel finally found him, Saul greeted him cheerfully. “May the Lord bless you,” he said. “I have carried out the Lord’s command!”   

“Then what is all the bleating of sheep and goats and the lowing of cattle I hear?” Samuel demanded.   1 Samuel 15:13-14

King Saul had been given the mission to completely wipe out the Amalekites. He was to take no plunder, receive no personal gain other than the eradication of sin in the lives of the Israelites. He did indeed destroy everything that was not of value to him. But he kept the best sheep and cattle for his personal gain. Of course he was going to use some of these prized animals to offer sacrifices. But even in offering them for sacrifices he knew that his stature would increase among his people. How often do we serve others for our own gain? How often do we obey God’s commands to the extent that we profit?

I have often gone on God’s errands as I hear His calling in my life. Just like King Saul, I have fought battles and won victories for the glory of God. I look back on my time as a pastor and am thankful for the calling and the opportunity to grow. But truth be told, there have been too many times when I have fought God’s battles with my armor. I have too often confused my agenda with His agenda. I have too often co-opted His mission for my selfish gain. It is easy to rationalize the meaning of love and service for others to fulfill my own needs. There have been times when I felt the need to DO something rather than wait for God’s clear direction. And I must admit that there have been times when I sought personal recognition as the spoils of battle while on God’s mission.

I, like King Saul, have argued that I am on God’s errands and thus have obeyed Him. It is true that God can use our actions to help others even when our motives are impure. But this is not an argument in favor of impure motives. This simply highlights the power of God’s love who can transform our acts that come from misguided motives into acts of redemption. But the fact remains that God still desires our heart above all else. He is only concerned with our actions as they demonstrate the condition of our heart. This is why Samuel replied to Saul’s protest that he had done God’s mission when his heart was not aligned with the heart of God:  “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols. So because you have rejected the command of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.”   1 Samuel 15:22-23

This may seem harsh until you remember that all God is seeking are men and women after His own heart. Enter King David. He had plenty of flaws, plenty of evil deeds. We could talk for weeks about the disastrous choices David had made. And yet David still lived from the heart and allowed God to teach him, mould him, grow him, and transform him. We can only be taught, moulded, grown, and transformed in the heart. God is a heart surgeon, not an orthopedic surgeon. It is with your heart that you submit to Him. It doesn’t matter what you have done or what you will do. The only thing that really matters is the condition of your heart. This is where the battle takes place.

It’s time we focus on matters of the heart, matters of being, and let the doing take care of itself. It’s time to stop judging one another’s actions and focus on allowing God to live in our hearts. It’s time we live from the heart, feel with the heart, and believe in the heart… of God.

What Do You Expect?

As they [Peter and John] approached the Temple, a man lame from birth was being carried in. Each day he was put beside the Temple gate, the one called the Beautiful Gate, so he could beg from the people going into the Temple. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for some money. Peter and John looked at him intently, and Peter said, “Look at us!” The lame man looked at them eagerly, expecting some money. But Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!”   Acts 3:2-6

When my daughter, Sally, asked me to run a marathon with her, I expected to get into shape. I had tried several times in the past to run on a regular basis. I would buy the right shoes and running clothes to be successful. I would set aside a time each day to run. But something would always happen that derailed my best efforts. So I decided to give this a try with Sally with the expectation that I would simply be more fit. 

We see a story in Acts of man who had temporal expectations of his needs being fulfilled at the temple. He was taken to the temple to get a little money to survive another day. He was being reasonable. He was not asking for the world. Like me with running, he simply wanted to be a little better off for the experience. But Peter knew God had so much more to give this man. So he said, “Look at us!” It’s as if Peter was slapping him in the face to get his attention. He was at the temple of God, after all! He was at the place where miracles occurred, lives were changed, sins forgiven, and power experienced. 

But instead of giving him money, Peter healed the man in the name of Jesus. The fact is that Jesus gives us far more than we ask if we can only accept it. But our expectations can get in the way. This man was focused on his own condition thinking he could never change, never be healed, never be able to be a blessing to anyone else. And so he was seeking a few coins to make it on this earth without thought of the new earth. He was seeking temporal gain without a burning desire for eternal transformation. He was living in his own kingdom rather than the Kingdom of God. 

The goal of completing a marathon changed my approach to running. I read books on how to train, what to eat, when and how far to run. Sally was my Peter. When I made excuses, she said, “Look, we can do this!” Once I began, I realized I had failed at running in the past because I had only focused on the temporal expectations. Once I began training for a marathon, those meager expectations were shattered by the reality of the eternal and spiritual benefits God had in store for me. Running became an obsession that changed my life. I found it to be a spiritual experience that helped me face issues in my life I didn’t even realize were there. I learned the connection between my mind and my body. In the process, I learned the importance of living from the heart that allowed me to connect with Sally, and others, in ways I never thought possible. It was during my training runs that I connected in God more deeply that allowed me to hear His call into pastoral ministry.

What are your expectations for life? What are your expectations today? Too often we live for temporal benefits alone. We go to work expecting nothing more than a paycheck. We do our errands expecting nothing more than getting bills paid and the groceries bought. But God is saying to each one of us each day, “Look at ME!” When we look at Him, He will heal our broken hearts, correct our screwed up thoughts, and transform our weakened lives. When we focus on the temporal, the best we can do is get in a little better shape. When we look at Him, we gain the eternal realities of faith and love that become a part of everything we do in every circumstance with every person every day.

Faith and Science

And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart…  Ezekiel 11:19

I had a friend in college who became an atheist my freshman year. He was a junior chemistry major desiring to be admitted to medical school. He was taking a challenging course called “P Chem” (Physical Chemistry). But he became more concerned with the metaphysical world as he wrote a 400 page paper for himself on the existence of God that quarter. He would come to my dorm room in the evening and we would discuss the issues of God’s existence into the early morning hours. And though I defended my belief in God, he had an influence on me as I too doubted the very existence of God 5 years later. 

The reason I rejected God is that I wanted to be intellectually honest. I struggled with the idea of being objective and how I could know the truth. I saw science as objectively seeking truth and I didn’t know what to do with faith. So I lived without faith in God for most of my time in medical school and my entire OBGYN residency training. I was so busy that it didn’t make much of a difference in how I lived, or at least I didn’t think so. Not, at least, until I graduated from residency and became a staff physician at the hospital in Subic Bay, Republic of the Philippines.

During this time I realized the practice of medicine was not simply the application of science in the lives of human beings. There were nurses, technicians, and other doctors with whom I needed to interact on a personal basis. How I treated them actually affected how we were able to treat the patient and her medical condition. I found that compassion, love, forgiveness, respect, listening, caring, and empathizing were necessary components in the healing process. But these were components of healing that came from faith, not science. This is when I began my journey to understand the role of faith in my life. This is when I realized that such necessary components resided in my heart.

The problem was that I had developed a stony heart. I could make a nurse cry in a heartbeat and feel completely justified in doing so in the name of science. After all, anyone who did not do exactly as I ordered was getting in the way of the healing principles of science. But when the heart of the “healer” is hardened, the “healer” tends to wound the hearts of those around him causing more damage than his application of scientific principles can repair. 

Science makes the world a better place. Science saves lives. Science enhances our existence on this earth and helps us understand how things work. But it is faith that brings love, compassion, justice, and peace into our world and into our lives. Science may make life easier to live, but it is faith that makes life worth living. In Subic Bay I discovered that I could not prove the existence of God. But He proved His existence to me by changing my heart, which is where faith resides.

I still struggle with the remnants of a stony heart. There are too many days when I want my own way and my heart begins to harden. But I can feel it and see it in my interactions with others. And when I give my heart to Him, He always softens it through His Word, through the words of others, through circumstances of life, and through a growing self-awareness that comes as I focus on Him. I have found the heart to be ground zero in the battle for life and healing. I exhort you to put your faith in God. Allow Him to soften it.  But I must warn you that such faith will change your heart and change your life. 

He’s Knocking

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.”   Revelation 3:20

Every Christmas Eve my grandparents came to our house for dinner and then we would open the gifts they brought with them. Those are the only gifts we opened on Christmas Eve, but this only heightened my anticipation for the evening. I would sit in our living room waiting to hear for their knock at the front door. There was something warm and cozy about those nights. The meal, the conversations, the gifts, the love all came together to make me feel that life is safe and filled with joy. 

Every time I read Revelation 3:20, I am comforted by the visual of Him knocking on MY door, wanting to share a meal with me so He can talk with me and share with me. The really cool thing is that He always brings a gift for me – one that I need at that moment. Sometimes it is a word of encouragement. Other times it is a reminder that I am His child with citizenship in His Kingdom. And then there are the times He points out what I am doing wrong and how I can correct it. But no matter what, He always has the gift of salvation for me.

My problem is that there are too many times I am so busy with life or wrapped up in my own thoughts and troubles that I do not hear His knock. I worry about my schedule or my health or what others are thinking of me or my next project that needs to be completed. I get so consumed with the busyness of life that too many times I am not listening for the knock of Jesus. And I ask myself why I anticipated the presence, conversation and gifts from my grandparents once a year more than I anticipate the presence, conversation, and gifts from Jesus every day. I eagerly awaited the knock from my grandparents. I always heard it and answered the door. 

Why do we so often not hear the knock from Jesus? What does it look like for us to wait for Jesus? What does it look like to listen for His knock on our heart’s door? As I think of my experiences on Christmas Eve each year, I realize I need to focus on the door! I need to listen for the knock.

I find myself listening for His knock when I truly want to eat with Him. And so I find that He knocks as I read the Word and pray. That it seems an obvious time to hear His knock. But I have found that He also knocks throughout the rest of my day if I am listening. He knocks as I see a homeless person on the street, during a conversation with a critic, at a board meeting when tensions are high, and during a crucial conversation with a friend. When I answer the door, Jesus always has just the gift I need for that situation. And then I wonder why I don’t listen for His knock ALL the time!

How do you look and listen for Jesus in your life? What can you do each day to optimize your awareness of Jesus at your door? What does sharing a supper with Jesus look like for you? 

 

Take Heart!

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.  John 16:33

Trials and sorrows come in many shapes and forms. They are part of the human experience as we know it. No one escapes them. Everyone has them. And yet the trials and sorrows we all experience can be part of a peace-filled, purpose-filled, joy-filled life. There are times when our trials and sorrows overwhelm and discourage us, while there are other times when they become the foundation of spiritual growth and peace. So what makes the difference? How can we claim the promise of Romans 8:28 that all things work together for good for those who love God?

Jesus took the time to prepare His disciples for the cross. He knew they were expecting Him to be an earthly king who would overthrow the Roman government. He knew His death would be a major trial for them causing great and overwhelming sorrow. Can you imagine how devastating it must have been to the disciples to see Jesus hanging on the cross? All of their hopes and dreams of a life with Him must have vanished. They must have felt the deepest sorrow possible. They may even have felt abandoned and all alone.

Can you identify with their experience? Have you ever felt all alone? Misunderstood? Abandoned by others and by God? Most, if not all, of us know what this feels like. We have been discouraged by the trials of life, the sorrows of this earth. Many of us are facing such trials at this very moment. But Jesus explains to us today as He did to His disciples 2000 years ago that what we physically see is rarely the full story. Consider the Cross. What felt like total loss and abandonment was actually the greatest act of love providing  the greatest power and the eternal presence of God ever to be experienced in the universe.

Not only did sin die with Jesus on that Cross, but the Holy Spirit was released to live in our hearts with the power to bring peace and victory in the presence of every trial and sorrow. When we realize this fact, we can experience God’s peace in every circumstance. Because love conquered sin on the Cross, Jesus is able to turn apparent loss, abandonment, trials, and even sorrow into a peace that passes all understanding. And this peace is found IN Jesus.

If you are having trials or sorrows, “take heart.” Abide in Jesus as He has overcome the world! Allow the Holy Spirit to dwell in your heart. Peace comes when we live by faith in a love relationship with Jesus who gives us the ability to see beyond the circumstances of this life and turn our trials into opportunities and our sorrows into joy.

It’s Time to Plow

This is what the Lord says to the people of Judah and Jerusalem: “Plow up the hard ground of your hearts! Do not waste your good seed among thorns.   Jeremiah 4:3

Israel had fallen away from God while Judah remained faithful to Him. But in due time, Judah lost faith as well and pursued other gods. And yet we see that God continued to love and pursue His children in Judah the same as He does you and me today. As I read Jeremiah, I hear God pleading with His children both then and now to come home to Him (Jer 3:22). But God knows there is a reason His children seek other gods. The reason is in our hearts. We will never return to God, nor seek His grace and love, unless we have a change of heart.

And so God tells the people of Judah to break up the “hard ground” of their hearts. He warns them of the thorns of life. Jesus identified “thorns” as the cares and anxieties of this world in Matthew 13:22. There are many anxieties and worries that creep into my life to steal God’s Word of assurance and love away from me. These come in the form of high expectations of myself, and my desires for material things. But these have palled in comparison to the worry and anxiety caused by my recurrent angina. My recurrent disease threatened to harden the ground of my heart to the point that I would never trust God again. 

I think we can all relate to the idea that the anxieties of life affect our heart. It’s easy to become resistant to God by focusing on our problems rather than Him. “Life happens” as the saying goes and before we know it we have forgotten all about God. This results in a hardened ground of our heart. So how will you plow it? How will you prepare your heart for God’s seed? I have found the first step to simply be the recognition that I have a hard heart. I will never plow it if I don’t think it needs to be plowed. The second step is turning to God. When I open His Word and pray for His Spirit to teach me today, I find my heart softening. That’s all I need to do! When I turn my heart over to God, the hard ground is turned upside down into soft dirt ready for His seed to be sown. 

God can break through the toughest circumstances, the deepest despair, and the greatest anxiety in your life. And it doesn’t take years, months, or even weeks. God can soften the soil of your heart in hours or even minutes. He has the power to change your attitude, renew your heart, and transform you life. And all you have to do is allow Him into your heart. 

Is the ground of your heart hardened? If it is, plow it! Turn to God, listen for His voice, read His Word, and be ready for Him to rock your world! When God gets your heart, your life will never be the same!

Love Covers a Multitude of Sins

Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.  1 Peter 4:8

In this chapter, Peter is discussing what it looks like to live for God and suffer for being a follower of Jesus. Our lives change when we are touched by God’s love and accept His gift of eternal life. We begin to recognize the battle around and in us. And sometimes the battle can feel overwhelming. There are times we don’t know how we can keep going due to the stress of life or the anxieties that come from issues with work, friends, or money to name just a few. Life happens. It never takes a break. There are times we find it hard to catch our breath.

As I continue on my journey toward heart health, I find this passage to contain one of the greatest healing ingredients to be applied in life. In the midst of all the chaos around me that includes the trials of life, the discouragements, the deadlines, the stressors, and the temptations that can defeat me, Peter reminds me of what’s most important of all – LOVE! We were created to love. The interesting thing about love is that we cannot accept love from others until we give love to others. And so Peter doesn’t just say that we need to love each other, he tells us we need to show that love. I can love you in my mind, but if I never express that love, what good is it? It doesn’t help me and it certainly doesn’t help you. Love compels me to put my arm around you when you’re crying, to listen to you when you’re upset, and to remind you of your talents when you’re discouraged. And when I show you love, it is my heart that is healed as much as yours!

But Peter reminds us that if we were to experience the full healing power of love in our lives, it must be expressed towards those who have sinned against us. I feel the greatest strain on my heart when I am angry with someone who I feel has wronged me. Because of my coronary artery disease, I actually feel chest pain when I harbor ill feelings toward another person. This is when I know Peter is right. Love covers a multitude of sin. When I allow God’s love to fill my heart, He provides me with the spirit of forgiveness. Peace comes over me and my chest pain immediately resolves. Forgiveness may be the ultimate act of love and is certainly God’s remedy for a damaged heart.

 

How can you show deep love for another person today? What sins will your love cover today?

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