Heart Condition

Romans 2: 4

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and restraint and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

Yesterday I wrote to you that repentance broke open the way for our Father’s supply to reach me. I hesitate to even talk about repentance because some people are so freaky about it. We are aware of the sort of preacher who would have everyone falling to their knees at the altar in great travail over their sins, tears streaming down their face. Some people carry the histrionics so far that true repentance is lost in the dramatic arts.

True repentance is a heart condition. It need not be public. It does not require moaning, groaning or groveling. It requires understanding that you are not where God directed you. Your “sin” (another word I use lightly) may not be intentional though that does not change that we have failed to do what God told us. Often, as in the story I told you yesterday, there is a moment of clarity when you realize that you have missed the mark. In that moment, without the necessity of any formal methods, simply talk with your Father. He already knows you are wandering off in the weeds. It will not be any revelation to Him that you are not doing what you are supposed to be doing. So, just talk with Him as if He is an interested person, a lover of your soul, because He does, in fact, love you above all else. See in Him acceptance as He guides you back onto the right path. Repent for not doing what He has told you to do. It is as easy as, “Father, I am sorry. I apologize. You have taught me to pray over my life and family daily and I haven’t been doing it. Forgive me.” And that’s it. You don’t have to bawl and wallow on the floor in a manner worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy.

I want you to know that repentance can be a simple matter. You can speak with your Father, openly. He is accepting and kind. That is not to say your heart won’t sometimes feel intense grief when you realize you are off the prescribed path. It is just to say that turning your face to Him and, with very normal words, talking to Him makes it better. He picks you up and returns you to where you should be. Repentance should be, to you, healing. In fact, it has blessing in it. Just learn to say, “I’m sorry Dad. I messed up.”

Perhaps we’ve simply lost the skill of apology. Maybe we have forgotten how to apologize to our friends and family when we offend them. Repentance and forgiveness does not have to be an elaborate affair full of ceremony. That does not mean it lacks sincerity though. I would not minimize the emotional impact discovery of disobedience can have. Instead, I would communicate to you that it is okay for you to feel those deep emotions and equally okay for you to speak with Father about them instantly and without having to weep at an altar. The reason I want to convey this truth is because I do not want you to hesitate for even a moment. I want you to immediately turn to your Father and apologize. Receive His forgiveness and let Him get you back on track. There may be times when you do feel such pain that you want to lie at His feet and cry. There is no shame in that. Just don’t think that repentance is a “churchy” demonstration or stage play. It does not have to be accompanied by profuse displays of grief, though it can be. You don’t have to go to church to repent nor should you be made to feel that your repentance needs to be a public spectacle. You may need or want the support of your church family, but don’t think that repentance is so one dimensional. Let it be normal and let it be sincere. Receive forgiveness and then get on with what God has told you to do. And, be blessed.

He’s Alive

Acts 1: 3

To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of things regarding the kingdom of God.

I have been thinking about Easter, as, I am sure, many of you have as well. What new can be said about the crucifixion and subsequent resurrection of our Lord? Nothing perhaps, but what I have been thinking is that he is alive. Now, we all know that, but I wonder if I act like it is true. We sometimes know things in our minds which aren’t quite realities in our hearts.

So, what is the message of Easter? There are so many important concepts which flow from the cross but the one I am wrapped up in is that Jesus is alive, and more to the point, his life is now in me. We are each renewed, not just from a theoretical or theological point of view but instead, renewed and reborn as new creations in his blood. Our hearts and spirits are washed and new. In the surrender to Jesus’ saving grace, is our forgiveness of ourselves and our remaking. We’ve seen how David failed, how Moses stumbled. Peter, one of the great apostles, denied Jesus three times and worse yet, he did so at Jesus’ hour of greatest torment.

I have been listening to the song, “He’s Alive.” It is an account of Peter’s reconciliation with Christ after his denial of Jesus. The songwriter, Don Francisco expressed this much better than I can. Peter is speaking:

When at last it came to choices
I denied I knew His name
Even if He was alive
It wouldn’t be the same

Suddenly the air was filled
With strange and sweet perfume
Light that came from everywhere
Drove shadows from the room

Jesus stood before me
With His arms held open wide
And I fell down on my knees
And just clung to Him and cried

He raised me to my feet
And as I looked into His eyes
Love was shining out from Him
Like sunlight from the skies

Guilt in my confusion
Disappeared in sweet release
And every fear I’d ever had
Just melted into peace.

Peter’s story is our story. Each of us has doubted, feared and denied Jesus. We have all fallen short of our own aims, much less the worthiness of Christ’s sacrifice. None the less, Jesus reaches out and takes us into his arms. As we look in his eyes, we see none of the judgment or recrimination we deserve. He doesn’t even have to say a word; his eyes and his gentle smile tell us that he loves us and that we are accepted. “Enter into my grace,” he might say to us, “Enter and find peace.”

Jesus is alive and what that means to me this Easter is that we can all throw ourselves at his feet with our burdens of guilt and shame. Easter means that like Jesus, we arise. As he lifts us up, our burdens fall from us and we become holy because he is holy. He is alive and we are okay because he buried our sin and guilt.

Praise the Father of our Lord Jesus and bless Jesus’ name forever. Glory to Father, Son and Spirit! Cause your Spirit to rest upon us, dear Father, refreshing us in your glory and grace. And let us dwell in your presence and abide in your love today and evermore!

Click below to watch a video of David Phelps singing “He’s Alive!”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gGa1w_bnvM

Love Letter

1 Corinthians 13: 4-5

Love is patient, love is kind, it is not jealous; love does not brag, it is not arrogant. It does not act disgracefully, it does not seek its own benefit; it is not provoked, does not keep an account of a wrong suffered.

How great is my God, how beautiful and loving? I will tell you how amazing and fabulous my Father is.

This morning I called a friend to check on him. Yesterday he received his second vaccination shot and he recently pulled his hamstring and pinched a nerve in his back. I know some folks do not feel great the day after their second shot, so I just called to check on him.

We must recognize that people have been under enormous stress, accumulating stress, over the last 12 months. Sometimes that stress bubbles over. It did today and I was the unfortunate recipient of that pent up worry and stress. No one wants to be in my position but better me than someone else. Why? Because you and I have something within us that is up to the challenge. It is the love of God. Jesus showed up in this conversation and loved the speaker. Love didn’t hang up on him, it was patient and kind. It did not consider its own benefit, or mine for that matter. Love cared about the hurting soul who was lashing out.

I was planning on writing on comfort today, but I realized that what is needed is love. Love is the comfort we need as well as that gracious balm that the whole world needs today. I say my Father is great because He showed up and spoke love even as my heart was hurting. I want to share another thing though. Here is an immediate response by God to love on me too.

I had just finished emailing my good friend, Rene, saying that I better write on love for today’s Word of the Day. I wasn’t sure what verse to use and was rolling a few through my mind. I went to Biblegateway.com to look for a verse. The landing page for Bible Gateway opened with a Verse of the Day. Guess what that verse was. You see it at the beginning of today’s Word of the Day. Look at how the Father provided for me. He knew all this was going to happen and that I was going to need a love verse, so, He provided one. It was a message from heaven, and it met my need as well as communicated the Father’s love and care for me. Take this back one more step. He had to nudge someone at Bible Gateway to select that verse for today’s verse. Thank God that person listened to the Father. They probably do not even know that God was doing something in the selection of that verse. God truly is great.

So, the rest of the story – I have to let God be the master of this situation going forward because when things like this happen there are seeds planted. Are they seeds of offense or forgiveness? Are they seeds of humility or embarrassment? For my part, God says, love “is not provoked,” and “does not keep an account of a wrong suffered.” That means I cannot carry negative seeds forward. During these very challenging times, we are going to have to give people space. We need to be understanding and forgiving. We must let love speak in our place. Is it easy? Not if you do it in your might but if you let Jesus show up and show his love, it’s okay. Jesus understands how stressed people are. He wants to help heal bruised and injured hearts. Bless the Lord for His kind mercies. Bless the Lord.

Father of Forgiveness

Psalm 130: 1 – 4

Out of the depths I have cried to You, Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the sound of my pleadings. If You, Lord, were to keep account of guilty deeds, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, so that You may be revered.

I always like finding these Old Testament examples of forgiveness. Sometimes people paint God as vengeful and judgmental. Yet, He is casting our sin to His back and forgetting it. We need only to receive it.

The psalmist speaks true, who could stand if the Lord did keep an account of all our wrong doings. Oh My! I am very grateful that He has thrown out the ledger. So, what of “Judgement Day?” That is so easy! Some people have an image of standing before God as He recites every wrong thing they did in their life. To me, that is a silly image. For one, why wouldn’t he also recite all the good things done? But then, do some people think that the Day of Judgement is like a seesaw or a balance? Do they believe that if the balance tips in favor of good deeds they will go to heaven but if it tips the other way, they get a free one-way ticket to hell?

So here is why that cannot be right. Even putting aside the blood of Jesus for one moment, God was always a forgiving God. That is why He sent Jesus. He didn’t send Him to collect the list of our wrongs but rather to save us despite our repulsiveness. Besides that, recall Isaiah 38: 17, “You have hurled all my sins behind Your back.” God has cast our sin behind Him where He cannot see it. He does not keep it before His eyes.

There is forgiveness with God. He embodies mercy and forgiveness. He is love and loves each of us and withholds none of His good gifts.

Forgiven

Psalm 51: 1 – 4

Be gracious to me, God, according to Your faithfulness; according to the greatness of Your compassion, wipe out my wrongdoings. Wash me thoroughly from my guilt and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my wrongdoings, and my sin is constantly before me.

Please consider the following passage: “Behold, for my own welfare I had great bitterness; But You have kept my soul from the pit of nothingness, For You have hurled all my sins behind Your back” (Isaiah 38: 17). The reason I wanted you to consider these two passages together is so that we can get at the root of guilt and forgiveness. Notice from the Psalm that it was writer’s own guilt and remorse which plagued him. It was not God’s judgment which tormented him. His sin was constantly before his own eyes. He could not escape it. Contrast that with the passage from Isaiah. Here the speaker was well aware of God’s grace and lovingkindness. He recognized that we deserve the pit of nothingness, to be cast out into the darkness, but that God, despite our many faults and shortcomings has chosen to turn His back on our sins. He has forgiven us and not because we deserve it, for which I am grateful, but rather because of His magnanimity.

I am grateful it is unnecessary to earn the graciousness of God for surely, I would fail. Better that He is kind and generous with forgiveness. The struggle, then, is to let go of our own guilt. It is our guilt and sin consciousness which separates us from God. I chose this Old Testament example so as to frame the New Testament miracle of Christ and his sacrifice. I cannot find the right word to characterize what the Father and Jesus did for us at Calvary because it is so big and so wonderous. What is also worthy of comment, though, is that this great divine exchange of Jesus’ life for our sin began with a Father who, in the Old Testament, chose to cast our sins to His back. He chose not to put them before His eyes. Knowing how flawed we are, He chose, none the less, to put His only child on a crucificial cross.

God paid the ultimate price for us to have our conscience cleansed. He removed the guilt which separates us from Him by giving us a way to purge ourselves of the sin consciousness. This is the great miracle, that we can be guilty and yet clean; that we can boldly draw close to Him. Paul said it this way, “Therefore let’s approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace for help at the time of our need,” (Hebrews 4: 16). We have the right to approach the throne of grace and we can do so confidently because the Father has forgiven our sin and washed us clean. There is nothing we can do to earn this favor. There is no 7-step forgiveness plan. It is done. Yahweh has already done what was needed. Now, we must accept His great sacrifice and receive the miracle of forgiveness, allowing our consciousness to be renewed in Christ.

The Test

Matthew 7: 16

You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they?

Jesus gave us the method by which we can know whom we can trust. We can know people by their fruit. We saw last week Paul’s elucidation of this principle. Colossians 3 shows the fruit of the chosen of God and also the habits and traits of those not reformed by Christ. Some of the traits Paul identified for Christians are: “a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other,” (Colossians 3: 12 – 13). In this list he also included the pursuit of unity (See the Word of the Day for 11/13/20).

Jesus’ teachings give us the principles. Paul’s teachings explain Jesus’ principles. He expounded on them to give further understanding. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul further described what the life of a Christian looks like. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and desires,” (Galatians 5: 22 – 24).

When I was practicing law I came to despise when a client offered that they were Christian. Why? Ask many business owners and you will get the same response. It is code language for, “I’m not going to pay you.” It is as though they offered that bit of information in order to cover a defect in their character. As I said last week, pretend I am from the Show Me state. Let your actions identify you as a Christian. As my friend, Robin, said yesterday, “Actions speak louder than words.” Anyone can say, “I am a Christian.” It is an entirely different matter to walk it out. Most people who wish to deceive and take advantage of others will not identify their motives. Instead, they will use some covering ploy and claiming to be a Christian is one of the best. So, how are we to know who is the real deal?

That is the purpose of this series of devotionals which began last week. I know who you are and how you strive to live in the light of Christ. I also know that you are the most vulnerable because you are attracted to people who self-identify as Christian. Now, you don’t have to take their word for it. Look at their lives. Are they givers? If no, then you needn’t ask any more questions. They are done because Yahweh and Jesus are mega-givers. You can’t be in them and be stingy. Beyond that run the test of Galatians 5 and Colossians 3. Here it is synthesized for you.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, a heart of compassion, humility, bearing with one another, and forgiving each other.

You might want to cut and paste this bit into your own document or print it. We are not asking people to be perfect, but we are looking for a pattern of behavior. I hope you identify with people who are patient and kind, gentle of speech and generous. We can encourage and expect these traits of people. We should, in fact, expect these kinds of behaviors. More than ever, we need to be considerate. We need to concern ourselves with the best interests of all people. We need to think of others instead of ourselves. That is the Christian mandate. It’s the Word. Let the Word prevail over the lives of us all.

Missouri

Colossians 3: 12 – 14

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so must you do also. In addition to all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

We can keep this simple today. Earlier in the week we saw what Paul said we should not do as children of the King. We are being called to put off the old dead self and to take up the garment of a new life in Christ Jesus. That new life, well, it looks like this. We are going to loop back around to this idea next week, but I think it is obvious. Don’t tell me you are a Christian. Just pretend I am from Missouri, the “Show me” state. Show me.

These are the characteristics or behavior traits of a child of God. Do we show and act out of a heart of compassion? Are we kind? Where is humility in our words and actions? Am I gentle? Patient? Can I show tolerance to another and forgive anyone? It all boils down to love. If we are not those who act in accordance with and motivated by love, then we ought not be so bold in declaring ourselves Christians because this is how Christians behave. Unity isn’t just a cool idea. It is a mandate. We do not have a choice. But then, unity is simply a byproduct of love. If love is our motivator, then all of the traits in today’s verses are ours and increasing.

Require this of others. Require it of the church! Without love, we are not the beautiful church. Without laying down the old man and picking up the new life in Christ, we cannot follow in Christ’s footsteps. It is time we looked to ourselves and strengthened ourselves as a body in Christ. This is the path that Paul laid out for us. This is the way.