An Engaged Heart

If we have been in the church for any time at all we have probably heard about the wickedness of our hearts, often in reference to Christians. It is generally some version of these verses from Jeremiah.

9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? 10 I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings. Jeremiah 17:9–10 (NKJV)

When we read a message in scripture proper exegesis is required. We look at who it was written to and the context and culture. In this case Jeremiah was speaking to his fellow Israelites and confronting their idolatry and failure to trust Yahweh. What Jeremiah spoke was true, in the context in which he spoke it. For our situations we need one of those maps that says, ‘You are here.’ I do a lot of hiking and the national parks have small maps in the backcountry but they are of little help if that little dot that locates your position relative to the rest of the map is not there.

For our spiritual walk we need that dot on the map of our journey with Jesus. To that end let us look at what the scriptures tell us about our hearts and where we are. We will start with what Jesus had to say.

43 “For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. 45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:43–45 (NKJV)

Notice here that Jesus was addressing people who had not been born again by the Spirit. Yet He stated that people could bring forth either good or evil from their hearts. His point was that what was dominant in our hearts is what would come out of our mouths and be reflected in our lives. So those who were not born again but were committed to the Lord could bring good things out of their hearts. Our next step is looking at the hearts of those who have been born again. Here is some of what Peter and Paul had to say about our hearts at conversion.

And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Acts 15:7-9 (NKJV)

For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6 (NKJV)

At conversion our hearts encountered Jesus as we were born again and our hearts were purified and made new. Paul did warn about the dangers about what we could fall back into if we did not guard our hearts (see also Proverbs 4:23).

17 This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; 19 who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. Ephesians 4:17–19 (NKJV)

While Paul presented this as the way in which unbelievers in general lived, and warned that Christians could fall to this, his regular practice focused more on encouragement and how to walk with Jesus. One of the more practical teachings Paul gave to keep our hearts anchored in Jesus is in Colossians.

14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. 15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Colossians 3:14–17 (NKJV)

Paul informs us that if we choose to walk in Jesus love and engage in a lifestyle of worship and encouragement we can learn to live out of hearts that are at rest in His shalom. This creates a continuous circle of looking to His peace, leaning into it, our hearts being full and overflowing with worship, then leaning into His peace and so on. So let us live lifestyles of worship and intimacy that out of the abundance of our hearts others will encounter Jesus.

Righteousness and Justice

Frankly, there are some things difficult to either understand or accept in the scriptures, particularly in the Old Testament. When I come up against things like this I have a default scripture that I turn to as my source. I still may not understand but I remain in a place of trust and acceptance. The scripture is found in context of Abraham interceding with the Lord for Sodom. Abraham concludes his intercession in the following manner.

25 Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Genesis 18:25 (NKJV)

The phrase I turn to often is the last sentence, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” I have a fundamental and unwavering belief that righteousness and justice are important and that He is just and shall do right. That is not a question in my mind. I know we shall all have to eventually give an account before the Judgement Seat of Christ and trust He is a fair and faithful judge who shall execute righteousness and justice.

Now I also believe it is not wise to build a theology off a single verse of scripture. So here are some of the verses in the Old Testament that refer to the importance of righteousness and justice.

19 For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.” Genesis 18:19 (NKJV)

         5 He loves righteousness and justice; The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord. Psalm 33:5 (NKJV)

         14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Mercy and truth go before Your face. Psalm 89:14 (NKJV)

         2 Clouds and darkness surround Him; Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne. Psalm 97:2 (NKJV)

         9 Then you will understand righteousness and justice, Equity and every good path. Proverbs 2:9 (NKJV)

         3 To do righteousness and justice Is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. Proverbs 21:3 (NKJV)

The first passage refers to the beginning of Abraham’s intercession for Sodom and Yahweh explains why He has made Himself known to Abraham, so Abraham can teach his descendants and household to follow Yahweh’s way, to keep righteousness and justice. This makes sense when we discover later in scripture that righteousness and justice are they very foundation of His throne. His rule, His place of authority is built upon righteousness and justice. He cannot do anything that violates righteousness and justice.

Our sensibilities may recoil at His destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah but sometimes evil is so entrenched and infectious in a people or area that it needs to be eradicated. Things may not appear that way from where we see but we need to learn to look from His perspective. Sin is like a cancer that destroys if left unchecked. I know in my own life the dangers of cancer being untreated. I have had two surgeries for cancer, both of which caused physical pain, particularly the second. Interestingly I had no pain from cancer, something that was destroying me inside and unseen. Prior to my second surgery I felt fine, had recovered well from the first surgery and was ready to get on with life. All the tests had been run and there was no evidence of further cancer. The surgeon wanted to perform the second surgery as a precautionary measure. I was reluctant but gave in to pressure from my wife. It saved my life. After the operation the surgeon told me that when he opened me up he discovered a cancerous tumour the size of a grapefruit around my aorta. I would have died in the near future.

The point of my story is that to all appearances I was fine. Though I felt fine something unseen inside me was killing me and needed to be dealt with. Our Father, because He rules from a place of righteousness and justice, knows what needs to be dealt with in our world and how it is best addressed. He sees the reality that lies behind appearances. Knowing this, we, like Abraham, can partner with Him in prayer asking that righteousness and justice be done. We can do this while at the same time acknowledging that even if things don’t look as we think they should, the judge of all the earth will do right. 

Knowing that the throne He rules and reigns from is actually built upon righteousness and justice makes it easy to trust that He will do right. With this perspective let us open His word and come to His throne agreeing with His heart, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10).

Using Time Wisely

Do you ever wonder if you have the time or ability to make an impact on the lives of others? Is it too late? This past winter I heard a quote on a television show. The quote was attributed to US President Roosevelt and when I researched it the quote was accurate. The quote said, “Do what you can with what you have where you are.” While I am sure we could all think of examples of people effectively walking in their gifts and callings I will highlight one example from scripture. The thief on the cross.

So, a look at what the thief on the cross could do with what he had where he was. Below are the accounts from both Matthew and Luke, beginning with Matthew.

38 Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left.

39 And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

41 Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, 42 “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. 43 He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ”

44 Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing. Matthew 27:38–44 (NKJV)

33 And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

And they divided His garments and cast lots. 35 And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.”

36 The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.”

38 And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew:


39 Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.”

40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

43 And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:33–43 (NKJV)

We know from the text in Matthew that the two men were robbers (Matt. 27:38, 44) while Luke simply refers to them as criminals (Lk. 23:33, 39). In his passage Matthew informs us that as Jesus is hanging on the cross He is being mocked by the crowd, the religious leaders and the two criminals. Luke however has the one criminal, popularly referred to as ‘the thief on the cross,’ defending Jesus and rebuking his fellow criminal.

Obviously something happened in the heart of the one criminal as he hung there dying. He went form mocking Jesus to defending Him and asking for His grace in the next life. Returning to our theme, doing what we can with what we have where we are, this man clearly had limited options. He couldn’t go anywhere as he was fixed in place on an instrument of cruel torture. It was a struggle to simply draw a breath and it would have made sense for him to have simply remained resigned to the inevitable outcome. Yet in spite of his circumstances, or perhaps because of them, the thief on the cross underwent a transformation. He began to speak on Jesus behalf. He had begun by mocking Jesus but then something happened in his heart and he recognized Jesus as Messiah and King. What is usually presented regarding this story is the ability to gain salvation at any moment, up to our last breath. However, even while right near death the man went through repentance, a change of mind and heart, and began to be a witness for Jesus. He asserted Jesus innocence, defended Him from false accusation and recognized Jesus as king.

The result of him doing what he could with what he had where he was? Jesus tells us, that very day while his fellow unrepentant thief was going to step from time into eternity and encounter horror, this man received the following assurance from Jesus, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Lk. 23:43).

So, as it relates to being effective in and for Jesus kingdom let us reflect on what we have in terms of our abilities and do what we can with them where we are.

The Gateway to the Eternal

In Genesis 28:10-22 we find Jacob fleeing from his brother Esau after deceiving his father Isaac and stealing Esau’s blessing as the firstborn. In Genesis 28 we see a divine exchange taking place and through this experience we get to briefly peer into what the eternal realm offers.

First the background. Jacob has been blessed by Isaac and sent away by him for two purposes. To get a wife from among his extended family and to protect him from Esau. When he travels he sleeps with his head on a rock he first night and has a prophetic encounter in a dream. It is interesting to note that at this point Jacob is not yet committed to Yahweh. He makes that clear in his stated vow.

20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, 21 so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God. 22 And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.” Genesis 28:20–22 (NKJV)

While not yet committed to Yahweh Jacob is still walking under the blessing of the covenant that flowed through Abraham and Isaac (28:13). It is in this context that he has his dream. In the dream he sees angels ascending and descending on a ladder between heaven and earth (28:12). Jacob recognizes that this is Bethel, literally ‘house of El/God.’ If we fast forward to John we can glean further insight into Jacob’s experience.

49 Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

50 Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” John 1:49–51 (NKJV)

Notice how Jesus uses the language of Genesis 28.

12 Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. Genesis 28:12 (NKJV)

As an aside, while Peter is generally credited with first recognizing who Jesus was in Matthew 16 it was actually Nathaniel who first recognized Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God right at the beginning of Jesus earthly ministry. Now, when we move past Jesus resurrection and ascension we see another point being made.

19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and having a High Priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:19–22 (NKJV)

If we wonder if we access to heaven, the door is always open. Jesus is the way, Jesus is the ladder upon which angels ascend and descend, bringing help from heaven. I don’t know how everything works in the spiritual realm. I do however know enough to realize that I have access through Jesus and anytime I focus my heart in upon Him I can draw upon His grace and mercy because the door is always open.

I need it. How about you?

Living Truth

Recently I was reading through Galatians 4. In this book in general, and more specifically in this chapter, Paul addresses the issue of identity. That is, how we see ourselves after salvation. Many scholars believe that Galatians is the first of Paul’s letters written in about 49 AD prior to the Jerusalem Council in 50 AD (see Acts 15). The significance of Galatians being written prior to the Jerusalem Council is that the focus there was on whether the Gentile converts had to follow the Jewish Law to be saved. The answer at the Council was a resounding no. However, Paul addressed the issue and the theological implications prior to the Council because many believers from the Jewish community were trying to get the Gentile converts to embrace circumcision and other elements of the Jewish Law.

We might wonder why someone who had found salvation in Jesus would even consider adding something else to their salvation. Yet at this time the church was less than two decades old and many of the theological positions we take for granted had not yet been sorted through and discerned by the church.

A key here is that Paul presented theological truth in Galatians 4 that needed to be internalized. He compared the old covenant with the new and said the old one led to bondage and the new one to freedom. To walk in the freedom meant truly living out of the truth of the new covenant.

4:1 Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. Galatians 4:1–7 (NKJV)

It is one thing to know theologically that we are sons (or daughters) and not slaves. It is another to walk in that reality. I have believed for many years that Paul’s apostolic heart cry is encapsulated in a single verse in his very first letter.

19 My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you, Galatians 4:19 (NKJV)

We can be saved, have our sins forgiven, have received Jesus righteousness instead of our own, and yet still not live like it. Paul’s heart in Galatians was not that the Galatians would receive something in addition to their salvation. His heart cry was that they would understand what they had already received! Hence his statements about adoption and being a son. Paul presents it not as something to be earned or received but as something to be walked out. 

The issue before us then is whether we understand and believe what we already have and live it out in our daily lives. Understanding our adoption into the family and Christ in us means we pursue regular intimacy and fellowship with the one who dwells in us. It means we seek to encounter Him in relationship and in relationship with His word. If we actually believe it we actually live it. I pray we as the church embrace our adoption not merely as a theological reality but as a living experiential reality that changes us and those around us.