Hearts of Flesh.

Uncategorized

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“Lay up these words of mine in your heart.” Deuteronomy 11:18

The Book of Deuteronomy is a truly unique book in the Hebrew Bible: it closes out the Torah and thus brings completion to the first unit of Scripture. Along with this, Deuteronomy acts as a retelling of everything that happened to the Israelites, from the miraculous exodus out of Egypt to their wandering through the wilderness for forty years. As if this were not enough, Deuteronomy acts as Moses’ last testament to the Israelites. He knows that he will not be crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land with them, so he uses the last bit of time he has remaining to reiterate to the new generation of Israelites everything that they must do in order to live as God had called them to live and to successfully possess, inhabit, and enjoy the Promised Land.

Moses recounts everything for the new generation: from the Exodus to the giving of the Law at Sinai to the forty years of wandering. The new generation had to understand why everything had happened the way it had, and why they must be different from their forefathers. Moses implores the new generation of Israelites to store up everything he had told them in their hearts—to take this most crucial information about how to live and serve God and store it in the very core of their beings.

Similar language is used in Proverbs 7:3 where the author, possibly Solomon himself, encourages his son to keep the commandments and write them on the tablet of his heart so that he will not forget them. This concerned father is telling his son to etch this critical, life-giving information into the very essence of his being. Today we might go as far as to say to tattoo it on your heart. The idea remains the same: to make every word of God part of your very being.

Therein lies the problem. We are sinners who actively rebel against God. Our very essence is tainted and our most basic nature seeks to do that which God commands us not to do. Very seldom do we write God’s words on our hearts; more often the opposite is true. We look for every opportunity to do the antithesis of what we are called to do. We sin, whether we desire to or not. Our hearts are hard and are as stone. We are essentially incapable of ‘tattooing’ our own hearts.

It would be a tragic story if it ended here, one without hope or redemption. But God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy has a plan. Our salvation is not dependent upon our ability to write His words on our hearts, for God knows we cannot. In Ezekiel 36:26, God tells Israel that a day is coming when He will “remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh,”—a heart that is soft and receptive and malleable to His will. Similarly, God promised in Jeremiah 31:33 to make a new covenant with Israel, to put the Law within them, and that He will “write it on their hearts.” Just as the stone tablets containing the Law that Moses received had been written with the very “finger of God,” (Deuteronomy 9:10), so too will God write His Law upon the new hearts of flesh of His people. Think about that: God Himself will write His Law upon the hearts of His people. He will do for us that which we never could ourselves.

When will this happen? It has already begun. It began when Christ hung on the cross, enduring the agony of being forsaken by the Father. It began when he uttered “It is finished,” and gave up the ghost. It began when Christ willingly died to initiate the New Covenant that He made official with His own blood. This New Covenant is one that promises redemption with God and freedom from slavery to sin. This New Covenant isn’t exclusive to only Israel; it is open to any and all who are willing to submit themselves to Christ and confess Him as Savior, Messiah, and God. Those who submit to Christ, who allow Him to cover them with His blood of the New Covenant, will have their sin-riddled hearts of stone replaced with hearts of flesh—the very ones that God Himself will write His law upon. Then things will be just as Jeremiah prophesied: “ And I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

Just remember this: we are God’s people, transformed entirely by Him through Christ, with His law written upon our hearts of flesh by His very finger.

 

photo courtesy of thehealthsite.com

 

See The Face of God.

Christianity, Religion, Uncategorized

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“For the Lord is righteous; He loves righteous deeds. The upright will see His face.” Psalm 11:7.

God’s righteousness and holiness are reoccurring themes throughout the book of Psalms. David, author of many of the songs and poems contained in Psalms, wrote frequently and eloquently on these topics, as well as God’s perfection and of the awe that God inspires in man.  David also  often wrote poetically of God’s support and the protection of those who seek after Him and His righteousness.

Psalm 11 is attributed to David and it has his literary fingerprints all over it. He begins the psalm writing of the refuge that the believer finds in God, and the comfort that believers have in knowing that God is with them and that He knows everything that is going on. “His eyes watch,” wrote David. From His throne in Heaven, God watches all, protects the believers, and sustains them through  their lives. David reminds us all that God is in control of everything that happens in the world.

David concludes his song, as that what the psalms are, with a beautiful and poetic line, “The Lord is righteous, He loves righteous deeds. The upright will see His face.” These poetic lines contain deep Biblical truth: those that seek after God and seek His will shall see His face. God reveals Himself to those who seek to draw near to Him. He draws near to us when we seek to do His will. When we seek to live according to His standards and we put Him first in our lives, we experience the joy and comfort of His blessings. One day, either in death or in the return of the Messiah, those who sought after God–the upright–shall see His face when united with Him in His Kingdom.

Take David’s word to heart: Live uprightly; do God’s will, seek to see His face.

The Real War on Christmas

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“King Solomon surpassed all the kings of the world in riches and wisdom…his heart was not completely with the Lord his God, as his father David’s  had been.” 1 Kings 10:23;11:4.

In recent years, many evangelicals cry out about a supposed “War on Christmas” being perpetrated by the media and businesses. Everything from Starbucks’ plain red cups to the use of the term “Happy Holidays” is cited as an attack on Christmas and sign of the degradation of western culture and society. Yet, while these same people snivel over trivial and insignificant suspected jabs, they actively participate in the real War on Christmas: the commercialization of the holiday.

In our capitalistic society, money and greed rule the day. The sole purpose of capitalism to make more money and to control the means of production in order keep costs low and profits high. The money that people in the Western world shovel out to retailers and other stores all in the “name of Christmas” lines the pockets of big business and helps to make corporate CEOs richer, while the poor wage slaves who work in the stores at hourly rates struggle to get by at, or maybe slightly above, the minimum wage.

God is not opposed to people being successful, but He is against the pursuit of material goods and money. Solomon was touted as being the wisest man who ever lived. He was the son of King David, a man who enjoyed a relationship with God that few else have ever experienced. Solomon was also loved by God, and Solomon accomplished many things during his reign over Israel, the most important accomplishment being the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Despite all of Solomon’s success, and his godly pedigree, he too fell victim to materialism. His heart strayed away from God as he focused on acquiring more and more wealth. 1 Kings makes it clear that this love of material goods is directly associated with Solomon’s turning away from God. The wisest man in all of history forsook his god for the pursuit of wealth. God does not tolerate such slights; 1 Kings 11:9 make this very clear, “The Lord was angry with Solomon because he is heart had turned away from the Lord God of Israel.” Solomon would live out the rest of his days as a bitter and calloused old man, given over to his own depravities.

The real War on Christmas has been waged and won by the capitalists and corporations years ago, and we are still capitulating to their terms of surrender to this day. We are active participants in their quest to acquire more and more wealth, and we forsake those around us in need. Shopping malls and retail stores are filled daily while churches have empty pews and shelters and soup kitchens lack volunteers to aid the less fortunate. We forget that Christ was born in a stable because His family could not gain access to shelter. Christ’s birth would be just as unnoticed by today’s society as it was in His society.

Many people stand in line to get into stores and to see Santa. Few stand before Christ in the manger. Fewer still will stand with Him at the cross.

Do Not Keep Christ in Christmas

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  “You are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

 During this time of year, many people go about spreading good tidings of great cheer with trite little phrases such as “keep Christ in Christmas,” or “ Jesus is the reason for the season.” With all the commercialism and materialism that has become the mainstay of Christmas,  it is important to remember what the true meaning of the holiday is; so often Christ’s birth becomes secondary to our capitalistic distortion of Christmas. For many others, such phrases and tidings serve as a stand against  growing sensitivities for inclusiveness and political correctness.

The problem is, though, that too often we are too successful in keeping Christ in Christmas and we forget about Him the rest of the year. Babies are precious, they can bring people together, they do not demand anything other than love and care; people like the baby Jesus for these reasons. The infant Christ represents hope for the future and God’s redemptive promise. The baby Jesus is safe; he does not offend, nor does he convict. The baby Jesus does not make people uncomfortable. The baby Jesus does not challenge the system, nor does He assert His authority. The baby Jesus, like any other infant, is meek and mild and sleeps in heavenly peace.

If the story ended there, people would not have a problem with Jesus, and many more would follow Him. The story does not end there, and Christ, like all infants, grows up. Christ grows into a man who preaches the Kingdom of God and confronts sin. He grows up into a man who challenges the social, political, religious, and economic systems of His day. He grows into a man who was radical in His preaching, teaching, and ideologies; a man who clearly states that being associated with Him is not the ‘safe” choice. Christ grows into a man who demands complete and total allegiance from those who follow Him, and for the abandonment of anything that would interfere with following Him. Christ grows into a man who promises trial, hardship, and death to those who seek to be His followers. Christ grows into a man who was arrested, convicted, beaten and humiliated, flogged and degraded, whipped and mocked, and executed. Christ grows into a man who will die alone, forsaken by God and man, for the sins of all humanity. This is the Christ of the other 364 days of the year. This is the Christ that makes people uncomfortable. This is the Christ that many don’t want to think about or associate with. This is the Christ we forsake when we idolize the infant in the manger.  Thank God for sending Christ to the world, but thank God even more for the sacrifice of Christ’s death and the salvation that it brings. Christ did not defeat death and bring hope and salvation to man just by being born, that task was only accomplished through His suffering and agony.

Don’t put Christ in a box that you pull out once a year. Don’t keep Christ in Christmas; celebrate Christ every day of the year.

Festival of Lights.

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“Then the Festival of Dedication took place in Jerusalem, and it was winter. Jesus was walking in the temple complex in Solomon’s Colonnade.” John 10:22-23.

This evening marks the beginning of one of the most iconic Jewish holidays, Hanukkah. The Festival of Lights, or Festival of Dedication, as it is sometimes referred to as, celebrates a miraculous victory of the Jews over a foreign occupation of Israel and the dedication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Here in John’s Gospel, we see that Jesus, observant Jew that He was, in the Jerusalem Temple to celebrate Hanukkah.

The Jewish books of 1 and 2 Maccabees tell the Hanukkah story. In the time between the Old Testament and the New Testament, the Jews of Judea were conquered by the Seleucid Empire. A man named Antiochus IV came to rule the Seleucids, and he especially hated the Jews and their customs and culture. He went as far as to outlaw the practice of Judaism and performed sacrilegious practices in the Temple–even as far as to sacrifice pigs on the alter. During this time, many Jews quit practicing their religion, and some even began assimilating into Hellenistic culture. 1 Maccabees says that some men tried to “hide and reverse the marks of their circumcision.”

A righteous priest, Judah Maccabee, grew tired of the mistreatment of his people and the apostasy that was sweeping through Judea. The term “Maccabee” means “sledgehammer,” and Judah organized an armed revolt against Seleucid rule. This uprising came to be known as the “Maccabean Revolt,” and Judah and his followers, the Maccabees, fought to expel the Seleucids from Judea. This uprising went on for several years, and posed great problems for Antiochus IV. The Maccabees were ultimately successful; they reconquered Jerusalem, and retook their Temple. Several years after the rebellion, Antiochus IV was forced into exile where he died.

The Maccabees were faced with a serious problem when they retook the Temple. They had to cleanse the Temple and rededicate it so that they could again use it for worship. This ceremony would take seven days, and the candelabra in the Temple had to be lit for the entirety of the dedication ceremony. However, there was only enough oil in the Temple for the candelabra, or menorah, to burn for one day. Judah Maccabee knew that God would provide for His people, and he decided to proceed with the dedication ceremony. Miraculously, the oil in the menorah lasted for eight days, more than enough for the dedication ceremony, and Judah Maccabee proclaimed that all the Jews would commemorate this miraculous provision each and every year for eight days. Hanukkah is unique from all other Jewish holidays in the respect that it is the only one not given to the Jews in the Torah.

Hanukkah celebrates the Jewish victory over oppression and persecution, but it also reminds us that God provides for His people. In this world of sin and darkness, God’s holiness shines forth like a bright light. We, as His followers, must let His light shine through us and we must help to illuminate the world. During the Festival of Lights, dedicate yourself to God and His work, and let your light shine brightly to all around you.

Peace.

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“I  will both lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone, Lord, make me live in safety.” Psalm 4:8.

The great warrior-poet-king, David, is responsible for composing a majority of the songs and poems in the book of Psalms. David experienced many great highs and lows in his life, and, like any great author, he was able to convey his emotion into his writings.

Psalm 4 is a unique writing of David’s. This psalm, quite often entitled “The Night Prayer,” speaks of God’s infinite righteousness and David’s striving to be a holy man. David writes of those who oppose him, those who seek to do harm to him, and of God’s protection of David in all his comings and goings; if ever a man lived who knew of God’s deliverance in times of danger, it was David. For a great portion of his life, David was continually on the run, either from Saul, the Philistines, and even at one point, his own son. David knew first hand how God provided for those that sought Him. More importantly, David knew of the peace that God could provide, even in the midst of hardship and danger. This confidence of God’s provision of safety and peace is evidenced in David’s final line of his prayer, “I will both lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone, Lord, make me live in safety.”

Quite often when we are confronted with trials or hardships, sleep is a difficult commodity to come by. Our minds become focused solely on the infinite negative  possibilities of our situation, and the lack of restful sleep begins to take a physical toll on our bodies. The world hasn’t changed any since David’s time; sin and violence still abound, there are those who seek to do harm to good and innocent people. At every turn we hear of death and destruction, and our worries and fears may begin to get the best of us. Luckily, God hasn’t changed either; He still provides shelter and the promise of peace for those who love Him and seek after Him. God will provide peace for us and He will restore us. He will grant us a soothing reassurance of His presence and afford us the safety we need to rest without fear.

Stay Away.

Uncategorized

“My son, if sinners entice you, don’t be persuaded. If they say–”Come with us! Let’s set an ambush and kill someone. Let’s attack some innocent person just for fun!”…they set an ambush to kill themselves; they attack their own lives.” Proverbs 1:10-11,18.

The Book of Proverbs is one of the most unique books in all the Bible. It is the centerpiece of what is known as the “Books of Wisdom” within the Bible, as it contains many maxims and pieces of advice for godly living. The most interesting aspect about Proverbs is the way in which it is written; the book’s narrator is a father who is passing on wisdom and knowledge to his son. Most scholars attribute Proverbs to King Solomon, which makes sense; Solomon was the wisest man to have ever lived. He certainly would have had much knowledge to pass on to his sons.

In this particular passage, Solomon implores his son to avoid the ways of the wicked, violent, and godless.  All life is sacred; those who shed another’s blood for no reason violate this fundamental principle. Yet, many suffer daily from the violent actions of others; families are torn apart, lives are lost, and it seems like the cycle of violence goes on and on.

Whether it be drugs and crime in an inner-city, or terrorism abroad, those that seek a life to get rich quick through killing the innocent will get their just desserts. Solomon tells his son that “they [the murderers] set an ambush to kill themselves; they attack their own lives.” Those that shed blood will have their own blood demanded of them.

God desires all lives to be treated as sacred, and for all lives to be protected. God has been opposed to murder since the very first murder was committed. God told Cain that his murdered brother Abel’s blood “cries out to Me from ground!” How much blood cries out to God today from every corner of the world? Any teaching that endorses the taking of an innocent life is not of God. God expressly prohibits the murder of innocent life, and Solomon reinforces this teaching to his son. Stay away from those who teach the blasphemy that murder is ever acceptable.

Pray for those who have been affected by violence. Pray for those whose families are grieving.

Be Light

Uncategorized

“You are the light of the world…let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in Heaven.” Matthew 5:14.

The events of the last twenty-four hours have highlighted the fact that the world is a dark and savage place. Murder, terror, sin, and grief lurk around the corner, and there are many who seek to spread these horrible things to those around them. During times such as these, Christ’s words ring out more loudly, and His call needs to be heeded.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ calls His followers to stand apart from the world; to be the light in a world of darkness. The follower of Christ is to spread love, compassion, and to reflect God’s mercy and grace to the world. Each follower of Christ is like a single candle, illuminating their corner of the world; together these candles can bring light to all the world.

Choose to be the light in this world of darkness.

The Peacemakers.

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“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” Matthew 5:9.

Today, all around the world, people commemorate the armistice that ended the Great War–the war which was supposed to end all wars–and honor the men and women who have served in the defense of their nations. War is a terrible thing, and those who have had to participate in it should be remembered.

But what of those who have fought for the cause of peace? When do we honor those who have dedicated their lives to bettering the world around them? In His Sermon on the Mount, Christ singles out the peacemakers and says that they will “be called the children of God.” The cause of peace is on that all who seek after God are to advance. The follower of Christ is to be an advocate for peace; the pursuit of peace is one of the many traits that allow the world to identify those who follow Christ. Later in the New Testament, Christ says that there will always be wars and rumors of wars. Sin and man’s fallen nature push humanity toward conflict and destruction. It is only though Christ that one can truly push for the cause of peace. By advocating for peace, we can help to advance the Kingdom of God.

Honor those who live and fight for peace, those who work to help the poor and forgotten and down-trodden, those who fight for the dignity of all people, those who speak out against greed and corruption. Pursuing peace is not a sign of weakness; pursuing peace is a sign of a changed heart. Pursuing peace is the pursuit of God.

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait.

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“So Jacob worked seven years for Rachel, and they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.” Genesis 29:20.

This beautiful passage describes one of the Bible’s greatest love stories: the story of Jacob and Rachel. Jacob had just recently left his home because he had tricked his brother, Esau, out of his birthright. Jacob was now out in the world, all alone, and looking for a place to live and work.

As fate would have it, Jacob came across a man named Laban, who had many herds and needed workers to tend to his animals. Jacob got the job, and while he was working for Laban, Jacob met Rachel–Laban’s daughter.  Jacob fell deeply in love with Rachel and asks Laban for her hand in marriage. Laban agreed to the marriage, only if Jacob agreed to work for him for seven years. Jacob did, and the years “seemed like only a few days.”

When Jacob fulfills the seven years, the marriage takes place, only for Jacob to realize he’s married Rachel’s older sister, Leah.  Jacob confronts Laban, Laban tells Jacob to work seven more years for Rachel, and Jacob does. In all, Jacob works fourteen years to marry Rachel. He did it all because he loved her so deeply.

What does this Old Testament love story have to do with anything? The first thing we have to remember is that we are on God’s schedule, not our own. So often we go through life making plans and becoming frustrated with they don’t fall into place quickly enough. We demand that God grant us patience, but we do  not enjoy it when He makes us build and grow that patience. We, more or less, want our cake and to eat it too.

Waiting is one of life’s most unbearable tasks. We live in an age in which the world is at our fingertips and we can have nearly anything we want in a matter of seconds. As result, the human attention span is growing shorter and shorter. Every day we must remind ourselves that we do not operate on the world’s schedule, or even our own schedule, but on God’s. He will bring everything into place in His due time. If we trust in Him and keep our minds on whatever task we have at hand, the time we spend waiting will also seem like only a few days.