Rend Your Heart

It’s the most unnatural thing in the world. “It” is saying we’re sorry for something wrong we’ve done.

There are so many other “better” approaches to wrongdoing — to sin. Or so it seems to us.

There’s denial. “I didn’t do it.” Or, “I didn’t know that it was wrong.” Or, “I didn’t understand what I was doing.”

There’s cover-up. Pointing the finger. Comparing yourself to someone who’s done something “much worse.”

For many of us, confession is not good for the soul. Guilt and shame don’t even make sense. Why should we pummel ourselves? Won’t that just bring us down? Isn’t it just unnecessary negativity? Won’t it destroy my self-esteem and self-confidence?

The Bible contends for another path to understanding our worth. The real way to self-esteem and self-worth is via a healthy relationship with God. And how does a relationship with God become healthy?

One word. Forgiveness.

Are you ready to recognize your need for forgiveness? In the time of Joel the prophet, that was the appeal he made to the children of Israel. Return to God. Recognize that your loving God has only created his laws to bless and protect you. He wants to see you thrive.

Be broken over your sins. They are going to wreck you if you stay on your current path. So, instead, recognize your wrong-doing, and take your guilt and shame to God so that he can forgive you. Simply turn back to your compassionate God and to his ways.

“Rend your heart,” as Joel puts it.

He is kind and merciful. You don’t need to earn his love. He loves you even though you are sinful. And he will always be patient with you. No one wants your relationship to be restored more than he does.

After all, he gave his one and only Son to make that restoration and reconciliation possible. The cross equals certain forgiveness for hurting sinners.

“‘Even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity'” (Joel 2:12-13, NIV).

Lord, I am sinful. I have wronged you and I have sinned against my neighbor too. I have transgressed your laws in my thoughts, my words, and my actions. Please forgive me. I want to return to you. I long for your grace and compassion. I know that true peace is found in your sure love for me, a sinner.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, November 1, is Joel 1:1 – 2:17, Hebrews 3:1-19 and Psalm 119:137-144.

Header image based on "Red Heart" by Brandon Zierer, CC By 2.0

Ambitious for a Quiet Life

Albert Einstein hit on one of the most important benefits of living a quiet life. It creates the right kind of environment for stimulating creativity: “The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.”

Einstein would seem to be the best advertisement for his own dictum. One would struggle mightily to find many people who would qualify for being more creative than he was.

But Einstein, brilliant as he was, was not alone in recognizing the beauty and the benefit of the quiet life.

The apostle Paul also knew the value — before God — of the quiet life. In fact, he says, a quiet life is something to make our ambition, our life’s goal. That may come as a bit of a surprise to some who view Christianity as a “loud faith,” and Christians as a group who are bent on “shouting their way” into people’s hearts and minds.

But in today’s world, even apart from our Christian faith, it’s tough to live the quiet life. We live in a 24/7 world. So what are some of the obstacles that get in the way of you living the quiet life? Paul brings them out nicely, even as he encourages us to overcome them for the sake of reaching our goal of a quiet life.

  1. Selfishness gets in the way of the quiet life. When life becomes all about getting what we need and want, it usually heads in the opposite direction of “quiet.” Paul’s antidote to this obstacle is to put the focus on others (and for believers, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ), and to improve that focus every day. That’s what Jesus did. He focused on you in love.
  2. Being up in every one else’s business gets in the way of the quiet life. Instead of focusing on picking the tiny splinter out of our neighbor’s eye, we can focus on the “logs in our own eye”. We can recognize the repentance and forgiveness we need. Daily receiving God’s grace and forgiveness by taking time to confess our own sins will help a lot with this. Frequently looking to the cross of Christ is a great way to stop looking judgmentally into the affairs of others.
  3. Ironically, boredom gets in the way of a quiet life. Keep your hands busy. A quiet life is not a lazy life filled with boredom. Don’t equate these. You can live quietly while living actively. Paul says that working with our hands is one of the most effective ways to achieve the quiet life. You can be motivated to do this by remembering the immense love that Jesus showed you by “working with his hands” — stretching them out to be nailed to the cross.

Einstein had it right. So did Paul. One of the best ways to live creatively for the glory of God is to be ambitious to accomplish a quiet life. Such a life wins the respect of others. And such a life is the result of being fully sufficient in Christ.

“And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (1 Thessalonians 4:10-12, NIV).

Jesus, send me your Spirit, and inspire me by your love and forgiveness to make it my ambition to lead a quiet life. Help me to mind my own business, work with my hands, and most of all, keep on loving others more and more.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, October 11, is Jeremiah 23:9 – 25:14, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 and Proverbs 24:23-34.

Header image based on "Quiet" by Paul Mison, CC By-SA 2.0

Handling Anger

Laurence J. Peter is best known for the formulation of the Peter Principle: “In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” But he is also well known for helping identify the noblest of all dogs: “The noblest of all dogs is the hot-dog; it feeds the hand that bites it.”

Peter also had something important (and humorous) to say about anger, and you probably haven’t heard this one: “Speak when you are angry — and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.”

Anger is a volatile emotion, and it has to be handled very carefully. Really, for those of us who are Christ-followers, it has to be handled by Jesus. So what does it look like when Jesus lives inside of an angry person? How do we handle anger when Jesus guides our hearts and minds?

Paul describes that for us in Ephesians, chapter 4:

  • Anger is handled with truth.
  • Anger itself, while not a sin, is handled as a potential trap door easily leading to sin.
  • Anger is handled in a timely fashion. If at all possible, it is resolved daily, so that grudges don’t build.
  • Anger is handled without acts of revenge, like stealing to get back at someone.
  • Anger is handled with speech intended to build up, not rip apart or tear down.
  • Anger is handled by recalling that that the devil is the real enemy.
  • Anger is handled by recalling that the Holy Spirit has identified us as his own.
  • Anger is handled by deleting options like bitterness, rage, brawling, slander and malice.
  • Anger is handled with kindness and compassion.
  • Anger is handled with forgiveness.

And since God has every right to be angry with us because of our sins, the most important thing to remember is that we are sorely in need of forgiveness too. It is much easier to forgive and handle anger positively when we recall that we have hurt and angered God many times, and he has always forgiven us. And he always will forgive us.

Because forgiven people forgive others.

“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. ‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2, NIV).

Lord Jesus, thank you for forgiving me for all my sins. You have every reason to be angry with me. I have sinned against you in my thoughts, my words and my actions. And yet, you have forgiven me time and time again. Please help me to handle my anger with grace and mercy, and to show the same forgiveness and love to others who have hurt and angered me. Live in me so that you can handle my anger for me.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, September 26, is Isaiah 63:1 – 65:16, Ephesians 4:17 – 5:7 and Psalm 112:1-10.

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Out of Ideas? Energy Waning?

Sometimes we run out of ideas. And energy. The problems seem too big for us. The obstacles appear to be insurmountable.

Questions arise: “Can this relationship survive the huge mistake I just made? How will I keep my job after blowing it like this?”

Negative thoughts flood our mind: “I’m just so tired… I don’t have the strength to keep on going… That was a huge stumble… I can’t believe it. I’ve fallen yet again.”

Isaiah the prophet understood this line of thinking. After all, he was called to proclaim God’s word and will at a time when God’s people needed a lot of encouragement.

Spiritual rebellion was running rampant amongst God’s people. They were forgetful when it came to God’s power and goodness. They were lacking confidence in regard to God’s love and forgiveness.

They needed a source of renewable energy. They needed to learn how to be resilient. They had to somehow discover their bounce-back-ability.

Isaiah reminded them of something critically important. And I love how he does this: “So… you’re saying that you have no knowledge of who God is? You’re telling me you’ve never heard that he is your loving Creator? You don’t know that he has stores of energy and wisdom that we can not even begin to fathom, much less exhaust?”

By God’s grace, through faith, we have Jesus as our hope. So many blessings result when we simply trust him. Hope is restored when we know the forgiveness, the mercy, the grace of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.

Our strength will at times fail, and then it will be renewed. We may experience problems and obstacles in life, but Jesus will ultimately help us soar over them. We may at times feel exhausted and want to say, “I’m done!”

But we have a source of renewable energy. Our Lord — in his timing — will renew us. We will run and not grow weary. We will walk and not be faint.

If even death could not hold Jesus down, then Jesus will not allow us to be held down by a simple loss of ideas or energy. He made us. And he will make us resilient as well. He redeemed us. And he will redeem our energy and ideas too.

That’s his promise to you!

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31, NIV)

Lord, when I feel I’ve run out of ideas and energy, help me to be resilient. Send me your Spirit so that I can know your strength, your energy, and your hope in Jesus Christ. I am sorry for the times when I have forgotten to look to you for help in my distress. Help me to trust your promises of renewal and resilience.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, September 16, is Isaiah 38:1 – 40:31, Galatians 2:11 – 3:9 and Psalm 107:33-43.

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Don’t Lose Sight of the Benefits

There are a total of 150 Psalms. And this is one of the most beautiful of them. For me, it ranks right up there with the 23rd Psalm.

The key verse is verse 2: Praise the LORD, and do not forget all his benefits.

With God there is always a reason for gratitude and applause. Why? Because with God there’s continually one blessing after another.

And here David takes inventory of those blessings. He calls them benefits. Man, are there ever a lot of those benefits! And like David says, we don’t ever want to lose sight of them.

See for yourself. And take some time today to pause and really meditate on this Psalm. There’s so much here.

Healing. Redemption. Compassion. Grace. Forgiveness.

That’s how great God’s love is!

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all the oppressed.

He made known his ways to Moses,
    his deeds to the people of Israel: The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:1-12, NIV)

Lord, your healing, redemption, compassion, love, grace and forgiveness are truly amazing. Help me remember all these benefits (and more!) you grant me every day, and praise you for them. Truly, you are worthy of my worship.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, August 26, is 2 Chronicles 26:1 – 28:27, 2 Corinthians 1:1-11 and Psalm 103:1-12.

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Stick Together!

As he readies himself to bid farewell, Paul sets the bar high for the Corinthians. They have been given something that is immeasurably valuable. To be granted the ability to know Jesus as their Savior from sin and to trust in him as their life-changing Redeemer is the most precious gift in the world. Jesus had called it “the pearl of great price.”

So Paul reminds the Corinthians to stay vigilant, remain true to their convictions, overcome their fears, and persevere. It would be horrible, unimaginably tragic, to lose that pearl.

The Corinthians are also to recall what Paul had told them several chapters back about love. As critically important as vigilance, courage and perseverance are, without love it all really becomes worthless.

So, Paul reminds them, cover everything you do in love. The people that God has placed around you need that reflection of Christ’s love that emanates from you, child of God.

But most of all, know that neither you nor they are meant to go it alone. The church, and the work of the kingdom, require us to have each others’ back. And Paul makes sure the Corinthians don’t forget that others have had their back. He mentions by name just a few of those who have stepped up to insure that they had been well-served with the gospel.

Paul knows with certainty the importance — and the blessing — of the brotherhood and sisterhood of faith. Hanging together is the only option. We believe deeply we have to work as one. Or should we say, we believe deeply we get to work as one?

Because it can be — at times — a long, difficult journey. Because we need each other. Because, brothers and sisters in Christ, what we are is family.

For us, togetherness is the only way!

When we do stick together, good things result. Despite the difficulties and hardships life brings, our spirit stays refreshed. And the work of the kingdom gets done.

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love. You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it. I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition” (1 Corinthians 16:13-18, NIV).

Lord, help us stick together and have each others’ back in the church so that our spirit can always be refreshed by the gospel, and so that your kingdom work of sharing the gospel can continue to move forward.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, August 25, is 2 Chronicles 24:1 – 25:28, 1 Corinthians 16:5-24 and Psalm 102:18-28.

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Give Honor, For You Have Received Honor

God’s love for us is amazing. His mercy and grace are astonishing.

When so many others dismiss you and say, “I don’t need you any more,” God says, “I want you near me. And I will always want you near me. My love for you is faithful.”

When others disparage you and say, “You are too weak. You have nothing to offer us,” God says, “I will strengthen you. You are indispensable to me. My purpose for you is glorious.”

When others disdain you and say, “You are worthless. it would be better for you not to be seen or heard from,” God says, ‘You are my honored child, whom I love. Speak to me in prayer. I do see you every day. My ears, for you, are always open.”

When others despise you and say, “You don’t belong here,” God says, “You absolutely belong here, because you are my treasured possession. My bond with you is unbreakable.”

When others disregard you and say, “I have no time for your suffering,” Jesus says, “I have suffered in your place. Come to me, you who are weary and burdened. My grace and mercy toward you will always be abundant beyond measure.”

Paul speaks to the Corinthian Christians, and his encouragement is clear.

The way we treat each other in the church is not the way we’ve been treated by other selfish sinners. The way we treat each other in the church is a reflection of the way God first treated us.

The way we honor each other in the church is the way God first honored us…

…with his unconditional, unearned, and unimaginable love.

“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:21-26, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, August 18, is Song of Songs 1:1 – 4:16, 1 Corinthians 12:1-26 and Psalm 99:1-9.

Lord, help me to honor others with love and kindness, as you have first honored me with love and kindness. Jesus, your cross reconciled me and brought me close to our Father. Now may your cross be the inspiration for me to remain close with my brothers and sisters in the church.

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