We can trust God’s Heart

Jeremiah 29 (NIV)

10 This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  
12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.
13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
14 I will be found by you,” declares the LORD,
 “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

God is always seeking our best.  And loving God, loving Agape Love, is the best thing for us.  God’s Word tells us how to do this.  Trust Jesus and obey Him.  But this is hard to do on our own.  I naturally want to take the quick and easy path of sin to meet my God-given needs.  Sin is fun for a little while, but the problem is that the fun doesn’t last long.  And the pain of sin is much greater than the pleasure and can last much longer.  And sin hurts me, others and God.  That’s why God calls it sin.  God wants us to meet our God-given needs His way.  And that takes patience for God’s timing and trust in His character and possibly some amount of effort.

The beautiful thing is that we don’t need to depend on our own strength to follow Him.  If we agree with God that we have had wrong attitudes and actions in the past (sin), if we believe that God the Father raised Jesus, God the Son, back from the dead, and if we surrender control of our lives to the One who loves us most, Jesus promises to meet our needs and give us strength.

And with Jesus in our heart, we will be able to love supernaturally, and God will give us joy.  The way may not always be easy though.  Satan used to ignore me but now that I follow Jesus, satan attacks me much more than before Jesus saved me.

But, Jesus said, “Take heart, for I have overcome [satan].

Let’s change the world

 Deuteronomy 8  (NIV)

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.  
11 Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.
12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down,
13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied,
14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God,
who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
15 He led you through the vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock.
16 He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you.
17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.”  
18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.
19 If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed.
20 Like the nations the LORD destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the LORD your God.

Though my university selectively showed me facts that imply otherwise, I believe our nation was founded on Jesus and the Gospel.  (Other faiths enjoyed freedom of expression, and that is attributable to the characteristic of being a predominately Christian country).  Because Jesus permeated the new culture, God blessed this nation just as He blessed Israel when Israel obeyed God.  However, God did not spare Israel, His “treasured possession”, when they did not obey Him.  He sent droughts, floods. storms, and lastly, invading armies, to get their attention.

The parallels to what has been happening to the USA is striking.  America has suffered droughts, floods and storms in increasingly greater severity.  Why?  I believe because America has gone far from God and God is trying to get our attention.

God has a great heart for justice for the oppressed, for the helpless.

Racism causes great injustice: educationally, socially and economically.

Abortion literally chops up helpless living babies and sends them to the garbage.

And our money driven culture doesn’t care.

For a few brief moments American’s priorities were exposed by 9/11.  We suddenly saw that ball players were not the heroes that the commercial culture makes them out to be.  The real heroes were firefighters, police officers, and military personnel; and the countless ordinary citizens who have also sacrificed themselves by helping others.  Churches saw many new faces…briefly.  President George W. Bush said that the rest of America moved on from 9/11 but that he stayed there.  I wish all of America would have stayed there long enough to pay attention to God.

God said to Israel that if they obeyed Him they would be the head and foreigners would be the tail.  And if they did not obey Him foreigners would be the head and Israel would be the tail.  Similarly, hasn’t our own economic health paralleled our moral decline since the 1960’s?  We used to lend to other nations.  Now we are in massive debt to other nations.  And the debtor is servant to the lender.

What is next for God to use to get our attention?  As terrible as 9/11 was, it only woke up America for a few weeks, a few months at best.  Since then it has been no different than before.  When Israel refused to acknowledge the One that won their wars and gave them freedom from their enemies, God stopped helping them.  In time of war after 9/11 our nation prayed.  And we saw God help us using technology.  If we do not acknowledge the One who loves us and protects us, all our technology will be useless.

You may be asking, what can we do, the problems are so big and I am just one person?  God says one person praying is like a thousand and two like ten thousand.  Let’s ask God to first change us and offer ourselves to Him each day to do whatever He asks.  Then let Him lead us.  Margaret Mead is attributed as saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.

Why not judge others?

1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  
We are to judge actions but not motives.  We judge the what and not the why.  The Bible judges many actions: murder, adultery, theft.  But the person was created in the image of God and only God is all-wise and all-knowing enough to truly know why someone did something.

2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  
When you judge someone what you are really saying is that if you were in that person’s circumstances and you did what they did you would be thinking a certain evil.  This would be based on the fact that you had a similar experience in the past.  And so the measure you use for them is the measure you gave yourself.

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  
Instead of looking at your brother’s fault, look at his need.

4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  
If you don’t see your brother’s need you cannot meet your brother’s need.

5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.  
Forgive your brother his fault, assess the need and address the need.

6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.
Unbelievers will reject God’s wisdom (and you) until they are ready to receive it.

(Jesus words from Matthew 5:1-6, NIV84)
(My imperfect understanding of the passage.)

A possible interpretation of Matthew 5

When I was a kid, Jesus’ words of Matthew 5 made no sense to me.  When I became an adult they still made no sense.  When I gave my life to Jesus they started to make sense.

Matthew 5

1  And seeing the multitudes, He went up
on a mountain, and when He was seated
His disciples came to Him. 2  Then He
opened His mouth and taught them,
saying:

(Jesus’ words)                                          
(How I interpret them, not necessarily accurately)

3    “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy are those who have no confidence in their own goodness,
Because Jesus came for them.

4    Blessed are those who mourn,
    For they shall be comforted.
Happy are those who sorrow over their heart that is bent toward evil,
Because Jesus will give them a new heart bent toward God.

5    Blessed are the meek,
    For they shall inherit the earth.
Happy are those whose strength is under control,
For God will put the earth under their control.

6    Blessed are those who hunger
    and thirst for righteousness,
    For they shall be filled.
Happy are those who desperately want their souls to be clean,
For Jesus will clean them as white as snow.

7    Blessed are the merciful,
    For they shall obtain mercy.
Happy are those who cancel the debts of others that the others’ cannot pay themselves,
For Jesus will cancel their debt to God that they cannot pay themselves.
8    Blessed are the pure in heart,
    For they shall see God.
Happy are those who have no evil desires,
For they will be able to see God working everywhere.

9    Blessed are the peacemakers,
    For they shall be called sons of God.
Happy are those who help brothers and sisters to find common ground, creative synergistic solutions and critical understanding of each other and of themselves,
For they will be named after the Most High.

10    Blessed are those who are 
    persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
    For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy are those who are rejected for the purity of, and love in, their heart,
For Jesus is theirs.

11  “Blessed are you when they revile 
and persecute you, and say all kinds 
of evil against you falsely for My sake. 
12  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, 
for great is your reward in heaven, 
for so they persecuted the prophets 
who were before you.
Happy are you when others hate you because you follow Jesus
and your godly character publicly exposes their own evil,
Jump for joy because a prophet’s reward is waiting for you in heaven.

Practice what I preach?

The Pharisees, religious and political leaders of Jesus time, failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah their beloved Moses talked about.  This was because they did not believe or obey the Scripture they had memorized and talked about each Sabbath.  They were, as Jesus pointed out to them, hypocrites.

What does that mean for me?  It is easier to write about Jesus than it is to actually follow Him.  I get convicted while I type the words to some of these posts.  How much time do I spend in meaningful conversation each day with my wife? with each of my sons?  Do I give my best at church? at work?

I realize that I need to let Jesus order my world, let Him set the priorities and manage my schedule.  And I do that by obeying Him when He nudges me to set the computer aside and listen to my family.  Jesus will give me the time to write, that is not the problem.  The problem is that I not use my family’s time as writing time and crowd out what is more important.  My family, my church, and my work come first.  In that order.

I believe this struggle of priorities will be ongoing.  I also believe that by putting into practice what I already know to be true from the Bible, the way will get clearer, if not easier.  And by relying on the Holy Spirit, to guide and empower me, the end result will be the balance that God is looking for from me.

Please feel free to hold me accountable to this.

Nobody’s perfect

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.   Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.
Psalm 51:5-6 NKJV

Being truthful in my head is very hard.  I decide what I want because I want it. Then I pretend I really want it for another reason, a “good”, acceptable reason, a “righteous” reason.  I deceive myself, but almost no one else.  God wants me to tell the truth to myself.  If I read the Bible and see all the “good guys” as me and all the “bad guys” as someone else, I’m missing everything.  The Bible is a mirror to show me who I really am.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
James 1:22-25 NKJV

Most of the Bible heroes were flawed!  Abraham lied and let another man take his wife to save his skin.  David got another man’s wife pregnant and then killed the man to cover it up.  Jacob’s name meant deceiver and he lived up to it.  Noah got drunk and exposed himself.  Moses was a murderer.  Peter, the “rock” of faith, denied Jesus and called down curses on himself to keep himself from suffering Jesus’ fate.  Paul ruthlessly murdered men, women and children who would not betray Jesus.

If God can work with a crowd like that, and turn them into role models for us, do you think He can work with someone like me? or you?  Well, not if I lie to myself and tell myself I’m really not so bad, and nobody’s perfect, and my good outweighs my bad, and who are you to talk and… and… and….

Jesus “redefined” sin so that no one would feel left out:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’  But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire….“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  – Jesus, Matthew 5:21- 22, 27-28 NKJV

God desires truth in the inner parts.  Before Jesus can cleanse me of my sin I have to admit I have sin for Him to cleanse.  If I deny the true motives for my actions and cover it up with “righteous lies” Jesus can’t help me.  I have to be ruthlessly honest within myself.

Okay, so if I’m honest with myself, humble myself and agree with God that I have rebelled against Him, what do I get?

Peace with God.  And peace within myself.  And the ability to see and treat others differently.  More compassion, less judgement, less demands.  Jesus grants us forgiveness and grace (i.e. kindness we don’t deserve) and we can pass it along to those who hurt us.  We absorb the sting of their attacks, and we offer them kindness and understanding in return.  This isn’t natural, it’s supernatural.  It’s the work of the Holy Spirit who works through you as you allow Him to work through you.  This fulfills the second half of the verse: And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.

To help with the process of confession you may want to ask someone you trust if you can tell them your sins as you confess them to God.  This takes guts and I haven’t done it much.  I will report back to you after I have talked with my accountability partner.

Pastor Dr. Charles F. Stanley observes, “Obedience always brings blessing”.  And Jesus said, “The truth will set you free”.  May God grant me and you the grace to always confess our sins, so that we can reap the blessings and freedom Jesus always wants to give us.

Can God turn our failure into success?

Psalm 51 NIV84

1 For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.
14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.


I love Psalm 51:17.  I mess up regularly.  And when I have messed up bad, and the excuses don’t mean a thing, I have this cry of David to give me the comfort I am desperately looking for.  If I “own” my evil action, and wish I had never done it, and I am committed to never doing it again, Our Father in Heaven will “blot out my transgressions”.  Why would He do that?  Because of all the good things I’ve done? or all the good things I promise to do?

No.

He forgives me because He is my Father and He loves me.  (And He loves you just as much).  And He has the right to forgive us because He suffered and died to pay the price for our sins.

But what does Our Father do when I have been forgiven and commit the exact same sin again, and again, and again?!  Matthew records Jesus:

Then Peter came to [Jesus] and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”
Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

Matthew 18:21-22 NKJV

If God tells us to forgive others that many times, how will He treat us?  Our Father has limitless compassion on us His children.  If He endured torture and death for us when we were His enemies, what will He withhold now that we are His friends?  Or, as the Apostle Paul wrote:

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

Romans 5:8-11 NKJV

If you genuinely turn away from sin each time, each time God will forgive you.  A word of warning however.   Forgiveness does not mean that there are no consequences to sin.  I rejected God when I was nearly twenty years old. And I continued to reject Him for the next ten years.
And at 54 years old, though forgiven, I still have the mental illness that was the consequence of that first decision to reject God.
But God will make even the consequences of our sin work together for our good.  The Apostle Paul writes:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 

Romans 8:28 NKJV

In my case, my consequence of mental illness has given me insight and credibility to help others who are experiencing mental illness and/or to help their loved ones understand what mental illness is like.  Whatever mistakes you have made, if you turn from it, God can use it for good.  And He can make using that mistake an opportunity to help others… And a joy!

Why don’t you ask Him to do that for you right now?