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The Head & The Heart

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Someone once said the longest bridge the Christian must span is from his head to his heart. Those 18 inches may not seem like much but they make up the longest distance in the world and the most crucial spiritual journey we will ever make. The import of bridging that span is found in the difference between knowing in the mind and believing in the heart.


On one side is the intellect. What we believe in our heart must make sense in our mind. This is true. Biblical faith is based on the solid truth of God’s promises, what the Hebrew writer connects to our hope, calling it “an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast” (Heb. 6:19). This is why faith is described as the “substance of things hoped for” (Heb. 11:1) which offers a great word picture. Faith stands under, as a supporting structure, our hope. This is why hope based on faith in God’s promises will never put us to shame (Rom. 10:11). What we believe in our heart must make sense in our mind. The Creator made us intellectual creatures and so gives us assurance in His word.

 

For instance, we know intellectually certain things to be true. “By faith we understand that the world's were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (Heb. 11:3). We look around at the ordered, beautiful universe in which we live and God expects us to make that intellectual necessary inference: “I AM.” When confronted with creation the logical thinking mind will be driven to the only plausible explanation. This is precisely Paul’s point in Romans 1 in his indictment of the Gentile world. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes,  His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). He goes onto say that they refused to acknowledge what the evidence proved and received the due penalty for their error (Rom. 1:21-32).

 

But faith is not merely intellectual inasmuch as God has also created us as emotional beings. And so, many people struggle with the reverse: what I know in my mind must also make sense in my heart. Emotional intelligence and intellectual intelligence are both necessary parts in our turning to the Lord. Some people may have a tendency to amputate the emotion from the intellect and take a purely cerebral approach to faith in Jesus. But the resulting faith is weak because obedience to God springs only from a mind that knows. But obedience must also spring from a heart that loves.

 

So God doesn’t simply confront us with evidence on the front of intellectualism but just as convincing and of equal import in our turning to Him is His assault on our heart’s emotions. One of the most profound statements in Scripture is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” This is an appeal to our heart. To plumb the depths of God’s love for sinners would take an eternity to comprehend with our minds but our hearts can be dominated by it without fully understanding it. Paul prayed that Christians would be able to “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19).

 

Knowledge influences affection and vise versa (Phil. 1:9). A person cannot be converted to the Lord with purely intellectual arguments any more than he can with purely emotional appeals. In Scripture the two come together to form a spear of love and logic that penetrates both heart and mind (Heb. 4:12). Until we learn to bridge that gap in our lives our devotion to God will suffer. God wants us to love Him with all our mind and with all our heart (Mt. 22:37).

 

The Victorious Widow

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Widows are consistently given an exalted position throughout both the Old and New Covenants. Reading through the Law reveals the compassion of the Lord on those who have lost loved ones. Generally speaking the Law groups widows and orphans together because their circumstances are similar. Likewise the treatment of orphans and widows is similar. “You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.” (Ex. 22:22-24).

The Law taught God’s people how to treat widows by turning their attention to the compassion of God Himself. “So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer. For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” (Deut. 10:16-19) Even today, the law of liberty in Christ is careful to instruct us in the honorable treatment of widows (1 Tim. 5:3-16).

There are many stories of widows who God blessed throughout the Scriptures. God turned the bitter heart of Naomi into joy at the birth of her grandchild to Ruth, another victorious widow. In the midst of a terrible drought an unnamed widow and her son on the verge of starvation were blessed with a continuous supply of flour and oil by the power of God through Elijah the prophet. Later on in 1 Kings 17 her son fell ill and died but through the fervent prayer of Elijah he was brought back to life. After witnessing the power and goodness of God the widow said, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.” (1 Kings 17:24). Another widow grieving her mate’s death was blessed by God through a miracle performed by Elisha. She was able sell the oil provided by God to buy back her sons from slavery (2 Kings 4:1-7). Abigail, the righteous and wise widow of Nabal, was blessed by God in 1 Samuel 25 by being given in marriage to David.

In Acts 9, at the passing of the disciple named Tabitha (or Dorcas in the Greek) it is said that when Peter finally arrived in Joppa, the disciples“…brought him into the upper room; and all the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing all the tunics and garments that Dorcas used to make while she was with them.” (Acts 9:39) In passing I notice what I think to be an important and revealing point from this passage. Why were all the widows together? Because that’s what Christian women who have lost their husbands do. They gather together. They have the same scar on their hearts, share the same pain of loss so they gather together to lean on each other.

At Hallsville, we have many widows: Mary Alexander, Dee Dee Ford, Fran Hutchinson, Patt Stewart, Eva Hochman, Vera Doutthit, and most recently, Martha Shern. It is no accident that these women are some of the best examples of faith and service at our congregation. It’s also no accident to see them together going out to eat, meeting up to paint, or just visiting privately at the building. Widows gravitate to one another for mutual up building. There is something special, some kind of unique comfort that other members can’t offer widows, that can bind up fresh wounds, soothe older ones, or just help to get through the day. Praise the Lord who brings victory to the widow in manifold ways.

In the midst of a dark prophecy of the destruction of Edom comes this beautiful promise from God, “Leave your orphans behind, I will keep them alive; And let your widows trust in Me.” (Jer. 49:11) Proverbs 15:25 states, “The LORD will tear down the house of the proud, But He will establish the boundary of the widow.” Paul says in 1 Timothy 5:5, “Now she who is a widow indeed and who has been left alone, has fixed her hope on God and continues in entreaties and prayers night and day.” May we all understand God’s compassion on the brokenhearted and learn to trust Him more each day because there will come a time when we will, if we haven’t already, experience loss like the widow. To God be the glory who gives us all victory in Jesus.

 

Anger

Sunday, June 28, 2015

“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”

(Ephesians 4:26-27)

Recently I felt genuine anger. My pride had been hurt. I felt I had been treated unfairly. My emotions were raw to the point that later that evening I was moved to tears. But life stubbornly continued to happen around me. I wanted it to stop. I wanted everyone to know what injustice had been done but I could not neglect my evening routine: kids to the potty, teeth brushed, pajamas, and story time (“the sun stood still” in Joshua 10). Oh, but then, then I could brood upon my pride being torn down. I could dwell upon the gross injustice done to me! I could grease the wheels of self-pity until I could find the negative in everything.

Then came a revelation, “what would Paul or Timothy do in this situation?” My first thought was they probably would have handled themselves better. But for some reason my second thought was to read Ephesians ch. 4 and the beginning of ch. 5. There I found only a reflection of my shallow faith and self-

centered attitude. The slow, painful breakdown of repentance took its toll; anger turned into shame, shame turned into godly sorrow which turned into a prayer of forgiveness, forgiveness turned into thanksgiving which turned into peace. However, God did not take my “bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor” (v.31) away when I prayed that prayer. Instead, He gives me the power in Christ to put those things off and to exchange those filthy robes with purified garments as white as snow.       

Nevertheless, those burdens had to be laid at the foot of the cross because by continuing to feed that raging fire of anger the devil was having a heyday with my soul. For the moment the old serpent had me in his death grip. Under his power he could use his instrument of sin to forge me into an instrument of unrighteousness. All the good, holy, and righteous things were somehow blocked and my mind was strangely overwhelmed with all the bad and ugly things that happened to me earlier that week. I suddenly had the uncanny ability to recall old confrontations that had been forgiven and (seemingly) forgotten with renewed clarity.

“Yeah! Why me?” I thought. “He was wrong about that! She shouldn’t have said that to me! I deserve better. Doesn’t he know how hard I try? After all I have done for him!” And in a moment I am being sifted like wheat and the prince of the power of the air is laughing at how easy and enjoyable his job is. To make us forget God for a moment in a flash of anger, to take our eyes off our inheritance long enough to be deceived into thinking that the pain we’re feeling right now is worth dwelling on even at the cost of more important things.

But the influence and love of Christ was not so easily laid aside. Because even in the grip of Satan God’s word is powerful enough to cut to the division of joints and marrow. The Spirit does His work with His two-edged sword and discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart with alarming alacrity until the light of the remembrance of Jesus chased away the shadows long enough for me to open up a Bible and think righteously (Phil. 4:8-9).

“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell…”

(Matthew 5:21-22)

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