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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).


What Does Love Do?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

“[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13:7)


In 1 Cor. 13:7 the apostle reflects on four things that love does. The first thing that love does is it “bears all things.” The Greek word for “bear” means to cover up, not in a secretive, lying way but in a protective way. The same verb is used of roofing a structure. Love shelters all that is underneath it like an umbrella keeps you out of the rain.


This is precisely how Peter uses the word when he says, “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8). Love protects other people from harm. I really hate it when I hear a wife criticize her husband in public; or a husband who allows his wife to be ridiculed right in front of him; or a Christian who permits his brother to be slandered. Love does not allow this.

The second thing that love does is it “believes all things.” Of course, Paul cannot mean that love will believe a lie because love “rejoices with truth” (1 Cor. 13:6). He is teaching us that love is trusting and not suspicious. Love always believes the best about people. To put it another way, love gives people the benefit of the doubt. This is especially hard because we have been jaded by letdowns, disappointments and a host of other negative experiences. As a result we tend to treat others by the principle of “guilty until proven innocent.” But love is “patient” while it waits for the evidence to surface and in the meantime it “believes all things.”

People tend to become what you believe them to be. How you treat people has an effect on their character. For example, if you are too hard on your son he will grow up believing he will never live up to your expectations. The father’s treatment of his son projects itself onto the behavior of the child. A father who loves his son will believe in him and encourage him. Sometimes all Simon needs to hear from his dad when he is struggling with something is, “You can do it. I know you can. Now try it again.” There is power in how we think and treat others. Let us love others by believing the best about them and not the worst.


The third thing that love does is it “hopes all things.” To put it plainly, love is optimistic about the future. Biblical hope is not mere unreasoning optimism but rather a confident expectation of what we know is possible. Love that hopes all things never gives up on people even when everyone might have already. Love refuses to take failure as final, either in oneself or in someone else. Jesus is in the business of making success stories out of failures. Look at Peter. Jesus knew he would fail but He loved him and love “hopes all things.” (cf. Lk. 22:31-34, 61-62; Jn. 21:15-17)


This attitude of never giving up on one another is key to our relationship with each other in God’s church. Love is a labor of hope. If we love one another we will never give up helping each other get to heaven. We do all this in spite of our shortcomings.


The fourth thing that love does is it “endures all things.” To endure means to remain behind or hold your ground. It is a military term that means to hold your position at all costs. Even if the battle is lost the soldier is to keep on fighting to the bitter end. So then, we might say that love never backs down. It holds fast to its object. Even in the face of rejection love will never stop loving.


Is this not how God loves us? (Rom. 5:6-10) It is His love for us that motivates us to hold onto Jesus no matter what (Rom. 5:3-5). We see Jesus, surrounded by sinners, the sky black with darkness at midday, lonely, broken, weak and nailed to a cross by the very ones He came to save. And yet He says, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). He never stopped loving even though His love was rejected. His love endured all things because it looked beyond the present to the hope of what might be in the future. William Barclay called God’s love for mankind “unconquerable.” Now, as recipients of this kind of love we are charged to love each other the same way.


The Grace of Giving

Sunday, March 06, 2016

“Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7)

Throughout Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians to bring their collection for needy saints in Jerusalem to completion (2 Cor. 8-9) the collection itself is called many things: “the grace of God” (8:1), “a gracious work” (8:6, 7), “this generous gift” (8:20), “ministry to the saints” (9:1), “a bountiful gift” (9:5). It is no wonder, then, that Paul likened the gracious act of giving to those in need to the work of grace performed by Jesus on the cross for sinful man (8:9). Both were works of grace, the condescending favor of one party bestowed on a less fortunate party.

Naturally, giving is much more difficult than receiving. In giving to others we feel like all the blessing has gone out feeling a little emptier than when we began. Yet Jesus has taught us, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35) because in the act of giving, especially when we expect “nothing in return,”  we are proving to be “sons of the Most High” (Lk. 6:25). We are taught by God’s grace (2 Cor. 8:9; Titus 2:11-14) to reflect His grace toward others.

We might expect the greatest blessing in giving to others graciously to be the positive effect it brings to the recipient. Yet, this is secondary to a greater good, namely, the glorification of God (Mt. 5:16). This is the ultimate aim of God’s children in their actions of love.

If God’s glory is at the center of our exercising grace then we are freed from the fleshly lust of giving selfishly (Lk. 6:34) to give both generously and cheerfully (2 Cor. 9:6-7). Paul explained this with the principle of sowing and reaping (v.6). What is true naturally is also true spiritually (Mk. 10:30; Gal. 6:8-10). God not only supplies the seed needed to cause the fruits of righteousness to grow but He also causes the growth as well! (1 Cor. 3:6-7).

Knowing these principles to be trustworthy, we are to be purposeful and cheerful givers. Therefore, we must make up our minds to give beforehand with deliberate purpose, not in a haphazard manner nor with any reluctance. It should not pain us to give to others because we do so “not under compulsion” or of necessity. This means we should never contribute to the needs of others because we feel it is our “duty,” as if God should have to cast some gloomy shadow of obligation upon us. Such a contribution would result in the opposite of cheerfulness or happiness: regret.

On the other hand, one who has learned by God’s grace to give with grace, that is, purposefully and cheerfully, is loved by God (2 Cor. 9:7). Those, then, who are eager to receive God’s love will be motivated to give in this way (Heb. 13:16). In fact, it ought to be our pleasure to give graciously to others.

Yet there are times we grow weary in doing good (Gal. 6:9) and may falter in our generosity. In those seasons of spiritual drought we are no longer serving “by the strength which God supplies” (1 Pet. 4:11) and have instead fallen back into thinking we can be gracious without God. We must have faith that as long as we are seeking “first His kingdom and His righteousness” God will take care of our needs (Mt. 6:25-33). The man of faith knows that God is powerful enough to equip him to be a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:8; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Eph. 2:10).

Who is the “one man [who] gives freely, yet gains even more” (Prov. 11:24)? This paradoxical proverb describes the man who believes that being gracious to others will not diminish his capacity to provide for his own or to continue in benevolence (Psa. 37:25). He understands that God both replenishes the blessing that has gone out and fills up to overflowing. He is the branch that is pruned to bear even more fruit (Jn. 15:2).

This truth was expressed beautifully by Paul in 2 Corinthians 9:10, “Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness.” The harvest of the Corinthians’ righteousness was the collection for needy saints. The harvest for our righteousness is whatever work of gracious giving we are engaged in.

Just as God supplies the farmer’s seed that produces bread to eat, the same gracious God will supply us with all we need to be gracious to others. Through those who give freely, God will supply a bumper crop of blessing! “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15), His grace is truly all sufficient (12:9).

The Meaning of Life & Familial Relationships

Sunday, February 14, 2016

“…Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days…”

(Deut. 30:19-20)

What is life all about? It is always interesting to hear the various answers people give. And to most people, a definitive answer to this age old question is elusive. Obviously, believers can answer this question on a number of levels from the Scriptures. But what about someone who isn’t interested in the things of God? In my experience, most unbelievers find meaning and purpose in their familial relationships.

Lee Iococca, the famous automobile executive, said in his book ‘Straight Talk’ while pondering this question, “As I start the twilight years of my life, I try to look back and figure out what it was all about. I’m still not sure what is meant by good fortune and success. I know fame and power are for the birds. But then life suddenly comes into focus. There stand my kids and I love them and they love me and that’s what life is all about.”

I think this is a fair estimation of how most people find purpose in their life. The point is underscored by the fact that Mr. Iococca had experienced earthly “fame and power” and “good fortune and success.” But when he boiled life down to its essence he found purpose in the requited love of familial relationships. And what father hasn’t experienced joy inexpressible that comes from holding their child? You don’t have to believe in God to get some feeling of fulfillment and joy in being part of a loving family.

My point is this: in one moment of holding a child we find more intimations on the meaning of life than all the books of philosophy combined. Life suddenly, as Iococca puts it, “comes into focus.” James Russel Lowell offered his commentary on children when he called them “God’s apostles, day by day sent forth to preach of love and hope and peace.” John Bowring said that family was “an earlier heaven.”

So far I am aware I haven’t given much Scripture to support my opinion so take it with a grain of salt. But could it be possible that our Creator has given us a clue to the meaning of life that can be partially deciphered in our earthly relationships? After all, does it not please our God that we be called His sons and daughters through faith and that we should call Him “Abba, Father!” (Jn. 1:12; Gal. 4:1-7)?

We notice from Romans 1:19-20 that God has given certain clues about His “eternal power and divine nature” in “the things that have been made.” Here we are, part of that creation, “fearfully and wonderfully made” by Him, knit together and formed in the womb of our earthly mothers by the loving hands of our divine Father. Indeed, our “soul” “knows” well the “wonderful” “works” of our Father (Psa. 139:13-16).

So our unbelieving neighbors might be onto something when they say that life is all about the love of familial relationships. Why not connect the dots for them in explaining the relationship to their “Father who art in heaven” that is possible by faith in Christ? The earthly relationship and love of family must be pointing to something much greater. Those of us in Christ know the true meaning of life: to know the love of our Father in heaven and to receive and reciprocate that love by “obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is [our] life.”

Spreading Goodwill

Sunday, January 10, 2016

“So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those of the household of faith.”

(Gal. 6:10)

Two weeks ago I wrote an article about choosing your friends wisely using my great grandfather as negative example. I received a comment on the website asking a question.

“There are certainly kids growing up today who are in these high risk situations. I know of some horrid circumstances (jail, drug use) where the help of responsible people will have to bring these kids up and dedicate their lives to God’s work. An interesting question would be, “What do you think is the church’s (our) part in all this?””

Good question. Now that we have been added to the church (Acts 2:47; 5:14) what do we do? Paul answers that in Ephesians 2. Dead in our sins and doomed to eternal separation from God, God intervened with His love and mercy saving us by His grace through our faith in Him for a specific purpose; “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (v.10; cf. 1 Pet. 2:9-10)

Those blessed by God to be called His children are, in fact, duty-bound to will good to their neighbor. A Christian is to love his neighbor as himself. This is one of the great commands (Mt. 22:34-40), second only to the command to love God with all our heart, soul and mind. Disciples of Jesus are to be salt and light in a tasteless and dark world. Jesus says, being the salt and light of the world will encourage our neighbors to glorify God. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Mt. 5:16)

The application of this teaching is varied. To love our neighbor simply means to act in his best interest at all times. If God has blessed you with something, He expects you to share that blessing with someone in need. This is the principle taught in the parable of the talents (Mt. 25:14-30). If you have wealth, God expects you to share your wealth with someone in need (1 Tim. 6:17-19). If you have time, prove that your religion is “pure and undefiled” by visiting the lonely and brokenhearted (Jas. 1:27). This love can take shape as any act of goodwill that is done in the best interest of one’s neighbor (Phil. 2:3-4ff).

William Barclay defined love as “unconquerable goodwill.” This is an apt description of the kind of love we are to have for our fellow man as it mirrors the kind of unselfish and invincible love of God toward the world (Jn. 3:16; 1 Jn. 3:16). Despite how they are treated, children of God continue to love their neighbors and even their enemies (Mt. 5:43-48) with the same love shown and taught them by God.

There is no question that the spreading of this goodwill is the work of every Christian. As Ephesians 2:10 suggests, we were made for it. As Titus 2:14 says, we are to be zealous it, that is, we are to have a burning desire to do good works. In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:30-37), we are taught to be the best possible neighbors by sacrificing our time and resources for others’ benefit.

Is it inconvenient? Yes. Is it costly? Yes. Can it sometimes be painful? Yes. But such are the footprints of Jesus we walk in. This is all part of the presentation of our “bodies [as] a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual service of worship.” (Rom. 12:1) In other words, this is the Christian way of life.

In the end, this life of sacrifice that is pleasing to God is only a sum of its parts: many smaller sacrifices in the form of simple acts of kindness adding up. But how easy it is to “neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (Heb. 13:16)

Many of us, including myself, miss these opportunities because we are so preoccupied with our own needs that we fail to notice the needs of others. The key to maturing in this regard is to be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23; Col. 3:10).

This is accomplished through prayer and practice but primarily, this renewal comes by carefully studying the Scriptures to “prove what the will of God is.” (Rom. 12:2) By His word, God is able to make us “adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

God equips us to lift our suffering neighbor out of drug addiction, a broken home, alcoholism, or an abusive relationship. You never know, this act of goodwill could lead to the giving of an even greater gift (God’s grace) with an even greater result (the winning of a soul). “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, And he who wins souls is wise.” (Prov. 11:30)

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