A Trustworthy Heart

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Say what you mean and mean what you say. Pretty simple really. Except that it’s not. We live in a culture that values deception as craftiness and the way to get ahead. We are expected to be “kind” by telling people what they want to hear, and to avoid “judging” others by not really caring about them at all. “Mind your own business” is our American mantra. Jesus says otherwise. His kingdom is counter-cultural. It turns culture upside down! “But I tell you…” is his favorite tagline in his great sermon on a mountainside.

Matthew 5: 27-37

You’ve heard that it was said, “Don’t commit adultery, but I tell you” don’t indulge YOURSELF in lust. Self is not most important in this kingdom.

You’ve heard that it was said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce, but I tell you” don’t discard someone you are in covenant relationship with on every SELFISH whim. Self is not most important in this kingdom.

You’ve heard that it was said, “You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn, but I tell you MEAN WHAT YOU SAY; don’t abuse words just to get what YOU WANT! Self is not most important in this kingdom.

There’s a common theme in these admonitions – value yourself less; place value on people and on your promises.

You made promises in a marriage vow? Mean them. Value the man or woman you married by being satisfied by them, physically and emotionally, even when they get it wrong. You promised to love and cherish them? Mean that. Just because you can get a divorce, don’t – unless you have exhausted all attempts at reconciliation and peace. Don’t discard people like you do old junk. Use things, love people.  Love sacrifices and is not dependent on self-absorption. Don’t confuse love with selfish gratification. You promised this person that for better or for worse, you were in this covenant until death parted you? Mean that.

Come to think of it, always mean what you say. Let your “Yes” mean yes, affirmative, absolutely. Let your “No” mean no, negative, I will not. Your spouse, your kids, your friends and family, should be able to trust your words, and certainly don’t need some fluffy, inflated promise to take you seriously.

This isn’t harsh – it’s a really good way to live. Think about it. If you never doubted what other people said, but could count on honesty and a spoken commitment to be absolute, wouldn’t that change everything? Wouldn’t a world void of deception and ulterior motives be heavenly? In fact, it is – that is the kingdom of God. And one day, it will work in its redemptive state – perfectly!

We live in a loop-hole world. The smartest, shrewdest people find the loopholes and usually make the most money, qualities our culture worships. God’s economy is different. Honesty and selflessness matter. Avoid the loopholes, and expose the heart. How often do you distort the truth with your words and/or actions? How much do you value your promises? Dig deep and risk the vulnerability of living God’s way, as far as it depends on you.  Even in a fallen and chaotic world, the light still can shine brightly and overcome the darkness.

A Trusting Heart

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Consider…

Jesus said, “Consider the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you of more value than they?” (Mt. 6:26)…Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Mt. 6:28-30)

I’ve done a lot of considering this past week. I’ve seen some amazing things which have inspired contemplation. I’ve considered the birds of the air flying gracefully over rocks, crags, and rivers of the Grand Canyon. I’ve considered the wildflowers growing amidst giant Redwoods in the cool of the forest. I’ve considered the limitlessness of the ocean, the vastness of the desert, and the stunning brilliance of stars, moons, planets and galaxies.

In each wonder of the physical world, I have considered my heavenly Father and my place in his creation. With the psalmist, I have resonated, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, Amy, that you care for her?” (Ps 8:3, italics my paraphrase) The words of Jesus have played on repeat in my head, fighting their way into my consciousness, “You are more valuable than all of this!”

For Jesus, his admonishment to consider was attached to a loving command not to worry. He doesn’t say, “Don’t worry or else,” but rather, “Look at what I can do! Don’t worry; I’ve got you!”

When I was a kid and we went on a trip, I always marveled that my mom and dad knew the way there and back. It was a great mystery to me, but I never worried about getting to our destination or getting home. I loved to fall asleep in the car and wake up in my bed. I could sleep because I knew my parents to be trustworthy and capable.   I never doubted that I would get home.  I knew that my dad would carry me to my bed.  It was a great way to travel!

The Law of Hebrew Scripture fostered utter trust in God, dependence on Him that yielded peace. “I am the Lord your God who knows how to get you out of bad places and lead you to good places; don’t trust any god but me. I love you and am jealous for you, so wear my name proudly.” (my paraphrase of beginning of the ten commandments, Ex. 20:2-7)

When Jesus says, “Don’t be anxious about your life, what you will eat, drink and wear…don’t worry about your death…don’t be anxious about tomorrow” (Mt 7:25, 27, 34) he says, “Your daddy is in the driver’s seat, and He knows the way home! He even knows what you like to eat, drink and wear, and all the good stuff that you like. He loves you and wants to give you good things.” (Mt. 7:9-11)

All you have to do is look at the world around you! Consider. Seek the kingdom of God. Ask. Dig deep into the heart of the law, and find God to be a really good dad. You really can trust him!

Do you ever hear, “Don’t worry,” and then worry that you worry too much? Relax. Look out your window. It’s beautiful out there and God is taking care of it all! He loves you even more than all of his creation! Rest your head on the pillow in the back seat of the car. Close your eyes and rest. One day your dad will carry you home and you’ll wake up to a scene that makes even the Grand Canyon or the Redwoods pale in comparison. Jesus paved the way and His Spirit is with you, leading you home.

A Humble Heart

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Have you ever seen What Not to Wear, TLC’s version of a horror/makeover show? The horror part comes by way of a three way mirror, in which “lucky” participants get to see themselves up close and very personal in the clothes and “look” they usually wear. I have never seen anyone “like” what they see in this magnified reality box, especially as the world watches with them. Humiliating, made to feel foolish, is a word that seems to adequately describe the experience. The value, however, is always surprising, a look inside oneself that changes everything.

Jesus seemed to have a similar strategy when he taught his disciples how to “look” at themselves and others.  One heart condition that the law intended to shape was humility. Humility…a low view of one’s own importance; the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people…not our human default setting. It can’t develop without taking a long hard look at yourself and the state of your heart. This always involves a little humiliation. The result however is a perspective that changes everything!

Jesus said, “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye, when there is a log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)  This is the right way to judge.   Look intently at yourself in the biggest mirror you can find, the Law/Scriptures. (James 1:23-25) Your flaws will be obvious, your need of a savior overwhelming.  Your only option will be to lean into grace.  Then care enough to see people.

As you start noticing others through this lens, a new perspective emerges. Instead of criticizing their flaws, you’ll see yourself in them.   Maybe you’ll start thinking about what you wish others would do for you in that situation, and you’ll start doing it for them. (Matthew 7:12) From empathy is born compassion, reconciliation, and genuine love.  Instead of loving things and using people, the paradigm shifts. From a perspective of humility, we start loving people and using things, the way God intended. (Randy Harris, Living Jesus)

From this template, Matthew 5:21-26 reads like this to me:

So Amy, you’re doing awesome not murdering anyone, but how are you doing with your anger? Do your words convey arrogance and contempt or humility and grace? Do people leave a conversation with you feeling valued or shamed? This is important. Think.   Have you wounded someone recently? Go make that right.   Don’t just say, “I’m sorry.” Expose your heart, feel the pain of your flaw(s), and make it right with words and action.   Reconciliation is better than what you may think is worship.   Remember, dearly loved one, when your heart is pure, you’ll see God and the people around you like He sees them.

Humility may seem like thinking less of yourself, but really it is just thinking of yourself less. (C.S. Lewis) When you see yourself clearly, that’s a welcome endeavor!  The good news is that we experience the ultimate makeover! On What Not to Wear, when someone is made over, they seem to value themselves, not because they become vain, but because they see a transformed “outside” and it seems to reflect a transformed “inside.” They submit to a humbling process and they change.

Friends, Jesus offers us more than $5,000 and a new wardrobe. He says we can “put Him on!” We can wear his perfection, because he took on our imperfection, a remarkable trade! When we look at the made-over us, our outside reflects His Spirit inside – a transformation indeed! We know Jesus was humble and we have his mind! (1Cor 2:16) We can do this!

 

 

 

The Heart of the Law

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My husband has been in the hospital this past week. There has been a lot of pain and a lot of waiting on his part. I heard him say once in frustration, “Just tell me what I have to do I have to get well, and I’ll do it.” The unexpected answer was more along the lines of “It’s up to you,” the last thing he wanted to hear. I tried to reassure him that sometimes medicine is more of an art than a science. It’s a matter of balancing how much pain one can and should withstand while the body attempts to right itself, submitting to its master’s design.  Stopping the pain is sometimes necessary, but it can slow down the natural healing process.

The spiritual nature of man is no different. Physically and spiritually, humans desire the path of least resistance. We want to do the minimum required effort to achieve an acceptable amount of comfort. We often struggle to balance pain control of the heart, while the mind and body attempt to right themselves to the master’s design, the pursuit of righteousness at its core. We’ll numb heart pain to just follow the rules. The vulnerability of the heart, however, is the key to healthy life in the kingdom of God.

As Matthew records Jesus’ words in this famous sermon, he addresses this fundamental tension. Jesus tells his followers words that almost every directive to follow will be based upon. He says, “Don’t think that I’ve come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I’ve not come to abolish them but to fulfill them!” (Mt 5:17-20) Jesus was saying that the law is really good. God revealed his heart in the law, and Jesus came in the flesh to make God’s heart (one of justice and mercy, grace and peace) very real. Jesus wants us to radically expose our hearts so we can live like him! Our righteousness, he says, has to exceed the head knowledge, self-abasement, and rule following of the uber-religious people (scribes and Pharisees) to even step foot into God’s kingdom. (Mt. 5:20)

The God fearers Jesus encountered were like my husband, wanting to avoid pain and be well. They had been following Jewish law all their lives. They revered the Scriptures. They tried hard to follow the rules. They tried to stay away from sin. In the gospel of Mark, some of the best law followers even asked Jesus point blank, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” (Mk 12:28) When Jesus took two treasured laws to love God and to love neighbor, he, as love incarnate, said that the whole of the law is fulfilled in living and loving like me. Trouble was that involved brokenness, submission, humility, rejection, and even willingness to die, pretty painful attitudes of the heart. Jesus was the perfect example of living out the heart of the law. He did it for us, so that he could continue to live it through us.

Tim Keller explains this beautifully. He said,

“Jesus boils all the law of God into one principle – love, directed to God and to others. Here Jesus is going to the very heart of the core dilemma of ethics. Human thinkers have for centuries felt there was a tension between “Law” and “Love.” Do I do the legal thing, or the loving thing? Jesus is not so much picking one or two rules over the others, nor is he choosing love over law, but rather he is showing that love is what fulfills the law. The law is not being fulfilled unless it is obeyed as a way of giving and showing love to God or others.” – (Tim Keller, Jesus the King, p. 146)

The remainder of Jesus’ words, in this great sermon, will boil down to living out the heart of the law in a way that shows love to God and to others. I have a pioneer who lived this law perfectly, and who longs to live it perfectly in me. My part is to expose the heart to both pain and joy; His part is to do the healing and the healthy living. Jesus said, “It’s not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick.” (Mt 9:12) I’m thankful that God allowed me to see myself in a hospital this week. I’m asking Him to make my heart tender and vulnerable as he reveals the healthy life he desires for me. Will you?

You Are

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“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” – Kathryn Stockett, The Help

If you read The Help or saw the movie, you know the formational impact of these words. This is the creed that Aibileen, a black housekeeper and nanny to white children, used to reassure herself as well as the often neglected and psychologically damaged children in her charge. Spoken in love and affirmed by action, these words provided a stable framework on which identity and self-worth could be built in an otherwise tumultuous and confusing environment.

Jesus builds a similar platform for his disciples to stand on as he begins to deconstruct and rebuild the law they thought they knew so well. In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:13-16), Jesus follows his personal blessings with this creed: You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You really are. (emphasis mine) Spoken in love and affirmed by action, Jesus’ words are a solid foundation on which to build a difficult life of discipleship.

There is much to be said about the qualities of salt and light, but they are best understood by virtue of what they are, not what they do. Salt is one of the Earth’s most abundant minerals found predominantly in bodies of water. Even fresh water has trace elements of salt, but the oceans have an almost unlimited supply. Salt is salt by nature of its composition – sodium and chloride. It doesn’t have to try to be salt, it just is and always was. “In the beginning, the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the (salty) waters.” (Genesis 1:2) Salt dispels decay and promotes life, even from earth’s beginning.

Light is a natural agent of illumination. It dispels darkness. Wherever it is, darkness is not. “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep… And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” (Genesis 1:2-3) Light was at God’s command. It marked the beginning of creation. It wasn’t the sun, but God himself that enabled visibility before there were any eyes to see it.

Salt and light are at God’s discretion. He does with these elements what He wills. When Jesus, son of God, called his followers salt and light, that is what we are, not what we are trying to be. As Paul once put it; our lives are now hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3) Through Christ, by our new nature, we are now God’s incarnate agents in the world. As salt, God uses us to dispel all the bitterness, decay, and dullness the world has to offer. As light, God uses us to dispel all the darkness, evil, and death that the world can muster. Our light is not our good deeds, but rather the means by which people see that they are good. When they see goodness, all the glory goes to God! We can either accept this truth and by the Spirit submit to life as salt and light, or by the flesh, dilute and hide what God has made us to be.

“You is smart. You is kind. You is important.”  You can almost hear Aibileen say to Mae Mobley, “Don’t let anything else define you; I see something great in you. Live well, child.”

“You are salt. You are light.” You can almost hear our Father God say, “I see myself in you. Live well, child of mine.”