Follow your heart?

“And don’t just follow your heart, man; ’cause your heart can be deceived. But you gotta lead your heart.”  –character Michael Simmons, Fireproof

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV)

If a doctor told me my gallbladder was desperately sick, I wouldn’t go out and scarf down a big pizza.  If a doctor told me my brain was desperately sick, I wouldn’t go out and enroll in advanced algebra.  But for most of my life, even though I had grown up knowing about sin, I thought I could trust my heart, at least somewhat.

Now I know: I’ve got to lead my heart, not follow it.  But the problem is, I am not capable of leading my heart.  I’ve got to find a Leader for my heart, to lead my heart.  That Leader is the God of Love, revealed to us through Jesus Christ, His Son.  With Him as Master of my life and Leader of my heart, I can really follow my heart–as long as my heart is following Him.

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4, ESV)

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What God’s Word was like after I became a believer

I could not wait to get God’s Word open.  What I saw was not the promise of cheapie fun that lasted a few seconds, but the promise of an eternal purpose.  The idea that God had chosen me, that He wanted to choose me, that He lifted me out of meaninglessness, that He wanted to lift me out of meaninglessness . . . I had an excitement I hadn’t had since I was 5 years old.

God’s word is living and active. It is sharper than any two-edged sword and cuts as deep as the place where soul and spirit meet, the place where joints and marrow meet. God’s word judges a person’s thoughts and intentions. (Hebrews 4:12, GW)

Honor and Humility Part 1: Jesus chose to be born not to a king or an emperor, but in a poor family.

#1 Jesus chose to be born not to a king or an emperor, but to a poor family.

I heard an atheist once attack the origin of Jesus’ birth: Why did Jesus come in a less-populated, mostly illiterate place in the world to reveal Himself?  Why not go to the Chinese, who were so much more intelligent and advanced in society?  Or why not come to us today, when we have the scientific knowledge to ‘prove’ or ‘disprove’ His miracles?

Soon after I heard this argument, I was captivated by it–but not in the way it was intended.  I was captivated that Jesus, who of course knew what atheists would say about Him in the second millennium, chose to come TO a paltry little people in a dusty wilderness anyway.  I find that a marvel of Him!

This really shouldn’t surprise us about God, if we know Him from the Old Testament.

He is the one who came to a runaway slave woman in the desert (someone who, in her society, was as pretty near worthless as you could get–that was Hagar).

He chose a man who couldn’t have children (that was Abraham) to found a nation, and a man who couldn’t speak well (that was Moses) to lead that nation.

He chose a woman who had the most looked-down-upon job in society (a prostitute– that was Rahab) to rescue His spies, and He gave her a husband from His nation (something that would have been unthinkable in that day!).

He brought a woman who descended from a nation originating from incest and with a long history of idolatry (that was Ruth) into shocking honor (see Ruth 4:15) the line of Christ.

He took a man from the least important tribe and the least important family in that tribe to become king (that was Saul).

And He even brought a king back from exile who had been so wicked he had killed his own children.  But because he repented (whether we would agree with God or not!) God restored even a wretch like him (that was Manasseh), revealing once again that His forgiveness and loving-kindness extends beyond our wildest imaginings.

Through the least likely of sinners, God carried His purpose through time and time again.  Through the lowliest of peoples, God showed His most benevolent grace and revealed that His plan worked through their lives, too (and more so than the lives of the ‘important’!).

Do you get a feeling that God loves humility?  It takes a long time for something as foreign as the concept of humility to penetrate my brain, but I’m starting to get the idea.

Now with this backdrop, let me again look at the birth of Christ.

Let’s be honest, you and I, let’s be really honest.  If we were coming as the Hero to save a people from their sins, how would we want to appear?

I might have something staged like one of the Marvel Comics series.  I’d showcase my super extraordinary superpower with a magnificent, attention-getting outfit.  I’d rescue people in dramatic fashion that would really get everybody’s attention!

I don’t know, I might shoot webs from my wrists and swing from skyscraper to skyscraper.  Or I might fly through the air and, as I pointed at bad people, blow them up.

Or maybe I’d choose not to be a superhero, but just really, really, impressively strong because of my hard work and effort.  I might be a martial-arts warrior with crazy coordination and incredible agility and let people see slow-motion replays of all my moves (I might have the angels videotaping my feats).

Or maybe I’d go more for the Jedi angle and I’d wave a light saber through the air.  Zzzzz!  Zzzzzz!  I’d wave my hand and play mind games and do back-flips and defeat the force of evil to the admiration of onlookers.

Or I could be a stunningly cool Lord of the Rings elf, and let precise arrows fly off my bow with the same ease as brushing my hair.

Or maybe I’d go for a shoot-’em-up style and I’d come with a big diesel truck of illegal weapons with blasting rock music and use machine guns to win my way into the respect of the people.

. . Do you and I think God didn’t know this is how we think?

Do we think He didn’t know that He could impress us more by coming to us this way?

Do we think He didn’t know that we would rather see movies about superheroes and legends and even gangsters than hear the story about how His invincible Son quietly entered the world of human fragility?

Does the nativity excite us the way a multi-planetary fight does?

Do we feel as eager to learn about God’s coming as a little baby as we do about a knight’s quest to slay mighty monsters?

Do we feel as drawn to the story of God’s first night in a barn the way we do to the story of a superhero who can scale buildings and kick-box the world into submission?

And what about all the cool cars, cool drugs, giant wealth, and cool powers of gangsters in movies?  Does not even evil often win our attention and approval over the humble good of the Son of God?

. . Did God not know how we felt?  Did He not know that we would look at the entry of His precious Son and have an attitude so very often of, Eh, before returning to the excitement of blockbuster movies, sports-playoffs and action-packed video games?

Oh yes.  He knew.

He knew.

And He still chose, perfectly carefully, to come as a tiny baby boy in a dark, unimportant, unnoticed manger.  He still chose for cattle and donkeys and sheep to be the first to see the Son of God.  He still chose for a young carpenter to hold Him in his arms.  For a poor, most-likely-teenage girl to be the first to count His ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes.  He chose to come to the world as a totally helpless, utterly vulnerable infant whose little head had to be supported.

Here is the Son of God.

Does that capture your attention?

It does mine.

And, when I think about it . . it captures my attention far more than the fake wonders of a superhero or Jedi Master or wizard or warrior or martial arts expert who cares more about impressing an audience than about saving them.

. . I am drawn to the mystery of that stable.  And the more I reflect on it, the more captivating God’s strength-of-love becomes for me . . and the less inviting the shenanigans of an attention-hungry world.

To be agile and handsome and strong and brightly-costumed and loudly welcomed . . that really is something . . until you glimpse the birth of the Son of God.

She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. (Luke 2:7b, NLT)

Honor and Humility, Introduction

Jesus says,

He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. (John 7:18, NIV)

Jesus did not come to earth to gain honor for Himself, but for His Father who sent Him.

Here is something astonishing about Jesus.

Not once could anyone honestly accuse Jesus of getting glory for Himself.

In other words, not once could anyone honestly observe the Son of God of coming for His own honor, even though He had every right to do so.

From the manger to the cross to the ascension, Jesus had a humble heart, seeking honor for His Father and not for Himself.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29, NIV)

The profundity of yellow & pink

In 1984, one the finest pieces of apologetic prose of the century came from a cartoonist and children’s author.  I could not find my copy, and I have not read it in years, but it came to mind the other day in a conversation and I want to try to creatively retell the story here.  But reading it firsthand is far better.  😉

William Steig wrote Yellow & Pink, a story about two wooden people who wake up suddenly to find themselves on a blanket of newspaper with no idea how they came to be there.

Yellow is a skeptic from the start.  He is sure that they came to be there by chance.  Pink, on the other hand, believes they must have been created by someone.  The argument ensues.  Yellow makes a case that a branch of wood might have snapped off a tree in a lightning storm, rolled down a hill and been smoothed by weathering processes, and rolled through a puddle of paint that had smaller puddle drips in circles for the painted-on buttons.  Although Pink doesn’t think his case is convincing at first, he begins to believe Yellow towards the end.  But then Pink makes a statement something like this,

“All right, okay.  Suppose you’re right.  The lightning broke the branch off, we rolled down the hill, all these weathering and chance processes happened . . suppose you’re right.  There’s still this one more thing.  How do we see out of these things called eyes?  How do I move my hands and feet?  How do I breathe with my nose?  How do I hear out of my ears?  How do I talk with my mouth?”

To which Yellow responds something like,

“What kind of question is that?  That’s what they do, dummy!”

Do Yellow and Pink ?accidentally? hit upon a profundity here?  (No, you and I know it is no accident, but the masterful work of William Steig–but that’s another story–or is it a different way of telling the same point?)

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20, NIV)

The bullies

He did not choose to stand in for us because we were being bullied.  We were the bullies.  And He still chose to take our place.

Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. (Matthew 27:38-45, NIV)

Faith

The word “faith” alone is NOT enough.

Faith is not magical.

Faith is instead a road you travel on if you believe something.

Whatever you believe in, faith will lead you down that road.  What is at the end of that road does not depend on faith, but on what your faith is in.

For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” (Romans 1:16-17, NLT)

Hope for the prodigal

I would never want to count how many times I have to turn back to Jesus each day.  I am a mess.  I follow Him for a few steps, then I’m running back to my old sin nature, where it’s eagerly waiting to take me back into its distress, guilt, shame, misery, panic, depression, doubt, and hatred.

But no matter how stupid I am, how defiant, or how selfish, every time I turn back around, Jesus is waiting to take me back into His forgiveness, clarity, peace, hope, faith, love, and purity.

The remarkable words of the fate of the prodigal when he came back to his father:

And they began to celebrate. (from Luke 15:24b),

Not just the father, but the servants, too.  It was the father who led the household in celebration for the wretched, unlikable son who had returned.

The celebration was led by the one who had been most wronged.

That’s exactly the way it is with God.

He’s waiting to take you back, too.

See the full story in Luke 15.

If you want to make the call . .

Jesus is the only one who knows the Father’s number.

All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Jesus, quoted in Matthew 11:27, ESV)

The realization of grace

I deserve Your Hell, and yet You’ve given me Your Heaven.

“So he got up and went to his father. While he was still far away, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him affectionately. Then his son told him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and you. I don’t deserve to be called your son anymore.’ But the father told his servants, ‘Hurry! Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let’s eat and celebrate! Because my son was dead and has come back to life. He was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:20-24, ISV)