Open our Hearts

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10

As human beings, we are constantly moving toward either death or life.  The enemy has it out for us. He steals, he kills, he destroys. And when left to our own devices, apart from Jesus, we often gravitate toward death too.

But God didn’t leave us on a path toward death. He sent Jesus so we could have life. Forever. For the Christian, there is no eternal death. There is no lasting destruction. We have life abundantly! And thus we have hope.

At times, death and life may not seem clear cut. In our world, they get distorted. Displaced. Throughout Scripture, we read cautionary tales about ways of living that may seem to bring life but actually result in death. In His grace, God has given us heads up after heads up as if to say, “You see this way of living? This will eventually bring pain and destruction and death! I don’t want these things for you! There’s another way! Take the path toward life!”

In James 5:1-6, we see one of these warnings. He cautions those who are obsessed with wealth - those who don’t pay fair wages, who oppress, who mistreat others for their own gain, who have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. He even says, “You have fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter.” (5:5)

If hoarding things and living in self-indulgence leads to a day of slaughter, what’s the alternative? What’s the path toward life? What's the response of the Christian?

But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18)

When we are filled with love that brings life – which is God Himself – it gushes out of our being in practical, tangible ways. Rather than hoarding, we give generously. Rather than living self-indulgently, we learn the life-giving gift of living self-sacrificially.  We don’t close our hearts. We OPEN them. The Holy Spirit in us gravitates toward life. 

Granted, at times the love and life trickle out of us. We flirt with self-indulgence. We hoard. But by His grace, this isn't who we are. Even when we begin to walk back toward death, He draws us back to life.

Father, In Your presence is fullness of joy and fullness of life. You have loved us generously. In light of this reality, may we live and love generously. God, there are GREAT needs in our world right now. We know You are a God of justice and mercy. Where there is oppression, give us the courage and means to intervene in Your Name. Where there is poverty – both spiritual and material – please move us to action.  And where we are choosing spiritual poverty over the riches you have offered us, please help us in our unbelief. We want life abundantly. Please let Your love and life overflow from us in deed and in truth. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

See you Sunday!

Who are you to judge?

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

James 4:11-12

Have you ever spoken evil of or judged a fellow believer? Usually the judging comes first, right? Then out spill words that never should've been spoken in the first place. 

The Greek word translated "speak evil" is katalaleo, and it packs quite a punch. It means speaking against someone, to talk them down, to speak ill of them, to disdain someone, or to run them down verbally. The intent is to belittle, to mock, to hurt, to rejoice in someone else's undoing. Ouch.

James 4:11-12 (along with the rest of Scripture) directly addresses what we saw in Charlottesville last weekend. God abhors hate and speaking evil of our brothers and sisters (regardless of race). Proverbs 18:21 says, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue." He created and redeemed us to speak life, not death!

At the epicenter of what comes out of my mouth, though, is my heart. (Proverbs 4:23) My words are just an overflow of what is within. If we go one step further, Matthew 6:21 says, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

The question then, is where is my treasure? What do I value? How do I mark my own worth?

When Jesus is our treasure, our hearts aren't racked with sinful judgment, because we know the depth of our own need for grace and forgiveness. When Jesus is our treasure, we speak life. When Jesus is our treasure, we bring joy and encouragement to those around us, because our words are just an overflow of what is within. The Holy Spirit gives life! (Romans 8:2) 

Father, we need You. Our hearts are prone to rush to sinful judgment and speak ill of our brothers and sisters when we raise other idols above Jesus. We grieve that we make so many things our treasure - our standing in society, our pride, our work, our relationships, our sense of entitlement. Please forgive us. Please show us what we treasure above Jesus, and turn our hearts to You. May we speak life - because in You we have life - in our homes, workplaces, and our city.  May we gossip the Gospel, and nothing else. In Jesus' Name, Amen


Miry Mud & Muck

“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” – James 4:8

Do you ever get stuck in sin? Psalm 40 describes a slimy pit, with mud and muck and mire…a pit that is inescapable on our own…a pit that we just slip and slide and fall around in until we wear ourselves out, filthy and exhausted from our efforts.

Our broken, human, sin-filled hearts gravitate toward death apart from Jesus. But we weren’t made for death; we were made for life! As followers of Christ, we have been redeemed, washed, sanctified, and pulled out of the miry muck and mud. And yet, in our humanity, our hearts wander. They do. It is a part of our struggle this side of heaven. But we aren’t left in our wandering. We aren’t left in our muddy, self-made pit to hopelessly exhaust ourselves.  Like the father of the prodigal son, our Father stands ready to forgive, embrace, and love us back to life. 

Our Father knew we would still wander and get muddy at times, so He graciously gave us an escape plan in James 4:

  1. Submit to God.
  2. Resist the devil, and he flees.
  3. Draw near to God, and He draws near to you.
  4. Cleanse your hands and purify your hearts.
  5. Weep over your sin, and humble yourself.
  6. Then He exalts you. He lifts up your head. He embraces you.

It’s simple, but it isn’t easy.  Jesus trudged through the mud, remained clean, died on a cross, and rose again, so we wouldn't have to remain stuck in the mud. Jesus does the heavy lifting, the rescuing, and the exalting, but we do have to submit, draw near, and be humble.  And we are often highly self-sufficient, idolatrous, and prideful, so our feet get stuck in the mud!

C.S. Lewis wrote, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” 

We weren't made for the mud, friends. Let's not make mud pies while paradise awaits. We were made for more.

See you Sunday!