Our Dismissive Hearts

It was just another trip to the grocery store, one that I make every week. While I was awaiting my turn for the checker to scan my items, I saw a magazine on the news rack, an edition commemorating the life of the Reverend Billy Graham who had recently passed away.

I remember as a child watching Reverend Graham on TV with my Mom. One summer when college was on break, my Mom and I were able to see him live. Without a doubt he was an engaging speaker. Many that night stood and made the walk to the stage expressing their choice to follow Christ.

I reflected on all of this as I stood patiently in the long line, idly wondering if the store made the line go slow to get people to impulse buy things. If so, they got me. I placed a copy of the magazine in my cart. When my turn came at the check out, a twenty something, harried young lady started to scan my items. When she came to the magazine she paused for a moment, looked at the cover and said to me, “I never heard of this guy, but a friend of mine said he was like the ‘Elvis Presley of God’. My family tried the church stuff on me, but it never stuck. Just not my thing.”

She scanned the magazine and then totaled up my purchase before I had time to reply. As she was taking my payment, I shared that “I had seen Reverend Graham personally, and he was a real nice guy with a great message. I think he would have laughed at your friend’s choice of comparisons though.” She smiled and immediately turned to assist the next customer.

As I left the store my heart was troubled by the ease by which she dismissed the opportunity to follow Christ. I don’t know her background or how her family presented Jesus to her, or even if the church she was speaking of was Bible based.  My heart was saddened at the prospect that her heart had already decided that the Gospel was not for her.

I was reminded of a parable Jesus shared in the New Testament on the topic of our hearts and how much or little we are receptive to the message of the Gospel.

Jesus often taught using parables, which are illustrations of divine truth drawn from the everyday things of life. In Matthew 13, we see Jesus teaching using a parable about a farmer planting seeds. He told this story to illustrate the prophecy of the Gospel’s reception in the hearts of people.

In this instance, Jesus was sitting in a small boat teaching the crowds of people that were present on shore. One commentator speculated that perhaps he had observed a farmer within sight, working hard at sowing seeds into a field, and seeing that, prompted Jesus to share a divine truth using this real life example that people of his day could easily relate to.

For those of us who are not farmers, sowing seeds means to plant seeds. In Jesus’ day this was often wheat or some other similar crop. Seeds were planted in a number of ways, but it would not be uncommon to see a farmer carry a sack of seeds, and then cast them a handful at a time across his field as he walked about.

Jesus told the parable to the crowd and his disciples:

 “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.”

Fields in those days often had walking paths nearby and these paths became hardened as people walked upon them. Sometimes some of the seed would land on the path instead of the good soil in the field.

Later, Jesus explained the parable more fully to his disciples. He said that when “anyone who hears the message about the Kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.”

Parables are often filled with a certain amount of symbolism. In this parable, the field represents the world we live in, the seed represents the message about the word of God,(1) the soil represents the heart condition of the person receiving the message about the word of God. The condition of the soil is commensurate with how receptive a person’s heart is to hear about God. In this specific part of the parable, the birds represent the evil one (Satan) who desires to never to allow God’s word to be planted in the heart of a person.

The lack of understanding that Jesus speaks of here is not owing to a lack of intelligence or intellectual capacity, rather it’s a reflection of a heart that has predisposed itself to discount God and his message of forgiveness and salvation. The attending blessings and gift of eternal life with God are then lost to that person. The hearer has traded the truth, and eternal life with God, for a lie. (Romans 1:25) And of course the greatest promoter of lies is Satan himself. (John 8:44)

The scriptures suggest that many people will have a heart already predisposed to adopting the falsehoods of Satan while rejecting the gift of eternal life with Christ. Jesus says straight up, that few will “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. (Matthew 7:13)

Most people will elect to reject the world of God in favor of living life without God’s presence, in the end its a choice to live for self. This choice to reject God’s gift of grace and salvation, also means rejecting eternal life with God upon our bodily deaths.

Make no mistake, we all have eternal life, it’s simply a question of whether we choose to spend eternity with God or without God. The Bible describes life without God as living in a place called Hell. A terrible place, but one that in the end each person will have chosen for themselves. The choice to reject God is a weighty one, one that Satan, the father of all lies, has diminished in the minds of people so that they unwittingly elect to reject the message of Christ in favor of a lie with eternal consequences.

I share all this because I want you to sincerely search and test the word of God and God’s promises. Don’t be like the young lady who dismissed God out of hand. I want you to use that great intellect that God has given you, his greatest creation, to examine the truth claims of God, and those of the Bible. I can assure you that God is real and the scriptures are totally reliable. But don’t believe me, examine them for yourself and then decide.

Your eternal destination is at stake here, don’t allow others to sway you, do your own homework, you can’t afford not to.

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(1) Why compare God’s Word to seed? Because the Word is “living and powerful” (Hebrews 4:12, SCO). Unlike the words of men, the Word of God has life in it; and that life can be imparted to those who will believe. The truth of God must take root in the heart, be cultivated, and permitted to bear fruit. (Wiersbe, Warren W. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Vol. 1. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996.)

Life: At the Intersection of Love and Action

When I was a child I knew for certain I was loved. There was never a doubt in my mind about the love my parents had for me and my siblings. Yet that love was rarely expressed in words, almost always in deeds. I’ve never dwelt on that too much, but in my heart, I’ve always found value in the additional expression of love in three simple words:

“I love you.”

Now married with my own kids, my wife and I have made it a point to express to one another, and to our children these all important words.

By themselves these are just words. But when coupled by our actions they’re activated, becoming the catalyst of life that restores, forgives, bonds, grows, encourages, strengthens, inspires, brings hope, serves, surrenders, and transforms. These words become a living reality in our lives and in the lives that they touch.

Life happens at the intersection of love and action.

When our kids were younger, they saw the contrast of how love and actions were lived out in our home and expressed in their grandparents home. They picked up on the fact that the words “I love you” were rarely expressed directly, rather love was mostly expressed through actions. They understood that their grandparents loved them dearly, just as I knew that they loved me as their son. Not willing to let this observation go to waste they decided to made a game of it, particularly with my Dad. They wanted to see if they could get Grandpa to say the words “I love you” more frequently by prompting him somehow.

Going forward, when our visits with my parents would conclude, our kids would make it a point to express their sentiments in words and in the form of a hug. (Bridging action and words.) At first it was a bit awkward, I don’t think my Dad knew exactly how to respond. But then something interesting begin to happen. It was almost as though he was given permission to respond in kind, and he often did. “I love you” became easier to say. What was always in his heart found expression in words.

In the Bible, Luke captured the close relationship that Peter and Jesus shared. Peter, by nature was somewhat impulsive and prone to act before thinking, but during their time together, Peter developed a greater appreciation for what it meant to love another.

Life is hard, there is no escaping that reality. But through our many life experiences, if we are patient and seek God with an expectant heart, we will know what it is to be loved by our Lord; we will experience the vast richness of his enveloping love for us.

During the last supper, Peter expressed that he was willing to show by action his love commitment to Jesus by declaring to Jesus that he would be willing to “go to prison” or perhaps even being willing “to die” with Jesus if things came to that.

But Jesus knew something about Peter; he knew that Peter’s statement had more to do with Peter’s pride and independence of heart, than with grasping the true meaning and significance of genuine love. Peter was moving so fast in life that he hadn’t paused to deeply understand the sincere depth of Christ’s love for him.

In life, one of the greatest expressions of love is when a parent recognizes that moment when their child might be in harms way and takes action to intercede on their behalf. Children often fail to recognize an immediate threat, and when a parent intercedes, a child may complain of the intersession. But a wise parent, with real life experiences will intercede in the life of their child to protect them from serious harm, regardless of the child’s response.

We who have placed our faith in the saving power of Jesus are God’s children, and Jesus loves us so much that he intercedes for us on a regular basis. In fact, the greatest form of  intercession was when Jesus willingly died for us on the cross to provide for us, via unmerited grace, eternal life with him.

Luke recorded a time when Jesus, because of his love for Peter, interceded on Peter’s behalf. Recall that Peter’s given name was Simon. It was when he met Jesus that Jesus gave him another name, “Peter.” When translated, it meant “Rock.” Think of it as a kind of a nickname. (Petros is the Greek word of “a piece of rock or stone.” )(1)

Jesus shared with Peter:

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.”” (Luke 22:31–32, NLT)

Here was Jesus sharing with Peter, God’s child,  how he interceded on his behalf knowing that Satan was out to bring great harm to Peter.

And what do you suppose Peter’s response was?

Peter said, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.”(Luke 22:33 NLT)

Peter’s response to Jesus seemed to say, “Lord, I don’t need your intersession, I can handle this on my own, in fact, I’m strong enough that no one could dissuade me from you; I’m even willing to show you that; by either going to prison with you or even dying!”

Did you sense the pride in his response! The “Rock” showing off his self-sufficiency and ego. Jesus knew Peter’s heart to be filled with pride and self-sufficiency. We can infer this by how Jesus responded to Peter’s statement:

But Jesus said, “Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.”” (Luke 22:33–34, NLT)

Notice when Jesus responded to Simon he did so by his nickname, “Rock.” I don’t want to infer more than needed here, but as the reader, I sensed that it was almost as though Jesus was saying, “Hey Mr. Tough Guy, Mr. Rock, let me tell you something, before the rooster crows…”

Not much later we see the entire prediction of Jesus unfold before our eyes. Luke captures the moment when Peter denied his association with Jesus for the third time:

But Peter said, “Man, I don’t know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.

At that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter.

Suddenly, the Lord’s words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.”

And Peter left the courtyard, weeping bitterly.” (Luke 22:60–62, NLT)

How crushing this must have been for Peter! The heart of the Rock and been reduced to pebbles.

The moment the rooster had crowed, Peter had been close enough to Jesus for them to make eye contact. In that instant, the Lord’s prediction replayed in Peter’s mind, imploding Peter from the inside. One could only begin to imagine the humility and anguish that Peter experienced as he looked into the hurting eyes of Jesus. No words were exchanged, yet everything was said.

If that had been the end of the story this would have been a horrible tragedy. Peter would have no doubt replayed this event over and over and wished that he had handled things differently. He no doubt felt like he had let Jesus down, that he had abandoned him in his hour of need. In Peter’s mind, the Rock was no longer, he was incapable of ever leading anything, much less the new church.

Fortunately for Peter, Jesus’ actions would soon be followed by words of restoration and redemption from Jesus himself.

Shortly after the resurrection, the disciples had all encountered the risen Jesus multiple times in one venue or another. Yet the words of restoration and love from Jesus to Peter came at a later encounter, just prior to Jesus’ return to heaven. It was during this encounter that Jesus publicly restored Peter. This critical conversation took place along the familiar shores of the Sea of Galilee soon after the risen Jesus had finished having breakfast with his beloved disciples.

The apostle John captured the moment between Peter and Jesus:

After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.” “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him. Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.” “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said. A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.

For each prior denial of Jesus that Peter had made, Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. In the the end, Peter acknowledged that God knew all things, therefore Jesus had to also know of Peter’s true heart of love. Gone was Peter’s selfish pretense and pride, replaced instead with a servant’s heart of genuine love and humility for his Lord.

These words publicly spoken by Jesus before Peter and the other disciples fully restored Peter. These were deep constructive words that assured Peter not only of Jesus’ love, but of Jesus’ confidence in Peter’s role as a servant leader to the early church.

Similarly, as we go about our daily lives, our view of love needs to be like that of our Lord. We need to be prepared to build up those closest to us and to never underestimate the value of expressing those critical three words to those closest to us:

“I love you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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(1) John F. MacArthur Jr., Twelve Ordinary Men: How the Master Shaped His Disciples for Greatness, and What He Wants to Do with You (Nashville, TN: W Pub. Group, 2002), 34.

Picking The Teams

It might have been September or early October, I can’t remember for sure, far too many years have transpired by now for me to be exactly confident of the date, I just know it was the Fall shortly after school started and I was in the fourth grade.

It was hot, the fields around the elementary school were dry, the grass on the hills devoid of any sign of green, save that of a few hearty Oak trees. I squinted as the sun beat down on me and my twenty or so classmates as we stood noisily in a row out on the blacktop. An occasional flash of yellow could be seen as the wings of a grasshopper would momentarily appear when the shadow of a child frightened it into flight.

Two boys, the most athletic of the class, were standing in front of us, carefully evaluating the pool of potential kickball teammates.

I hated this part.

The part where one after the other the kids would all be picked. Each Team Captain would take turns, back and forth, pointing to one of us to join their team. Soon there would only be one left.

Mostly that was me.

Just when I thought the experience would be over, the real dread and humiliation phase would begin. The conversation would typically shift from picking teammates to a negotiation between captains as to which team would be stuck with me.

This was worse than simply being last. I knew I was nothing but the kid with the crooked teeth, kinda gangly, and holding no appreciable athletic skills. I wasn’t particularly very good at anything, even academics. Eventually the teacher, against the visible and at times audible protest of one or both of the team captains, would put me on one of the teams.

Years later, I learned that unlike my elementary school team captains, when God is the team captain, He doesn’t  look at abilities or talents (Something that comes from God anyway), or how one outwardly appears. Rather he looks with great compassion at the heart.

Many examples of God’s choices are illustrated in the Scriptures. By any standards other than God’s, none of these individuals would have made the cut given the assignment that God had in mind for them. In one instance, God chose a young boy that was nothing but a simple shepherd, yet he grew up to become a great king (2 Samuel 2:1-7), God also chose a guy named Moses, who never led anything but sheep in a pasture, to lead God’s people out of captivity from the Egyptians. (Exodus 3) Later, God trusted a prostitute by the name of Rahab, who probably spent a lifetime never trusting anyone, to protect Joshua and his men from certain capture. (Joshua 2)

God continued to choose in like manner, when he came to us as Jesus. He chose lowly fishermen (Matthew 4:18-20), a disrespected tax collector (Mark 2:14), and others that society generally held in very low regard to serve as His early disciples. These twelve and ultimately countless others would serve as the engine that propelled the gospel of Christ into virtually every part of the world; the message of God’s gift of eternal life ultimately bridged virtually all social and economic barriers.

When I was sixteen, I finally figured out that I didn’t need to worry about abilities, talents, or good looks when it came to having a relationship with Jesus. In fact, there was nothing I had in my life that I could offer to God except myself and a willing heart.

I realized then, that Jesus had already picked me to join His team, He had all along. He had been knocking on the door of my heart (Revelation 3:20) and asking me to open that door and allow Him to enter my life. I had simply not opened the door. One evening I made the intentional choice to respond to His gentle knock, his open arms, and accepted the fullest expression of His love for me through his death and resurrection.

That evening, I prayed and surrendered my life to Jesus. I trusted that the work He did on the cross was sufficient, and in that moment I officially joined His team.

I’ve never looked back. It was and remains the best decision I’ve ever made. My eyes became open to the world in ways I had never thought possible. It was very much like having transitioned from seeing the world in black and white, to seeing the world from God’s perspective, in full color with a greater understanding. God has since done things in my life that I could never have done on my own; He has blessed me in more ways than I could count. And best of all, I have the assurance that I will get to experience Him for eternity!! Death and the fear of death no longer have mastery over my life.

Jesus said that he came to give us life and help us live it to the full. This is how God intended us to live our lives out.(John 10:10) Sure we’ll still face difficulties, troubles, heartaches, and all that comes with life, Jesus told us we would, but we’ll never be alone for He has overcome the world. (John 16:33)

In the final analysis, I came to realize that I was picked by an eternal team captain that leads His team to victory through his boundless love, compassion, and sacrifice of self.