Friday, July 29, 2011

Heart Condition Check!!!

Check on your heart. DO IT NOW! Are you holding onto anger or bitterness? Are you hiding selfishness and self-centeredness in some dark closet? Are you playing the game of excusing your sin and exposing the sins of others?
There is someone I love very much who has done all those things. Now she is in her ninth decade cruising toward 100 probably and it's frustratingly late to "fix" her heart so everyone around her suffers especially the ones who love her best and care for her with unfailing love!
There is probably no hope of changing this desperately difficult situation, but there is hope for you and me if we are willing to do the hard, ugly work of shining light and treuth into all the crevices of our heart emotions and asking God to do a thorough check and clean up! It's NOT too late for that! I'm signing off to get started on MY heart check-up!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Did You Ever Have a Good Ole' Pity Party?

Did you ever have a good ole' pity party? Do you ever get those wild and crazy thoughts that maybe you just can't do something for whatever reason? We ALL get them. AND the Devil just LOVES to use them to make us less than God wants us to be!
Insecurity? Some people seem to exude confidence. They don't ever appear to have an insecure thought. That's just not reality. EVERYONE struggles with insecurity; it's just a matter of how much.
Then there are all the "helpers" in our world - like TV preachers, self-help gurus and even friends - who chide us for insecurity and call it a negative emotion. AND we don't want "negative energy" floating around in the air, do we? OR lack of faith - who wants to be known as short on faith? AND on and on it goes ............. until we get gobbled up by our insecurities and slink away to hide or use other defenses so nobody knows!
At A Restoration Church we have been studying the life of Elijah. This past Sunday we looked at Elijah when he ran away from wicked Queen Jezebel, traveled about 100 miles to Beersheba, Israel on the edge of the Negev Desert where he ditched his "only" friend and side-kick. Then Elijah went farther into the desert and plopped down under a broom tree to have a really good pity party! If Elijah could indulge in a pity party, then any of us can fall pray to the "insecurity demon."
Insecurity threatened to defeat Elijah even on the heels of God's great victory at the showdown on Carmel Mountain! From the heights of incredible evidence of God's love, grace, protection and affirmation Elijah plunged into the deepest despair. (You can read this whole incredible story in 1 Kings 18:20 - 19:8.)
Elijah's "trigger point" for insecurity and discouragement might have been as simple as being very hungry, maybe dehydrated and VERY tired. Our insecurities and discouragements may come from such "simple" and easily remedied issues as well. OR some precipitating crisis may plunge you or me into despair and discouragement! That's why we need each other! That's when we need each other!
At the very lowest point of Elijah's life God came to His rescue with angel food cake! God sent an angel to find Elijah in the desert. The angel cooked a little cake for Elijah and woke him up to eat. The angel waited while Elijah took another nap. Then the angel fixed angel food again for Elijah.
Elijah was strengthened and embarked on a really long journey of hundreds of miles - all the way to the Mountain of God Horeb - probably in modern day Saudi Arabia. Elijah didn't have an Arabian stallion to carry him to Mount Horeb. Elijah walked.
When something in life triggers discouragement, disappointment and insecurity we are all doing the same thing. We are focusing inward. That's the problem or at least part of the problem! We need to look at Jesus and let Him do what He does best. He is the One who satisfies all the empty, lonely, insecure, disappointing discouraged places we walk. Like the angel who helped Elijah, Jesus stands ready and waiting to feed us angel food cake for our hearts!
Asking God to change my (or your) focus is a start on the right path. Living in the truth that God literally sings over His discouraged child wherever we are makes all the difference. It IS angel food for our hearts!
The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save. He will rejoice over you with gladness. He will quiet you with His love. He will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)
The bottom line is that our thinking HAS to change; our way of feeling HAS to change and THEN how we live, our heart condition changes.
Good ole' pity parties are a BIG black hole that angel food and the mighty power of God's Gospel alone can shut down. BUT just like we have to eat healthy and drink fluids EVERY day we need the truth of the Gospel EVERY day for our hearts. That's the only effective antidote for pity parties!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Restoration Heart???

Just exactly what is a "restoration heart"? Is it just a clever name for a blog? Is it a name with no meaning or purpose? What it is is a lot of hard work!
When Jesus came to die for sinners - sinners just like me - He knew exactly what He was doing and He did it anyway! He knew He was making a trade of His goodness (what the Bible calls righteousness) for all my crap! He knew His free gift of love, grace and forgiveness might be disdained and rejected. Even as He hung on the cross men spit on Him, mocked Him, totally disrespected Him and tortured Him! He could have called down an army of angels to rescue Him! After all, He is the King of Kings! BUT He didn't because He knew my ONLY hope was for Him to stay on that cross no matter what just for me (and just for you)! He did ALL the hard work involved in making it possible for me to have a restoration heart!
BUT that's not the end of the matter. He calls on my heart to love, forgive and extend grace to anyone and everyone I encounter in life even when they literally or more subtly spit on me, mock me, disrespect me and even torture me.
The test and evidence of real restoration (which ONLY God can do) in my heart is how I deal with betrayal, loss and hurt! God sent Jesus to make it possible for me to both be forgiven and for me to forgive. That's very hard! That involves work and pain! BUT - when I think about what Jesus did for me, HOW can I do less for those in my world who have hurt me! If the process of restoration has begun in my heart, THEN the most compelling evidence is how I treat others!
God help me to live out the evidence of a restoration heart TODAY!

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Traitor's Heart

I've been contemplating betrayal recently. One who betrays is a traitor. It came to me last night that one of the people in history most branded as a traitor is Judas Iscariot, the man who ratted out Jesus to his enemies for 30 pieces of silver. Judas even led the enemies right to Jesus, and to further seal the deal actually went up to Jesus and kissed him (Not as a sign of affection so much as a typical Middle Eastern greeting).

It might be easy to write Judas off as a scrawny, slippery, conniving kind of guy who slinked through the shadows. I'm not so sure about that. Perhaps Judas presented quite differently. After all, he was the person among Jesus' main men trusted with the finances. In other words, he held the purse strings. Remember that Jesus chose Judas to be in that very select group in which He invested His greatest teaching and His quality time. These men were literally the first wave of the future for those who follow Christ, the Messiah.

Obviously Judas didn't know and love Jesus like the other disciples did. Certainly Judas didn't get it - that Jesus was so much more than just another Rabbi!

I once saw a picture of Judas (an artist rendering) that depicted him wrapped in a cloak and advancing stealthily on Jesus and His other main men. I'm not sure that's what Judas looked like or how he operated. I don't think he wore a brand across his forehead that said "traitor - beware!" Almost certainly Judas was religious doing his good Jewish thing of praying, going to temple, giving alms and "tipping his hat" to God in all the right (?) places and right (?) ways.

Judas' real master wasn't the King who came from heaven. Judas' real master was the same betrayer who dressed up in a snakeskin to fool Eve and lead Adam and Eve into fatal choices - the Devil himself. The Bible says the Devil masquerades as an "angel of light." (2 Cor. 11:14) I interpret that to mean the Devil cleans up good, does religion well in appearance and presents attractively, even winsomely. Both the Devil and Judas could do all those "good" things and yet never experience the life-changing grace of the Gospel! If I'm right then Judas was the "perfect" choice for traitor. He was the traitorous destroyer from within the inner circle of Jesus' closest friends.

Judas' type is still alive and well today. These are the men and women who wear the mask of religion and piety while working subversively to destroy the church (not the building but the people of God) from within! These are they who make the deepest wounds because they present as friend while they work to deceive and destroy!

These Judas types like Judas himself wear the mask of religion and piety firmly in place. The reality is that their treacherous hearts have never really known Jesus. Those who really know Jesus are those who have been changed from the inside out by the power of the Gospel. Those who really know and love Jesus have allowed God to rip off their phony masks of religion and piety for a relationship with the ONLY Savior, the King of heaven!

There is an eternal difference between knowing about the Savior and knowing the Savior Himself! The traitor walks and waits inside the inner circle of the forever family of God but has never known the Gospel or experienced relationship with the Savior! He or she masquerades as a true son or daughter of the King but has never known the King. Only the grace and light of the Gospel can ever penetrate the traitor's heart! Only the Gospel can bring the traitor to his or her knees in repentance. For him or her there is restoration that follows that repentance but the process is painful.

Recently there was a picture in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review of a man with the first full face transplant. That man is a parable of what HAS to happen for the Gospel to reach the traitor's heart. The mask of betrayal has to be ripped off and replaced by the Great Physician along with the required heart transplant!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Happiness in All the Wrong Places

How long have you lived - twenty years? thirty? forty? sixty? ninety? or somewhere inbetween? Think about the changes that have happened in the world since you came on the scene.

Yesterday I got an email that asked 20 questions about various "back in the day" happenings. That's not what I'm asking. I'm asking about changes you can remember: new gadgets, new technology, new ideas, etc.

In my lifetime television has gone from B & W to digital and a gazillion channels on cable. In my lifetime telephones have morphed into something that goes in your pocket and goes everywhere with you. In my lifetime machines that filled a huge room and took a long time to process and spit out information now sit on my desk and even travel around with me and pull information off the worldwide web even while I sleep - computers and specifically laptop computers. In my lifetime coffee doesn't just come in black or with cream and sugar; coffee comes in caramel machiato, latte, cappuccino and more. And the list goes on..............

So, then, my friend - why are so many people so mad and so sad when there are so many "good" things available to us all? Could it be that all these "things" that make life so easy and interesting also play into the darkness residing and hiding in our own hearts? Ever since the Garden of Eden male and female types have wanted what they could not have but still craved. Adam and Eve fell into that trap and we do we!

We want easy, "happy" and nice! We want "positive energy" and thoughts. We want "to do it my way." In two words, we want....we want...we want!

AND that's the problem! When we focus inward and make the lists by which we measure life on what we want or think we need - on the "toys" that we think we can't live without - then we're headed down the yellow brick road to unhappiness! It's a heart problem!

It's okay to have a laptop, a flat screen digital tv hooked to cable, an ipod or Wii or whatever is on your list. It is not the stuff or lack of stuff that makes for real happiness, contentment and peace! It is the condition of our hearts! Inward focus is the road to unhappiness and even despair! Outward focus on others and their needs and how we can reach out to make a difference in the little patch of earth where we live that makes for lasting happiness, contentment and peace.

That's why Jesus came. He came to show us the Way! He spend His entire life focusing outward. He hung around with people who were broken physically, mentally and spiritually and He made all the difference! Eventually he died on a cross outside Jerusalem, lay in a borrowed grave for three days and then returned to live forever - all because His focus was all about me and you! That's what the Bible calls the Gospel and it's totally good news for a world of lonely people searching for happiness in all the wrong places.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Pond of Green Slime

John Bunyan wrote a story - which is an allegory of spiritual journey - called Pilgrim's Progress. Next to the Bible it is one of the most widely read pieces of literature of all time. On his journey toward God's Town (heaven) Pilgrim (or Christian) encounters many adventures. One of his early adventures involves what I call "The Pond of Green Slime." Bunyan calls it the Slough of Despond.

Christian has a very heavy backpack (burden) which hampers his forward movement. This is especially so when he stumbles into the Pond of Green Slime. He flounders and almost perishes between the slime. Finally he manages to get to the other side where an individual named Help lends him a hand of rescue. One of the things Help asks Christian is, "Why didn't you go around by the steps and avoid the Pond of Green Slime?" Christian scratches his head and wonders where these steps are. The steps are stepping stones around the slime. Christian never saw them because he was so focused on the Pond of Green Slime.

The picture Bunyan is painting and the point he is making is that all of us struggle in our life journey with depression and despair. We all fall into our own personal "ponds of green slime." Some are almost overcome. Some sink below the slime and never surface to the light of day again. Some - like Christian - struggle through. All of us could have taken the stepping stones around the slime but chose the slime instead!

I once used the Pond of Green Slime in an interactive exercise with children in our church. The Pond was a children's swimming pool filled with cooked oatmeal dyed green with vegetable oil to ensure slime! Here too there were stepping stones around the pond. Not one single chilld chose the stepping stones. All chose to go thru the slime. One adorable little girl in a black velvet dress and black tights absolutely refused to be deterred. She waded right in despite my warning to take the stones! She and her dress survived. Her tights got pretty well slimed!

The metaphor is our struggle with depression and despair. Things happen! Life happens! Green slime comes!

King David wrote in Psalm 40:1: "... the Lord ... lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire, he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God."

Slimy pits exist. So do "ponds of green slime." We flounder in them unless we find the help and hope King David found. David called God his "very present help in trouble." (Ps. 46:1)

Healthy faith sees the slime. Healthy faith reaches out for help and hope! Healthy faith helps us embrace our need for help in the midst of the pond (life's slimy circumstances)!

Like the little girl in the black velvet dress we just can't resist our "pity parties" so we jump into the slime quite happily until it threatens to suck us under. The we panic and flounder. Whether we make it through depends on where our heart focus is. If our eyes are fixed on Jesus our help and hope - If we let Him pull us out of the slime - THEN we can continue the journey!

Otherwise we stay stuck floundering in the slime! That's just the way it is!

Remember Peter, one of Jesus' main men? He floundered in his own pond of green slime many times. One night the "green slime" was the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was walking on the water. Peter wanted to jump in and walk too. So, over the side of the boat and into the stormy seas he went. Big problem! He forgot to keep his focus on Jesus. He concentrated on the waves and he began to sink. Jesus reached out and pulled Peter back up to his feet again!

Often the green slime is just too much and the only way out is to find the help only God can give us. He stands ready and waiting. All we have to do is reach out our hand!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Heart to Heart

John 15 records some of Jesus' last essential instructions for his closest circle of friends before He went to the cross. Jesus uses the metaphor of the grafting process a gardener uses in a vineyard or nursery. It is apparent that this process involves considerable effort and pain. The effort and pain produce the result of increased productivity. The spiritual corollary is well described by John Bunyan when he wrote:

Conversion is not the smooth, easy-going process some men seem to think. It is wounding work, this breaking of the hearts; but without wounding there is no saving... Where there is grafting there is a cutting, the [thin, young branch] must be let in with a wound; to stick it onto the outside or tie it on with a string would be of no use. Heart must be set to heart and back to back, or there will be no sap from root to branch, and this I say, must be done by a wound.

Joni Eareckson Tada wrote in her blog shortly after her cancer diagnosis:
The diving accident in which I became paralyzed ... would force my wound to his wound, my heart to his heart. ... the wounding is where divine sap flows and spiritual fruit blossoms. In affliction and suffering, our hearts are pressed into his. And the life of God flows into us, wound to wound. In those times of brokenness, remember that in Christ, the result is life, life, and more life.
Help me, Lord, to remain, to abide in you this day, no matter what my circumstances.
(Joni, Joni's Corner, Joni and Friends, 7/27/2010)

It is upside down thinking but no less true: Our hearts REQUIRE wounding to be both productive and whole! For myself, I prefer "Jesus wounds" - my heart to His!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Multiple Choice Questions

Remember those? The ones I "love" are the four choice answers where the d. choice is "None of the above." There is a parable of life in multiple choice questions. We live in a "multiple choice world" in many ways. Just in the every day decisions of life we have SO many choices.
Just think about tennis shoes. I get so confused in a tennis shoe store. There are hundreds of choices and specialized uses for tennis shoes. How in the world do I know whether the shoe for walking or the shoe for fast walking is the one I need? Eventually I just fall back on the same tennis shoe brand and style I've worn for years. In fact, not long ago I decided to try a new tennis shoe because it was cheaper. I hated those shoes! In fact, I gave them away. They made my feet look like boats and weren't comfortable at all.
Some choices we make are not earth-shaking even if the choice turns out to be wrong. Those choices are more in the category my mother used to call "style." My "style" or your "style" is a matter of preference and neither choice is right or wrong just different!
Other choices make life-shaping and life-changing differences! These choices are the ones we make based on moral, ethical, legal and Biblical standards OR NOT! These choices are the ones that come directly from the compass of our world-and-life view. If my world-and-life-view is consistent with my moral, ethical, legal and Biblical standards then the probability is that my choices will be consistent with my core values.
The problem comes from the heart. It's at the heart level that we make poor and mis-guided choices. We choose out of hurt, resentment, anger, jealousy (all heart issues) and we often depart from those core values! We make choices based on emotion or reaction and often those choices are poor choices with costly consequences.
Your choices and mine reveal our hearts. Consider some Biblical examples: Adam and Eve made very poor choices based on ego, pride, control and greed back in the Garden of Eden. The human race has been paying for those poor choices ever since. That might seem unfair at first glance except that you and I would have almost certainly made exactly the same poor choices in their shoes. Others we meet on the pages of the Bible like Moses, David and Paul all made bad choices and better choices and sometimes even best choices which are documented for us in the accounts we have of their lives.
The other thing about choices is that choices have consequences. We make choices but the consequences just come along for the ride. It's the conseqauence stage of our choices that presents particular problems. We often don't like the consequences for our choices. The problem is there is no "rewind button" for life. We can't go back and reverse the choice so we can reverse the consequence. The choice may be the "do the crime" part of the choice and the "do the time" is the consequence phase.
Who you are - who I am - at the core (heart level) is the sum of all the multiple choice quetions we have answered in the test of life.
John 14 gives us hope and help for our hearts in regard to multiple choice questions:
Jesus says, "I am the Way (or the Road), the Truth and the Life." When we follow Him we will be on the right path, making right choices and living with right consequences! That significantly narrows the options and reduces the pain of consequences!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Betrayal and the Heart

Have you ever been betrayed by someone very close (and perhaps even very dear) to you? It is one of the most horrendous experiences of life! It is such a violation of trust, love, integrity, commitment and a host of other things!
What to do in such a circumstance?!
I ponder as I wander though details of a betrayal from a friend that seems to have as many layers as an onion. Every layer reveals more and hurts more deeply. I cannot change what is done.
Remember the scene in C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe when Edwin the betrayer returns to Aslan's camp from the witch's castle? Aslan appears and asks Edmund to take a walk with him. Lewis never tells us the words that passed between Edwin the betrayer and Aslan the "son of the Emperor-over-the-sea, the King above all High Kings." All we know is that Aslan forgives Edmund for his treachery and tells Peter, Susan and Lucy to forget because "there is no need to talk about what is past."
Edmund has a pretty dark past. His betrayal and treachery have grave consequences. Aslan dies on the Stone Table because of Edmund's betrayal. NO ONE denies what Edmund has done. No one taunts him with the past. It is in the silence of forgiveness that Edmund finds spiritual and emotional healing.
Betrayal is the greatest wrong that can be committed in the world that is Narnia. Betrayal is a HUGE wrong in the real world, too. The consequences for treachery are miraid. But in Narnia and the real world, traitors can only be redeemed by the sacrifices of others!
Betrayal is costly! Betrayal is often MOST costly to those who are betrayed.
In the story C.S. Lewis told Lucy asks Aslan, "Please – Aslan,can anything be done to save Edmund?"
"All shall be done," said Aslan. "But it may be harder than you think."
Then Lewis concludes that Lucy thinks Aslan looks "royal and strong and peaceful ... and sad as well."
Aslan is willing to make any sacrifice necessary to show mercy to Edmund, but that doesn't stop him from feeling sorry that such a sacrifice is necessary in the first place. Aslan himself sums it all up with his words: "... for when a willing victim who has committed no treachery, dies in a traitor's stead, the stone table will crack and even death itself will turn backwards."
What God calls my heart to is forgiveness for the betrayer! Such forgiveness is costly but it is the only way of the heart who has found its own forgiveness!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Restoration Spectrum and Casey Anthony

Yesterday Casey Anthony skated free of a murder charge. It is a shocking conclusion to a shocking trial! All the sensationalism of the trial ended with a bang yesterday in the stunning verdict, "Not Guilty!"
Personally I have no knowledge to either declare her guilty or innocent. Well, that's a little inaccurate. She's not innocent in any sense - so guilty or not guilty. At best she is guilty of some very bad judgment and some very unethical behavior including a lot of lying.
Was she a good mother? I doubt it from what I've heard. BUT being a bad mother doesn't necessarily convict her of murder and didn't. Being a liar doesn't convict her of murder and didn't. AND obviously her other "sins" don't accumulate into a big enough pile to convict her of murder and didn't!
I have no clue what the future holds for Casey Anthony. She may face some jail time for her lying but maybe not. She certainly faces a future facing the scars and sins hidden deep in her heart!
I look at Casey Anthony and see a troubled, tortured young woman who is desperately in need of a heart make-over that only God can provide. She is desperately in need of God's amazing grace! In that sense, she is no different than I am or than you are. We are ALL just as broken and needy as Casey is.
However the public nature of the life and crimes of Casey Anthony calls us all to seriously evaluate where you and I are on the "restoration spectrum"!
This story will play out on TV, talk shows, tabloid magazines and news outlets for days and weeks to come. It will play out in whatever book and movie deals Casey snags! Some things will be true. Some things will probably be false. Some things will be sensational. All of it will be beyond sad and there's no resolution for that.
Sin is ugly! It effects us all! We can learn from Casey Anthony that none of us is ever more than a step away from the same kind of ugliness. The verdict for sin is not in question! It is "GUILTY" every single time! There is only one human being who ever lived who wasn't tainted with the stain of sin. His name is Jesus!
He ALONE can and did remove the stain and taint of sin. He ALONE still does - one heart, one life at a time!
The jurors who judged Casey Anthony "not guilty" may or may not have given a right verdict. God may be the only way who knows the whole truth in the matter though the principals certainly know more than I do about where the truth lies.
The truth about sin is that we are all GUILTY as charged. ONLY Jesus can remove that guilty charge and give us His "not guilty" grace in exchange! The only safe place on the "restoration spectrum" to be is on God's side of Jesus' restoring love and grace!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Not out of the mind ... Out of the Heart!

Jesus said it, "A good person produces good from the good treasure of his heart, and an evil person produces evil from an evil treasure, because the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart." (Luke 6:45, NIV)
I'm afraid this is where I'm living at the moment. A person in my life is a HUGE disappointment because this person is exactly what this verse describes!
An evil heart cannot produce good treasure. An evil heart only produces evil treasure. That's the only possible overflow of an evil heart!
What is to be done with an evil heart? Is it a terminal condition? It doesn't have to be. The Gospel is all about turning evil hearts to good hearts. Only Jesus can change an evil heart!
The watching world watches the transformation and wonders. The watching world is captivated by the change. That's seeing the Gospel on "steroids" - changing hearts!
What is the measure of the heart condition? It's what comes from the mouth. It's what a person says backed up by their actions.
Jesus said we don't speak from a process created in our mind. We speak from our hearts and reveal thereby the condition of our hearts!
Just remember it's not a terminal condition when Jesus Christ is the One to whom we bow! That's the amazing wonder of His Gospel of grace!