Paul's Ponderings

Thoughts from an imperfect disciple.

Purify Your Heart

Purify Your Hear


Wednesday October 12, 2011

Part of my Bible reading this morning was James 4:7-10:

7 So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. 9 Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor (NLT).

The part that stood out to me was the exhortation by James to purify our hearts.

The question that immediately arose in my heart was; “How can I purify my heart?”

In my mind this purification is only something that God can do.

Almost as soon as I thought the question the answer appeared before: we must be loyal to God.

James implied that the reason our hearts need to be purified is because our loyalty is divided. We are not totally loyal to God because our hearts also chase after the things of this world.

For us to purify our hearts requires us be exclusively loyal to God.

This dovetails with what I read in Not a Fan this morning.

Kyle Idleman focused on the phrase “come after me” that is found in Luke 9:23. He pointed out that the best way to understand that phrase is to observe the way a person pursues a romantic relationship. True romance requires a person whose heart is not divided, but is solely focused on his/her love.

He pointed out that this passion is seen in the parable of the pearl of great price:

“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!” (Matthew 13:45-46, NLT).

Once the man discovered the great pearl his heart was set on pursuing it, there is nothing that would distract him for obtaining it. Kyle went on to write:

“When we discover the life that we can have in Jesus we are to come after him like this man pursued this pearl of great price. Fans will be careful not to get carried away. Followers understand that following Jesus is a pursuit that may cost them everything, but it is the best investment they could ever make. Followers will do some crazy things for love, but fans want to play it safe” (p. 133).

One of the actions we must take in order to purify our hearts is to  focus on following Jesus rather than being distracted by the things of this world.This intense focus will cause us to do things that will appear to be crazy, but in the end they will be the best way to live.

When we are loyal to Jesus then our hearts cease to be divided, and thus they are able to be healed.

To passionately pursue Jesus is the step we need to take so  our hearts can be purified.

Keep Your Standards


When I was a sophomore in college I was the children and youth intern at a church in western Iowa. One Sunday I was invited to eat lunch with one the families and they asked me questions about my life and if I had a girlfriend. When I told them no, they asked if there was anyone at college that I was interested in, and again I told them no, and I added that I wasn’t interested in just dating, but wanted to find a woman I could see myself marrying. They responding by saying, “Paul, did you ever think your standards might be too high?”

I remember leaving that conversation shaking my head in disagreement.

One of the reasons I disagreed with the advice they were trying to give me was because their whole frame of reference was that people needed to be in a romantic relationship. That is not true.  In fact, the wrong romantic relationship can be detrimental to our lives. We have to be very discerning about our relationships, especially ones that are close and intimate like romantic relationships are.

A second reason that I disagreed with the advice is because I understood standards are important. I knew that I didn’t have to date a lot of people to discover the type of woman I wanted to marry. I already had a good idea of the character and faith that I desired in a wife, and that is what guided my search.

Fast forward 15 years and I was still unmarried, but I was dating someone. There were a few red flags in the relationship, but I was ready to overlook those warning signs, because I was ready to be married. I told myself that I could make it work. Looking back on that situation I can see the flaw in my thinking. For a relationship to work it requires two people. I could work hard to make a relationship or a marriage work, but if the other person doesn’t put in that same effort the relationship will still fail.

Graciously, she ended the relationship. One of the reasons she gave for the break up was because the relationship was too much work. You see, the fact that I was willing to lower my standards to make the relationship work didn’t matter. Time and experience eventually revealed that we did not share the same values or have the same level of spiritual maturity, and this meant the relationship was destined to fail. It wasn’t about a lack of trying or even a lack of love, rather it was about not being compatible and having different standards.

When I met my wife Jenny, it didn’t take long for me to realize that she was a woman I could marry. She measured up to the standards I was looking for in a wife, which made our relationship night and day different from my previous relationship experience.

In other cultures arranged marriages, agreements between families, are the way marriages happen. In our independent and individualized  culture we use dating to form our marriage relationships. Dating provides each person with the choice of who they will marry. In this situation we have to have some way to make a wise choice in the person we marry. This why our standards are  crucial. The role standards play in this process is to provide a measuring stick to help us evaluate the other person.

It is not enough simply to have standards. We also need to know what standards are non-negotiable and what standards are mere preferences.

For example, one of my non-negotiable standards was a woman involved in ministry. I knew that if she was actively involved in some sort of ministry we would have a similar spiritual maturity and that we would be able to share an important part of my life.

An example of a preference I had was that she would have the same Christian Church/Church of Christ background that I had. Though this was harder to give up than I thought it would be, marrying Jenny and joining the Free Methodist Church opened up new avenues for ministry.

When it comes to identifying your standards for dating and marriage it is important to know what are the things that you must have in a spouse, those things that you can’t stand in a partner, and those areas that it would be nice to have but  you can live without.

Dating is dangerous because you are giving another person access to your heart. Having standards gives you a level of protection in your life. That is not to say that you will not be hurt. Any time we are in a relationship there is the risk that heartache will happen. The protection our standards offer is discernment.

In the infatuation that accompanies romantic relationships it is easy to be blind to the the character of the other person. Your focus is on the thrill of new love. This excitement is one of the reasons we get hurt in relationships. We  allow our hearts to lead and we ignore the warning signs of incompatibility the pop up along the way. Our standards can help us see past the emotional high of an exciting relationship and decide if there is truly a future for the relationship.

Don’t let go of your standards. They are a crucial tool in helping you make one the most important decisions in life.

Continue to Struggle

continue to struggle

We were never promised an easy life.

Even though we know this reality we always feel like life is unfair when hardships, trials, and difficulties show up in our lives. We expect life to go easily, and when it doesn’t it shakes us to the core.

I believe that Christians, though we wouldn’t admit it, secretly believe that following Jesus should make life easier. After all, we reason, we are doing God’s will and that means He should help us in our work. This is why it is easy for people to walk away from Jesus when things get difficult.

Let me throw this thought out at you: Does opposition make things easier or more difficult?

Since there is an enemy, Satan, who is opposed to God and His will, then it would be logical to conclude that by following Jesus things would get more difficult. Satan is not going to sit idly by as we pursue the will of God. He is going to fight us every step of the way. Because there is an enemy, because there is evil, and because sin has corrupted this world means we can expect opposition in our lives.

This tells us that even when we are doing God’s will things will not always go smoothly for us. The mere fact that we are doing God’s will means we can expect opposition. When hardships and trials come our way the best thing we can do is to struggle forward. As James pointed out in James 1:2-4, God uses these situations to mature our faith.

In the face of opposition, of hardships, and of trials it is vital that we hold on to God’s promise. Hope is essential to enduring the struggles of life.

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Smyrna. This is the message from the one who is the First and the Last, who was dead but is now alive:

“I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich! I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan. Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.

“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. Whoever is victorious will not be harmed by the second death. (Revelation 2:8-11; NLT)

Jesus told this group of Christians not to give up in the face of persecution. “Hang in there,” He says, “this won’t last forever.”

Our struggle may not be persecution, but it is still a form of opposition from the enemy. While we are in the midst of that opposition it will seem like things would be easier if we give up and do something else. This is why Jesus reminds us of the great promise he has for us: a crown of life. Don’t give up, the reward is more than worth the pain!

How do we hang on and trust in Jesus when life becomes a struggle?

  1.  Ask yourself the question: Is my struggle tied to right and faithful living? We need to be honest, sometimes life is a struggle because we have made bad choices. If that is the case, then we need to change the way we live. While God won’t take away the consequences of bad choices, He will empower us to get through them. On the other hand, if our hardships come from doing God’s will, then we need to remain faithful. If our desire is to honor God, encourage people, help others, and mature in our faith then we can expect to be opposed by Satan. We overcome Satan by being faithful to Jesus.
  2. Let go of your expectations. Each one of us carries around in minds what it life should look like and the wild success we will experience in ministry. These expectations can motivate us, but they can also be a huge stumbling block when life turns out to be different. That is why it is essential for us to be flexible, to lay down our agendas, and seek God’s guidance. Keep your focus on the hope of Jesus’s promise and not on your expectations.
  3. Surround yourself with friends. If we believe that we are alone in our struggle it is very easy to give up. It is much easier to endure when we are with friends. My first hiking trip to Colorado I went myself and I didn’t complete one hike. The reason was because I was alone and I got discouraged by the difficulties of the trials. When I have gone with friends I have been able to complete the trials, even when I felt like turning around, because we were on the trial together. The same is true in life and ministry.

Life is tough. The fact that life is tough doesn’t mean that we are on the wrong trial, so we should not allow difficulty to cause us to give up. Remember, often the struggle of life is an indication that we are doing what God wants us to do and we are being opposed by the enemy. Regardless of the circumstances of life we need to stay faithful, and in the end we will experience the life God created us to live.

Living the Life of Jesus

What is the goal of the Christian life?

I think most Christians, at least in the United States, believe that the goal of following Jesus is to get to heaven. This is the reason why we see so little transformation in the lives of Christians. We are looking towards the future rather than focusing on the present.

With this in mind consider what John wrote in 1 John 2:3-6:

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says I know him but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked (ESV).

For those of us who follow Jesus our goal is to live the way Jesus lived. This means that our faith is about the here and now just as much as it is about the future.

We have been called to live the life of Jesus!

We haven't been called to sit in a pew on Sunday morning and attend a small group during the week. It is true that these things are important to our life of faith, but are calling is much greater. Our lives need to reflect the life of Christ into the world. We are to live with the same type of love, to proclaim the same truth, to offer the same compassion, and to live with the same passion as Jesus did. We are to live the way Jesus lived!

Could it be that one of the reasons that many of us are unsatisfied with the Christian life is because we have given our lives away to a lesser goal?

We claim to be following Jesus, but in reality the purpose of our lives are other things. In other words, we want Jesus to bless our lives as we pursue the “American Dream,” but we don't really want to follow him. Keep in mind, we are not selfish or evil, we just want a comfortable and secure life. Ultimately this is why we go to church, read the Bible, and pray. We are not seeking to live like Jesus, but hoping that God will reward us with the type of life that we want to live.

In the process we miss hearing the call of Christ. The call that insists that we lay down ANYTHING that gets in the way of following him. The call that says we must pick up a cross, the symbol of death and persecution, and follow him wherever he leads. The call that forces us to be humble and to serve those who are the least in this world.

Please understand, following Jesus isn't just about agreeing with certain theological statements about him (though that does play a part), but it is about living the type of life that he lived. This can only happen when we make the foundation of our lives the spiritual disciplines that Jesus used to stay in contact with the Father. Things like prayer, study, fasting, worship, and meditation. It continues as we serve and give with love, truth, and grace. Remember we are Christ's representatives in this world.

I know that it seems like an impossible task to live as Jesus lived in this world. You know what? It is, but remember Jesus told us what is impossible for people is possible with God. This is why the apostle Paul prayed this prayer for the Colossians:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:9-14; ESV).

May this be our prayer, not only for ourselves, but for those around us as well. Let our goal be to live lives that are worthy of the our Lord Jesus Christ!


Covenants are Important

CovenantsOne important reality that we need to remember when we read the Bible is that we live in a different culture than the culture it was originally written in. Bible translators do their best to produce a translation that captures the original intent while making it understandable to us, but we still need to do the work of understanding the original context of Scripture. This will help us grasp the full message God has for us in His Word.

An important concept that we need to understand is the concept of covenant. The theme of covenant runs through the entire Bible. Since we live in a society is based on contracts rather than covenants it can be difficult to understand exactly what a covenant is.

The man who taught me about the importance of covenants, Chuck McCoy (one of my professors in college), wrote this; “In the ancient Middle East and Biblical world, a ‘covenant’ was a solemn, blood-sealed agreement between parties that both establishes and regulates a relationship between them and is made binding by an oath.”

There are three important implications of covenants that I want to identify:

  1. Covenants demonstrate that the God of the Bible (YHWH) is different from the gods of the pagans. People imagined the pagan gods to be fickle, cruel, mean, and unreliable. They could not be trusted, for they were really nothing more than super humans using people as pawns in their sadistic games. YHWH, the covenant making God of the Bible, is different. He could be  trusted and He had a desire for people to succeed and become the people He created them to be. Think about that reality for a moment. When we have a covenant relationship with God He has a great desire for us to up hold our end of the covenant! We don’t have to be fearful that God is looking for a reason to punish us, rather, we can go boldly to our Father in Heaven and ask for the wisdom, the strength, and the support we need to live the life He created us to live. Ultimately, knowing that we are in a covenant relationship with God means we can trust God to help us along the way.
  2. Covenants provide the  expectations God has for people. A crucial element of  covenants are the terms or the expectations of the covenant. In essence the 10 Commandments are the basic terms of the covenant God established with Israel. The terms of the New Covenant, established by Jesus, are written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit, but are summed up in the commands to love God and love people. These expectations help us understand what it means to be faithful. In a culture that equates faith with belief we need the parameters of faithfulness defined for us. I don’t remain faithful to God because I maintain my belief that He exists and that Jesus died for the sins of the world. My faithfulness to God is demonstrated by keeping the terms of the covenant He made with His people. Just as Jesus remained faithful to God through obedience to His will, we remain faithful to God through our obedience.
  3. Covenants allow us to be confident in our relationship with God.  I am confident in my relationship to my wife because of the commitment we made to each other. The same is true with our covenant relationship with God. He has made a commitment to us, and demonstrated that commitment through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The covenant we have with God declares that our redemption, our place in His kingdom, is not the result of our behavior, but the result of His grace. God is the one that took the initiative to save us, He has promised to provide for our needs, and He has declared that He will forgive our sins. Our salvation is secure because of the covenant God established with us.

Covenants are not incidental to our theology, they are the very foundation of Christian theology. We worship a covenant making God, and those covenants give us confidence and security.

Yes, we have a personal relationship with God, but that personal relationship is based on covenant. I think the more we understand about covenants, especially the New Covenant God established through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the more confident and hopeful we will be in our relationship with Him.

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