The Uncontained Heart

671899_33742006

Luke 17:16, “And he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan.”

As I was reading through Luke 17, I became somewhat infatuated with this passage. There were ten lepers who came to Jesus to be healed. Presumably, nine of them were Jewish and certainly, one was a Samaritan.They were all considered unclean because of their leprosy, so scripture says that they stood at a distance when they asked Jesus for mercy. An unclean person would never approach or touch a Rabbi. That would have been an ultimate taboo. Yet Jesus extends mercy to heal the unclean.

The lepers were sent to the temple to show themselves to the priests. The priests would examine each individual to verify that they were clean. Then each person would present an offering (pay a temple tax) for the service of the priest. When an unclean individual was declared clean, he was restored back to the community. Restoration meant freedom to worship God and participate in the community . It also meant acceptance by others and freedom from shame.

The ten lepers did as they were instructed, but they did not all respond the same way. Nine of the men simply went to the temple to take care of their duty. They never directed their hearts toward Christ to extend gratitude and praise. Scripture records that there was one of the ten who, when he saw that he was healed, turned back and praised God with a loud voice. He was a Samaritan who was considered an outcast and object of shame both because of his disease and his heritage as a Samaritan. This man had everything going against him, but he responded appropriately.

Jesus said that the Samaritan’s faith made him well. It brought him salvation. While the other nine were clueless about the magnitude of mercy that Christ extended to them in their misery, the Samaritan abased himself before Christ. Bowing down with the face to the ground was done before before kings, military figures and especially deity and was considered an ultimate demonstration of submission and humility. Miracles of mercy are given so that we would humble our hearts before Christ and bring him praise.

The Samaritan leper, like the woman who wet Jesus feet with her tears, was forgiven much, and he loved much. That is why he praised God with a loud voice. I can almost picture him hysterically unable to keep himself together. When considering his situation, it is no wonder that he could not contain himself. I think that the reason why I became so infatuated with this story is because I often fail to realize how much mercy has been given to me. God is constantly forgiving me for my shortcomings. There are hurts, habits, and hang-ups that corrode my life. They come to surface every once in a while. But it is precisely at my moments of weakness where I have the greatest opportunities to honor God and praise Him as His sacrifice on the cross overwhelms my inadequacy. We all have been extended mercy. All of us. Yet not everyone who has been given mercy will find mercy when they die. The Samaritan found salvation when he humbled himself before Christ and gave Him praise.

We all have to ask who we are being like. Are we like the nine who received mercy and then disappear without giving thought about the One who extends such mercy? If we find ourselves just “going on our way” without humbling our hearts and giving God praise, we are in trouble. Life is not all well. But if we see ourself as the one who is unclean, if we truly understood just how immense our depravity is and the shame that we carry, then our hearts, like the Samaritan’s, will not be contained when we find mercy, and we will find salvation.

Advertisements

Spiritual Wit

Psalm 70

Focus: 70:5 I am oppressed and needy! O God, hurry to me! You are my helper and my deliverer! O Lord, do not delay!

Wit is an old term that refers to mental sharpness and inventiveness. It describes the ability to think quickly. (It also comes more naturally for some than for others.) But in general this tool of leadership is developed from habits of reasoning. Mental sharpness and inventiveness require a baseline knowledge and trust of information. The more such information is used and referenced to, the greater one’s wit will be in a circumstance that requires quick recall and development of thought.

One of the first things I discovered while reading this Psalm is that it begins with “For the music director; by David; written to get God’s attention.” It recounts a time when David was in a circumstance where he quickly needed to hear from God. He desperately sought for God’s attention and help from at least 2 things: physical danger and spiritual danger. (We know this because of Psalm 40.)

Many of us might find ourselves in the same situation. For some reason, we might find that we are “oppressed and needy” because of a physical ailment or spiritual attack. Circumstances like these are common in our broken world, but what is most important is that we can respond like David. He had spiritual wit. He was able to quickly align his thoughts and heart to immediately petition the Lord to help him in his time of need.

Battles can be won or lost because of wit. This is true in every area of life. Throughout his life, David had built habits of turning to the Lord in times of need. He recognized Yahweh as his helper and deliverer. Having such spiritual confidence will not come with an absence of a baseline knowledge and trust in God. It is crucial to develop this foundation if you want to overcome the challenges that can debunk your walk with Christ!

There are several ways of learning about God: 1.) Be in community with other believers who are seeking after Christ 2.) Study God’s word 3.) Spend time in prayer 4.) Memorize scripture 5.) Meditation 6.) Rest 7.) Serve others 8.) Tithe. There are a slew of other ways to learn about the Lord, but this list is to help get started.

When one begins to build habits of learning and studying God, an information base of reference will be embedded into the heart and mind. This is key to developing the same kind of wit David had. When the “Mac Trucks” of life hit, you will not be pummeled to the point where you turn to hurts, habits and hangups to rescue you from pain. Rather, your quick instinct will be to turn to the Lord for His deliverence.

Leaving Community

4/5/09

Judges 17-21

Pericope: Judges 21:24-25

As I read through today’s passage, I was affirmed once again of the atrocities that occur when God’s people live outside the boundaries of the grace of community with God. The entire book of Judges seems to be writing that depicts Israel’s dark spot in history as their hearts slowly drifted away from God. There were blips of the appearance of faithfulness when God would raise up a deliverer for His people when they whined long enough in their bondage. But in reality, the perspective is well described in the final chapter of this messy book: “In those days Israel had no king. Each man did what he considered to be right.” Truly, Israel’s king was Yahweh. But, alas, it remains true that Israel had no king. She had a habit of leaving her King and then running back to him in the midst of her trouble. The more she ran away, the more wicked she became, the more sick the community of Israel grew to be. When the Community of Yaheweh is neglected, then the community becomes sick as His presence fades. We can see this on an individual and corporate level in the final story in Judges. The Levite had a dysfunctional relationship with his concubine (should he have even had a concubine?), he was sick and demented (he gave his concubine to the wicked men and then carved up his concubine when she was found dead). Corporately, we see Israel living with wickedness in their presence (the homosexual men who wanted to rape the Levite) and the tribe of Benjamin refuses to let justice be done (they harbored wicked men). They were people who neglected their relationship with God and violated their covenant with Him. Today, God’s people must be careful to make sure they are living in right relationship with God through the Son. If we leave the Son, then we leave right relationship with the Father. If we remain in Him, then he will remain in us and we will continue to have good spiritual health and wellness. So, we must be careful if we are living outside of the community of God and His people. If that happens to be what we choose, then let us not be surprised when we see wickedness abound and the effects of wickedness personally touch our lives. Leaving community with God with has severe consequences.

Distant Lord

4/4/09 10:00pm

Judges 11-16

Pericope: Judges 11:29-31

If anyone seriously studies through the book of Judges, they will come across some serious problems that should bother them. Israel seemed like a bunch of idiots, and I get tense as I can imagine the Lord’s frustration with His people. (It is amazing that He did not completely wipe them out!) Of course I have to chill a little because I know that I have probably tested the Lord’s patience with me in my own foolishness. Jephthah is the character in this particular passage that really seems to symbolize the leaders and people of Israel as a whole. He may have been Israel’s judge for 6 years, and God’s Spirit may have come upon him. But that does not mean much. Baalam’s donkey spoke through God’s Spirit too! Jephthah reflects a man who is wallowing in the stench of a wicked culture. He was the son of a prostitute and was a hooligan who lead a team of bandits.  His view of God was severely twisted. It was sick. His view of God is the natural outcome of a people who did what was right in their own eyes, who did evil and prostituted themselves to foreign gods. So it is not at all surprising that Jephthah made a foolish vow to sacrifice a human in exchange for military victory, even though this was forbidden in Torah and is described as detestable and something God hates. So was it God who lead Jephthah? YesNo! Yes, in the same sense that God was leading Pharaoh and using Balaam’s donkey. God was not absent in this story. No, because God detested such wickedness as the foolish vow Jephthah made. In Judges, and in this particular story, what we see is a fulfillment of God’s promises in Deuteronomy. Israel was unfaithful, so God’s hand was not upon them. He, in a sense, is a distant God in the book of Judges. This is a time when God is allowing Israel to suffer in the muck of their choices so that they could eventually repent and come back to him. Israel was a sick community outside of the presence of God. An application to this is that we must be careful in how we allow culture to shape our view of God. God is transcendent to any culture. We must be careful of allowing our culture to lead us into wickedness and calling it “good.” We must be careful to destroy the opportunity for polluted world views and distortions of what God wants for our life. This means we ought to be in fellowship with other believers. We ought to be students of God’s word. If there has ever been a time when we are at risk as a community of Christ, it is now when our culture is much like that of Israel in the book of Judges. It is critical for the Church to evaluate and see where we have prostituted ourselves to foreign gods and ideas imputed by a godless culture. And then we should cut off and destroy any idea and opportunity that offends the name of Christ. Otherwise, we will be in the same boat as Israel. We will elect leaders (in the church and culture) who will appear to save us, and we will think that God is with them. But in the end, God will be distant allowing for the muck of our choices to lead us to repentance. And that does not sound particularly fun to say the least. If we wish to have a close Lord who is near to our hearts and actively blessing our lives, then we must become a healthy community of Christ followers. True spiritual health is found by living in pure devoted community with the God through Christ by the power of the Spirit working in us.

From the Lord

3/27/09 10:15pm

Numbers 6-10

Pericope: Numbers 6:24-27

6:24 “The Lord bless you 60 and protect 61 you;

6:25 The Lord make his face to shine upon you,

and be gracious to you; 62

6:26 The Lord lift up his countenance upon you 63

and give you peace.”’

6:27 So they will put my name 64 on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”

The above passage is the Priestly blessing which would be proclaimed over God’s people during certain ceremonial occasions. It is amazingly encouraging as it radically proclaims God’ desire to bless his people. One of the greatest lies about God is that he was to sap his people of freedom and fun. Life in the community of God’s people is anything but bondage and boredom! God’s desire is to freely bring His people into a relationship with Him where they can fully experience peace with God in a way that would allow for Him to richly protect and provide for them. Who would not want that? What’s even more ridiculously amazing is that God commanded the spiritual leaders of Israel to bless them with this prayer. It was a way of imprinting God’s name on His people. God wants His name on His people so that He can bless them! Isn’t that completely amazing? This wreaks of grace!

The Character of God’s Community

3/26/09 8:45am

Numbers 1-5

Pericope: Numbers 5:5-7

I remember when on of our former Presidents was caught in a scandal and he lied about what he did, even on oath before Congress. To me what was so stunning was not so much that the President proved himself to be nothing less than human, but the reaction of those in Congress who rushed to his defense. In essence, their claim was that it does not matter what one does in private. One’s private life is not the business of public life. To a certain small degree I can understand that, but such a concept would not be tolerated in the Community of Yahweh. Personal choices have a significant impact on the entire community. So God graciously provided a way for His people to make right their wrongs. God’s people were not to be of the kind that would sweep offenses under the proverbial rug. The character of God’s community represented God himself. Those who would participate in His community must realize that God is completely different than the normative standards offered in the secular world. This passage makes me think of times when I have wronged someone or have done something wrong and dismissed my actions by offering a simple “I’m sorry” under my breath. God wants his people not only to be sincere, but to go above and beyond in making reparation for violations.

Unchanged

Genesis 28-33  1/27/2009 8:45pm

Pericope: Genesis 31

Recently I was involved in a discussion with some friends. One made a statement that for the most part he is no different than he was 5 years ago. He confessed that he struggled with the same issues today as he did back then. So the big question became, “How can I change?”

It seems to me that as I read the Old Testament, I am encountering the same issue. Even as the people of God entered into a Covenant relationship, their lifestyle remained unchanged. In the story of Jacob, as he was earning his wives Leah and Rachel, there were several instances that suggest God’s people were heavily influenced by culture. First, why two wives? Second, when the wives were arguing over fertility problems, Leah gave away mandrakes to Rachel in order to have a night with Jacob. Rachel’s confidence for fertility was not centered in Yahweh. Third, Rachel stole her father’s idols. The point: it does not seem that God’s people were as perfect as the Sunday school stories make them out to be. To be sanctified (or set apart) as God’s people did not mean they were holy.

To put it slightly differently, being in community with God does not equate holiness. It does not equate perfection for a human standpoint.

So my friend’s question is quite valid. Why is he not much different than before? Why are his struggles today similar to five years ago? This is not an issue of salvation, but rather what it means to be sanctified.

Unfailing Love

1/26/2008 1:00pm

Genesis 22-27

Recently I was flying back to Dallas after driving up to Denver. The woman who sat next to me on the plane shared that she had spent the weekend together with her boyfriend skiing. From the conversation, she gave me the impression that her relationship with her boyfriend was much more than platonic- i.e. physically intimate. I was not at all surprised since physical intimacy before marriage seems to be the norm for our culture today. After she finished, I was able to share the blessing of having a wonderful wife and a beautiful baby boy. My wife and I have been married for 3 years. There have been times when it has been difficult, but the hard work has been worth it all. There is nothing more freeing and satisfying than sharing a commitment that is mutual.

This morning as I read through Genesis 22-27, I became grateful for the security that I have in the love of Christ. Because of his love, I enjoy both heavenly riches by being in right relationship with the Father, and I enjoy earthly riches by being blessed with a beautiful wife who is faithful to me. The love that God has for us is much richer than our love toward him or even our love toward the one we love most.

When Abraham’s servant was searching for the wife of Isaac, he recognized this faithful love God had toward Abraham. It is called Checed (Kesed) love, or faithful love. This love is not only an endearing love, but much more than that. It is a love that is continually faithful to uphold its commitments. In the case of Abraham, God was firmly committed to the Covenant whereby God would bring redemption and blessing to all mankind.

I am thankful for being in Community with Christ. He is the ultimate fulfillment of Chesed love. God does not want us to spin isolated in the fleeting pleasures of one night stands, cheap sex, or pornography. They all seem intoxicating at the moment, but such moments are quickly fleeting and leave one feeling unsatisfied. Instead, God is delivering us from a world of hurts, habits, and hangups that are less than a cheap imitation of love. Love without commitment is dangerous and hurtful- it really is no love at all. True love is committed. If your life is caught up in isolation and uncertainty, and you are looking for a way out, that way has been provided through the unfailing love of Christ.

Grace

1/22/2009 7:15am Genesis 18-21

Focus Passage: 18:16-33

One argument against the Old Testament that I understand is that the God of the Old Testament is an angry, mean, jerk of a God who is on a power trip. On face value, in passages such as this one it seems that God comes across rather harshly.

When I read this passage, I am thankful for a couple reasons. First, I am thankful that such evil does not exist in the immediate context in which I live. I have never had a homosexual standing outside my door demanding to rape my friends that I have just finished hanging out with. I have never witnessed the wickedness of a man offering his two virgin daughters for strangers to violate. Second, I am gratefulful for the patient grace of God.

Sodom is painted to be a city in such moral decay. Many of us in America get discouraged with all the evil that does exist!- in our country and abroad (And rightfully so!) But what we witness on the news, is nothing compared to the depravity that was found among the Sodomites. As Abraham pleaded for this wicked city, God promised to spare human life of ultimate judgment if there were even as little as 10 people who were godly in the city. That is an amazing thought! An entire city of wicked people would be spared on account of 10 godly people. That is remarkable patient grace!

This passage in Genesis is not about God being on a power trip. Instead, what we see is God preserving and protecting the lives of the innocent, of those who would experience the grace of being in right relationship with God. This is a just God. This is a gracious God. No one should live in fear of the threat of wickedness. Sodom is a picture of God’s response to complete rejection of Him. When man fails to live in community with the goodness of God, evil exists. The record of God’s judgment on Sodom should bring hope to those who live in the midst of oppression and the tyranny of evil. God sees you.

If you are frustrated with the injustice that you may encounter on a daily basis, then be thankful for a few reasons. First, sadly, your situation could be worse. Second, we have provision to execute justice when evil does exist. And third, a day is coming when God will prosecute all evil. If wickedness has knocked on your door, God knows. One day God will deliver the human race from all evil that exists when His presence is  completely rejected. Fourth, God has provided justice and mercy on the cross through Jesus Christ. His wrath was poured out against all unrighteousness and his grace is extended to those would would seek deliverance from such bondage. And last, there will be grace for those who by faith in Christ are living in community with God.

Roots

Genesis Chapters 6-11. 1/20/2008 4:00pm

Origin is something that affects everyone in some way. Family roots and heritage will vastly shape everyone’s future. Familial background is something that cannot be overcome. It is what it is. However, that is not to say that it must determine everything about one’s destiny. In studying God’s people, family roots are essential in one’s role in community and relation to others. Sometimes it seems that you have to be some sort of religious nut who exhausts his life with certain religious nut ball exercises in order to be accepted by God, but that it actually rarely the case.

For example, in the biblical account of Adam and Eve, we can see that all of mankind’s role in community and relationship with God and people have been significantly marked through the choices of Adam and Eve. Everyone struggles with the effects of sin: hurts, habits and hangups. Yet scripture also records how God graciously intervened in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:16) and his presence was in the midst of people who were sinful.

Back in the early days of humanity, people existed in the midst of brokenness. Scripture provides some insight into the wickedness that prevailed (See Genesis 6). The earth was in a state of decay. With the exception of one man, Noah, Scripture indicates mankind lived in the absence of community with God. Consequently, evil spread to the point where God’s creation was ruined and God regretted that he made humankind. Eventually, with the exception of Noah and his family, God passed judgment on the earth and destroyed it by flood. Through the ark, God’s grace miraculously provides for the salvation of people.

But even after such salvation, the descendants of Noah rejected community with God and tried to build a name for themselves at the tower of Babel. God’s confuses the languages and scatters the people, thus forcing the world to return to the original plan of “be fruitful and multiply”. Nations were formed and people lived and died without community with God. 

And then in Genesis 11, we see a biblical icon, Abram, who was later renamed Abraham. Abram was from Ur, a city of the Chaldeans (Ancient Babylon). Abraham, like Noah, was surrounded by wickedness and people who knew nothing of Community with God. There is nothing significant that is mentioned in Scripture that would picture Abram as a man God would choose because of Abram’s skill or religiosity. Yet we know that God calls Abram away from Ur and eventually to the land of Canaan. Yet, one of the most significant things about this story is that Abram receives the Covenant with God before he left Ur. Abram did not have to do anything to earn this Covenant. God graciously injects His presence (community) into the life of Abram.

The point of all this is that community is God’s plan. It is a plan that was broken by man and affects everyone. Yet, God, even in spite of a spiritually diseased people, immediately began a work of healing and redemption to cure the ailments of sin. The reality is that we all have roots that are historically embedded in unhealthy soil. Our ability to thrive is found in God who is the giver of life. Many of us, like Noah and Abram, live among people who know nothing about relationship with God, and we wonder how we can have the freedom and life that is found in the midst of God’s presence. It is not found by the performance of religious activity! Religious activity does not make us holier. It only makes us religious nuts. Our acceptance into the community of God only comes because of His gracious provision through Jesus Christ. Jesus is the spiritual stimulus package of all time. He is the plan that God has provided from the beginning! So if we come from roots that are planted in the soils of religiosity, sin, or even blatant rejection of God, we still have hope. God has provided a way for such roots to be cut and pruned and for us to be transplanted into the vine of Christ!