Sunday, October 14, 2018

When You Enlarge My Heart

I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart.  Psalm 119:32
For years I've thought about that verse.  And I ask myself, "What does that mean?  What does it mean to enlarge my heart?"

Well, I guess if my heart needs to be enlarged, it must mean that my heart's too small.  

When I think of a small heart, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" comes to mind. The Grinch's "heart was two sizes too small" and his heart didn't have room for anything beyond himself.

And I guess that's me as well...I was born with a small heart, a heart that only has room for me and my own needs.  Ironically, that small heart is so small that it doesn't even realize it's too small.  It thinks everything is just fine.

And, try as I might, I can't change my heart, can't make myself love people, be unselfish, or anything good.  I'm unable to enlarge or improve my own heart.

But God's Word says:
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  Ezekiel 36:26  
It's He, my God, who gives me a new heart, makes my heart of stone into a heart of flesh.

And God's methods aren't a mystery.  His ways are obvious.

First, I hear God's Word.  His commandments expose my heart and my guilt.  His Word convicts me and shows me how black and how small my heart is.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  Hebrews 4:12
And once I'm in the throws of guilt and despair...

Then, thru His Word and preaching, He shows me His love...His love for me and my puny, hard heart. 
But God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8
And somehow, someway, in hearing God's Word, in knowing His love...that heart of mine becomes a heart of flesh.  He enlarges it, so that it actually starts to feel, to hurt, and to love.  My heart grows beyond itself, and has room for others.  
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.                          1 John 4:11–12
And it's that heart, that's enlarged by God, that's able to love and serve others, and it begins to do just that.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

What Does God Regard?

While Reading Isaiah with Luther by Brian Kachelmeier, I came across a Luther quote.   

Luther contends that a man, who thinks he's godly, might say about his works:
 "God truly has regard for these things"
...when, in fact, God doesn't regard the man. 

What Luther is saying is that a man can look to his own ideas and works, even godly works, and believe that he's pleasing God, when he isn't.  

I've been thinking about that and asking myself:
"What does God regard?"
Or what does God look on with favor or approval?  And how do I know?

In today's society, we might think that our business or job success, our special talents, or even supportive friends and family mean that we're meeting with God's approval.  

About the Christian church, we might think that our worship attendance, the offering, or the building is a measure of God's approval.  

The perception is that God favors us when we're prospering in these areas.

Is that right?  Is God showing His favor or approval by giving us what society sees as good?

What does God regard?
For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.  1 Samuel 16:7b 
And that passage is talking about David. 

David went from being a shepherd, to fighting Goliath, to being hunted down by King Saul.  Then David became King.  And as King, he committed adultery and murder.  

Adultery and murder???  

But the Lord looks to the heart.

About half of the Psalms, the Bible's book of prayers, were written by David. 

David prayed to and was honest before his God.  David's heart knew his own sin, and he looked to God for mercy and forgiveness. 
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.  Psalm 34:18
I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin. Psalm 38:18
And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.  Psalm 39:7 
God calls David a man after His own heart - Acts 13:22.

And David calls God "the God of my salvation" the One "who blots out iniquities" and "creates a clean heart" - Psalm 51.

God "regarded" David because David lived with full dependence on God, including and especially, David trusted God for the forgiveness of his sins. 

So just looking at the good or the bad that happens to me and the sin I fall into - it may or may not be that God regards me well...but it's my heart that He looks at, a heart that is shaped by His Spirit and His Word, by the knowledge that Jesus died for my sins and that the tomb was empty.  

With my heart continually being made new by His Word and truth, I can live in confidence that God has regard for me.
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!  Psalm 34:8 
But this is the one to whom I will look:  he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at My word.  Isaiah 66:2b

Saturday, September 29, 2018

No More Taxes - A Tribute to Doug

Doug passed away this week.  He was in his 80s, and with his passing, we lost an endearing man and one of the pillars of our church.

Doug was a character, and many of our church members knew him as the "man who squeaked the rubber chicken" for our BBQ fundraisers and as the obnoxious tax collector at our Bethlehem event.  

But I knew a different man.

When my youngest son was 12, Doug befriended him and trained him to be an usher.  For several years, my son was Doug's "go-to" substitute.  Doug helped him "feel" like a member of the church, like he belonged.

When my middle son moved home after college and began attending church with us, Doug also befriended him.  He was Doug's unofficial assistant and "runner."  They were buddies.

Some Sundays, Doug and I would sit and chat before the service.  I'd watch for visitors, while Doug talked about being an elder.  

One Sunday Doug showed me a letter that he was sending to those under his elder care.  The letter had a questionnaire and included a penny with the statement, "Penny for your thoughts!"

Last year, Doug asked if I'd ever seen "elder" Christmas cards.  No such luck - so he gave me a verse and we got some card stock and printed Christmas cards "from your elder."

With the leftover cards, Doug had the idea to create and send thank-you notes to members of our SonShiner Ministry, a ministry he oversaw.  

My  personal and favorite Doug story...a few months ago, on a Saturday morning, a friend and I saw Doug at a local diner.  Doug asked us to join him, but he'd already eaten so we took another table.

The next day, Sunday, Doug bellowed at me:
"Why didn't you eat with me?  I'd have bought you breakfast?"
"But, Doug, you'd already eaten."
"So,  I'm already fat; I'd just eat again."
That was Doug!  Open, generous, unashamed, and ready to love.

I feel that I was privileged to share those Sunday morning chats with Doug.  And I cherish that caring attitude he had because it was "Christ in Doug's heart" - Christ's love overflowing from Doug to others.

And I think of Doug as that tax collector, shouting out, "Pay your taxes!"

No more - no more collecting taxes for Doug at our Bethlehem event.  

And how appropriate - because of Jesus, the debt, the "tax" has been paid for each of us.  And Doug knew it before he passed, he lived his faith, and loved others.  But now, Doug "knows" it and lives it, face-to-face.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Mordecai's Psalm

Today I read Esther 3, the account of Mordecai's encounter with Haman. 

Mordecai is a Jewish man who's caring for his cousin, Esther.  He once lived in Jerusalem - the city where God dwelt with His people.  But now Mordecai lives in exile in Persia.

Haman is a high official in the Persian government.  He has a position similar to secretary of state or prime minister.  

And Mordecai and Haman don't like each other.  In fact, Mordecai refuses to show respect to Haman and Haman's position.

We're not exactly sure why Mordecai disrespects Haman, but Haman is an Agagite and possibly his ancestors were enemies of the Jewish people.

And Haman's response to Mordecai's disrespect - Haman underhandedly convinces the Persian king to destroy all the Jewish people.

Esther chapter 4 finds Mordecai in "sackcloth and ashes" bitter and grieving his fate and the fate of his people.

After reading Esther, I turned to Psalm 25, and as I read the Psalm, I thought, "This is Mordecai's prayer."

O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. verse 2
...You are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.  verse 5
...remember me for the sake of your goodness...verse 7
For your name's sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great.  verse 11
The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses.  verse 17
May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.  verse 21
At the top, I wrote "Mordecai's prayer" and marveled how those two readings came together.

And then I thought of me, of my exile, my sin, my struggling heart, and I prayed:
Heavenly Father,
You are my God, in You I trust; You are my salvation. 
For the sake of Your goodness, remember me, lead and instruct me, pardon my guilt for it is great.
Instruct me in how to go; help my soul to abide in well-being, to know Your friendship and Your covenant.
Bring me out of my distresses; let Your integrity and Your uprightness preserve me.
I wait for you...
In Jesus's name and with the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Watching Football...and the End Game...

Navy played Memphis in college football last week.  While watching the game I felt anxious and stressed as Navy wasn't in control.  By the end of the third quarter Memphis was leading by 12 points.  I wasn't enjoying the game and saw no hope of a Navy win.  

But in the last quarter, the Midshipmen rallied and scored two touchdowns.  Navy won 22 - 21, and I immediately forgot the stress of the game.  Go Navy!

Afterwards, I realized that if I had just known beforehand that Navy was going to win, I would have enjoyed the game.  Knowing the outcome of the game would have changed my whole perspective.  Instead of being anxious, I'd have watched with pleasure, both the good and the bad plays, all the while anticipating the victory.

Knowing the outcome...Hmmm...knowing the outcome....

A lot of stuff happens in my life.  It seems that life goes from one thing to another.  Some things are small annoyances and some things are life changing.  

And I'm always thinking, "Once this is over, then I can relax and enjoy life."   But once "this" is over, I'm on to the next thing.  The challenges in life never end.  It's always something.

And sometimes I drive myself crazy with worry and fear about it all.   

From Paul:
...for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.  Philippians 4:11–13
I've always thought that God strengthened Paul with physical and emotional toughness, and that's part of how he was content in every circumstance.  So I'd tell myself, "If I just suck it up, well then..." 

Well then - What?  All will be better if I suck it up and be tough?  I don't think so.

The "better" is not in the situation.  The "better" is in the outcome.

And "contentment" comes with faith in the outcome. 

Life is unpredictable, and I have no control.  Bad things happen.  Life is never problem free.

But Jesus said...
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the worldJohn 16:33
And that's the outcome, the end game.  Jesus has overcome the world.  The tomb was empty; He has risen and is now on the throne.  

That's how Paul was able to be content in every circumstance.  He was strengthened by the outcome, that life is in Jesus, not in this world. 

I pray to look to Jesus, to look to His victory, and to be at peace in the midst of this troubled world, knowing that Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.  Revelation 21:3–4

Sunday, September 9, 2018

He's One of Us...

John McCain passed away last week.  Many people honored him as an American hero.  Others just didn't like him.  But to me, he was a fellow Naval Academy graduate.  He was one of us.  

Senator McCain was buried next to Charles Larson at the Academy cemetery.  During my final year at Navy, Admiral Larson was the Academy Superintendent.

And while at the Academy, I didn't know  "The Supe"and rarely saw him.

But, at our graduation practice the day before graduation, Admiral Larson was the only person present, besides my graduating class.  And he directed the practice!  I was stunned.

And even more surprising, Admiral Larson pretended and played the parts of the various graduation speakers.  I laughed and thought, "He's one of us.  He knows what it's like to be a Naval Academy midshipman."  And that thought has stuck with me.

He's one of us...

Each of us is created by God, just like Adam was created by God.  And through Adam, we all know sin and are sinners.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.  Romans 5:12
And in the midst of sin, in this fallen world, and among sinners, Jesus became one of us.
...though he [Jesus] was in the form of God, [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. Philippians 2:6–7
He's one of us.  And Jesus knows what it's like to play, to laugh, to suffer, to grieve, to forgive, and to die.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death.  Hebrews 2:14
Each of us is a sinner like Adam.  But each of us, no matter our station in life, is also one for whom Christ died.  

The Bible says that Jesus knew what was in man's heart.  He knew man's sin.  And, being one of us and knowing our hearts, He still loved us and died for us.

And in my day-to-day life, I forget that.  

I forget that each of us is a person for whom Christ died, especially when things don't "go right" or when I'm sinned against.  My prayer is to remember to look at other people as "one of us" as people for whom Jesus loved and died, and to share His love with them. 
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  Ephesians 4:32

Sunday, September 2, 2018

One-Hundred Blogs and Counting!

Two years ago, I wrote my first blog, Why You Should Wear a CrucifixLast month I published my 100th blog.  Yay!  Here's my celebration post.

For those who like statistics, my most viewed blogs are: Baptism - It's in the News; Mrs. Hartley; The Real Jesus; and OCD and the Lutheran Confessions.  

My personal favorites are those inspired by superheroes:  Wonder Woman; Captain America; and Guardians of the Galaxy

It's scary to put my faith and thoughts "out there" for the world to read.  Part of that fear is in being misunderstood or in hurting someone else's faith.  
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.  James 3:1
So when I write, I'm forced to be honest before my God.  I can't "use" God's Word to support my agenda, my vendettas, or my ego.
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.  Proverbs 21:2
I also notice that, the more I'm into God's Word and the more I struggle with my own faith issues, the more I have to say and the more passionate my writing becomes.  
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.  2 Timothy 2:15
For me, the benefit of writing is that I gain a greater understanding of my own sin and weakness, and a greater love and appreciation for Jesus, Who died for my sins, and set me free.
...and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.                  Ephesians 3:19
In the midst of it all, my heart is also softened to love others.

Thanks to everyone who regularly reads, likes, comments, or shares my writing.  Thanks to my pastor for his encouragement and for the standard he sets as a man in God's Word. 
...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...Colossians 1:9
And thanks to my family, my husband and sons - they are God's gift to me - for loving me, putting up with me, laughing, and giving me material to write about.
...and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12:1-2
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.  2 Peter 3:18