How to guard your heart

I want to talk about something close to my heart. It is the need to guard our hearts. “Guard your heart with all diligence for out of it proceed the issues of life” Proverbs 4:23.
 
What does it mean to guard our heart? Recently I felt like my heart was broken. My heart has been broken many times over in my life. How do I respond to a broken heart? I allow myself to grieve. It’s alright to feel the pain.
 
Sometimes our heart is broken because of injustice, or what we perceive to be injustice. Even injustices in the past that we did not personally experience. Or injustices in other countries. Or injustice that has happened to other people.
 
We are in a dangerous place when our heart is broken. The easy response is to become bitter. There are so many things we can become bitter about in the world.
 
In the Bible we read the story of how Cain became bitter towards his brother Abel. Cain’s heart was broken because the sacrifice he offered was not acceptable to God, while his brother Abel’s sacrifice was received by God. Pain can quickly turn to anger and this is what happened in this story.
 
When we become bitter, we instinctively want to cause pain or even destroy the people who caused the pain. Cain ended up killing his own brother.
 
God warned Cain when he noted that Cain’s “countenance was darkened.” He told Cain, “Sin is crouching at the door and it desires to have you.” Cain ended up yielding to this influence, despite the warning.
 
The Bible instructs us not to let a root of bitterness grow in our hearts. This can apply to any situation that disturbs us, past or present.
 
Guarding our hearts means we don’t allow our hearts to harden towards other people or people groups. We can separate the sin from the sinner. We can still pray for the tyrant leader, or the molester, or the hater.
 
Our pain does not have to cause us to become insensitive and uncaring like the ones who caused the pain. Neither does our pain need to cause us to turn bitter against God when we think he is unjust.
 
God’s response to those who question his justice is found in the book of Job, chapter 38, “Where were you when….” I love Job’s faithful response, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” Job 13:15. He was saying, God you can do whatever you choose to do in my life, I will still serve you. This is ultimate faith.
 
Cain’s real anger was towards God. And if we look deeply inside ourselves we will see we are no different.
 
Let’s guard our hearts from growing cold and loveless towards people and towards God. Instead, embrace a soft heart, a heart that can be broken and continue to love. I have found that this is actually the path to healing.
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He is Risen Indeed

I struggled to fully embrace Christianity. I saw the value in living by the Golden Rule, to love your neighbor as yourself. I appreciated the Ten Commandments as laws for a successful society. I even believed in God, the Creator. But could I accept Jesus as more than a man who did good?

In our pluralistic society there used to be an “everyone to his own” attitude back in the sixties and seventies. But that has changed to everyone conforming to a new set of values which essentially oppose some of the very basic tenets of the Christian faith. In other words, we are facing an anti-Christian mindset.

In view of this it is imperative to be convinced of one’s faith. We not only need to know what we believe, but why we believe, or we will be easily shaken.

Recently I have been challenged by those in Christian circles who are taking issue with several basic tenets of the Christian faith, including the atoning death of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

This brings me back to the time when I chose Christianity above other faiths. Not only was I drawn to the character and life of Christ, I believed in his atoning death and resurrection.

One day during the time when I questioned Christianity it became apparent to me that the validity of the Christian faith rested entirely on whether Christ was indeed resurrected from the dead. I visited a Mosque once where I had a conversation with a Muslim who said, simply, that Jesus never died on the cross. When Jesus prayed for this cup of death to be removed, God answered his prayer.

On another occasion I sat with a Muslim man on a flight and was reading Psalm 32 in my Bible.

Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.

Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.

We had an interesting conversation and he claimed, rightly, to know more about the Christian faith than I did about the Muslim faith. He told me that Muslims believe in the Old Testament. I still intend to do a deeper study on how the Muslim faith is informed by the Old Testament. What we know, however, is that Muslims are descendants of Abraham, as well as Jews, only through the line of Ishmael, not Isaac.

The Jewish and Muslim faith are closest to Christianity but both reject Christ as the Son of God or Savior. They are the two faiths I have been inclined toward, besides Christianity.

In my search I saw that I had to establish for myself, as satisfactorily as possible, whether or not Jesus died and was resurrected. I pondered the evidence over a period time and finally came to the conclusion that indeed, Christ died and was resurrected. No, his disciples did not steal the body out of the tomb and start a new religion. They went and hid, afraid for their own lives. And the Jewish leaders themselves asked Pilot to set a guard before the tomb to prevent theft, already anticipating this possibility. When the stone was rolled away and the grave was found empty, the soldiers were not punished with death. That was remarkable. The Jews, instead spread the rumor that the body of Christ was stollen.

Well, we could say the writers of the gospels made up this complex story. I don’t think the gospels would have gained much momentum if they were known to be a clear fabrication. What finally cemented my faith was the book of Acts. It was seeing how these timid followers of Christ turned their world upside down preaching the gospel of salvation through the atoning death and resurrection of Christ. They could not all have been willing to give their lives for a lie. No, they were completely convinced, and faced extreme opposition.

This opposition continues to this day. And that is another thing that adds credibility to Christianity. Major world governments consider Christianity to be a threat. The beliefs of Christianity are peace loving, living by the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments. The church, historically, has not always been effective in communicating the essence of the gospel and so we have seen unpardonable atrocities. Even today we see gross misrepresentations. In the words of J. I. Packer (Knowing God), “it is a long time since theology has been so weak and clumsy at its basic task of holding the church to the realities of the gospel.”

The notion that is gaining popularity today is the idea that God would not require atonement. That he would not sacrifice his son. This teaching also casts doubt on the entire Old Testament, reducing it to inspirational stories and myths. The reason behind this is the difficulty people have with reconciling the wrath of God with their view of a God of love. Of course, hell does not fit in either.

For decades now the church has emphasized the love of God in an effort to be seeker friendly and it has largely avoided reference to wrath, judgment and hell. Of course, if none of these are to be considered, then why do we need atonement? They don’t go so far as to say that we don’t need forgiveness, but God can forgive without requiring a human sacrifice, they claim. I happen to agree with them and this may be a surprise to some. I believe God can do as he pleases.

I think God can indeed forgive without a sacrifice. But I believe he chose to sacrifice his son and he had his reasons. For those who don’t believe this, you will have to do your own study, as I did.

The atonement causes the entire Bible to make sense. In fact, for me it causes life to make sense. My faith informs my life and gives it meaning. The atonement means there is justice.

The atonement means there is justice. There is judgement. There is just reward. And there is mercy and grace and forgiveness and newness of life. The old dies and the new is resurrected to life in Christ. Christian baptism is a symbol of this experience.

I don’t claim to fully understand how God became man in the form of his Son. Or how the Son of God could die. How he was able to descend to the depths to preach deliverance to the captives. How he was resurrected. But I know his forgiveness and his power in my life. I have his abiding peace and joy. I experience his indwelling presence. And today I declare, He Is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

 

 

When My Best Isn’t Good Enough

As a Christian I admit I have often struggled with what to do when I sense that my best isn’t good enough. Yesterday I made a few choices and later in the day I felt like they were the wrong ones. I had done my best but it wasn’t good enough. I had even prayed, however, in the end I thought I had let myself down and I had let God down.

I’ll tell you what it was. I put a purchase on a credit card with the intention of paying it off over a period of months. I did not have the cash at the moment to pay it. At the time I thought it was the right thing to do because I found just the item I had been looking for. But when I got home I suddenly second guessed myself. It was not like I committed some great sin, but maybe I got it wrong.

For Christians, Christ is set before us as a standard of perfection. In the Bible we are called to perfection, to holiness. How do we do this? Is this even possible? And if not, do we end up in a state of constant disappointment and even discouragement over our failure?

I have heard Christians get around this one by saying that God’s grace covers all of our sin–past, present and future. Does this mean, then, that I no longer need to concern myself with whether what I am doing is good enough?

In the Old Testament (the first section of the Bible before the record of the life of Jesus begins) we read that God’s chosen nation, the Israelites, were given the “law” by God to instruct them about right and wrong. In the New Testament Jesus said that basically all that was written in the Old Testament could be summed up as, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.”

While this may sound simple, Jesus also taught that no one is good, except God. He told his disciples that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone to enter the kingdom of God. His disciples asked him, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus’ response was, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:27.

Jesus set an example of how we should live. He set an example of true, sacrificial love when he died on the cross. And he came to do the thing that was not possible with man. He came to forgive sins. He actually demonstrated that he had the authority to forgive sins. When Jesus forgave a paralyzed man of his sins, religious leaders challenged his authority to do so, saying that only God can forgive sins. His response was, “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?” Jesus then healed the paralyzed man and demonstrated that he had the power both to heal and to forgive sins.

Before Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph, an angel appeared to Joseph to tell him that Mary, a virgin, would bear a son and he was to call him Jesus, because he would “save people from their sins.” The angel earlier told Mary that she would give birth to “the Son of God.” Jesus, the Son of God, came to save us from our sins. To forgive us.

It grieves me when I fail to live up to the standard Christ set for me. It seems as though Christians live in a constant state of depravity. Are we not “empowered from on high” by the Holy Spirit who indwells believers and is this not sufficient for us to no longer fail him? Apparently not.

Martin Luther, the great Reformer, struggled so intensely with the issue of sinfulness that he almost had a breakdown. Finally he received a transforming revelation: “The just shall live by faith.” This verse was penned by the apostle Paul in the New Testament and we also find it in the Old Testament, in the book of Habakkuk, chapter two verse four.

I looked up a few different translations of the verse and noted some interesting variations below:

“I, the Lord, refuse to accept anyone who is proud. Only those who live by faith are acceptable to me.”
Some people’s desires are truly audacious; they don’t do the right thing. But the righteous person will live honestly.
Behold, he that is unbelieving, his soul shall not be right in himself: but the just shall live in his faith.
This message cannot help those who refuse to listen to it, but those who are good will live because they believe it.
“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith. (Scriptures from Bible Gateway.)

The above verses reveal our tendency to be proud, unbelieving, and dishonest about our condition, rather than humble, faithful and obedient.

The gap between who I am and who I want to be, is a consequence of my humanity. I am not a ‘god.’ I cannot be god-like without help from God. Simply said, it is pretty much arrogant to think I can live rightly on my own. I need to be “instructed in the way of righteousness.”

I find it humbling to have to face my inadequacy every day. But I can draw a little bit of comfort from the above verses which seem to indicate that humility is a necessary posture, one from which I can move forward, by faith.

When I turn my face from my failure to God’s faithfulness and forgiveness I find my heart suddenly filled with hope and joy and gratitude. I feel like a child who is let out of “time out” and is free to run and play again. Until next time.

Freedom from the fear of death

The first consequence of evil, when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, was a sense of guilt and separation from God. In the Old Testament God instituted an animal sacrifice ritual to atone for the guilt of the people. This was a temporary remedy pointing to the coming of Christ.

The Bible teaches us that sin results in death.”The wages of sin is death….” (Romans 6:23). The ordinance of sacrifice was instituted as a reminder that there was a great price to pay for sin, but the blood of goats and lambs could not take away sin indefinitely.

With the coming of Christ, animal sacrifices for sin were done away with. Jesus, God’s Son, born of a virgin and without sin, died and rose from the dead. He was the, “spotless lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).

Because Christ was without sin, death could not overpower him and keep him in the grave. Similarly, everyone who believes in him and accepts his gift of “salvation” from sin will experience the resurrection power of Christ. They will live with him for eternity.

This gift of salvation and eternal life is offered to everyone. However, people do not automatically receive forgiveness of sins. We must acknowledge Christ as our “Saviour.”

It is really very simple, but surprisingly difficult at the same time. The reason is that it is not just a matter of praying a prayer asking for forgiveness. If you believe that Christ is the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world, it follows that accepting his forgiveness also means you are committed to his kingship in your life. The Son of God deserves no less than our surrender and worship.

The prayer of acceptance of salvation and commitment to Christ may go something like this,

“Heavenly Father, I believe that Jesus died and was raised from the dead. His life was sacrificed for the sins of the world. I ask you to forgive my sins, in Jesus’ name. I give my life to you. I invite your presence to indwell me and empower me to live for you. Amen.”

When you have prayed this prayer you will want to tell someone about it and you will also want to find a group of people who have come to a similar faith. You may encounter resistance from those who do not believe. This is not uncommon. There are many groups of believers, some meeting in churches, some in homes, some in schools or other facilities.

If you do not find a group of believers immediately, you can still have a growing relationship with God by praying, talking to him daily about all aspects of your life, and by reading his word, the Bible. I encourage you to start reading the New Testament, that is the second section of the Bible. It is easier to understand and more relevant for daily living. It also begins with accounts of the life of Christ.

If you desire you may email me at: friesentina@gmail.com.

The consequence of evil

The first consequence of evil Adam and Eve experienced was a sense of guilt and shame. They were ashamed and hid. Instead of  becoming like God, as the Serpent had told them, they became different from and distant from God.

Shame is a natural by-product of guilt. Our society has tried to recondition people and remove shame and guilt but it is not possible because we are programmed to desire unity with our Creator. Distance from God makes us uneasy.

The ultimate end result of evil is death. If Adam and Eve had not sinned, death would not have been introduced into the world. Since that time we all find ourselves living a life that is out of harmony with God.

When Adam and Eve sinned God removed them from paradise. He told them that life would be difficult. They would continue to strive against the cunning of Satan, the deceiver. But he also promised that one day Satan would be crushed under their feet. This was a prophetic word concerning the coming of Christ.

In the Old Testament we have numerous stories of how men and women encountered God. Some of them chose to obey him in faith and did great exploits. Others sank into deeper and deeper degradation. The Bible does not white-wash sin. God did not edit the bad parts out of the Scriptures.

Evil robs, kills and destroys. Christ offers the alternative–life, hope and peace with God. But don’t be fooled into thinking that by becoming a Christian a person is taken out of the battle against evil. The Christian can be identified as the one who is on God’s side in the fight against evil.

Peace with God

Many times I summarize teachings of the Bible, but today I am including an excerpt, from the fifth chapter of the book of Romans, in the New Testament. The letter, or epistle, was written by the apostle Paul to the Christians in Rome.

If you find the reading a little stilted it is because the translators have tried to remain as close as possible to the earliest Greek manuscripts. There are 6,000 manuscripts of all or parts of the New Testament available for reference today, many dating as early as the second and third century. This great quantity assures us of the accuracy of the text. For additional reading on the subject, consult Bible Texts and Versions by Russell Fuller and Charles W. Draper, as found in The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 2003.

I am presenting two versions for comparison. The first is the New International Version of the Bible (NIV) and the second is from the more recent English Standard Version (ESV). You can find these and other Bible passages at www.biblegateway.com

This portion explains how sin entered the world through the trespass of one man–Adam, and similarly reconciliation to God is made possible through the righteousness of one man–Christ.

Romans 5

New International Version (NIV)

Peace and Hope

5 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Death Through Adam, Life Through Christ

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned–

13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Footnotes:

  1. Romans 5:1 Many manuscripts let us
  2. Romans 5:2 Or let us
  3. Romans 5:3 Or let us

Romans 5

English Standard Version (ESV)

Peace with God Through Faith

5 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith[b] into this grace in which we stand, and we[c]rejoice[d] in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Death in Adam, Life in Christ

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men[e] because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

18 Therefore, as one trespass[f] led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness[g] leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Footnotes:

  1. Romans 5:1 Some manuscripts let us
  2. Romans 5:2 Some manuscripts omit by faith
  3. Romans 5:2 Or let us; also verse 3
  4. Romans 5:2 Or boast; also verses 311
  5. Romans 5:12 The Greek word anthropoi refers here to both men and women; also twice in verse 18
  6. Romans 5:18 Or the trespass of one
  7. Romans 5:18 Or the act of righteousness of one

What is faith?

What is faith?

I think the best way for me to answer this question is to share my understanding, not simply to quote the Bible, or check a dictionary definition. This of course will not be the official or authorized meaning. In other words, I am not claiming to be an authority on faith, or expecting others to accept my view as complete, because I’m sure it isn’t.

I am speaking of faith in the context of the gospel. The gospel, in a nutshell, is the good news that Jesus Christ, God’s son, came to earth to save us by forgiving our sins. Briefly, faith involves believing and accepting this as life-changing fact.

The subject of faith can be very complex. For example, are there increments of faith? Jesus rebuked his disciples for their “little” faith. He also told his followers that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed, then they could command a mountain to be removed and cast into the sea and it would be done.

When you have faith there is evidence. Although faith is invisible, it has an assuring quality. The Bible in the book of Hebrews says “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith enables us to do things we would not do without it. Scriptural faith is not faith in our own ability, but faith in God.

Faith is very similar to trust. When our son was only two years old he asked us for something and we told him he could have it after two sleeps. He did not ask for the thing again but waited patiently as if it were already his. This was not because he had some concept of possessing enough faith. It was simply because he believed us. He trusted our word. I would not expect another child who does not know us to place the same confidence in us.

The apostle Paul wrote that he counted everything as “dung,” compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ. To truly know Christ is to have complete, child-like confidence in him. I believe that faith grows out of an intimate understanding of Christ.

People place their confidence in many things, some trustworthy, some not. Seafarers have for centuries used Polaris, the North Star, as a navigation guide. A person who is unaware of its existence will never use it as a compass. Someone who doubts its value for navigation will be unlikely to consult it. The person who believes in its value for navigation will confidently make decisions based on its position.

The apostle Paul comprehended that once he would truly know Christ, his Creator and Saviour, everything in his life would come into alignment. All of his navigation would be accurate.

What do I truly believe about Christ? Am I convinced that I can rely on him? Do I trust him so completely that I align my life with his word?