Healthy Hearts (Part One)

IMG_0242Proverbs 15:13-17

The Bible uses the word heart as the center of the human personality—the inner person in contrast to the body. It is the spiritual side of the person, and it has three aspects: the mind, the emotions and the will. While we all share these three aspects, God has formed our personality and the events of and people in our lives style it, so that we are all unique people. But regardless of our individual form, God tells us truths that he intends to transform our inner person increasingly into his moral likeness. In other words, God wants to perfect the variety that he has designed in the womb and develops through the events and people of our lives. So let’s examine what he tells us about human hearts from this passage.

The Lord tells us the effect of a healthy heart (15:13). Every human is a functional unity of the outer person (the body) and the inner person (the heart or soul or spirit). Contrast this text with Psalm 42:3-5, where we see the depressing influence of a downcast heart. Depression leads to inactivity that breeds more depression and inactivity. It is a downward spiral.

Since we have this functional unity between the inner and outer parts of our humanness, the Lord encourages happiness of heart. In the words of John Trapp of long ago, “The heart sits smiling in the face and looks merrily out of the windows of the eyes.” However, we must clarify the Lord’s intent. The Lord wants us to have a happiness of heart that is based on proper principles (for example, Psalm 32:1-2). The Lord wants us to express our inner joy wisely and with a regard for the life situations of others (Romans 12:15; Proverbs 27:14).

Consider how the heart can create two very different effects. First, a happy heart will make you appear cheerful, and that shows up on your face. I recall two songs from years ago that sought to get this point across: “Take that frown off your face, put a smile in its place, let the love of Jesus Christ show through!” And, “Smile a while, and give your face a rest, raise your hand to the One you love the best, then shake hands with one nearby and greet them with a smile!” Those who are part of a local body of Christ should learn to read each other’s faces, and then prayerfully, boldly and gently seek to serve each other in love.

But second, heartache crushes the spirit—a person loses the desire to continue. What are some causes of heartache? Events like unfulfilled expectations, untimely or unexpected separation, and betrayal by one you love. Such happenings can pile up quickly, and we can feel shattered.

The way out can be difficult and long. The Lord Jesus Christ has provided ways to help you. He speaks to us through his word, providing us his perspective and counsel. For example, read out loud and listen to Psalm 119. It is a great prayer of a person enduring affliction. Let its words soak into you, and then pray them back to God our Father. Jesus has given us his Spirit, who desires to produce his fruit in us (Galatians 5:22-23). Think of each of those qualities, and ask the Spirit to refresh your heart with them. Christ has also placed us in groups of people who know him and love one another (1 Peter 1:22). You are with them to share life, and since they belong to Christ, they are equipped to help you (Romans 15:14). The Lord is forever faithful. Draw near to him; he wants you to have a healthy heart.

Grace and peace, David

Christ’s wisdom toward his people

Isaiah 42:3a-b

339F7E5D-E1FC-4656-9B5F-C83B1A206C4A (2)We must face what we are, instead of puffing ourselves up in pride. Sadly, we fail to live up to our heavenly calling (Colossians 3:1-4). (I write this not to beat anyone down, but to help us all live in reality rather than in some type of spiritual fantasyland. We must sense our ongoing need of Christ and the gospel at the same time as we trust in Christ and the gospel and enjoy the glorious position we have in him.)

Few things are as worthless as bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. A reed growing near marshes is rather useless and a bruised reed can’t support anything. A smoldering wick is too far gone and almost ready to go out. Though we ought to be walking in the Spirit and joy and light, these words often are an apt description of Christ’s people. Many are weak and damaged by sin. Very few Christians escape the stumbling walk caused by entangling sins (Hebrews 12:1). Though some rejoice in salvation, they moan over their wicked past, not seeming to trust fully that the good news means that all their sins are forgiven. Others were victims of abuse, and the memories of that abuse mar their view of themselves and their hope. How many have been through severe conflicts in the church, and are afraid to love Christ’s people again! And far too many have been taught false doctrine and their lives are constantly ravaged by the falsehoods that they have consumed. And what can we say about those whose minds are overcome by a wrong delight in one part of the truth, so much so that their lives are a hideous caricature of true Christian living?

The good news of these verses is that Jesus does not break bruised reeds. Nor does he put out smoldering wicks. Are you bruised? Be encouraged. Jesus is the Great Physician. Expose your wounds to him. Never fear to go to your Mediator, because he is not only your friend, but also your brother and husband (Sibbes, Works, Vol. 1, p. 46). Remember that peace and joy are two main fruits of his saving reign (Rm 14:17). Are you smoldering? Look at him, for he is the Light, and remember that you are in him!

Think of the tender care that Jesus has toward us. If you are observant, you can see how all these words about Christ are about what he would not do. We ought to most certainly understand these negatives, but they should also lead us to think toward the positive aspects of his ministry. In other words, it is a kind of litotes, which is a figure of speech using understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of its contrary (e.g., “you won’t be sorry”, meaning “you’ll be glad”). Think of Romans 1:16. Certainly, Paul was not ashamed of the gospel, but the intent was to communicate his joyful confidence in it.

The Lord Christ goes with us into situations where we learn to trust him. One man in the Gospels said to Jesus, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean” (Matthew 8:2). Another said, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (Mark 9:22). One questioned his power and the other his desire, but he graciously healed in both cases. Another time, Jesus saw the Twelve in trouble out on Galilee during the night. What did he do? He walked out on the lake, let Peter go for a short walk with him on the water, rescued him, and then he calmed the wind.

He sends us out into the world, as he did the Twelve and the Seventy, where we can see his saving power at work. When we come back rejoicing, he instructs us about how to rejoice more properly. He makes the weak strong.

He teaches us about the extensiveness of his grace, when we become narrow-minded and idle. Think of how he tenderly taught Peter to reach out to non-Jewish people when he was avoiding them (Ac 10:1-42).

He leads people gently from sexual immorality to honor, by telling them through the Scriptures about his call of grace and the gift of the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8). Although the Lord wants us to bear much fruit, he knows that branches need to be tended to in order to become fully productive. He knows that “a few grapes will show that the plant is a vine and not a thorn” (Sibbes, p. 58). For this reason, he leads us by his Spirit in faith, hope and love that we might become more fruitful.

What new fruit is the Lord producing in your life now? In other words, how is Jesus making you smile with the joy of increasing holiness? Respond to his kindness toward you!

Grace and peace, David

Jesus and His People

Isaiah 42:2-3b

One of the tactics of the malicious enemy of our souls is to tempt people to have wrong, terrible, hateful thougBEDCD5DD-D15C-4075-AF41-32050BFF4B28hts about God. This surrounds us daily. How often we hear people cursing God for the problems of life. Even Job’s wife told him to “Curse God and die” during their grief and his pain. True Christians can enter into this temptation. When things are going our way, it is easy to say, “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise will be continually in my mouth!” However, when events run contrary to us, it is easy to fall to the temptation to start pouting or murmuring or complaining. Some Christians go around with the uneasy feeling that, in spite of John 3:16; Galatians 2:20 and other verses, God really doesn’t like them. And so they start to strive harder to do religious stuff to try to persuade God to have a kinder disposition toward them. Or falling into spiritual depression, some cozy up to a slavish fear of God, while they wait for God to “get them”. And there are other pitfalls such Christians can fall into during this miserable condition.

The way out of such spiritual muck is to listen by faith to what the Lord says about himself in his word. God the Father here encourages us to look to his Son and Servant, the Messiah. He is the One we need to fix our thoughts on. He is the Lord who can rescue us!

The Holy Spirit tells us of character of Christ’s public ministry during his first coming (Isaiah 42:2). This certainly is important to lay hold of, because Jesus gave a constant revelation about who God is (John 14:7-11). This is also a reason to persevere in reading the Four Gospels, because you and I cannot see with our physical eyes the life of Jesus. We must read about him in the Bible. (I wish someone had explained this to me when I was a new Christian. It might have helped keep me from much senseless doubt, fear and grief.)

Jesus did not act like an earthly conqueror. Most human leaders make it a point to push their fame, their agenda, and their power on those under their authority. This especially happens when they want their religion to be the law of the land. Verbal, legal, economic, social and physical abuses are all tools of the worldly conqueror to enforce their agenda. Think of what Nebuchadnezzar did to the Hebrews and what the Roman Caesars did to the early Christians. Think of how many followers of Christ are persecuted today because of their stand for the risen Lord Jesus. But our Savior did not do that when he came. Instead, he went around doing good and healing all who were under the tyranny of the devil (Acts 10:38), and he preached and taught about God’s saving reign.

There is probably no distinction between the verbs listed, but “the intention is to create a cumulative emphasis on a quiet, unaggressive, unthreatening ministry” (Motyer). And so Jesus healed the Roman centurion’s servant and comforted a weeping widow whose only son had died and raised him to life. Jesus spoke tenderly to a sinful woman, when Simon the Pharisee condemned her. He took time to heal and reassure another woman, while on the way to raise a young girl from death’s clutches. He protected Mary from Martha’s harsh words and later from the cruel remarks of Judas and the other disciples. He became the friends of tax collectors and sinners, while other religious leaders despised them. Jesus healed a crippled woman on the Sabbath, when others would have gladly left her suffer. And he had mercy on a blind beggar, when others were rebuking him and telling him to be quiet. Jesus was strong to deliver, but ministered in peace and calmness. This is the Savior we need. He doesn’t push us down in the dust to grovel before him, but he lifts us up to give us life and liberty and laughter!

Jesus did act with love, as in our previous examples. He still acts with love, because he is always the same (Hebrews 13:8). He died to save us, though we were powerless, ungodly, sinful, enemies of God (Romans 5:6-9). He saved us, though we were not righteous, when we didn’t understand or seek God, when we turned away and became worthless, when our words were filled with deadly poison, deceit, lies, cursing, and bitterness, while our ways were marked by malice, ruin, misery, and unrest, and even while we had no fear of God (Romans 3:10-18).

Christ receives, forgives, and restores us, even when we are disobedient children (1 John 1:9-2:2). He is glad to call us his bride, though we act like whores at times. Yes, whore is not too strong a word for anyone would pay the world to be ravished by its pleasures when they ought to be enjoying life with the Lord of glory. Yet, he welcomes us back and even goes out to find us. “Amazing love, how can it be, that you my God would die for me?” Worship the Lord for his overflowing grace! “Hallelujah! What a Savior who can take a poor lost sinner, lift him from the miry clay and set him free! I will ever tell the story, shouting, “Glory, glory, glory!” Hallelujah! Jesus ransomed me” (Julia H. Johnston).

Grace and peace, David