Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Heart Maintenence

After I turned forty, the doctor told me to regard food as medicine.  He explained that in previous years, what I ate did not affect me as much as it does now that I have passed forty.  I need to be careful what I eat and how much I eat, because it now has a deeper and longer lasting effect on me. 

I am reminded how careful I need to be about what I put in my body, and even more so what I put into my mind through my ears and eyes.   Temptations sometimes are so subtle at the outset that they seem harmless.   Pride wants to blow it off.  But humility leads me to confess that I am just as susceptible as anyone else.  There was a time I could have gotten entangled in an extra-marital affair.  In fact, I was well on the road heading that direction before I began to realize what was happening.  It was so innocent at first. 

There is a reason the Bible says, "Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life" (Prov 4:23 NASB).  It does not take much to pollute that spring.  If it does become polluted, it affect not only yourself, but all those around you as well, especially those closest to you.  That pollution starts in the mind and heart, long before it expresses itself in actions.

But it occurs to me that pollution of the heart often works in reverse.   I am reminded of when Jesus said, "What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them” (Mt 15:11).  Jesus went out to describe how things like evil thoughts, slander, immorality, and other such things come out of the mouth by way of the heart, and this is what defiles them.

It may seem strange that something coming out rather than something going in can defile a person.  However, experience demonstrates this truth.  Think about those times you think about giving someone a piece of your mind.  It would feel so much better to let it all out and just let them have it.  So you go through with it and hold nothing back.  This rarely if ever makes those thoughts go away.  If anything, it entrenches them deeper into your heart.  Contrary to popular wisdom, getting it all out is not a solution to negative thoughts and feelings.

It would seem that the solution is just to hold it all back.  If it doesn't pass through your lips, then it can't defile you.  However, the Bible goes much further than just zipping your lips.  Romans 12:14 tell us to "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse."  However, I like the passage from Ephesians 5:18-21 because of the contrast it gives to Matthew 15:11.

"… be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father" (Eph 5:18-21 NASB).

When are you filled with the Spirit?  It is when you are "speaking" to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, and giving thanks.  Being filled with the Spirit involves what comes out of our mouths.  It increases the fruit of the Spirit, which includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

If I curse, swear, belittle, gossip, lie, or say anything else contrary to the Spirit, my heart becomes defiled.  However, if I bless rather than curse, and if I encourage rather than discourage, and if I give thanks rather than complain, then I am being filled with the Spirit.

A good way to maintain the health of my heart is to watch what comes out of my mouth.  What comes out of my mouth will either defile my heart, or fill me with the Spirit. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Courts In our Lives

I used to watch the People's Court on TV when it came out in the early 80s.  Then there was Judge Judy and a whole bunch of other similar shows that came out.  For awhile, there were so many of these kinds of shows on Television that it was hard to keep track of them all.  It seems as if everyone loved to watch courtroom drama. 

All of these different kinds of "courts" brings to mind a passage that gives an evaluation of different kinds of courts. 

I Corinthians 4:3-4 says, "I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.  My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent.  It is the Lord who judges me."

The first courts the text mentions are human courts.  Sometimes we refer to the "Court of Public Opinion."  This refers to what the public thinks of certain things, actions, or people.  We also have our official courts of law.  This is where legal decisions are handed down.  The judgement of a court of can order someone to cease and desist, to pay a fine, or even do time in jail.  Both of these are human courts.  This passage makes it clear that human courts are not what ultimately will judge us in the end.  Human courts are not the ultimate standard to judge us.  In fact, human courts are just as fallible as the human beings in them, especially the court of public opinion.

Another "court" is the one in our heads.  Every single one of us has a conscience that either convicts us or excuses us.  When we consider an action, our conscience is our inner guide that tells us whether it is right or wrong.  However, according to this passage, our conscience is not the standard of authority that will ultimately judge us.  In fact, our consciences can be defiled according to Titus 1:15, or seared as with a hot iron, according to 1 Timothy 4:2.  Even if our consciences are clear, this does not make us innocent.  A person's personal conscience is not what ultimately determines what is right or wrong.

The final court is the court of the Lord.  This is ultimately the only court that matters in the end.  It is not the court of public opinion, human courts, or even one's personal conscience that ultimately will judge a person in the end.  It is the Lord who judges.  This means that it is not the word of man, but the word of God that is the standard. 

This is a reminder that popularity does not make something right.  The majority does not make something right.  What is considered right, good, or enlightened by society in today's times does not make something right.  What everyone else is doing does not make something right.  Even if something is legal, this does not necessarily mean it is right.  In fact, Proverbs 14:12 says that there is a way that "appears" to be right, but in the end it leads to death.

This is why it is so important to live in the word of God and let it shape and mold your mind.  Romans 12:2 says "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."

Neither the court of public opinion, nor some human court, nor even my personal conscience is what will judge me in the end.  It is the Lord who judges.

Lord, please forgive me for the times that I allowed myself to be more influenced by the world and its values rather than your word.  Father, please grant discernment and wisdom to see things as they really are.  Help me to view things from your perspective.  Help me to evaluate everything according to truth, which comes from you.  Remind me that the pattern of this world is passing away and will be destroyed, but you and your kingdom will endure forever.  May I be conformed to the image of Christ rather than to the pattern of this world. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Reflection on 2 Kings 23-25 - Creation of "Hell" and the Last "Armageddon"

What a pitiful end to what could have been a magnificent story!  For hundreds of years, Israel disobeyed God through idolatry along with cult prostitution, engaged in child sacrifice, and oppressed the poor and needy in the land.  God sent prophet after prophet, yet the people did not repent.  Finally, Josiah comes along.  Nearly a whole chapter is devoted to a description of Josiah's destruction of everything pagan in the land - and there was a lot!  He even dug up the bones of the pagans from their graves and burned them on the altar where pagan sacrifices had been offered. 

It also says in 25:10 that he "…defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the sons of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire for Molech." 

The Valley of Hinnom is "Ge-Hinnom" in Hebrew.  This was the place of pagan worship, which included child sacrifice.  The name of the specific spot in the valley was, "Topheth," which paints a picture of the grisly scenes and sounds from that place.  "Topheth," which means, "drums," is a reminder of the drums that were used during the child sacrifices to drown out the screams of the children who were burned in the pagan sacrificial fires.

Josiah defiled and desecrated this place so that it would no longer be suitable for pagan worship.  Though the text does not say how he desecrated the site, we can imagine that he filled the site with dung, dead carcasses, refuse, and other things that would have make the site no longer suitable for pagan worship.  After this time, the place was never again used for any kind of worship.  "Ge-Hinnom" literally became the city dump where people would dump garbage and burn trash.  The irony is that the place where pagan fires once burned became a place where the only thing burning was trash and garbage that had been thrown out.

This eventually became the word picture used for the place of eternal destruction for the wicked.  "Ge-Hinnom" came from Hebrew into the New Testament as "Gehenna" in Greek, which translators translate as "Hell."  According to Jesus in Mark 9:43f, Gehenna, or "Hell," is the place of eternal destruction were the fire is not quenched and the maggots do not die.  This is an eternal trash dump with eternal fire and eternal worms/maggots. 

Even though Josiah did a good thing and went on to reinstitute the Passover, the sins of the people and the leaders after hundreds of years of warnings did not stop the destruction that came.  Josiah was killed in a battle at Megiddo, and soon afterwards, Israel was defeated by Babylon, which destroyed the temple and carried away all of its treasures.  However, in reality, the people had already made the temple desolate long before this due to their ongoing wickedness and disobedience.  The destruction of the temple and the city around it was merely a physical reflection of a spiritual reality that had been there for generations.  The books of Kings closes with the temple, which was the focal point of God's relationship with Israel, in ruins. 

Fortunately, the story does not end there.  The last book in the Bible shows another battle at "Har-Meggido," which means, "Mountain of Meggido" in Hebrew.  It is usually rendered English as "Armageddon."  In John's vision, the enemies of God gather together to make war against God and his people.  Revelation 16:16 says, "And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon."  However, things turn out differently this time.  God's seventh angel pours out God's final bowl of wrath, and all of nature destroys God's enemy.  The battle is over before it even gets started!  In spite of all of the bravado of God's enemy, Armageddon never happens!  All of God's enemies are subsequently destroyed and thrown into the lake of fire.  Then, the final picture we have in Revelation is of God's people living in the new Jerusalem with a New Heaven and a New Earth.  There is no more sickness, pain, mourning, or death.  There is no one who practices wickedness or abomination there.  Satan, Death, Hades, and everything contrary to the nature of God has been destroyed in the lake of fire forever.  Finally, God's people "will see his face," according to Revelation 22:4.

This reminds me of the need that we have for God.  We cannot fight Satan on our own.  The first battle at Megiddo ended in disaster.  However, at the last battle at Meggido in Revelation, God fights for his people and destroys the true spiritual enemy that has been fighting against God's people from the very beginning.  Only when we truly and fully rely on God can there be victory.  As Jesus said in John 15:5, we can do nothing apart from him. 

Therefore, no matter how much Satan tries to lure us away, whether it is through intimidation or deceit, we remain faithful to God because he is the one that will lead us to victory.

Gehenna is the place for the wicked.  We don't stand with the wicked, even when it is the in thing and everyone else is doing it.  Even if the whole world tries to redefine what is right and wrong, or tries to jettison the very idea of right and wrong, we will not be intimidated, bullied, shamed, or pressured into buying into the political, multicultural, or prevailing view of what is right.  When Christ returns on his white horse, there will be a final judgment based on what God says, not on what the university professor says, the politician says, the school teacher says, or your friends say.

If I stand with Christ, the burning may be bad on this earth.  However, it will only be temporary.  If I stand with the world, then I may avoid the temporary burning on this earth, but will not avoid the eternal burning in Hell.  If I try to choose neither and straddle the fence, then I am not standing with Christ and still will not avoid the eternal burning.  In Matthew 12:33, Jesus said I am either for him or against him.  This means that Satan owns the middle fence.  I cannot stand with Christ if I am on the fence.  Trying to straddle the fence detestable to God like an unfaithful spouse who is trying to straddle the fence and juggle between a spouse and a lover.  Straddling the fence is spiritual adultery.

Lord, please help us to learn the lessons of the past.  You have committed much more to us than we could ever commit to you.  Help us to see the world as it really is and what the end results are of whatever path we choose.  May we love you with all our heart, soul and mind.  May we, like Jesus, love righteousness and hate lawlessness.  May we hate sin so much that we are willing to lay down our life for our neighbor to rescue them and bring them to Christ.  Help us see how trying to straddle the fence is as detestable to God as a spouse trying to straddle the fence between a spouse and a lover.  May you always be number one and the only one in our lives.