Monday, February 25, 2013

Lord, Melt this Heart of Stone

Passage: Deuteronomy 10:12-22
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We know that the word is true and inspired by God, and that His letter to us contains His will for how we are to live a life after God’s own heart. Therefore, we can see from Deuteronomy 10:12-22 that we are to fear the Lord, walk in all His ways, love and serve Him with all our heart and soul, and observe His commandments and decrees (v. 12-13).

v. 12-13 (The Message): So now Israel, what do you think God expects from you? Just this: Live in His presence in holy reverence, follow the road He sets out for you, love Him, serve God, your God, with everything you have in you, obey the commandments and regulations of God that I’m commanding you today – live a good life.

I’m going to be very transparent with you - there are many times God “calls me out” on my faults through time in His word and prayer, and this passage was one of those times. Slowly and one-by-one, I began to go through the commands we find in verse 12-13.

- Fear the Lord.
- Love Him.

Respect Him. Love Him. Know that He is just and merciful, which means we are to accept consequences for our sinful actions. If we love Him, we will learn from our mistakes and repent (ask forgiveness and change our ways), and we will know that He disciplines us for our ultimate good – to conform us to His image.

- Walk in all His ways.
- Serve Him with all your heart and soul.

Follow His will for your life - no matter the cost. Be willing to serve in anyway, anywhere, and anytime. This is an area where I truly need the Master to chisel me into His masterpiece. Continue to conform me to Your image, Lord.

- Observe the Lord’s commandments & regulations.

Obedience…simple obedience. Keep in mind that partial obedience is complete disobedience.

Looking at the five commands from these verses, we can respond in two ways:
- We can be calloused to the call of our Lord to grow in these areas.
- We can be conformed to His image.
We can obviously choose which answer is the “right” one, but which response is genuine in where you and I stand today? We will always be a work-in-progress, which means there is always an area where the Master can continue to chisel. However, if we are unresponsive and show no effort to change, we have become calloused in heart and spirit.

v. 14-18 (The Message, emphasis mine): So cut away the thick calluses from your heart and stop being so willfully hardheaded.

Have you ever seen callouses? They aren't the prettiest things to look at. They are very common in those who do physical labor as a hobby or occupation. My husband has them on his fingers from playing the guitar. They form after the skin is frequently exposed to friction in an effort to protect the skin from further damage. Callouses are layers of dead skin that cover the healthy skin. Figuratively, our hearts form callouses when there is friction between good and evil - God and Satan. We have options:
- We can cut those callouses off and expose the healthy skin, which allows us to be sensitive and flexible to the Holy Spirit's guidance and correction in our lives.
- We can easily let the callouses (layers of dead skin) remain, which means we will remain dead in our spiritual lives - insensitive, unmoved, and unchanged by the Holy Spirit's conviction. 

We see the results of those with calloused hearts in Matthew 23:23-24. The people tithed, but they had the wrong attitudes about the act of giving. They lacked the Christ-like characteristics of justice, mercy, and faithfulness. In present-day, we would call them hypocrites. Churches are full of them.

On the other hand, we see in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 that Paul was flexible. As a result of his sensitivity and un-calloused response to God's calling on his life, he (through Christ) could be a vital tool in reaching the lost.

I am so grateful that we serve an Almighty God that can soften a heart of stone!
After all, why wouldn’t we want to choose to obey the God that is our praise? It is a privilege to have breath, let alone to be able to serve and obey the “Master of all masters, a God immense, powerful and awesome” (v. 17, Message)!

v. 21 (NIV) – He is your praise; He is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes.

It seems so easy to say "I will obey You, Lord," but when it comes to following through in action, we find it much more difficult. God has guaranteed us that he will always give us the strength and wisdom to obey if we seek Him. Once we decide to nurture our faith through obedience and constant growth, we will rid the heart and spirit of callouses – we will begin to be conformed to His image.

When we act in obedience to Christ's mission of growing Himself in us and sharing the gospel across the world,
we will have calloused hands & feet and a spiritually-healthy heart
rather than healthy hands & feet and a calloused heart.

Ezekial 36:26 (NASB)I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Slacking or Serving?

"Our intentions are the product of sincerely seeking His will with an undivided heart. There is nothing practically worthwhile about [good intentions] until they are carried out. Perhaps they honor God in spirit, but who will see His honor if they are buried deep within? The vision that Gad has given His servants, the works He has called them to, the glory He wants them to reflect - all begin in the heart, but they do not end there. They end by moving us into action. We become His children by faith, but we become His servants by work. Good, godly intentions are meant to be lived, not dream of."
- From Walk with God, "Better Intentions"
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James 2:17 - Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
Are you serving the Lord in your church, community, and world? Are you doing His service out of love to your Savior (with a good attitude), or are you doing it to impress others or check it off your "to-do" list? God may or may not be calling you to serve in Asia, Africa or South America...God may or may not be calling you to serve in your local soup kitchen, food pantry, rescue center, or pregnancy center...and God may or may not be calling you to serve in the church nursery, small group class, or music ministry - only you know what He has placed on your heart in regards to where you are called to serve. But God will be calling you to serve in some capacity, and most of the time, it is not convenient. I have found, however, that once our hands are working for His glory (notice I didn't say "for our own glory"), we love what we are doing and for Whom we are working for. If you are not serving, pray about where the Lord might have you serve. God did not call us to simply sit in church and warm the pews. I've seriously never been so blessed in my life as when I began serving others for my Lord's glory. With a solemn heart, I can say that I see way too many that claim to be "Christ followers" that never lift a finger...a true follower of Christ will have an unquenchable desire to do all he or she is able for the benefit of God's kingdom.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Saved by Grace Alone


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Does baptism save us?

I strongly believe we are saved only by the blood of Jesus Christ, and baptism is the symbol of the death, burial, and resurrection. Here is my scriptual defense:

Scripturally speaking, What about the thief on the cross? Jesus doesn't make exceptions. To say that baptism is required is negating parts of the scriptures (see below). Jesus tells us over and over that we can ...believe and enter into His fellowship. Yes, we are also to be baptized, but it is not what saves us. It is what it symbolizes - the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. If baptism DOES save us, why do the scriptures, such as Mark 16:16, say in the latter part "he that does not believe will be condemned"? - it does not say "he that does not believe and is not baptized will be condemned." Therefore, it is absolutely clear that what saves a person is living faith in Jesus Christ which is followed by baptism. Note that we never find the expression in the New Testament that he who was not baptized will perish...never.

Luke 23:39-43 - The thief on the cross - he believed, and Jesus saved him. To say that this is an exception negates who God is - He is just - He does not make exceptions.

John 3:18 - "Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." Ephesians 2:8-9 - "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. 9 NOT BY WORKS, so that no one can boast." Acts 22:16 - "wash your sins away" - Baptism is the outward sign of an inward work of grace. The outward ritual, however, does not produce the inward grace. (see Romans 2:28-29, Ephesians 2:8-9, Philippians 3:4-9)

Romans 2:28-29 - circumcision of the heart is what matters, rather than the physical act of circumcision

Romans 6:3-4 - a symbol of the act of embracing Jesus' death, burial, resurrection

Philippians 3:8-9 - "What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith." Paul never says that it is through faith and physical baptism.

In summary, baptism is the testimony of an already cleansed soul. We are saved by what baptism symbolizes - the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. We are not saved by a ritual, but by the supernatural power of the resurrection.