A Bent Heart: Faithfulness Follows Your Heart

I came across an insightful phrase about King Solomon in chapter eleven of the first book of Kings. After the writer lists Solomon’s huge harem of wives and concubines he says that Solomon’s “wives bent his heart” (11:3, see note in NET Bible). They “shifted his allegiance to other gods” so that he was no longer “wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord his God, as his father David had been” (11:4).

Solomon’s life started full of wisdom and in faithfulness to God, but did not last. Even though God had visited him twice and warned him to not worship other gods, over the years his heart slowly became divided as the idol of lust and the desires of his wives won his affections away from the Lord God of Israel to the detestable gods of the surrounding nations.

How did this happen? How did his heart get bent? Verse one of this chapter answers that question. The king “fell in love with many foreign women”. His faithfulness went to whom he fell in love with, and for Solomon that was women.

Yours and mine will too.

As the saying goes past performance is not a guarantee of future results, so too present faithfulness is not a guarantee of future faithfulness. Our future faithfulness follows our present affections. If you are married and your heart begins to be won over by someone else other than your spouse eventually, if you continue to “follow your heart”, you will be unfaithful to your spouse. Adultery and unfaithfulness do not happen overnight. It is a slow progression of a bending heart away from one’s covenant partner to another.

It is the same way with God.

Spiritual adultery and idolatry start with misplaced affections. What is your heart bending toward? What/Whom are you falling in love with?

Watch over your heart. And pray the prayer of Solomon’s father who knew the consequences of a bent heart all too well:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. (Ps. 51:10)

Wherever your heart goes your faithfulness will follow.

Don’t Go Back to Calvary!

…you sometimes hear people…saying something to this effect: ‘You know, we have to keep going back to Calvary’; and they draw this picture of the Christian life as a journey. You start at Calvary, and you walk in the fellowship, then you sin, and you have to go back to Calvary. No, you do not go back; in a sense Calvary is always accompanying you. You do not go back in your Christian life; if you fall into sin, you confess it and go on. It is the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses, and Calvary is something that accompanies us in the grace and mercy of God. It is exactly like the picture which the Apostle Paul draws in 1 Corinthians 10:4, when he talks about the rock that followed the ancient people in the wilderness. That rock was Christ, he says. [Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2002), 132.]

You do not go back in your Christian life

If you know Jesus you will not always be following him in every action of your hands and attitude of your heart, but Jesus if following you. And not just that. He’s always with you (Mt. 28:20). Even more, he’s in you (Jn. 17:26).

Our hope in following Jesus is that he is following us. His once-for-all work at Calvary is not something we come and go from. We were crucified with him there. Therefore when you’ve sinnned, don’t put more confidence in your sin than Jesus. You can “have confidence”–right now! right after sinning–“to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19).

Penance moves backward. Faith moves forward. Don’t go back!

“Kick it In!” – A Personal Reflection on Hebrews 12:1-2

I don’t have a ton of memories from when I was a young kid, so when I do remember something I figure it made a significant impact on me. Today while I was running and getting toward the end of my route, I heard the strong voice of my dad shouting “Kick it in!” echoing in my head from yesteryear.

When I was in grammar school I used to run track, and one particular race that I was in I remember rounding the corner toward the finish line and hearing the sound of the crowd–my family and friends–yelling and cheering me on. But above all the crowd noise I remember the voice of my dad soaring over the others and urging me to “Kick it in!”. This phrase, for those of you who don’t know track lingo, essentially means: run faster, finish well. And I remember his shout was effective, I pushed harder and dug deep.

The life of faith is not easy, and the name-of-the-game is enduring with relentless focus on Jesus

To be honest, I don’t recall whether I finished first or second, or seventh for that matter, but I do remember his cry from the sidelines of the track and how it propelled me to run faster toward the finish line. This cry often arrives when I am exercising, usually toward the end between heavy breaths and a sticky shirt, and I don’t typically think of the glory days of track or even the need to finish my jog. Instead I think of the fight and race of faith, my marriage and family, the future, and the necessity for endurance and perseverance. Many times running has become a means of grace where I preach to myself the need to keep going–to love and trust Jesus–day in and day out no matter what comes, what sin I’ve committed, sins have been committed against me, or tragedy has struck.

The common New Testament metaphor for the Christian life is a race, and in Hebrews 12:1-2  the author calls us “lay aside” every sin and every encumberance that would weigh us down and keep us from running well. All of us at different points in the Christian life get tired of running. Maybe its a love for a particular sin? Maybe its having been a Christian for so long and the desire to just coast and not move forward any longer sets in–put the life of faith on cruise-control so-to-speak–because of all the time you’ve put in? It could have been a tragedy like a death of loved one? Possibly its hurts from people inside the church which have been inflicted upon you by those in the highest levels of church leadership or having been in leadership and experienced the heartbreak of seeing people fail over and over giving up on marriages or Jesus altogether. Regardless of the size of the sins or the seemingly overwhelming encumbrances and burdens you’ve faced– in Christ you have been called to lay itwhatever it may beaside today.

The writer to the Hebrews encourages Christians to recognize that the race of faith is a certain kind of race. It’s an endurance race, not a sprint. A marathon not a 100 yard dash. It will, at times, feel unbelievably long and terribly arduous. Therefore believers are urged to run “with endurance”–to keep going and after that keep running, throbbing sideache and all, heading toward the finish line saturated in sweat, laps filled with tears, and sometimes even blood.

In light of this, I want to urge you today to “Kick it in!” To turn from that pet sin, and fix your eyes on Jesus your sin-bearer. To forgive that person that wounded you, and look to Jesus bloodied and crucified by sinners. To not let that tradgedy control you, but consider Jesus weeping at the tomb of Lazarus and see him on the cross handing the care of his mother over to his best friend John because his earthly dad had probably died too young–and then see him kill death by dying and rise again. To not coast and consider quitting because you’ve put in your time and didn’t get much of anything tangible in return, but fixate on Jesus who “for the joy set before him endured the cross” because he knew triumph would come. The life of faith is not easy, and the name-of-the-game is enduring with relentless focus on Jesus.

You have been called to run a race. Your Christian identity is akin to a marathon runner. Now suit up, train, be disciplined, run, and look to Jesus with every stride. I implore you: don’t quit. In fact, run even faster.

As my dad would say, “Kick it in!”

Vacation, Sabbath, and Guest Bloggers

Since I’m heading for some much needed vacation with the fam, I thought a few comments on Sabbath and rest were in order. I know Sabbath is biblical and necessary because even God rested and because he commands it and gave it as a gift for those made in his image, but I still haven’t got down exactly how this practically works.

We would play and we would pray.

Do you just watch TV? Do you go on a walk in the woods? Do you pray all day? Do you write? Do you eat an overwhelming amount of donuts? A mix of all 5? I’m not sure, but I thought Eugene Peterson’s comments regarding this topic in an 2005 interview were helpful:

We defined our Sabbath this way: we could do anything, but nothing that was necessary. We would play and we would pray. Anything under the category of play was legitimate; anything in the category of pray was legitimate.

So, pray and play. That sounds good.

I also plan on doing some life-planning, but most of all I want to hang with my wife, baby boy still enwombed, toddler-baby Grace, the Trinity, and enjoy books, sun, and beach.

The blog will still have posts periodically, as I have some guest bloggers who have kindly agreed to do some postings while I’m gone. So do check in from time to time the next couple weeks.

Hard Truths & “Who are you, O man?”

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? (Paul, Romans 9:20a)

John Piper’s comments on this text are helpful:

Paul has no objection when a person seeks to understand as much of God’s dealings as possible, but he objects strenuously when a person criticizes and rejects the truth which he discovers.  (The Justification of God, 186)

There are hard truths in the Bible. Period.

The question is: what do you do with them?  Ignore them, soften them, criticize them, de-emphasize them, or quit believing the Bible.  Don’t respond that way.

You may not (and will not!) understand every hard truth completely and you probably don’t need to become a scholar, but you are called to humbly receive them and go deeper knowing that all that God reveals in the Scriptures is good for you.

…But King David Sinned Too

I find great comfort in knowing that the only Hero in the Bible is Jesus, and that all of the other biblical “heroes” sin–many of them grossly. The list is lengthy: Jacob, the deceiver; Noah, the drunkard; King David, the adulterer and murderer; Peter, the Christ-denier and gospel-compromiser; etc.

Sadly, it seems, a passive attitude toward sin can creep into the lives of believers in light of the failure of those whom have gone before. Many times I’ve heard it said, “…but King David, a man after God’s own heart, sinned too.”

Yes, that’s true. But don’t forget when confronted with his sin King David humbled himself and repented.

The Puritan Thomas Brooks warns against the kind of passive attitude that can sneak in from the sins of the faithful:

Ah, souls, you can easily sin as the saints, but can you repent with the saints? Many can sin with David and Peter, that cannot repent with David and Peter, and so must perish forever.  (Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, 46)

In one sense it is an encouragement to take solidarity in the sins of the saints, but we must also take solidarity in the repentance of the saints even more. If you’ve followed them into gross sin, follow them further into repentance and brokenness.

Men and women after God’s own heart are great sinners, but they are only “after God’s own heart” if they are great repent-ers as well.

Where Christian Perseverance Comes From

The key to persevering as a Christian is not your perseverance with God, but God’s perseverance with you.   Endurance in the Christian life is built on the person of Jesus—Immanuel, God with us—not your performance.  It’s not about your ever-present faith in God, but God’s ever-present faithfulness to you.  Your faith will waver, but God’s faithfulness to you never wavers.

Therefore Christian endurance comes from the Gospel—what God has done for you in Jesus—not from what you have done and will do by buckling down and living the Christian life.  The Christian life is lived by God’s action for you and God’s presence with you not what you have done and will do for God.

Your faith through difficult times, your faith to endure, does not increase by working up faith but by rediscovering what God has done in the person and work of Jesus Christ and resting in his promise to never leave you or forsake you no matter what.  Perseverance in the faith comes from God’s promised perseverance to always be with you and for you.  Therefore your endurance as a Christian is more God sticking with you than you sticking with God.

Eugene Peterson writes,

That “[God] sticks with us” is the reason Christians can look back over a long life crisscrossed with cruelties, unannounced tragedies, unexpected setbacks, sufferings, disappointments, depressions—look back across all that and see it as a road of blessing, and make a song out of what we see.  “They’ve kicked me around ever since I was young, but they never could keep me down.”  God sticks to his relationship.  He establishes a personal relationship with us and stays with it.  The central reality for Christians is the personal, unalterable, persevering commitment God makes to us.  Perseverance is not the result of our determination, it is the result of God’ s faithfulness.  We survive in the way of faith not because we have extraordinary stamina but because God is righteous, because God sticks with us.  Christian discipleship is a process of paying more and more attention to God’s righteousness and less and less attention to our own; finding the meaning of our lives not by probing our moods and motives and morals but by believing God’s will and purposes; making a map of the faithfulness of God, not charting the rise and fall of our enthusiasms.  It is out of such a reality that we acquire perseverance.  (A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, 132-133)