From Within

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As I consider what it means to live a pure life in Christ, I realize that it all really comes down to one thing… the heart. God looks at our heart, because it is the heart that truly reveals who we are. The Bible teaches us that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. And Jesus reminds us that it isn’t what we put into our body that makes us clean or unclean, but it is what comes out of the heart that makes us clean or unclean. So, everything starts there. Jesus goes on to explain in Mark 7:20-23:

He went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’”

One biblical proverb tells us to guard our heart for it is the wellspring of life. I believe the heart can be cultivated and molded through good things or evil things. We feed our heart good things when we think on heavenly things, as the Bible tells us to do. When we consider things like scripture from the Holy Bible, God’s blessings in our life, or our future with him after we die, our heart flourishes. But when we think on sinful things, or indulge in things that corrupt our heart, it births sin. So, as Jesus says, it isn’t what physically goes into a man that makes him unclean, such as the food he eats or whether he washes his hands before eating, but it is what comes out of a man that makes him unclean.

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It is what comes out of a man that makes him unclean. There may be sinful things in our environment, which we can’t control, that find their way into our hearts; things we see and hear by just going about our daily lives even if we’d rather avoid them. And there may also be sinful things that we willingly put in our hearts; things that may influence our heart and make us callous and sinful. In Mark 7, Jesus gives us a list of evil things that can come out of a man’s heart. But I believe that if we are living right before God and man, good things can come out as well. So, I encourage you to guard your heart.

Promise to the Faithful

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Being a Christian can be difficult at times, especially if you live in a country where it is illegal to worship Jesus. But wherever you live, being a believer means denying yourself certain indulgences and restructuring priorities in a way that looks different than that of an unbeliever. We’re often called to sacrifice these things, even if they are not sinful in and of themselves, for the sake of Christ. In Matthew 19 verses 28 and 29, Jesus reminds the disciples, and as an extension he reminds us:

“I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.”

The twelve thrones are reserved for the twelve disciples. But I believe the other promise is for any believer. He says that for those of us who leave our family or our livelihood for him will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. I don’t believe God is calling all of us to leave our family or our job, but our priority should be our dedication to God even above these things. And it could be that at some point they are in conflict. If that ever happens, Jesus is telling us to choose him. If we do, we will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. We, as believers, should be ready to follow wherever God leads, even if it means forsaking those we love on earth. As I said, it can be difficult being a Christian, but the reward is well worth it.

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God has called some believers to leave their family or job for his sake. Forsaking Islam and becoming a believer in Christ can mean turning your back on your family for Jesus. Or being a missionary in a foreign land could mean quitting your job for the cause of Christ. He may not be calling you to these extremes, but I believe that every believer should purpose putting him above all else so that if he were ever to call us to let go of something we love for him, we’d be ready to do it. It may not be easy, but Jesus never said the life of a believer would be.

Full View

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You may have heard the saying, “everyone has secrets”, and in so many cases, I would argue that this saying is true. I watched a true crime television episode last night and was shocked to learn the secrets of a youth pastor that had come to light. Though his congregation and the people around him didn’t know what was going on behind closed doors, God certainly did. And likewise, for all of us around the world; young and old, rich and poor, righteous and sinful; though secrets can be kept from men, everything is in full view of God. Proverbs chapter 5 verse 21 reminds us:

“For a man’s ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all his paths.”

I only mention the true crime story because I watched it recently and it came to mind when I was considering this verse. I certainly do not mean to imply that every church has evil lurking in the leadership. But I mention it to highlight the fact that even those whom we mistakenly think are blameless may be adept at fooling us, but they can’t keep their deep dark secrets from God. Nothing we do or say is hidden from him, so we should live our lives with this truth in mind. The Bible tells us that we’ll be judged according to what we say and do. And here we learn that our ways are in full view of the Lord. So, when God ultimately judges our actions, there won’t be a need for a spiritual investigation. There will be no “he said, she said” argument or confusion. There will be no need for eye witnesses or forensic evidence because God sees it all first hand.

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“For a man’s ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all his paths”. Whether we want to think about it or not, God knows the things we do in secret, the things we’re ashamed of, and the things that quite frankly could send us to hell if it weren’t for the blood of Jesus. But the good news is that he still loves us in spite of knowing the worst about us. And for those who think that they’ve got it all together and that they have nothing to hide, remember that our righteousness is as filthy rags in God’s sight. None of us are clean, but this scripture should help to keep us on the straight and narrow. Reminding ourselves that God is watching everything we say and do should change our actions and behavior for the better.

Life Lost

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The Bible explains that we should count the cost of following Christ before we make the decision to accept him. If we know what we’re getting into before we commit, we have a better chance of standing firm to the end. To illustrate this, Jesus tells us that before going to war, a king will count the cost of that decision so that he can determine his chance of winning. And when building a house, the owner will determine the cost as well, so that the house doesn’t get only half finished. As believers, we need to count the cost of following Christ; and that cost is our very lives. The Bible tells us that we are not our own, that we’ve been bought with a price, and that price was the blood of Jesus as he bled and died on the cross. Matthew 10 reminds us that we shouldn’t love anything above Christ, including our own families, or we aren’t worthy of him. Verse 39 then goes on to says:

“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

So, as you can see, the cost of following Christ is losing our lives for the sake of Christ. That means following what he wants for us, not only what we want for ourselves. We are “slaves to Christ”, as Paul puts it. I encourage you to re-evaluate your idea of what it costs to follow Christ. There are believers around the world who understand that choosing to follow Christ may literally mean their lives. Making a choice for Christ in the face of that reality will make any believer take their salvation seriously. Though even here in America, we must realize the cost isn’t any different. The cost is our lives. “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

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At times, it does us well to take stock of our lives. Are we living as though our lives are ours alone, or are we living for Christ? Days and weeks may pass without giving much thought to our level of conviction to Christ, but it shouldn’t be that way. True believers remind themselves daily that their lives aren’t their own. Paul says that he dies daily. That means that he reminds himself of what should be true of every believer; that our lives are not our own. Daily we need to pick up our cross and follow him. Now is not the time for spiritually thin living. I encourage you, if you’re not already, to take steps to live a hardcore life for Christ.

Shrewd as Snakes

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Are you familiar with the portion of scripture in Matthew where Jesus first sends out the disciples to preach the good news? One thing he tells them is this, from Matthew 10:16:

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

As I was reading that again recently, I began to realize that this is exactly how Jesus behaved when he spread the gospel. The next time you read one of the gospels, I encourage you to read it with this scripture in mind. I’ve always been amazed at how Jesus was able to answer the Pharisees perfectly every time. He’d find ways out of their traps, speak to them in parables that they didn’t fully understand, and confound them with his words and actions. He was shrewd, not naïve. And as Christians, we shouldn’t be naïve either. People may try to take advantage of your good nature, or manipulate you into doing or giving more than you are willing. They may play on the fact that you are a Christian trying to follow the mandates of the Bible. But Jesus didn’t allow himself to be manipulated. He was as shrewd as a snake, yet as innocent as a dove. We also need to see through the manipulation of others and pattern our responses in a way that reflect the shrewd and innocent nature of Jesus.

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Like the disciples, I think that Jesus is calling us to be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. We need to be wise and discerning. We’re not always supposed to be a doormat that someone can use and manipulate – though sometimes we are. The Holy Spirit might have to reveal which one is appropriate in a given situation. That said, we’re also supposed to be as innocent as doves; loving, kind, inviting and non-judgmental. If you’re struggling with that balance, I encourage you to pray that God reveal how this principle should play out in your life. I know that I’ll be praying for that in my life as the need arises.