Keys to a Healthy Heart

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More than ever before, people are interested in the condition of their hearts. Everyone wants a healthy heart. But there is another heart that is even more important. You also need a healthy spiritual heart—that core of your innermost spiritual being.

Solomon wrote, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Scripture reveals the heart is the source of the emotions, intellect and will. It is the seat of the total personality—the source of all human actions.

This truth—that the heart is the wellspring, the source, the driving force or purpose of your life—is worth deep consideration. It should make us think seriously about what we allow our eyes to watch, our ears to hear, our thoughts to dwell and our hands to do. Things to which we devote our minds, thoughts and imaginations are what we become.

The goal of every Christian should be “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God…taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). God wants you not to pollute the wellspring of your life. Do not give yourself to the vain things in this world.

Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). Treasures are highly prized. People set their hearts on what they treasure, so make sure you value the eternal and not merely the temporal. Seek to live your life with a biblically based value system.

What the Bible says about heart health is revealing: Scripture warns us to avoid a double heart: “They speak falsehood to one another; with flattering lips and with a double heart they speak” (Psalm 12:2); not to harden our hearts: “Do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, as in the day of trial in the wilderness” (Hebrews 3:8); not to sin by having a proud heart: “Haughty eyes and a proud heart and the lamp of the wicked, is sin” (Proverbs 21:4); to avoid an unbelieving heart: “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12); and to confess sin and ask God for a clean heart: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). We should follow the example of David who cried out,  “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts” (Psalm 139:23).

We have a tendency to excuse our sinful actions, yet criticize others who fail. What we need to realize is that God looks at our hearts. Know that “every man’s way is right in his own eyes, But the LORD weighs the hearts” (Proverbs 21:2). God sees, not only the outside—the deeds we do, but the inside—the heart motives we have, and He weighs or evaluates them.

Another reason to guard your heart is that whatever is in your heart will eventually be exposed. Jesus said, “For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush” (Luke 6:44). He then explained, “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart” (verse 45). Jesus meant that whatever you plant in your heart—will bear fruit in your life.

We live in an evil world. Following God’s command—“Do not love the world nor the things in the world” John summarized its content: “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (1 John 5:15, 16). The pollution of sin is all around. Temptations abound, so be careful to protect your heart from contamination, which could ruin your life and destroy your testimony. Guard your heart, “for from it flow the springs of life.” 

So, how can you improve your heart health?

One way is to fortify your heart by faithfully spending time in God’s house, hearing God’s Word and singing praise with God’s people. The Coronavirus Pandemic has hindered the gathering of God’s people, but when we can, we should not forsake “our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25).

Another way to strengthen your heart is by carving out a special time every day to spend with God, reading His Word, praying to Him and interceding for others. This daily “quiet time” will fortify your heart for the day ahead. For greatest effect, read and heed God’s Word consistently, methodically and prayerfully. Experience what the Psalmist did: “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11).

A third way to a healthy heart is spiritual exercise: “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily exercise is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7, 8). Put into practice what you know is good and right.

SO—Obey what Scripture says—Love what God values—and  do what Jesus would do, and you will be blessed with a healthy heart!

Satisfaction

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It is hard to believe Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones are still around and able to sing.  It may be surprising, but I was a fan of their music in the late 60’s. In 1965 Jagger and Keith Richards wrote a popular song that epitomizes what I want to write about. They wrote and sang, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.”

Sadly, the theme of that song is the life-story of many people. Some spend their whole lives seeking an unattainable state of satisfaction. They bounce from one pursuit to another, thinking—If I only have this, it will make me happy. Others move from one spouse to another, one job to another, one church to another—seeking what they can never find. Most often, when they gain the new object of their desires, it does not result in fulfillment. Frequently they experience a new emptiness, and the vain quest begins again. The illusive dream is just that for most people—a fantasy that fails to satisfy.

In the middle of the seventeenth century, Blaise Pascal, a French mathematician, philosopher and physicist, explained the only solution to such fruitless searches. He wrote: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing—but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.” People are born with a black hole of emptiness in their soul that only God can fill. Neither human relationship nor earthly gain; neither fame nor fortune, can fill the inward void that Jesus does. When Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), He indicated there was no other access to God, truth and life, but by Him.

Centuries before Pascal, King David shared the true key to filling your heart’s desire when he wrote:  “Trust in the LORD, and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it” (Psalm 37:3-5). God’s people are urged to trust in the Lord, delight in Him and commit their ways to Him. When a person finds their delight in the omnipotent God, He will satisfy the deepest longings of their heart.

It is interesting to me that it is not often the great, extravagant or expensive things that bring joy in life, but most often the simple, normal, daily things that do. Loving relationships with family, church and friends are worth more than gold; the still small voice of God in your heart as you quietly read His Word; a striking sunset or a pleasant breeze on a crisp fall day; special family celebrations like holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, cookouts, ball games or recitals; a porch swing with a morning cup of coffee and your spouse; all these events bring a joy to the heart that money cannot buy.

God has blessed my wife, Pat, and me with five beautiful children—three sons and two daughters. During their formative years we enjoyed doing things and taking trips as a family. Since our children have grown up, when they all come home, it isn’t long before they reminisce, with one of them saying, “Hey, do you remember when we…” followed by some adventure we had. Listening to their discussion is always funny and delightful. The amazing thing to me is that the memories they treasure and discuss, rarely involve traveling to expensive places doing costly things. Most often they laugh together and remember things like, eating baloney sandwiches in a city park; hiking through the woods; picking up rocks (many of which still litter our house and yard); making s’mores; push-starting our VW Bus when the starter often quit; riding bike trails, and eating popcorn Friday nights, while watching movies on our old VCR. What the memories have in common are togetherness, transparency, and love for life and one another.

In reality, only God can bring the satisfaction for which we long, but cannot achieve. The earlier we learn that truth, the richer our lives will become. Though elusive here, it will be realized when believers in Christ spend eternity with and around the object of their desires. At the end of Revelation, John “saw a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1). He also heard a voice from the throne saying, ”Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them” (verse 3). In those future days, humanity will have come full circle. The perfect state in Eden where God walked and talked with man in sweet fellowship, later shattered by the entrance of sin, will be restored forever, through our redemption in Jesus Christ. Then, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away. And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’” (verses 4 and 5).

This is God’s eternal answer to the pain of emptiness in life; to filling that black hole in your soul. So, if the chorus of your life is singing, “I can’t get no satisfaction,” you need to quit looking to people, places and things, and look to Christ for your fulfillment.  If you have life experiences that reflect this, I would love to hear about them. Write me at LarryEClements@gmail.com. In the meantime please don’t “Paint It Black!” (another Stones’ song!  Isn’t that terrible? Sorry!)

Doers of the Word

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“Do you hear me?”  My mother must have asked me that question a thousand times as I was growing up. Looking back on it, I realize it was a rhetorical question. She really did not want me to answer, because before I could say a word, she started repeating what she said, that she thought I didn’t hear. All she wanted was obedience. She wanted me to do what she had just said. I know now, my problem was not poor hearing, but negligent listening.

For most of us, it is easy to hear, but hard to listen—effortless to talk, but difficult to act. James summed it up best: “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22). True enough, most who only hear the Word of God, think they have done their duty, even when they do not follow through and obey it. But pleasing God is in the doing, not the hearing.

James went on to illustrate the neglectful hearer, saying: “if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was” (verses 23 and 24). The careless man looks into a mirror and forgets what he sees, whereas the earnest man looks into the Word of God, and acts upon what he sees. He is a “doer” of the word, not merely a hearer.

God wants us to be “doers” because anyone can talk about pleasing God in his life, but it requires faith to obey Scripture—that is—to really do it. A lot of talk about Scripture and discussion of the Bible occurs every Sunday morning in churches all across the land. In various kinds of classes saints sit and discuss the meaning of Scripture, sometimes in great depth—But how much does it actually touch and change their lives for Christ? Unless they become “doers” of the Word—their knowledge makes little difference. In fact, James wrote that if people hear but do not do the word of God, they “delude themselves.” They falsely think they are pleasing God, when actually, they are not.

Self-deception is a genuine threat to an obedient Christian life. Some talk a good game, but never get on the field. You cannot obey by only hearing and talking. “In all labor there is profit, But mere talk leads only to poverty.” (Proverbs 14:23). Someone described a football game as twenty-two people on a field badly in need of rest—being watched by seventy-thousand people in the stands badly in need of exercise. For some of us, Christianity is a spectator sport, but Jesus calls us to be active participants. We must get into the game and get involved in the action, doing our part, willingly paying the price because the stakes are so high.

It is amazing how often the disciples, and we, overlook the Lord’s plain commands to obey Him. Once, talking to His disciples, Jesus said, “blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it” (Luke 11:28). Most would be happy just to hear, but that is never enough. On another occasion, Jesus directly confronted His followers by asking, “Why do you call Me, Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). There is great promise in obedience, for Jesus said, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (John 13:17). And, even in the Great Commission, Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19-20). His churches are not commanded to merely teach disciples, but to teach them to OBSERVE what He commanded.

In January 1933, during the midst of the Great Depression, a lady found this poem pasted to the wall of an old farm house. She was so impressed by its truth she made hand copies for each of her seven children.  This powerful principle of life is still true today. It was called: Someday!

There’s a loving letter I mean to send, There’s a visit I mean to pay;

There’s a careless habit I hope to mend, When I get the time, someday.

I will carry flowers to the sick and sad; I will seek for those who stray;

You may trace my steps by the hearts made glad, When I get the time, someday.

There’s a dusty Bible I mean to read; There’s an hour I’ll keep to pray;

And I’ll turn each dream to a golden deed, When I get the time, someday.

So we have thought and so we have said, Yet, how sad it is to relate—

That, busy with less important things; We waited until too late—

We never will get the time, dear friend, To be kind along life’s way,

Unless thoughtfully and prayerfully, We make the most of today!

To do God’s will, we must actually DO something! It is never enough to hear; not enough to talk or think; not enough to wish and hope—we must do His will and work in our lives! To do His will calls for prayer, action, commitment, diligence and faithfulness. Make it your goal to both HEAR and DO the will of God in your life!

I wonder if God is not raising His voice to us, as my mom did years ago when she asked, “Do you hear me?” Hear Him, and do His will, while you have opportunity…beginning today!

 

Dangers of a Dull Knife

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My dad told me something I thought was strange. He saw me sawing on a nylon rope with my pocketknife, and said, “You know, a dull knife will cut you.” That made no sense at the time, but a while later I learned he was right. While trying to force that dull blade through a piece of wood, the blade slipped and jabbed my hand.

So, why is a dull knife dangerous?  Because it requires more pressure to cut, which increases the likelihood that the knife will slip with great force behind it, cutting or stabbing whatever it crosses.

Not only will a dull knife cut you—another paradox—only something hard, like stone or steel, can make it sharp. The knife blade is sharpened by friction on a piece of stone or steel.  The pressure and abrasion of the stone on the blade sharpens the knife.

God used this fact to teach the principle: “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). So, what can we learn? Three things:

First, people around you will exert influence for better or worse—they can make you sharp or dull.

“He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20).  Your friends affect you. Your companions influence your attitude, behavior, language, and values. Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you.

Second, to make a knife sharp requires abrasive resistance, pressure, friction, and even a little heat.  So it is with you. To knock off your rough, dull edges, rendering you sharp and useful requires friends who are honest, loving and truthful. Like “iron on iron,” you need people who will expose your hypocrisy, correct your poor habits, confront your laziness and challenge your thinking. It may not be comfortable getting sharpened, but the results are worth it.

Third, just as friends can sharpen you, others may dull you, rendering you less effective.  Some companions will soil your testimony and tempt you to do the wrong thing.  These are ones you need to avoid like the plague. “Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33). For these reasons every believer needs to be active in a local church. We are changed for the better by regular exposure to godly mentors.

A dull knife will cut you but a sharp one can bless you. Surround yourself with people who improve you, so you can in turn sharpen others.

 

Shelter in the Time of Storm

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There is comfort in the chorus of Ira Sankey’s old song: “O, Jesus is a Rock in a weary land, A weary land, a weary land; O, Jesus is a Rock in a weary land, A Shelter in the time of Storm.” We seem to be in a weary land in the middle of a storm.

Both of my parents went through the Great Depression. Experts believe that ten-year depression (1929—39) was brought on by the crash of the stock market and extreme drought with dust storms through the southern plains. It was the worst economic downturn in the history of the industrialized world. Though the Great Depression was serious, neither of my parents seemed to be harmed by it.

Depressions, turmoil and despair come to everyone periodically. They come because we live in a sin-broken world. This is not heaven, so not everything will come up roses. But, for believers in Christ, “we know that God causes all things to work together for good” (Romans 8:28)—that is, the product in the end will be good—though the process in the meanwhile may be messy. It is possible to “know” that everything will work together for your good, without understanding how it will. We can “know” this by faith—by trusting God’s promise—even if we can’t understand God’s process.

Charles Spurgeon put it this way: “Even when we cannot trace God’s hand, we can trust God’s heart.” God’s heart is for us, and will guarantee that everything—the good, the bad, and the ugly—will work together for our good. So: even if you cannot “trace His hand,” you can “trust His heart” because He does all things for your good and His glory.

The 107th Psalm was written just for times like these. The Psalm traverses four cycles highlighting Our Problem—Our Prayer—Our Provision—and Our Praise. Amazingly—3,000 years later—We still follow this four-part pattern.

The Psalm begins with a call for people to offer thankful praise to God. It reads, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, For His lovingkindness is everlasting. Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy” (Psalm 107:1-2). Praise and thanksgiving are the right responses from the hearts of all who realize that God is good and forever loving. So, what can we learn?

Our Problem: “There were those who dwelt in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in misery and chains, Because they had rebelled against the words of God and spurned the counsel of the Most High…they stumbled and there was none to help” (Psalm 107:10-12).

Without apology God’s Word states that we are sinners. Paul wrote, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). To be sure, some are better practitioners of sin than others, but we all fall under the condemnation of sin. Sin brings consequences—“For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Even the best of us are still sinners. Our problem originates with sin, in ourselves and in the world system.

Our Prayer: “Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble” (Psalm 107:13).

Knowing we are sinners should move us to cry out to God in prayer. When in a helpless, hopeless condition, the natural thing is to call out for help. The only one who can truly help us is God Himself, and the good news is that He is waiting to hear from us!

Prayer is important—and so is our motive. Once Jesus contrasted two men who prayed. One said, “God, I thank You that I am not like other people…” while the second man, “was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ (Luke 18:10, 13). Jesus, who could see their hearts, said, “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (verse 14).

Our Provision: “He saved them out of their distresses. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death and broke their bands apart” (Psalm 107: 13-14).

God does not always give us what we ask in prayer, but He will always give us what we need. And He knows our needs better than we. God’s provisions are always adequate. Following three denied requests for God to remove an impediment; Paul learned that God’s grace was sufficient, and that His power was displayed through Paul’s weakness. Understanding this, Paul testified, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Our Praise: “Let them give thanks to the LORD for His lovingkindness, and for His wonders to the sons of men! For He has shattered gates of bronze and cut bars of iron asunder” (Psalm 107:15-16).

The most natural, biblical, powerful response to God’s answer to prayer is praise! Psalm 107 describes difficult, even desperate times we will face. But the solution focuses on the action to be taken—“Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble.” When we do that, the wonderful result can be realized: “He delivered them out of their distresses” (Psalm 107:6).

If you are in despair, don’t stay silent! Cry out to God. He hears and waits to restore your hope. Though God doesn’t always take us out of hard situations, He promises to be with us through them. What a comforting presence we have in the Lord! Call on Him, trust in Him, follow Him in your life, and you will be blessed!

We Hold These Truths

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For 244 years, every Fourth of July since 1776, Americans remember and celebrate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Our nation has truly been blessed of God. My prayer is that we continue to “hold these truths” dear in principle and practice.

The 56 men who signed that historic document knew there would be great consequences and losses of life, if America truly gained independence from England. John Hancock stated, “We must be unanimous… we must all hang together…” to which Benjamin Franklin quipped, “Yes, we must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

In his research on the Signers of the Declaration of independence, Michael W. Smith noted that seventeen of the 56 signers saw military service in the Revolutionary War, and 9 were killed. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned.

Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships sunk by the British Navy. He sold his home and property to pay his debts, and died penniless.

Thomas McKeam was forced to constantly move his family from British pursuit. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken and he died in poverty. The properties of Ellery, Clymer, Hall, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge and Middleton were vandalized and looted as well.

The home of Thomas Nelson Jr., was seized by British General Cornwallis and used as his headquarters in Yorktown, Virginia. During the Battle of Yorktown, Nelson quietly urged General George Washington to open fire anyway. Cornwallis was defeated but Nelson’s home was destroyed. He eventually died bankrupt.

John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and gristmill were laid waste. For more than a year John lived in forests and caves, only to return home and find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later he died from exhaustion. Lewis, Norris and Livingston suffered similar fates.

Smith sums it up like this: “Such were the stories and sacrifices of the American Revolution. These signers were not wild-eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians. They were soft-spoken men of means and education. Their average age was 45. They had security, but they valued liberty more. Standing tall, straight, and unwavering, they pledged: ‘For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor’” (www.michaelwsmith.com).

The United States of America is inseparably linked to the God of the Bible, no matter how revisionist historians seek to sever it, and political correctness to deny it. The Christian roots of our nation’s founding, and biblical quotations of our country’s forefathers are carved in stone, set in glass, and forged in brass, as well as written on parchment.

Principles of character, justice, and soul freedom that America holds dear, came to the early colonies from the English Common Law, which was based squarely on teachings of the Bible. Early in American history, belief in the Bible resulted in concepts of human liberty, social benevolence, and the system of government and education, that became the very fiber of our nation. References to the Bible and to the God of the Bible are inscribed on hundreds of America’s founding memorials in Philadelphia, Boston, Washington D.C., New York City, and elsewhere across our land.

This week we celebrate the Declaration of Independence, which did just that—it firmly declared the American Colonies independent of the authority and rule of Great Britain. This historical document states that the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” entitle the American nation of people to a separate and equal station among the powers of the earth.

The Declaration of Independence uniquely contains a theory of rights that depends on God, not man, for its validity. It states that, “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” With these words the Continental Congress affirmed that God, the Creator, gave people’s rights to them—not a monarch, an aristocracy or a government agency. Most historians agree that this wording—these rights—this statement of legitimacy—has no parallel in human sources. We see in these words a deep affirmation of the religious faith of our founding fathers.

What Thomas Jefferson and the contributors meant in these words were that the liberty God gave to man was not sourced in, or dependent upon, the permission or toleration of any human ruler or sovereign—but flowed directly from God the Creator, Himself. It was for this reason the Declaration stated that governments, “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” are established. The result of this truth means that the people have the right, and even more—the obligation—to change or abolish a form of government that becomes autocratic or dictatorial.

In the closing paragraph, the signers appealed to “the Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude” of their intentions. They declared unashamed dependence upon God to validate the justice and righteousness of their cause, and without a doubt, He did! The United States of America came into being because of their commitment to principles of liberty and their reliance upon the God of the Bible.

God Himself promises:Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, The people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance” (Psalm 33:12). As Americans, let’s take God’s promise to heart and seek to bring others to saving faith in Jesus Christ. May God continue His blessing on America! Happy Fourth of July!

Think on These Things

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“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching” (C. S. Lewis). Someone else said that integrity is choosing your thoughts and actions based on values rather than personal gain. But the most practical definition is from Brene Brown: “Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.”

A person with integrity firmly adheres to a strict code of moral and ethical values. Integrity is needed in every career, calling and profession. Whether you are a physician or a plumber; a carpenter or an attorney, a coach or a pastor; integrity is essential.

Parents especially need integrity. Children are not born with it, but learn it as they observe their parents. Above all, people who name the name of Jesus must display integrity. It is part and parcel with godly character and a Christ-honoring life. So, how can we develop and maintain integrity in life?

Paul helps us in Philippians 4:8, as he addresses things that happen in our minds—because integrity begins there. Howard Hendricks used to say, “You are not what you think you are—what you think—you are!” People are what they are and do what they do because of what they think. Every deed begins as a thought.

So, if God can help the way we think, it will impact what we do, and alter the way we live. Paul shares six important traits for godly living that we must consider, if we would live with integrity. You must dwell on…

1st “Whatever is TRUE”

Things that are true are opposite of dishonest, deceptive, and phony things. People who speak truth, regardless of feelings or company, always stand out, often alone. When Paul suggests thinking on whatever is true, he is not talking about academic truth, but a lifestyle of honest, godly conversation and living.

A true Christian will seek to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). Truth and love always need to be kept together. If you cannot speak truth in love, you may not need to speak at all. Don’t be the one who “speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword,” but like “the tongue of the wise [that] brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18). Soften the truth with love and blend it with a lot of grace.

2nd “Whatever is HONORABLE”

This word means noble, dignified and worthy of respect. If you want to live a life of holiness and integrity—begin with honesty. Being honorable means, not only speaking truth but also possessing proper motives, manners and morals.

We are surrounded by a cesspool of vulgar, shallow and shameful things that dishonor God and man. Words and statements with double meanings pollute the mind, but noble and honorable thoughts lead us to higher ground. Honorable people have nothing to hide and nothing to fear because their lives are open books. Focus on—dwell on—doing things honorably.

3rd “Whatever is RIGHT”

Being right or just is connected with conforming to God’s standard or character. It means seeking to do what Christ would do…doing what God would approve. Dwell on being fair in dealing with others by treating them with respect, kindness and thoughtfulness. Churches should make it their goal to be honorable in dealing with all people; that is to do what is just and right for them.

4th “Whatever is PURE”

Think about—dwell on—things that are pure and undefiled. The word for pure is related to the word translated “holy.” We need to keep our minds scrubbed clean and disciplined enough to resist tempting thoughts about promiscuous things. If you struggle with this in your thought-life, stop and think of the effects your failure would have on others—defaming the Lord who redeemed you; disappointing the wife or husband who trusts you; destroying your example with your children; bringing shame to your family; hindering your testimony to the lost; hurting your church family and its reputation; and on and on. Start doing what is right. Focus your mind on things that are holy and pure.

5th “Whatever is LOVELY”

We are also to dwell on things that are lovely—pleasing or pleasant. God wants believers to live attractive lives of generosity, kindness and compassion. This results in them being agreeable and amiable—living lives that bring pleasure and delight to others. The word “lovely” almost sounds feminine, but basically means to be congenial and enjoyable. It is what promotes peace rather than conflict. Christians who have lovely character attract believers and unbelievers alike.

6th “Whatever is of GOOD REPORT”

This word speaks of things that are admirable, commendable or praiseworthy. We are to consider ways to maintain a godly reputation and give a good report. We would rather be around people who give good reports than those who constantly judge and criticize others. I can make a list of people who have made a difference in my life, and almost all of them were admirable, encouraging and shared a “good report.” That is what we need to think about!

No matter how many difficulties and disappointments we face, focusing our minds on things that build our character and make us more Christ-like will bless our lives and others. If you look closely, you can see the Lord Jesus in all six of these traits. Everything that is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous and praiseworthy is found in Him. And we are called to follow him, and strive to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Dwell on these things!

 

WANTED: Fathers!

Clements 20200621 Fathers PIX

My dad was a heavy equipment operator. I believed he could run anything that had a motor. As a youngster, I went to work with him occasionally. On one job, he ran a gigantic electro magnetic crane on train tracks in a scrap iron yard. To me, the President of the United States may have had a more important job, but not by much. Proverbs 17:6 surely described me when it said, “the glory of sons is their fathers.” There is something about fathers that touches your life—for life.

Sunday is Father’s Day in the United States. Though not as popular as Mother’s Day, the role of dads is just as important. Fathers and mothers are not in competition in God’s plan for humanity—but are to form a complementary union. God’s plan for the family cannot be improved. When we alter His blueprint for the home, we do so to our peril.

Amazingly, God’s Word has much more to say about fathers than it does about mothers. The word “father” and the derivatives is found 1,664 times in Scripture, while the word “mother” and related titles are used 327 times. The reason fathers are addressed five times more than mothers is debatable. It could be that men are more stubborn and don’t listen well. But it is probably because God wants fathers to recognize their responsibility to lead in the home.

Fathers play a huge role in the healthy development of their children. The importance of his role in the family cannot be overstated. But sadly, the last U. S. Census reported 24 million children live in a home in which the father is absent. That means one of every three children in America is growing up without a dad.

The tragedy of fatherless homes is immense. Nationwide statistics from July, 2012 reveal: Children who grow up without a father—comprise 85% of prison convicts; are twice as likely to end up in jail; and are twice as likely to drop out of school. These children brought up without their fathers comprise 75% of teen suicides, and are 10 times more likely to be drug abusers.

In the June 23, 2011 edition of Psychology Today, Dr Ditta Oliker wrote: “Even from birth, children who have an involved father are more likely to be emotionally secure, be confident to explore their surroundings, and as they grow older, have better social connections. Children with involved, caring fathers also have better educational outcomes. The influence of a father’s involvement extends into adolescence and young adulthood. Numerous studies have found that an active style of fathering is associated with better verbal skills, intellectual functioning, and academic achievement among adolescents.”

Another surprising statistic about fatherhood is related to church attendance. If a mother attends church regularly with her children, but without the father, only 2% of her children will choose to become regular churchgoers as adults. However, if a father attends church regularly with his children, even without the mother, 44% of his children will choose to become regular churchgoers.

The Bible has much to say about the role of parents, in the upbringing of children. God calls children “a heritage from the LORD” (Psalm 127:3). He makes it clear that they are to be nourished and trained by parents, who then dispense them toward a target: “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth” (verse 4). So, “Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them!” (verse 5).

So, as a father, how can you best lead and equip your children?

ONE: Fathers Must Love the Lord“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:5-6).

A concerned, godly father will spend time in God’s Word, and learn to love Him with all his heart. Faith in Christ can change your life for the better, here—and hereafter. “The Faith of our Fathers” is more than a song.

TWO: Fathers Must Teach their Children“You shall teach them diligently to your children” (verse 7).

The Hebrew word for “teach” literally means to sharpen, with the idea of piercing your child’s heart and mind with Bible truth. Fathers need to step up and communicate God’s Word to their children. Be alert for teaching opportunities in everyday life that they can apply to life.

THREE: Fathers Must Model Truth in Life“You shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up” (verse 8).

Father, your children need to see you living out Bible principles. Too many times dads say one thing and do another. No matter what you say with your lips, your life speaks louder. Children recognize that what you really believe is what you actually do. If you want your children to love and follow God—you must truly love and follow Him.

Bible truth is best communicated during the normal circumstances of daily life. When children rise and prepare for the day, teach them about God. When you, your wife and children sit at the table for a meal, give thanks and talk about things of the Lord. When you drive them—walk with them—when you put them to bed at night—pray with and teach them about God.

Robert L. Backman nailed it when he said, “‘Father’ is the noblest title a man can be given. It is more than a biological role. It signifies a patriarch, a leader, an exemplar, a confidant, a teacher, a hero, a friend.” Amen! Hope you have a Happy Fathers Day!

Grace to Forgive

forgiveness

In 1945, a liberator of the Ravensbrück women’s concentration camp, picked up a crumpled note, on which this prayer was written:

“O Lord, remember not only the men and women of goodwill, but also those of ill will. But do not remember the suffering they have inflicted upon us. Remember the fruits we brought, thanks to this suffering—our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, the courage, the generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of this. And when they come to judgment, let all the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.” (ODB May 6, 2020).

It is hard to imagine a victim of such abuse, seeking God’s forgiveness of her abusers. Nazis had exterminated 50,000 women in Ravensbrück during the Second World War. But this is the nature of forgiveness—of God’s forgiveness toward us—and our forgiveness toward others.

The natural response to abuse is to become bitter and resentful. However, unforgiveness is extremely costly. It is like a prison without bars. It leads to an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation. Offering forgiveness is not forgetting—it is remembering without anger.

People who do not forgive are locked into events of their past. Offering forgiveness is not approving what happened, but choosing to rise above it and get beyond it. Forgiving allows the offended to go on despite the offense. It serves to release the offended from the control of the offender.

After Nelson Mandela was released, following 27 years of wrongful imprisonment, he refused to step out of the prison, until he was sure he had forgiven the people who had put him there. Mandela said his failure to forgive would mean he would walk out of one prison, into another higher prison without bars. He knew that greater imprisonment would follow him the rest of his life. He discovered that forgiveness was the way to find freedom from hurts of the past. (The Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela).

Sin is the root of the problem but forgiveness is the solution. What does God say about it?

The Principle of Forgiveness

If we had no sin, we would need no forgiveness. Since the entrance of sin into the human family—failures, abuses, evil, and sin of every form, have plagued the offspring of Adam. Sin affects us all. It is at the core of every offense committed by the human family because, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Sin came to us by way of our common ancestor, Adam, so, “by one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). Sin is rampant and repeated, and its effects are universal and dominant.

Though we are active in sin, God is aggressive in forgiveness. “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared” (Psalm 130:3, 4). David wrote, “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon you” (Psalm 86:5).

The Prospect of Forgiveness

That guilty sinners can be completely forgiven is a wonderful prospect. When laden with sin, forgiveness is almost too amazing to consider. Yet, God is anxious to forgive, and, His forgiveness is complete, pervasive, covering all sins, past, present and future. David wrote, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). Jesus promised there would be no condemnation—forever—to any who believed in Him: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and will not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).

This kind of fantastic biblical truth aligns with Paul’s words, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). We rejoice with the apostle John that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This fact is true because, “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation [satisfying sacrifice] for our sins; and not ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2).

The Practice of Forgiveness

God can forgive us because He loves us, and sent Jesus to die for our sins, paying the ultimate price. For, “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Because of that, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us” (Ephesians 1:7, 8).

Not only does God forgive our sins, because of the payment of His Son, He expects us to forgive others who sin against us. In the model prayer, Jesus taught to pray for God’s forgiveness, while forgiving offenders (Matt. 6:12-15; Luke 11:4). Christians are to forgive others because they have been forgiven themselves, “bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whosoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Colossians 3:13).

Take a moment to reflect on these Scriptures and ask God’s help in forgiving those around you. Though it is difficult to forgive others, God’s Word encourages us to show them the same grace and forgiveness our Heavenly Father has shown us. Forgiveness is extending grace to people who do not deserve it…in the same way God gives His grace to us, who do not deserve it!

Anticipating the Eternal

Tetsaveh-1

I would hate to come from a foreign country and learn English. In addition to some mind-bending rules of spelling, pronunciation, and grammar, we have mind-boggling homonyms. Homonyms are words that are spelled the same, and sound the same, but have different definitions.

For example: It is one thing to run through an airport, looking for a terminal. It is another to put a new battery in your car and connect the cable to a terminal. But it is altogether different when the doctor comes into your hospital room to announce that your disease is terminal. The same word ends each sentence, but what a difference it makes!

If you find the airport terminal, you can depart on your flight. If you connect the battery terminal, you can depart in your car. If you get a terminal diagnosis, you will eventually depart this life.

For several years my wife, Pat, has been badgering/encouraging, for us to do some end-of-life planning. She is much more practical than I, and to be frank, I didn’t want to talk about it. So, I did the husbandly thing and put her off for years. I mean, the prospect of discussing death, wills, gravesites, funerals, caskets, tombstones and obituaries, was gruesome to me.

Finally, despite my reluctance, she made an appointment for us to meet and talk to a funeral director. It wasn’t altogether terrible. In fact, here in Monticello, we are blessed to have extremely professional and compassionate people in the funeral business. The gentleman who set up, what he called, the “final lay away plan,” was a good guy. Despite the dismal subject, he was jovial, knowledgeable, and enjoyable. Now, it was not fun picking out a casket, but Pat and I don’t want our children to be burdened with that. This is reality, and it makes sense to plan it, before you need it.

The difficult truth is this—we all have a terminal disease. Barring divine intervention, none of us will get off this planet alive. The latest statistics reveal that one out of every one of us will die sometime in the future.

As gloomy as all this sounds, there is eternal hope to terminal illness. Terminal is the opposite of eternal. The word, terminal means something that comes to an end—the word, eternal, means something that will not end—and all God’s promises come with eternal guarantees.

Truthfully, our physical lives will come to an end, but our spiritual lives can go on. We can believe this because of the promises in an eternal Book that is “Forever…fixed in heaven” (Psalm 119:89)—the very Word of God we call the Bible.

So, though the perishing surrounds us—in Christ—the permanent awaits us. What can we do to anticipate the eternal? What has God promised?

ONE: He Promised an Eternal Life

Through faith in Christ, God’s Word says we can have Eternal Life. Jesus said: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Not only can we have eternal life by believing in Jesus, but we will never be condemned for our sins according to His words in John 5:24, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” God gives eternal life to all who receive His Son as their Savior.

TWO: He Promised an Eternal Body

When Christ returns, believers in Him who have died are resurrected to a new life in a new body. Paul wrote: “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). When “the dead in Christ shall rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16), because “it is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body…it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42, 44), “the dead will be raised imperishable” (verse 52). God promises a new, spiritual, eternal body for every believer in Him.

THREE: He Promised an Eternal Kingdom

Countries and kingdoms in this world rise and fall—come and go. But when Christ sets up His kingdom, it will be eternal. Peter encouraged believers that, “an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11). And the writer of Hebrews encouraged, “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28).

FOUR: He Promised an Eternal Inheritance

Peter encouraged those scattered, persecuted believers in first century Asia Minor, by reminding them that in Christ they would, “obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for salvation” (1 Peter 1:4-5). Because of faith in Christ, believers will “receive the promise of eternal inheritance” (Hebrews 9:15).

It is depressing to focus on the terminal…but exhilarating to anticipate the eternal. Eternal life, with an eternal body, in an eternal kingdom, enjoying an eternal inheritance should be the motivation of our lives. It was for John Newton, who ended Amazing Grace with these words:

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,

Bright shining as the sun,

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we first begun.