Monthly Archives: April 2015

God Looks at the Heart

It’s easy to think that outward appearance is what matters in life, but the Bible tells a different story. Take for instance, the time when the Prophet Samuel was sent to Jesse’s house to pick out a King of Israel to replace Saul. He made a snap judgment when he began looking over Jesse’s sons…

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is before him.” 1 Samuel 16:6 (ESV)

Eliab was surely a good-looking, movie star type, and Samuel reasoned the way we all would reason: “This is the guy.” But…

…the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 (ESV)

God looks at the heart, but we look on the outward appearance. Now, this happens in different ways, from picking out a king, to judging whether or not a man is fit for heaven – either way, we naturally look at externals. The Pharisees certainly did…

And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;’” Mark 7:5-6 (ESV)

The Pharisees became consumed with certain external standards, many of which they made up for themselves. And in doing so, they left behind the commandments that God had actually given them. For instance, they set up standards for giving that actually kept people from helping poverty-stricken parents. Thus, they made a false command…which nullified the real command…and it was all about appearances.

But Jesus pointed to a better way, to the way of Yahweh, the way which Samuel learned that day when he was in Jesse’s home: a focus on the heart…

“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Mark 7:21-23 (ESV)

Today, the great error that we make is to think that God will one day accept us based on our outward “appearance”, the works of righteousness that we have done in order to be acceptable to Him.  And believing this falsehood, on judgment day, many will plead before Jesus the supposed “beauty” of their works:

On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’

But on that day, as all others, the Lord will look…at the heart:

And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:22-23 (ESV)

Therefore we have but one hope.  We must ask the Lord to make, not our hands, but our hearts…clean:

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26 (ESV)

And on that day when He gives us a new and clean heart, glory to God, we will desire to walk, not in the false ways of legalism, but in the true ways of the Spirit and the Word…

And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 (ESV)

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Posted by on April 21, 2015 in Uncategorized


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They Did Not Understand About the Loaves

BreadIt’s one of those little “throwaway” comments in Scripture that can so easily be missed, and it comes toward the end of Mark chapter 6. To set it up, we have one of Jesus’s most spectacular miracles, coming sometime between 3 and 6 a.m., when the Lord Jesus walks on the water past His disciples who are struggling in their boat against a stormy sea. They see the figure of a man walking on the contentious waves, but they don’t know it’s Him, and the word Mark uses for them, understandably, is “terrified”. In short, the 12 newly minted apostles are out of their minds…afraid.

And to this, Jesus calms their hearts with a comforting word: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”  And then Mark offers this commentary:

And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. Mark 6:51, 52 (ESV)

They did not understand about…the loaves? The bread? What exactly was it that they didn’t understand?

Now, at first glance this is easy. Mark is simply saying that they did not understand who Jesus was.  He’s the One who can multiply loaves and fishes.  He’s the Son of God; He’s God incarnate.  They don’t get that.  Okay…maybe…maybe that’s what Mark means. Or perhaps there is more here.

In other words, I want to know why Mark puts it the way he does. Why, for instance, doesn’t he say, “They did not understand about the paralytic”? Or, “They did not understand about the man with the withered hand”? Or, even more likely, why doesn’t Mark say, “They did not understand from the previous time He had stilled the storm”? (Mark 4:35 – 41)

But no – they don’t understand the bread.

There may be some insight to be gained in this incident from another boat trip that Mark will write about in chapter 8.  In this chapter, Mark first tells about the feeding of the 4,000 and then an argument with the Pharisees. Then Jesus and the twelve all get in the boat but with only one loaf of bread. And therefore, when Jesus begins to speak about the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod, the disciples begin to worry about how they don’t have any bread.  And Jesus says…

“Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread?”

And then take note of the wording of Jesus’s language – it’s very similar to the comment from Mark we’ve just been discussing in chapter 6:

“Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?…” Mark 8:17 – 19 (ESV)

They get into the boat almost immediately after the feeding of the 4,000 and they are worried about having enough bread. The word for this is obtuse. Or, I like the way that Jesus sums up the whole problem: “having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?” So, yes, in the stormy sea incident of Mark 6, it is that they don’t see who Jesus is, but it’s more than that.

It’s that they don’t see spiritual realities at all.  Therefore they don’t see God as the Answer to their every need. And they don’t see that there is more than the physical world around them. You might put this many different ways…that they don’t see the power of prayer…or the wonder of His love…or the joy of His presence…or the truth of His Word. They don’t see. They don’t see. They don’t see.

They don’t see – that of course He can walk on water. And, that if they’re running low on food when they’re in the boat with Jesus, they’re not running low on food.  For when He is there…there can be no lack.

They don’t see.

Do you?

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Posted by on April 20, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Cutting…and the Man of the Tombs

I don’t claim to understand the practice of cutting, though I know it has been going on for thousands of years…

And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.  Mark 5:2-5 (ESV)

Satan had brought incredible pain to this man, a pain that Bob Bennett aptly describes it in his beautiful, gospel-centered song, Man of the Tombs:

 Underneath this thing that I’ve become
A fading memory of flesh and blood
I curse the womb, I bless the grave
I’ve lost my heart, I cannot be saved
Like those who fear me, I’m afraid
Like those I’ve hurt, I can feel pain
Naked now before my sin
And these stones that cut against my skin
Some try to touch me, but no one can
For man of the tombs I am

From all the experts I’ve read and heard from, cutting is about “control”, though honestly I’m never quite sure what that means.  I do know that there is intense emotional pain that leads to it, and the story from Mark 5 helps us to see where this pain comes from: Satan and his servants.

Now, of course, I’m not saying that everyone who cuts is possessed like the man of the tombs, but I am saying that the lies which come from the enemy of our souls could easily result in such behavior. “You’re wicked and should be punished.” “You’re hurting inside and if you hurt yourself outside, the pain inside will go away.” (And like many of Satan’s lies, it is half-true. Cutting releases internal pain, but only for a moment.)

To all this I appreciate what Karen Swallow Prior writes

“I’m not surprised that self-punishing behaviors occur among Christians. And this is not to blame the church. For legalism—and I would argue that this is what these behaviors are at their core—comes in guises both religious and secular. The desire to control the destiny of a few moments, if not our lives, is a fact of the human condition. But it is a fact that directly opposes the gospel of grace. Indeed, our vain attempts to mete out our own justice and punishments and thus save ourselves merely reflect the universal human desire to be our own God. For those who self-harm, the gospel comes as an invitation to trust in the One who has enacted perfect and complete justice before God on our behalf, through his body, so we don’t have to punish our own.”

And a last word from Bennett’s former man of the tombs…

Underneath this thing that I once was
   Now I’m a man of flesh and blood
   I have a life beyond the grave
   I found my heart, I can now be saved
   No need to fear, I am not afraid
   This Man of sorrows took my pain
   He comes to take away our sin
   And bear its marks upon His skin
   I’m telling you this story because
   Man of the tombs I was.


For Monday, April 20th: Mark 6

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Posted by on April 17, 2015 in Uncategorized


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God, Don’t You Care?

“God, don’t you care?”

It’s a question that comes easily from the lips of God’s people. For instance, in Isaiah 40, the LORD is boldly describing his greatness to His people – He is the One who hung the stars and called them all by name. He cannot be compared to anyone.

And then He says this:

Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”?

Apparently the people of God were speaking as if He was not acting in love toward them, as if he didn’t care.

“Why do you say this?” Yahweh asks. ”Why do you speak as if I disregard you, as if I don’t care about what concerns you?”

And so it is that in Mark 4, the disciples join a long list of God’s people when they asked the same question.

It was nighttime and Jesus and His disciples were in a boat (and Mark tells us that other boats were with them – a superfluous detail that points to the authenticity of the account – the literary practice of adding additional details to make a story sound real did not come till much later.)

And a great windstorm arose, the kind that causes boats to fill up with water faster than they can be bailed. And Jesus, famously, is sleeping away. And that’s when the question came:

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

Jesus, don’t you care? But the Lord Jesus met their need immediately…

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

But then He asked an important question…

He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

So what do we learn? Well, even if we don’t phrase it like the Israelites or the disciples, we too are tempted to think that God is, if not uncaring, then at least not exactly paying attention.

And when this happens to us, that is, when we are in the middle of trouble or pain and we feel all alone and wonder if the Lord even knows about our situation, Jesus identifies our problem: a lack of faith. Apparently, when we ask questions in fear like the people of Isaiah 40 or the disciples in Mark 4, we reveal something about ourselves…we have no faith.

Okay, but what does Jesus mean when He rebukes them for their lack of faith? He is certainly not accusing them of absolute unbelief in God.

No, their lack of faith is not atheism. It is a lack of faith in Who God is, in the God who has two characteristics in particular: 1) Love and 2) Sovereign power.

When faced with the wind and the waves, we must fight hard to remember Who He is, a loving God Who holds us in His powerful hands. And therefore, everything that happens to us comes only by His loving and sovereign will. And if truly understand this, we need never fear again.

By the way, I’m not saying this is easy. We’ll spend a lifetime getting to this place, and I’m surely not there yet, but I am convinced that what John wrote is true…there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)

And therefore, when we truly come to know the all-powerful One Who is perfect in love…we can go to sleep in the boat right next to Him.

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Posted by on April 16, 2015 in Uncategorized


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The “With Him” Principle

One of the great principles of parenting, not to mention one of the great principles of discipleship, is found in Mark chapter 3. Growing up as a Christian in the Navigators, I couldn’t miss this one.

Mark is relating the story of how Jesus called the 12. Now Luke gives us the additional detail that the Lord prayed all night before making His choice. But tit for tat, Mark tells us something that Luke leaves out. Mark tells us that Jesus chose the 12, first, that they might be “with Him”, and second, that He might send them out to preach and cast out demons.

But before they got to preaching, that first principle was to come into play: Jesus wanted the disciples to be “with Him.”

Now what did that mean?

Well, I think the Lord was operating from the grand old principle that more would be caught than taught. And therefore He was intentional about seeing that His disciples would “catch” a lot from Him. He chose them that they might be…with Him. They would be with Him as He healed the leper, as he fed the 5,000 and the 4,000. They would be with Him as He rebuked the religious leaders and told the parables. And they would be with him as He got up in the morning and went to sleep at night and prayed throughout the day.

They would simply be with Him.

And so the principle is to “be with” those we are trying to influence, and the idea is simple to pass on to parents: we strive to be with our kids. I know, I know, there comes a day when they don’t want anything to do with you, but before that day, when you are heading out to the hardware store, or the grocery store, you grab one of them for the ride. When you are working on a household chore, you get one of them to help, even if their “help” is not so helpful.  It’s always easiest to make the decision to do it on your own – I made that decision many times when the kids were younger – but I’m thankful for the times that I chose to do it the way Jesus did – He chose the 12 that they might be with Him.


For tomorrow, April 16: Mark 4

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Posted by on April 15, 2015 in Uncategorized


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The Father’s Kind Heart

Silhouette of Father Playing with Child Outside at SunsetI’ll never forget the day. Josh was a toddler having fun inside our little apartment in Mrs. Dickenson’s mansion at 770 W. Westleigh Drive, Lake Forest, Illinois. I was in seminary during these days while Diane cooked Mrs. D’s meals; and in exchange the grand dame provided our food and a little space for us to live rent free. Oh yeah…and cable.

That day my son’s plastic toys were scattered around our tiny little living room, and I noticed that he had begun to step on them, coming down with the full force of his massive (40 lb.?) weight.  Fearing that he might break one, I instructed him not to do that.

And…after clearly hearing my word, he maintained eye contact while simultaneously and slowly lifting up his foot and setting it down on one of the toys, somewhat like a conquering hero might do to the vanquished.

It didn’t take me long to show the defiant little villain what it really meant to be vanquished.

I like to think that neither one of us ever forgot that day – he certainly hasn’t because he’s heard me tell the story a hundred times. And yet there is a point to it all: the truth is that though at first glance, my instruction looked to be detrimental to him. However, in fact I did not aim to take away his joy, but to preserve it. My “command” came from a father’s heart that had his son’s best interests in mind – I wanted him to continue to enjoy his toys, and stepping on them might have destroyed this possibility.

And so it is with our Heavenly Father’s commands to us – they are meant for our good, most clearly illustrated in Jesus’s discussion regarding the Sabbath and his simple word: “The Sabbath was meant for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

Now, I don’t believe the Sabbath command continues today, except in the truth that we are called to rest in the gospel (Hebrews 4:9), but the point remains: Jesus was saying that the Sabbath command was for our good. Get this – God aimed to give his people rest – making Saturday the best day of the week. But of course, under the Pharisees, it had become not the best day, but the worst.

But still, the Sabbath command revealed the Father’s heart, and what continues to be the His heart regarding anything He asks of His children – He aims for our good. In fact, you might say He even shapes commands for us.

As in the Sabbath, all of God’s commands are “made for” us…not we for them.


Tomorrow, April 15th: Mark 3

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Posted by on April 14, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Simon Peter Tells One of His Favorite Stories

~ circa A.D. 40, a campfire outside Antioch of Syria. Simon Peter is relating a story to a small group…the hour is getting late.

“Oh, that was a Sabbath day to remember. The Lord had taught in the synagogue, and it was so wonderful as always. Everyone loved to hear Him speak. He always made it so interesting. Even when you didn’t understand Him, it was interesting. And He never had a moment’s hesitation about anything He said.  He was so different than anyone else who had ever brought the message in Synagogue.

“Then that demon spoke up, and challenged him. It scared us all, and no one there would forget what it called Him: “the Holy One of God.” What did that mean? And now, all eyes were fixed on the Lord. What would He do? But Jesus dealt quickly, quieting the demon and commanding it to come out; and out it came, just like that. What power He had!  And all the people were talking about Him.

“Well, it was about lunchtime then, so Andrew and I invited the Lord back to the house. And when we got home my wife’s mother was nowhere to be found. And then we found her – on the bed, burning up from a fever.

“So we told Jesus. And He came in, took her hand, and immediately, it was as if she had never been sick. And right then, she got up, and made us lunch.

“Well, then, after the Sabbath was over, at sundown the people came. One after another, they came, some crippled, some with a fever like my mother-in-law, others with leprosy and different skin diseases. They came…and they kept coming. It was as if the whole town was at the door. And until late that night, He healed them…every one.

“So, of course, the next day I slept in. I was so tired, and so was everyone else. Everyone, that is, except Jesus. And do you know why? Because He never missed a time of prayer. Never. It didn’t matter how late He had been up, He would always say, ‘I had to be with my Father!’

“But we didn’t know His practices back then. We were just getting to know Him, so we looked and looked, until we found him in a deserted place. Now, you know we had planned to go back to my house for another day of healing. You see, we knew the word was going to get around, and we knew the crowds would be coming. But something had happened during His prayer time. Somehow, He just knew – He knew that we had to leave Capernaum that day. There were other places to go, He said, and He had to preach there also.

“‘After all,’ He said, ‘That is why I have come.'”

Tomorrow, Tuesday, April 14: Mark 2

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Posted by on April 13, 2015 in Uncategorized

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