Tag Archives: Christ

Everybody Needs a Heart Transplant

Psalm 51 is classified as a penitential psalm. The definition of penitence is sorrow for sin or faults. The psalm certainly lives up to that definition, expressing profound sorrow, but it does a great deal more than wallow in recognition of personal wrong-doing.

The header on this psalm links it to David’s adultery with Bathsheba, a sin that was magnified by the murder of her husband. Jesus spoke of the moment David fell into sin. Jesus said, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28 ESV). Jesus said that David’s sin originated in his heart. In fact, Jesus said that the heart is the place where our sins are born: “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:10 ESV). Apparently, the problem with the world is sinful hearts.

When David wrote Psalm 51, he recognized his real problem. He confessed his sin and his need of God’s forgiveness and cleansing, and then he said, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 ESV). David knew that his heart would continue to be a source of sin if something did not change. His heart needed to be different, and he knew he could not merely decide to be a better man.

Contemporary culture would have us believe that we can simply decide and then become. “If you can dream it, you can be it,” the culture says. Every person who struggles with diet and exercise can testify that dreams simply are not enough. David looked at himself and saw the way his attitude and behavior had been perverted by the lust in his heart, and he recognized that his heart was the problem. He also recognized that imagining himself as a better man would not fix his heart. He said, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5 ESV) David could see what Jesus saw in the heart—the source of his sinful thoughts, words and deeds. His heart needed to be fixed, and he could not fix it himself.

David turned to the One who could fix what was broken in his heart, and I find that I need to do the same thing. David could not fix himself, and I cannot fix myself, either. David cried out, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 ESV), and I cry out the same way. My heart is a mess, just as his was, and I turn to the same source for help.

I share meditation on Scripture with an online group, and that means that when I read a text like this with the group, I benefit from the insights God gives to other people. In the group, many people recognized and rejoiced in the cleansing of the heart. That part of David’s cry was thoroughly celebrated, but one person saw the next level of blessing. She recognized that God did not merely cleanse David’s heart, but he “created” a new heart. We don’t simply get washed down. God does not merely paint over the scars of our sin. We get new hearts. She said, “He ‘created’ a new heart in me.”

That is the real blessing. I am not merely clean. I’m all new. I am like the advertising mantra “new and improved.”

Every time I read Genesis 6, I feel a pain in my stomach when I read, “GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5 ESV). Here, too, I am reminded that the heart is the origin of sin, and it boils out of us like an erupting volcano, ultimately destroying everything beautiful in the world God created. Fortunately, the Bible does not stop there. God’s story continues, and instead of despair, there is hope. David looked at himself and saw his own wickedness and evil, but he saw the hope. David knew God as a God who not only forgives us but makes us new. His experience foreshadows the coming of Jesus to work our salvation through Christ. When David asks for a new heart, he exercises the kind of faith that Abraham had, and Paul said that Abraham’s faith made him righteous, just as ours does. The author of Hebrews repeated that assertion that many people who lived before Christ had faith in God’s promise and God counted it as righteousness for them, too. The same faith worked for David.

There is only one way for us to be made clean, righteous, new, and that way is Christ. David’s prayer calls forth the same cleansing power as I experienced when I professed my faith and was baptized. God’s heart was broken by human sin in the Garden of Eden, at the time of Noah, when David took Bathsheba from her husband, and every time anyone chooses evil rather than good. Fortunately, because of the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, every human being can safely and confidently pray with David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 ESV)

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What is the Best Part of Going to Church?

There have been times in my life when I would have known exactly how to answer this question, but due to some troubling issues in my church, I have been faced with the necessity of deeper thinking on the subject. However, as with most problems, there is a real value in being compelled to think deeply instead of giving a flip answer on a deep subject.

During a visit with family this summer, I saw a headline in the local paper that asked the same question as the title of this post. I was somewhat unnerved by the answers the reporter chose to share. The article originated in the Kansas City Star, but I saw the reprint in Cedar Rapids in The Gazette on August 6, 2016. Two quick answers were featured in the article, and the two pastors who answered were allowed the opportunity to flesh out their answers as the body of the article.

The short answer by Pastor Bob Hill of the Community Christian Church was, “Participants can delight in living in a caring community.” The short answer by Pastor Duke Tufty of Unity Temple on the Plaza was, “Church is an ideal place to keep happy, upright and balanced.” What do you think of these answers?

This post is my response to the question, and I think these answers miss the whole point of going to church. I should make sure that readers know that the phrase, “going to church,” has at least two discrete meanings: 1 – to attend the primary weekly worship service, and 2 – to participate in the life of a church. My immediate reaction to the title was to think of my answer based on the first meaning, but when I read the answers of the two pastors, I felt that they were responding to the second meaning. I don’t feel that they gave a good answer for either meaning.

If the question referred to the first meaning, then the question was about the “best part” of being in a worship service. Some worship services may celebrate a caring community, and some may be about personal happiness and mental health, but in my experience, that is not the focus of a worship service. A worship service is about our human obligation to love God, to praise him and to give thanks for his presence and power in our lives. Our worship obligation is a response to the fact that Christ has set us free from enslavement to Satan, cleansed us from the spiritual harm done by Satan in our lives, and called us to service to him and to every person we meet. Worship is in part our gratefulness for what God has done, but in very large part, worship is a celebration of who God is. It isn’t about making us feel good; it is more about making us into good people.

If the question referred to the second meaning, the answers may have some elements of truth, but something important was missing from both answers: our salvation through Christ and our grateful service to Christ. In regard to our overall participation in the life of a church, the best part is the way the life of the church constantly draws us closer to Christ and helps us to become more like Christ. If any part of church life fails to do those two things, it is irrelevant to the work of the church. Christ must be central to everything the church does. We don’t have therapy to offer to people; we can only offer Christ. We don’t have entertainment to offer; we can only offer Christ. We don’t have a good social life to offer. We don’t have mental challenges to offer. We can only offer Christ. If our church is doing something that is not about Christ, it is worthless.

A few years ago I visited an unfamiliar church. The people were very pleasant and friendly. In the bulletin were announcements of activities that looked like a caring community. There was an Al Anon meeting scheduled for one evening, and I assume that meeting might help people achieve balance in their lives. However, the sermon for the day was a commentary on a recent women’s rights convention, and there was not one mention of Christ or the Bible. The gathering would have qualified on every point as a meeting of women’s rights advocates, not a service to worship Christ.

I have never again visited the church that preached women’s rights, even though it would be much easier to attend than the church where I am now a member. I never will. I do not believe advocacy for women’s rights is “the best part” or even a legitimate part of going to church. Followers of Christ legitimately advocate for various human rights as part of the mission to be salt and light in the world, but the sermon in a worship service must never fail to be Christ-focused. The worship service itself must draw people nearer to Christ, rather than stir up a fever for one or more social or political agendas.

The rights of women and other basic human rights are important issues, and it is certainly legitimate for Christians to want the human world to treat women with the respect due them as God’s creation. To teach what Jesus modeled in his life as evidence of the value he placed on men and women is a proper sermon element, but no element of the sermon should transcend or blot out the presence of Christ.

The best part of going to church, whether you mean attending worship or serving in the life of the church, is the way the church, Christ’s own body, constantly points us to Christ, never permitting any issue or concept or agenda to transcend our call to deny self and follow him.

Have You No Shame?

An important element of the story of Adam and Eve is the moment when they realize that they are naked. They were both created by God, and they needed no clothing, for they were clothed in righteousness. They had nothing to be ashamed of—until they chose to disobey God.

The way the story is told in the Bible, it is clear that they felt no shame in their nakedness as long as Continue reading Have You No Shame?

Think About a Hymn

hymnal

O Christ, Our Hope

O Christ, our Hope, our heart’s Desire,
Redemption’s only Spring!
Creator of the world art Thou,
Its Savior and its King.

How vast the mercy and the love
Which laid our sins on Thee,
And led Thee to a cruel death,
To set Thy people free.

But now the bands of death are burst,
The ransom has been paid,
And Thou art on Thy Father’s throne,
In glorious robes arrayed.

O may Thy mighty love prevail
Our sinful souls to spare;
O may we come before Thy throne,
And find acceptance there!

Unknown author
Translated from Latin by John Chandler, 1837
Text is in the public domain
Source: http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/o/c/ocohohde.htm

The Bible is our ultimate source for truth, and any statement which purports to be insight into our faith must be tested against the Bible. The creeds of the church are wonderful tools that help us summarize our faith, both in reminding ourselves of truth and in explaining the reason for our faith to other people. Hymns also teach us by reinforcing biblical teaching, and singing hymns attracts the kind of thoughtful attention that might lead unbelieving individuals to consider what Christ has done for all people. The thought questions below are intended to help you consider how a hymn, the creeds and the Bible teaching all help us both to live our faith and to share our faith with others.

  • The Apostles’ Creed states that God the Father created heaven and earth. Where does the Bible tell us that this creative act is the work of God? How does the gospel of John explain Christ’s involvement in that act?
  • The Apostles’ Creed summarizes the teaching about Christ’s death in the words “was crucified, died and was buried.” Where does the Bible explain how Christ died and why he died?
  • The hymn celebrates the fact that “the bands of death are burst.” Why is that important? Where does the Bible tell how the “bands of death” were defeated? How does the Apostles’ Creed tell this part of Christ’s story?
  • The hymn writer refers to Jesus sitting on a throne and to our appearance before his throne. What does the Bible say about Jesus’ throne and our appearance there? How does the Apostles’ Creed sum up this part of Christ’s story?
  • When you want to share Jesus with someone, how do you decide what part of Christ’s story to mention first in the conversation? Have you ever tried to sum up the story of the whole Bible in conversation with someone? Think through the Apostles’ Creed and verify each statement with a text in the Bible. Does that exercise help you prepare to share Jesus with someone?

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com. Watch for the release of Thrive! Live Christian in a Hostile World, planned for release in the winter of 2016

Image: Open Hymnal Source:http://foter.com/
License: CC BY-NC-SA

Innocent Blood

The author of the book of Hebrews wrote to people who were struggling to understand what it meant for them as Jews to recognize that Jesus was the Messiah promised when God said to Abraham, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3 NIV). Toward the end of chapter 12, the author says, “You have not come to a mountain that cannot be touched,” referring to Sinai, the place where the nation of Israel was born.

At Sinai, God established his absolute righteousness in the minds and hearts of the descendants of Abraham. He enforced their respect for his righteousness by requiring them to keep their distance. He showed them the difference between himself and sinful humanity. He threatened them with death if they came near enough to touch the mountain on which he met Moses and wrote the Ten Commandments on stone tablets with his own finger. According to the man who penned the book of Hebrews, even Moses said, “I am trembling with fear” (Hebrews 12:21 NIV).

This same writer, however, comforts the Hebrew readers who are trying to understand how Jesus of Nazareth could be the Messiah by saying to them that instead of a mountain that nobody dares to touch, they may approach Mount Zion, because Jesus has mediated a new covenant in his own blood. Jesus, perfectly sinless, satisfied the righteousness of God in his own blood. Innocent of any wrongdoing, just like Abel, the first murder victim, the blood of Jesus cries out to God, just as Abel’s blood did. However, even though Abel was innocent when he was murdered, Abel was a sinful human being. His blood cried out his innocence, but his blood could not cleanse humans of sin, because Abel was as sinful as anyone else. Jesus, however, was not only innocent, but also sinless. The author of Hebrews says that Jesus is “the mediator of a new covenant,” and the sprinkled blood of Jesus “speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

Our world is, sad to say, filled with the sprinkled blood of innocent human beings. Every day, more babies are killed by abortion than were killed in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. In the US alone, more than 3,000 babies die every day by abortion. That is a lot of innocent blood. While nobody says that babies are sinless like Jesus, it is obvious that they are innocent–as innocent as Abel. Their blood cries out for God’s judgment as surely as Abel’s blood did.

The blood of Jesus speaks a better word than Abel’s blood, and it certainly speaks a better word than the blood of innocent babies. Christ’s blood speaks of righteous cleansing and purification from sin and guilt. If 3,000 babies die every day by abortion, then 3,000 mothers are suffering from the guilt of those murders. Each person who performs even one of those abortions suffers the guilt of knowing that an innocent human being died at his or her hands during each abortion. Nurses, aides, and even receptionists know the mayhem in which they are participating, and if they ever stop to listen, the blood of those innocents will call out to them for God’s judgment.

The blood of Jesus, on the other hand, calls out for God’s forgiveness. The righteousness of God is poured out over every human being who chooses to receive forgiveness though Christ. The righteous blood of Christ can cleanse all mothers who have given up their babies to abortion, as well as abortionists, nurses, technicians and office staff who have participated in the murderous processes of abortion. The blood of Abel cried out, “I am innocent!” The blood of aborted babies cries out, “I am innocent!” The blood of Christ cries out, “God loves you. Come be cleansed of your guilt. Be purified. Be forgiven for the sin of shedding innocent blood.” At Sinai, the righteousness of God pushed the people away, lest they be destroyed by his righteousness. At Calvary, the righteousness of Christ pulls people toward him, in order to cleanse them of their unrighteousness. Sinful, guilt-ridden people, covered in the blood of innocent babies, can be cleansed of their guilt if they turn away from murder and choose life in Christ.

This is the better message spoken by the blood of Christ.