Guard Your Heart

Do you have a guard dog? We have a dog, but she is not a guard dog.  She loves to greet you at our door and jump all over you. But, as she has aged she is very jumpy. Every time someone enters a door, or pops around a corner she gives a loud high pitched bark. Just one bark, more like an alert, watch out, someone is here. Even if you walk out of the room for a minute and come back she will give her alert bark. Maybe she thinks she is keeping us safe by letting us know when anything in her environment changes.

When something is important to us we guard it. When I take off my wedding ring, I put it in a safe place. When I leave my house or park my car I lock them. And when I am in the grocery store, I guard my purse as it sits in the seat of the grocery cart. One cannot be too safe anymore.

In today’s reading we are encouraged to guard our hearts above all else.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
Proverbs 4:23

This means that guarding our heart should be our priority. Just like we guard our important possessions.

So what does it look like to guard your heart?

We guard our physical heart by eating healthy and exercising. Everything we eat affects how our heart works throughout our body. But, we also have our spiritual heart that King Solomon speaks of in the verse above. Our spiritual heart produces our spiritual life.

The heart is the center of our spiritual being, where all our emotions are ready to be brought forth. The problem is, our heart can be deceitful, we cannot trust every emotion that flows from the heart. We guard our heart by guarding our mind. We guard our mind and what we think about by being cautious as to what our eyes see and what our ears hear. Reading God’s Word is the key to getting the Truth to soak into our heart.

My son, pay attention to what i say; turn your ear to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and heath to one’s whole body.
Proverbs 4:20-22

Just as we physically exercise our heart to keep it healthy we need to spiritually exercise our heart by continually being in God’s Word, worshipping Him, serving Him and talking to Him. This will guard our heart from all the evil that surrounds us.

Do Not Fret

I know summer is over and fall is here when I have to dump all of my flower pots and dispose the dead flowers. All of the pretty colorful flowers and green leaves have withered and turned brown. It happens every summer. But, after 3 months of watering I am ready for them to be gone.

In our reading today, David writes about green plants that will die away. He relates them to those who do evil. Those who do evil will also wither and die away.

Do no fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither; like green plants they will soon die away.
Psalms 37:1-2

Do you ever find yourself “fretting” because of those who are evil? There are so many things we can and do “fret” over in our world today. I don’t even need to list them. You know why you had trouble falling asleep last night or why your heart sped up when you heard certain news today. Our minds can get caught up in all the reasons we have to “fret.”

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines fret as
1- to eat or gnaw into: corrode
2- to cause to suffer emotional strain

David again says to not fret in verse 7:

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.
Psalms 37:7

When we fret, we turn our focus from God to ourselves. We think of all the ways we can change things or circumstances. We lie awake at night thinking about all the “what-ifs.”   David is telling us in Psalm 37 to STOP!

David calls us to trust in the Lord, find our delight in Him, commit our ways to the Lord, rest in the Lord, and to wait patiently for Him.

We are not to fret because ultimately God will pour out His justice. The evil doers will wither, just alike our summer flowers. When we find our mind beginning to fret, we need to delight in Him instead.

How do we delight in the Lord?

Psalm 37:3 tells us to: Trust in the Lord, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.

Psalm 37:5 tells us to: Commit our way to the Lord, Just also in Him, And He shall bring it to pass.

Psalm 37:7 tells us to: Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.

When your mind is fretting and turning to all the evil around you, turn to Psalms 37 and read these verses. Delight in the Lord and He will hold you up.

The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.
Psalms 37:23-24

Be Salty

We have a favorite meat shop in Peoria, IL. Special events and celebrations are comemorated with a stop at the meat shop to purchase something to grill for dinner. Many comments are made on how it is the best tasting dinner we have ever had. But, if the griller (my husband) forgot the salt or didn’t put enough on the meat, no matter the quality, it would not taste as good. This has happened a couple of times, the meat was not flavored enough with salt so we have to bring the salt shaker to the table and add more to the individual pieces. Salt makes all the difference!

We read about salt in our text today.

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.”
Luke 14:34-35

The variety of salt and season salts one can buy today is incredible. If you stand in the spice isle at the local grocery you will have quite a choice of salts. Back in Jesus’ day salt was not the same.

In Jesus’ day salt was gathered up from salt deposits on the Mediterranean Sea or the Dead Sea. The deposits were then broke into large or small chunks depending on what it would be used for. The salt vendors would grind it up to be used just as we use it today, but it wasn’t as pure and bright white like we see salt today.

The salt that was gathered from the deposits in the sea was mixed with many other minerals. The salt was sold in blocks and was not a bright white color because it was not pure salt. If the block stayed out in the weather and got damp, the salt would leach out of the block and lose its saltiness. Over time, the salty flavor would disappear and only the other minerals would be left. Until it was tasted, one would never know that the salt was gone.

Just as salt flavors our food, we as followers of Jesus are to bring a flavor to those around us. As salt has a positive result in flavoring our food, we are to have a positive influence on the people we encounter daily.

Jesus is warning us in this passage to not lose our saltiness. How do we do this? By staying in His Word, by praising and worshiping Him, by being in community with other believers. We cannot keep our saltiness by only being in Church on Sundays or watching a sermon online. It is a daily habit to remain in fellowship with Jesus that aids us in keeping our salt salty.

The Parable of the Fig Tree

They say that opposites attract. Well, this is definitely the case with my husband and I. My husband is a DOER!! If there is something that needs to be done he wants it done ASAP. It doesn’t matter how or what the result will be, it is just a matter of getting it done.  I, on the other hand am more of a procrastinator. I get it done, but in my own time. We have learned to lean into these differences and realize that neither is the perfect way, but there are advantages to both.

Today I am thankful that God gives us time and grants us another day. God has mercy and grants us another day, another hour, another breath. But, reality is that His patience will come to an end. We read about this today in Luke 13:1-17. God commands the people to repent.

I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.
Luke 13:3

Jesus then goes on to tell a parable about a fig tree that should be producing fruit but it is not. Luke shows us in this text the difference between one who has repented and is producing fruit and one who remains hard hearted and continues to sin.

“A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years not I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it us up the soil?’ “ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ “
Luke 13:6-9

The three year period is significant in this parable because for three years John the Baptist and Jesus had been preaching the message of repentance throughout all of Israel. But, the fruits of repentance were not showing.

Thankfully, the gardener in this story pleads for more time. The gardener pleads for more time to water and fertilize the fruitless tree. And the God of mercy responds with patience.

The lesson for us is that we have a limited amount of time. God has granted us this day, this hour and our next breath, but our time is not eternal here on earth. Our day will come when we have to stand in front of Jesus and account for our lives we have lived. If there is no fruit in our life, no repentance, He sill cut us down.

I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.
Luke 13:3

Being a DOER as my husband is would be very practical in this matter. Why wait till tomorrow when Jesus is waiting right now for us to repent and follow Him?

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
Isaiah 55:6-7

How Is Your Heart?

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of
Luke 6:45

Words often reveal the condition of our hearts. However, there are also times when words can conceal how we truly feel. There are times when I am not honest with a friend about how I am truly feeling. There is always that friend that asks me how I am doing and I respond, “fine.” When I know in my heart that I am not really fine.

We can conceal our real feelings in our heart from both people and from God. In our reading today, Isaiah 29:15-24, the prophet Isaiah reveals the truth about the people of this day. And it seems they are no different from us today. They were religious people who were good at going through the motions of worship. They said all of the right things. But, their words were not in line with the true condition of their hearts. To most people, it seemed that they were very devout people, but in reality, their hearts were far from God.

Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who see us? Who will know?”
Isaiah 29:15

God is most concerned about the condition of our hearts. We must continually seek to grow in our love for the Lord. If we do not we may end up just like the people of Isaiah’s day and find ourselves going through the motions. We may seem like we have a close relationship with Jesus, but in our hearts we are far from God. God looks at and knows our heart. We can not fool him. Draw near to Him today.

Gender Reveal

I hesitated naming this post Gender Reveal as I think it “cheapens” the story a bit. But, I see so many Gender Reveals these days that are so exciting. I have no idea who these people are that I am watching on Social Media, but I get wrapped up in their story and can’t wait to see if they will have a boy or a girl!! The ideas that people come up with for the Gender Reveal are unbelievable, paint guns, balloon popping, and colored cakes just to name a few. Today we read about a Gender Reveal that blows all of Social Media reveals out of the park.

The angel of the Lord appeared to her and said, “You are barren and childless, but you are going to become pregnant and give birth to a son. Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean. You will become pregnant and have a son whose head is never to be touched by a razor because the boy is to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb. He will take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”
Judges 13:3-5

I would love to see this reveal on Facebook or InstaGram, a woman walking in a field or cooking supper and an angel appearing to her to inform her that she will be having a son! The angel also tells her what her son will do, he will take the lead in delivering Israel. Can you imagine the reaction this would get? Can you imagine the excitement the woman felt after hearing this news?

We read in verse 5 that this son will be a Nazirite. A Nazirite was one who had taken a special vow before the Lord. Numbers 6 describes the commitments a Nazirite must keep during the time of his vow. A Nazirite had to commit to 3 things:

1-Not to drink wine or any intoxicating drink
2-Not to touch a dead body
3-Not to cut his hair

The purpose of this vow was to provide a way in which an ordinary person could dedicate his life to God. But, in this case of the angel appearing to this woman, this baby would be a Nazirite from birth. This obviously is going to be a special baby.

If you haven’t guessed by now, this baby to be born is Samson. God, himself, appeared to Samson’s parents, and let them know that Samson was going to be a special person, set apart for God’’s plan. God had chosen Samson to be the deliverer of His people. In Judges 13:8, Samson’s father prayed and asked that the angel would return and teach them how to be good parents and help their son be everything God wanted him to be.

Then Manoah prayed to the Lord: “Pardon your servant, Lord. I beg you to let the man of God you sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born.”
Judges 13:8

These parents wanted to do everything possible to raise Samson to be who God wanted him to be. Judges 13 ends on a positive note as God’s promise is fulfilled. The miraculous birth takes place just as God said it would. God’s blessing is on this child as he grows. God has given Samson everything he needs to succeed.

In Christ we have a promising beginning. God has given us (and our children) everything we need to succeed. God has also given us the freedom to choose. We can choose to follow God or we can choose to follow our own plans and desires. As parents, we have to privilege to trust God with our children. Manoah and his wife were godly parents who wanted to please God with how they raised their son. They did all the right things.

Recommit

7 years ago, my husband and I stood on a beach in Mexico with our children and recommitted our marriage vows to one another. We wrote down our own words and said them to each other. This was not a formal ceremony, no pastor or special person, except our children to hear that we would continue to love and honor each other. I have to admit, I thought my husband did a much better job at coming up with the words to honor me than I did. But, I know that it was the act of recommitting our covenant 20 years after our original vows that was the important aspect.

This marriage renewal was a special occasion for us, it didn’t make us more married or more in love with each other. There was no “legal” person there to witness the event, but it served a very useful purpose in our lives.

Today in our reading of Deuteronomy 26, the people were remembering that they had committed to follow the Lord.

The Lord your God commands you this day to follow these decrees and laws; carefully observe them with all your heart and soul. You have declared this day that the Lord is your God and that you will walk in obedience to him, that you will keep his decrees, commands and laws-that you will listen to him.
Deuteronomy 26:16-17

The people were proclaiming this covenant before entering the land. This renewal of vows reminds us of something important that we have committed to doing. The people were remembering they had made a commitment to follow the Lord.

It is easy in the busy daily life to forget the importance of the day we committed to follow Jesus. Maybe it was a few months ago, a year ago, or more than 30 years ago, but it is good to remember the day we decided to follow the Lord. Think back today on the day you gave your life to Jesus. Remember the commitment you made and the joy that filled your heart. Everyday we have the opportunity to ask for forgiveness and surrender to Jesus again.  Maybe take a moment today to recomit your life to Jesus, to walk with Him.

Walk With God

This past June I set a goal to begin walking. After healing from a broken ankle last fall, I started at ground zero! The best part of my new habit is that I did not have to do it alone! My Mom and my sister joined me almost everyday. Although the walking definitely has helped with my general fitness level, I have increased my distance from 1.5 to now 3 miles a day, what I enjoyed most was the time spent with my Mom and sister. We walked close together on the trail. We were not silent on our walks, rather we talked most of the time. We communicated so many things that would not have been discussed had we not chosen to walk together this summer.

We read about walking with God in Deuteronomy 10.

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?
Deuteronomy 10:12-13

In these two verses above, God is giving Israel the basic things that He requires of them. These are also the same things that God is requiring of us today.

He calls us to:
1 – Fear Him
2 – Walk in obedience
3 – Love Him
4 – Serve Him with all our heart and soul
5 – Observe His commands

Fearing God does not mean that we are to be afraid of Him. Fearing God means having such a reverence for Him that it has a great impact on the way we live our lives. When we fear God, we respect Him, obey Him, submit to Him, and worship Him.

Just as I walked closely and communicated with my Mom and sister this summer, we are called to walk close to God. Walking is an action. We are called to take action and do the things that we know that God wants us to do. Walking in step with God throughout the day keeps us connected to Him and following His lead.

God Is With Us

A few days ago I wrote in our Bible Journal about the Pharisees and Sadducees wanting to see a sign from Jesus that He was who He said He was. They believed the sky could predict the weather, but they doubted that Jesus was really the Messiah. Sometimes we are the same. We just want a physical sign that God is real and among us.

In today’s reading Exodus 40, we see the physical sign that God provided to the Israelites. In this final chapter of Exodus, Moses and the Israelites are putting the finishing touches on the tabernacle. It is like when you move and finally have the boxes unloaded and everything organized. You can finally decide where that special decoration, plant, or pillow fit best. Moses had direct instructions on where to place every item in the tent. Once everything was in its place a cloud covered the tent of meeting.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
Exodus 40:34-35

The cloud was a visible sign that God was with them. The cloud was the presence of God in their midst. The cloud would tell the Israelites when to move and when to stay put.

In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would se out; but if the club did not lift, they did not set out=until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels.
Exodus 40:36-38

Sometimes I would like to see a physical manifestation of God. Can you imagine seeing an actual fire in a cloud? The news stations would be all over that! But, if we constantly had visible signs of God we would not need faith. We have to look for signs of God in our daily life.

Where do we see Him show up in our experiences?
Where do we see Him show up in our daily interactions with others?            Where do we see Him show up in our Bible reading?
And where do we see Him show up in our worship.
We have to be looking and expecting Him to show up.

We now have the presence of the Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit is now how we experience the glory of God. We have to be looking for the Holy Spirit to show up. God’s presence is always with us, will you look for Him today?

Red Skies

Growing up I had the opportunity to do some sailing. My dad had a love for sailing and many of our family vacations involved sailing for a week at a time. I have so many memories of being in a very small space with all 5 of us living on a 30 foot sailboat. One memory that popped to mind when I read through my assigned text for today was what my Dad would say every night as the sun was setting on the water…

“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning.”

This is a saying that is actually rooted in today’s reading, Matthew 16:1-12. Jesus actually references the above saying…

He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning,’Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.
Matthew 16:2-3

The people of Jesus’s day knew how to read the skies, they believed that the color of the sky would predict the weather. But Jesus points out here that even though they believed in the color of the sky predicting the weather, they couldn’t read the signs of the times.

The Pharisees and Sadducees asked Jesus for a sign from heaven. Jesus had been performing miracles and signs for days. He had just fed thousands of people with a few loaves of bread and a few fish. Even if the Pharisees and Sadducees were not present to witness Jesus’ miracles, surely they had heard of them. They were “testing” Jesus. He calls them “hypocrites” as they can discern the sky and predict the weather, but they cannot observe the signs of the times.

A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.
Matthew 16:4

What does it mean to discern the signs of the times? Do we notice what is going on around us? Do we see people turning to Jesus or drifting away? Jesus tells them that they will only be given the sign of Jonah. Jesus saw Jonah as a symbol of the Messiah whom He himself claimed to be. In Matthew 12:38-40 he explains how Jonah is a sign.

He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Matthew 12:38-40

Jesus is referring to his coming death and resurrection. Are we like the Pharisees and Sadducees and putting Jesus to the test? Or do we believe what He says and the miracles He performed? He gives us the choice. We have a choice to follow Him and survive the storms of life, because we know that the red sky in the morning may bring severe storms.  Jesus rose from the dead after 3 days so that we may have life and have it abundantly.