Archive for the ‘Devotional Ramblings’ Category

God is Greater Than Our Heart

Rebecca Ellison Photography

photo by Rebecca Ellison Photography

You know, life is funny.  People are funny.  Some people can be downright weird most of the time (said with a smile).  Perhaps I should interject, ‘especially me.’

Over the past few months I have been assiduously observing human interaction – both physical interaction, verbal interaction and cyberhuman-interaction.  Did I just make up a word?

My observations have concluded that the interaction between humans, no matter how it is achieved, is fairly consistent.  It is consistently the product of our own hearts.  Our own biases.  Our own personal preferences.  Our own apathies and our own sympathies.   Our hearts are full of indifference towards others, even when we try to mask that innate quality which possesses the very core of our hearts.

Yet, the world tells us that this cannot be the case.  The world says that we are, more often than not, good, and that we are capable of perfecting our heart. The world says that because we are created in God’s image that we can certainly be exactly like him — that we can consistently excel in moral excellence, that we can obtain and possess a virtuous heart, that our actions and words are continually honorable because we have defined them to be such and have expectations that they be such.

I have not seen this to be the case over the many years I have lived on this planet.  I am not saying that these things do not occur, because obviously, many of us have experienced and pronounced genuine words of kindness.  We have delivered honest actions from the heart.  We have developed a sympathetic ear that truly resonates compassion for others.

I am, however, saying that these kind of actions are far from consistent in manifestation.  I have observed that the heart is typically deceptive, especially to its owner.  While I don’t wish this to be the case, it has been a fairly consistent observation for both others and for myself.

There is no way to avoid the reality that all types of interactions between human beings are defined by our own human natures.  We do not have the power within ourselves to cleanse our natures from our corrupted hearts.  Our hearts have been corrupt since the moment they were birthed.

It is the nature of our souls to follow the inclination of our own hearts.  Even when we think we have no bias.  Even when we think we are not boastful.  Even when believe that we judge fairly.  Even when we conclude that our intentions are honorable, correct and justified.  Even when we perceive we are consistently gentle and kind.  Even when we try to do any of these things with the very best of intentions.

The fact of the matter is that our hearts and our minds lie to us.  Our feelings lie to us.

But!  there is hope!  A great hope!  A hope greater than ourselves.

God is greater than our heart.

On those joyous occasions when we succeed at being gentle, kind, joyful, patient, faithful, self-controlled, and peaceful with those around us, our greatest joy and comfort is understanding that it is the presence of the very God of the universe which has made this possible within us – within our hearts.

God is greater than our heart.

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. …….By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.

I John 3:  16, 19-20.

Photograph courtesy of Rebecca Ellison Photography, copyright 2010


If You Only Read One Thing For Christmas

If you only read one thing for Christmas, read this piece by Tim Challies and watch the video.  If your heart doesn’t melt — if your soul doesn’t long – if your mind doesn’t deeply desire to renew itself — well then, something is wrong with you.

In Awe of Honest Love

My 2 year old granddaughter recently returned from Germany.  We’re pretty tight – my little grandbaby and I.  She was gone 12 days and every day, I saw her little face around every corner and through every doorway.

Finally, they arrived at our house to pick up their dogs.  Yes, we had the “pleasure” of baby-sitting the dogs….

As they drove into my driveway, IVC (her initials) saw me standing outside of the car and broke out in a genuinely huge smile – the biggest I have ever seen.  She had missed me also.

Later that week I was at the local Vitamin Cottage.  I looked down the breezeway of the shopping center and there was my little girl, helping her pregnant mom unload the groceries from their cart.  I called out her name – she turned – looked – then raised her arms out to me, running as fast as her 2-year old little legs would let her — with a huge grin on her face the whole way.  That grin was real.

Honest love is seen through the eyes of a 2 year old little girl who misses her grandmother so much that her little heart explodes when joy when they are re-united.

Sometimes I think God must feel this very same way.  How He must rejoice when He opens our eyes and we are able to smile honestly at Him!  Genuinely.  Knowingly.  Gratefully.  Humbly.  In Awe of his sovereignty.

Psalm 139:7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.

13 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.

Mr. Dowdy, Mr. Davis and Mrs. Jones

The fact that we continue to live in a fallen, troubled world is hard to overlook.   Even as a child in 1967, I could see that the world was broken and confused.  I watched my father, a U.S. Marine, go to war more than once.  My young mind often wondered, “Will He come home this time?”

My childhood was not ideal. The relationship between my mother and father was more than strained, and as a young child, I was not immune from the effects of a loveless marriage.

Yet, by the grace of God, I can look backward today with gratitude and thanksgiving.  My mother did her best to take us to church each Sunday morning.  It was often an embarrassment to be “that child whose father was never present.”  While many did indeed cast a judgmental eye my way, there were others whose eyes radiated with acts of love and kindness towards me.  Those names remain impermeably imprinted upon my heart and mind even today, over 40 years later.

Every Sunday, Mr. Dowdy steered the wheelchair of his disabled wife up to the front row and sat with her during the service.  He didn’t speak often.  It wasn’t his way.  But every Sunday summer morning, he walked quietly up to me and pressed a huge, beautiful yellow rose from his magnificent garden into my young hands.  He knew I loved yellow roses with just a hint of orange on them.  Even though he never said it, I knew that he had been saving the very best rose out of his garden just for me.

His gift said, “I love you.  I care about you.  You have worth.”  He never once spoke of my father, who was less than a father should be.  Instead, he gently showed me what a real father could be.  Through his quiet and faithful actions, this fatherless child could understand the concept of being loved for no other reason than I existed.

Mr. Davis’ demeanor belied his age.  The moment he stepped into the presence of a child, he became like the very best childhood friend any child could ever imagine. My father would not have dreamed of playing with me.  He would never have picked me up and twirled me around in the air, laughing and chuckling genuinely with glee.  But Mr. Davis did.  Mr. Davis taught me to feel joy and every Sunday morning, I experienced belly-laughs while securely dangling from his large, safe hands.

Imogene Jones taught our Wednesday night girls’ auxiliary.  She shared her love of missions with me and expanded my horizons to see beyond my ‘self.’  One evening we were studying a map of Africa.  I remember hearing a voice from somewhere deep inside of my head which told me that one day, I would go to Africa.  Mrs. Jones allowed me to dream as only a child can dream.

Four years ago I went in Tanzania to meet two of our children whom we sponsor through Compassion International.  It was as if God gently breathed into my ear, “I told you that one day you would come to Africa.  And now, you are here.”

And as only God could do, He knew I would love Amani and Witness from the deepest place in my heart, a heart molded by God through Mr. Dowdy, Mr. Davis and Mrs. Jones.

Three people. Three people I should have forgotten about long ago.  A teachable moment; a beautiful flower; a genuine touch of love;  these things saved the heart of an innocent child, then transformed it into a heart driven to serve God.  Their hands became my hands.  Their words became my words.  Their acts of kindness hopefully will continue to shared with others through me.

Would you, like Mr. Dowdy, craft the heart of another to love the fatherless child based on no merited favor of any kind?

Would you, like Mr. Davis, mold the heart of another to feel through the eyes of a child who could not understand unconditional love?

Would you, like Mr. Jones, instill a heart of compassion with the heart of another to love the poor; those who suffer both financially and spiritually?

These single acts of mercy did not originate from the heart of man.  They originated from the author of mercy – from the very heart of God.   But God…. being rich in  mercy…. because of the great love with which he loved us…. showed this one child, the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards me in Christ Jesus.  What a tremendous gift to receive such mercy from our real Father through the human hands of his very own children!

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 

Ephesians 2:4-7


I am going through the A Portrait of God videos  from the 2004 Ligonier National Conference.  The videos are rich in content and the theologians represented paint such an accurate and honoring picture of God that I can wholeheartedly recommend them to to you.   They are free to view.

In the Q & A Session (#3), Dr. Ligon Duncan does a wonderful job job putting into words something that has been on my mind for the last decade –or two — or three.  Before I share his words with you, I need to explain what was living deep inside of me during those years.

For many years, my heart and mind felt as if it lived in an evangelical wasteland.  There was no rest for me in the churches with which we tried to unite.  To be sure, there were many wonderful people in those churches – friendships that still remain today.  Still, something continued to eat through me as I became an ardent student of God’s Word.  The more I understood God’s Word, the more troubled my soul became.

As I look back, when I walked into the doors of those churches, I never really felt as if I had stepped into the presence of God.  I never really felt as if God was being honored in worship.  I never really felt as if learning about God was the primary concern for most of those in attendance.  And it’s not because I failed to step through a variety of denominations and non-denominations.  I was open-minded in my search to find the people of God, united as the people of God.

So often during the worship services at those churches, my mind would remain still and numb.  I would open up the large study bible on my lap hoping to learn something that I could write within the margins of that book — words of truth that I would want to remember.  Sadly, the margins remained quite empty during those years.

I went through various stages of mental justification for these churches.  Surely it was alright if the church had a genuine desire to be more like the world in order to attract the non-believer.  Surely it was alright if the means that were used gave a glimmer of hope of bringing them to Christ.

I went through various stages of personal justification, as well.  I reasoned — what a perfect place to be a missionary!  Since I was capable of being a “self-feeder,” it shouldn’t matter what the service was structured like or what the content of the sermons contained.  After all, it wasn’t about me, was it?

In the end, I discovered that these churches were indeed very lonely places to be.   Not socially, but spiritually.   The more missional I tried to be, the more I recognized the the spiritual emptiness and void that existed within their walls — and the more my heart went numb inside.  It really doesn’t work to “do Christianity” in a spiritual vacuum.  In fact, it isn’t safe to do it alone — to be a “self-feeder” of God’s Word.

So many of the sermons at these churches were emotional and experiential in nature.  Step 1, 2, 3 – “How to be a Better Parent” or titles that would suck their life from the contemporary culture — titles like “Desperate Households.”   (It’s really true – not only did they use this title, but they built an entire house on stage just so the pastor could enter through the front door to the theme of Desperate Housewives before delivering his message.)  Some of them tried to weakly teach but I would often catch errors within their words, especially at the non-denominational churches.  One an error is caught, it’s hard to trust that God’s Word is being applied accurately.

I don’t want to seem too harsh here.  Mistakes happen.  Even the pastor is human.  The difference is the willingness to admit the error.  The problem is that many of these pastors have had no seminary training (and yes, there are good and bad seminaries.)  Thus,  the willingness to wrestle through the scriptures by studying them deeply with accountability of leadership in place — in an institution committed to God’s Word — one that teaches how to accurately understand not only scripture, but the history of the church — is now an essential in my opinion.

I know that within the intent of these casual sermons was the hopeful desire that non-Christians would feel a sense of oneness with the body of Christ located within those walls.  I know that their motives were sincere and genuine.  I know their intentions were good ones.  Still,I would murmur to myself, “This is nothing more than I could read in a self-help book written by human hands….”

In addition, all too often I saw nothing different within the walls of those churches than what I saw in the outside world around me.  Conversations among friends were rarely spiritual in nature – they were almost always social in nature.  I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but it’s not a good thing if that is the only kind of conversation going on inside of the church.  Indeed, fellowship is important in the body of Christ, but it should not be the only reason people come together as The Body.

Sunday School classes were phased out.  There was no interest from the congregation in classes of content.  Occasionally a Sunday School class would sprout up about the latest, greatest new book like The Purpose Driven Life or the latest new fad within Christianity. Then a fledgling few might engage for a few weeks in a small group.  There was no accountability of leadership for any of these groups.

I can say now that I understand why my heart was restless.  Dr. Ligon Duncan said it so well in the Q & A #3 session of this video series.  He said:

One does not find one’s at-homeness with the people of this world, the people who are not in union with Christ.  Your thinking is derived from God’s Word.  Your place of at-homeness is with God’s people.  We are the outposts of heaven in this world.  When we find ourselves more at home with the world than we find with God’s people, then something is wrong. (Dr. Ligon Duncan)

So who are God’s people?  To me they would have to be the people who hunger and thirst after God — who understand that they are at church for more than fellowship.  They are the people who have been chosen before the foundation of the world to be His.  They are the people whom He loves.  They are the people He sacrificed His Son for — so that they might live in eternity together, forever.  When I think of the sacrifice that He made on my behalf, I am humbled.  I am more than humbled.  I am in awe.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.  In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,  who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.  Ephesians 1:4-14

The Front Pew

Those of you who occasionally drop in on this blog know that I have a passion for the accurate teaching of the Bible, as well as the accurate representation of God before the world.

You also know that I often promote the development of a personal passion to ‘know God.’  The real God.  Not the one we would like Him to be nor the one our culture tries to portray.   We can’t develop an image of God based on how He fits in with our lifestyle or our culture.  We shouldn’t develop an image of God based on our own definition of his attributes.  Instead, we must always be careful to develop an image of God based on who God told us He is in the Bible.  God alone defines himself for us.

That means that any serious Christian should try to understand accurate, historical Christian theology.  I’m not saying it’s an easy thing to do.  Sometimes we view theology as something higher than we can reach for — something for an elitist class of Christians — something that we will never understand — something that really isn’t important.  We justify not finding time to accomplish this task by telling ourselves, “It doesn’t matter.  I love God and that’s all I need to know.”  These things are simply not true.

I don’t think it has been easy for most generations to understand theology.  Nevertheless, theology matters.  It is important to understand how the faith was handed down through the generations, starting with the very creation of the world.  If you don’t understand how to view God through the entirety of scripture within context of scripture, you risk worshiping a false god.  That is a fate I would not wish on any child of God.

That’s why the creeds and confessions were developed during the Reformation.  To protect the integrity of scripture so that the people could know the real God of the Universe.  So often today, we embrace the theology of something like we sing in the old hymn, “My faith has found a resting place, not in device or creed. I trust the ever living One,His wounds for me shall plead.  I need no other argument, I need no other plea, It is enough that Jesus died, And that He died for me..”  I used to love that hymn until I realized that it promotes a shallow faith.  A shallow faith serves neither man nor God.

The creeds, confessions, and catechisms of the historic Christian faith should be appreciated and respected  – not as scripture – but as a protection from the distortion of our faith.  The catechisms make it easy for us to memorize doctrine so that we can give an answer to every man for the hope that is in us.  I Peter 3:15…..but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. If you do not study scripture deeply, how can you make a reasonable and honest defense?

By studying the history of the church and the development of theological thought over the centuries, we understand the struggle of those who have gone before us to protect our faith.  We realize that we have the faith of those who have gone before us to comfort us.  We learn to respect the sacrifices they made on our behalf?  Have we ever had to face matyrdom to protect the faith?  Would we care enough about our faith to know it so well that we would be willing to die for it — as our forefathers did so often?

It saddens me that I don’t see a deep hunger and thirst to know God in the general evangelical American church population.  I don’t want to overgeneralize, but I so often see an indifference in Christians when it comes to ‘knowing’ God deeply.  I often hear comments like the one I mentioned above, “I don’t need to know Jesus — all I have to do is to love Him.”

Yet, Jesus said:  You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.John 4:22-24

Jesus asks us not only to worship Him in spirit….but in truth.  Thus, I must ask the question, How can you love someone you do not know?  How can you know ‘truth’ if you do not study the one defined by truth?

Sometimes people who live within this field of view (the ‘all I need to do is love Jesus’ view) take opportunities to be critical and condemning of those who do love to learn about God — those who love theology — those who crave the deep things of our Father — those who make the time to study.  I don’t think this is done in a mean-spirited way.  I believe it is done mainly to erase the guilt of their own conscience.

I didn’t even realize there was a label for this until this week.  Probably because my head is always buried in a theology book…and the Bible.  A very sweet Christian friend of mine referenced this kind of Christian as the “front pew” person.  She was responding to my comments about such topics as Osteen, The Secret, The Shack, The Purpose Driven Life, etc.  I shared a wonderfully deep discussion on the topic by John MacCarthur.

It is certainly true that the average pew sitter does not have the intellect of most theologians but they still have the capability to learn many of the deep things of God.  Just because it’s not easy to do does not mean we should not do it.  I can say this from the deepest place in my heart  –studying theology should a requirement that springs out of a heart of desire to know God like a front pew person.

Why?  Because if you don’t take the time to learn about who God really is, you may injure others in your evangelical zeal to spread the news about Him.  What news are you spreading?  Are you spreading the gospel?  Can you even accurately tell someone what the gospel is?  Who would honestly believe someone who said, “You don’t need to know anything about Him, you just have to love Him?”

Secondly, if you don’t know God, then you don’t know how God wants us to worship Him.  Are you living under the illusion that we get to choose how to worship God?  If your answer remains that ‘I love God and that’s all I need’ then you have some studying to do.  Some praying to do.

If God did not tolerate the kind of worship that Nadab and Abihu offered, what makes one think that he will accept our own personal preferences in worship or in the definition of His very being?  R.C. Sproul asks, “Nadab and Abihu brought strange fire before the Lord, and for that, God struck them dead.  Why did God deal with them so harshly?”  Ponder this question today.  You can hear Sproul’s audio broadcast on this topic here. Sinclair Ferguson has a really nice talk on this subject here. Ferguson’s talk is very much worth listening to if you desire to understand how God desires to be worshiped.  God, please continue to give us deep teachers such as R. C. Sproul, Sinclair Ferguson, Derek Thomas, J.I. Packer, Michael Horton, John MacCarthur, Alistair Begg, Iain Murray, Charles Tedrick and so, so many others who faithfully proclaim the deep, accurate word of God.   We need them immensely to minister to the ailing, ignorant body of Christ.

Bottom line?  Though I don’t sit on the front pew, I sit pretty darn close to that front row.  I don’t want to be distracted by the rustling of papers and nodding heads.  I want stay focused when the Word of God is being taught — to learn more about the God I serve and worship.  I don’t do this to become puffed up, as 1 Corinthians 8 cautions us against.  I do this because the Bible exhorts me to grow and mature in my faith.  (1 Cor. 14:30, Phil. 3:15, Col. 4:12, Heb. 5:14 and other passages.)  I want to be faithful to my Father.

Paul always says it best:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.  Colossians: 1:24-29

Beloved friends, get to know your Savior deeply.  Crave to understand the theology behind your faith.  The more you know you know Him, the more you will love Him.  It’s impossible not to love Him when you know Him so well.

Image by Francisco Sgroi (Creative Commons License)


Today, as I was wallowing in the steamy warmth of my morning shower, I spent an extended amount of time thinking about perceptions.

Perceptions we have of others.  Perceptions which mold our thinking both positively and negatively.  Perceptions which result in injury or facilitate healing.  Perceptions which are revealed to be true when cast in the light of truth, or are declared false when over-shadowed and exposed by that very same truth.

We base so much of what we believe on our chosen perceptions.  For instance, we categorize and define people simply by observing their facial expressions.  We make a judgment based on a single glance instead of taking the time to know.

Our declared perceptions either free others or enslave them by either rightly receiving their true intentions or choosing to misunderstand their words — knowingly or unknowingly.

We do all of this based on our own interpretation because we only want to use our very own crafted lens with which to perceive.

It made me wonder how much more accurately our faith could be expressed to others if we would choose to use the lens the Father gave to us instead of crafting our own lens.  Certainly, this mindset requires a sacrifice of self and pride, as well as a sacrifice of our preferred perceptions.  But I have a feeling that so much hurt, conflict and error could be avoided if before we spoke — before we perceived, we asked ourselves, “What would God have to say about my perception?”

I surprised myself.  I decided to look (ESV version) to see if I could find the word “perceive” in the Bible.  I really didn’t think it would be there – but it is!  What I found as I studied different instances of the use of this concept was quite interesting.  I won’t analyze it for you here — but you certainly have the ability to do the same thing I just did!

Suffice it to say that sometimes our perceptions are correct.  I would give credit to the Holy Spirit for discernment.  Sometimes, however, man fails to perceive correctly and wrecks havoc on others — and themselves.

No matter what our perceptions may be, we must learn to think before we speak.  Think wisely and intentionally before we act.  It doesn’t mean that we fail to take action is our perceptions are correct and a situation needs addressing or defending.  But there is a time, a place and a season for our reaction.  And always, it should be swaddled in prayer and the truth of God’s Word…..

I think my prayer for all who would read this would be:  “Father, help us to perceive your truth accurately.  In others, help us to perceive clearly before we judge and speak in error, thus possibly wounding those whom You love.   And most of all, Father, help us to perceive you in all of your glory, so that in that all we do, and all that we say and perceive will only be to your glory, and your glory alone.”

My favorite “perception” verse has nothing to do with us – and has everything to do with God.

Ecclesiastes 3:14 I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. 15 That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away.

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