15 May 2020

The Emoji

I just learned that my Google Messages app will now support iPhone like emojis.  Thrilling…  OK, not really!  Why, you may ask?  I think I have enough emojis already!  How many do I really need?  I’ll probably peruse the new collection, but I’ll stick with my favorites, I think, because people know what I mean by now. 

I have a collection of smiley faces, sad faces, angry faces, and even ones that evoke, shall we say, rather vivid, bodily functions!  Most convey a specific meaning… no surprises there.  But one emoji possesses great power and tremendous complexity – the simple ♥ heart.

When I use this symbol, I can emote love, or friendship, or even that I like a certain post!  So what is it about the heart that makes us believe its sincerity?  How do you know I really mean it?  Is my heart even trustworthy?

That’s what God addresses in this oft-quoted passage in Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”  So, it would seem that my heart isn’t reliable, according to God’s Word.  But why do I think it is?  Does this admonition from the Lord apply to us as Christians?  Are our hearts deceitful?  Then how can we truly love?

To understand this better, we need some context.  I am very grateful to John Piper for his insights to a caller on his radio program a while back who helped me see this clearly.  In the first part of this chapter, God sounds the warning, yet again, to rebellious Judah.  Vs. 1 – “Judah's sin is engraved with an iron tool, inscribed with a flint point, on the tablets of their hearts and on the horns of their altars.”

Remember, they had exchanged worship of God for idolatry and pagan immorality.  God said it would be because of their sin that they would lose their inheritance of the Promised Land, their wealth, and be sent into captivity – because they trusted in others rather than Him, depending on their own strength rather than His!

In contrast, God says, vs. 7 – “But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. 8  He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

So, why do we as God’s people exchange the certainty of blessing by trusting in Him with the futility of operating under our own power?  That’s when we get to vs. 9.  Our human hearts are sick…influenced by deceit.  That’s why we trust in self vs. trusting in God.

He alone, vs. 10, searches our hearts and examines our minds, to accurately and graciously bless us according to who we are and what we do in response to His free gift of grace.

So, is my heart deceitful?  Yes, absolutely.  All of us were born with this desire to satisfy self over and above God.  But, the Bible says that when we accept this gift found only in Jesus Christ, He changes our hearts within us completely!

In Acts 15:8-9, God now doesn’t distinguish between us.  “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them (the Gentiles) by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9  He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.”  (Emphasis mine)

When we come to Jesus, we are a new creation, 2 Cor. 5:17, the old has gone, the new has come!  God gives us a new heart because of His Spirit that dwells in us!  Somebody say “amen!”  And we become more and more like Him.

The next time you use that heart emoji, recall to mind the heart of Jesus for you and how your heart has been changed by Him!

02 May 2020


Growing up, one of the most dreaded games you might have played on the playground was one of the most painful.  In a test of strength, you would interlock fingers with someone and attempt to bend them backwards.  The winner was the one who lasted the longest under that subtle form of torture.  You yielded by yelling out the code-word, which was the name of the game: "Uncle!"

I was usually the shortest kid in grade school, and this game was a favorite among the bigger kids to flaunt their power and stature.  Because my fingers were small, I was thought of as an easy target to beat.  However, I could last a fairly long time, due to the fact my bony knuckles would dig into my opponent’s fingers!

But, of course, the sheer strength of my opponent would win out, and inevitably, I would call, “Uncle” and give in.  But some of those immature bullies wouldn’t cease bending my fingers, necessitating my repeated cries of “Uncle” until finally I begged for mercy!

This childish game can readily depict what we think the concept of mercy is all about – a submissive person who is held captive by a harassing tyrant, then released – with both fingers and feelings left numb and bruised.

I hadn’t thought of this childish game in years until I came across a signature section in my Journey with Jeremiah.  The prophet seems to be the victim, as the Lord commanded him not to marry or have children (Jer. 16:1-2).  The Jewish culture viewed marriage and child-rearing as not only a blessing to be enjoyed but as obligatory.  It was your responsibility!  

Here, a dominating God seemingly prohibits Jeremiah from fulfilling his societal duty with His restrictive command.  Admittedly, the game of Uncle entered my brain upon reading this verse!  Why would God do this to poor Jeremiah, a man who desired nothing more than to serve and be compassionate to his people.

We often talk a lot about the grace of God in our Christian lives but not a lot about His mercy.  For me, I think it’s because I associate mercy with this schoolyard game.  But what is it?  Grace has often been defined as “getting something I don’t deserve” – like when I get a hug when I really deserve a rebuke.  But mercy is the opposite: “not getting what I truly deserve,” meaning I don’t receive punishment for a wrong I have done.

So, what’s the deal with God and Jeremiah?  Instead of playing the tyrant, here, the Lord reveals His perfect compassion.  With the coming judgment against the people of Judah for their willful disobedience and abandonment of a godly lifestyle, God actually spares Jeremiah from the heartache of loss that will come through captivity, disease, famine and destruction by their enemies!  As a tender-hearted man, I think Jeremiah would have been torn to pieces to watch his family be consumed like this.

Wow, Lord, what wonderful mercy You offered Your servant!  He and his people, sinful at birth, deserved punishment for sin.  And yet, You spared Jeremiah that grief and anguish.  I, too, have strayed from You more times than I can count in over 50 years of life.  I stand condemned in my willful disobedience, as well.  And yet, You show how much You love me by sparing me the consequences of my sin when I commit my life to You.

I’m reminded of 1 Peter 1:3-7 (NIV).  I praise God because, “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4  and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you, 5  who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6  In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7  These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 

The thing about God’s mercy – I may not see it until after the fact.  I may not have a tangible experience with it right now, but I do have the knowledge of it.  Through Jesus, He offers me hope, one that I can know right now – even through my trials and what I may perceive as injustices – and look to experience in person with Him on that Day.

I am grateful God compassionately spared Jeremiah.  And I am grateful He spares me from the wrath I deserve.  “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5  made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:4-5 (NIV)

When have you cried “Uncle” in your life?   How did you experience God’s mercy?  Why did you receive it?  How will you share His mercy with others today?

24 April 2020


In our trying experiences with this horrible coronavirus lately, many of us have been doing a lot of praying!  We’ve been interceding for the sick, our beloved friends in healthcare and our first-responders who are serving on the front lines and government officials as they lead.  In the height of this pandemic, we may wonder... “When will things end?  What will it look like in the future?  When will my happiness return?” 

In my journey with Jeremiah this week, I noticed his struggle, interceding on behalf of his sick nation – not with physical illness but the spiritual decay of sin.  The people of Israel and Judah continued to willfully dishonor God in their thoughts and deeds.  And, they did not appreciate Jeremiah’s constant pleading for them to turn from wickedness and embrace the Lord! 

In chapter 15, Jeremiah was on their hit list, and he called out to God for protection.  The Lord answered Jeremiah in vs. 11 – “All will be well with you, Jeremiah.”  (NLT)  He would deliver His prophet because the people were headed for exile.  In those simple words, Jeremiah understood something, and as I read the words he prayed, I came away renewed in two ways.   

First, in the middle of asking for deliverance, vs. 16, he said: “Your words are what sustain me.  They bring me great joy and are my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God Almighty.”   I love how Jeremiah hung on the Word of God, realizing how much God’s Word nurtured his soul!  The voice of God kept Him going – not just being confident God would do what He said, but in moment-by-moment joy!  Was his situation rough?  You bet!  I think today is difficult... but I can’t imagine the lonely trials he endured in a nation filled with sinful apostasy where everyone seemingly was out to get him!

Are we delighting in the Word today? ... In His voice that speaks through the pages of Scripture, illuminated by the Spirit?  Let that sustain you as you live for Him!

Second, God also called Jeremiah to be the bearer of His name – to represent Him to the people.  In fact, in the Hebrew, the name Almighty means God of Hosts, of Heaven’s Armies!  God called him to reflect the power of God in the middle of his circumstances!

But Jeremiah complained.  He kept asking why, vs. 18.  “Why is my wound so incurable? Your help seems as uncertain as a seasonal brook...like a spring that has gone dry.”  “Why, Lord, why?!”  I know I am tempted to do the same.  God then replied, vs. 19 – “If you return to me, I will restore you so you can continue to serve me. If you speak words that are worthy, you will be my spokesman.  You are to influence them; do not let them influence you!”   Oh, how often I continue complaining when all I need to do is trust in God’s word to me!  He will provide for my needs!  “I will never leave you, nor forsake you!”  (Hebrews 13:5) 

Family, God says those of us called to Christ are bearers of His image – “conformed to the likeness of his Son,” Romans 8:29 – to speak worthy words...so that others are influenced for Christ!  In my time with the Lord, my prayer has been this: “Lord, how can I be the bearer of Light this week, so others see You in me?”  

Will that be your prayer, too?  Will you be an influencer for Christ, not complaining about life, as we can do when faced with difficulty?  Allow His Word to sustain you so you delight in bearing His name!

16 April 2020


During this pandemic, I have now understood the temptation and the reality of binge-watching shows on TV.  Do you have a favorite platform – Netflix, the new Disney+ or perhaps Amazon Prime?  On any streaming service, I’m a sucker for documentaries and westerns! 

By way of confession, I’ve been watching the 1989 TV series, “The Young Riders” – it’s a lot of fun!  But if I’m not careful, one or two episodes can turn into 5 or 6...and my backside makes a firm impression into my couch!  Laziness can easily kick in. 

Funny how something so seemingly innocuous as watching a western came to my mind as I continued my Journey with Jeremiah this week!  God gave the prophet a pretty strange illustration, and although I’ve read this book many times, I must admit, I never remembered this obscure incident!  Take a look:

        This is what the LORD said to me: "Go and buy a linen belt and put it around your waist, but do not let it touch water." 2  So I bought a belt, as the LORD directed, and put it around my waist. 3  Then the word of the LORD came to me a second time:
        4  "Take the belt you bought and are wearing around your waist, and go now to Perath and hide it there in a crevice in the rocks." 5  So I went and hid it at Perath, as the LORD told me.
        6  Many days later the LORD said to me, "Go now to Perath and get the belt I told you to hide there." 7  So I went to Perath and dug up the belt and took it from the place where I had hidden it, but now it was ruined and completely useless. (Jeremiah 13:1-7 NIV)

I stopped here and wondered out loud, “Why, Lord, would You give such a strange assignment to Jeremiah?  You take a perfectly good belt and destroy it!  What’s the point?”  Keep reading:

        8  Then the word of the LORD came to me: 9  "This is what the LORD says: 'In the same way I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. 10  These wicked people, who refuse to listen to my words, who follow the stubbornness of their hearts and go after other gods to serve and worship them, will be like this belt--completely useless!
        11  For as a belt is bound around a man's waist, so I bound the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah to me,' declares the LORD, 'to be my people for my renown and praise and honor. But they have not listened.'  (Jeremiah 13:8-11 NIV)  I marveled at this illustration’s many facets!

First, I see just how longsuffering God is with His people.  Time after time, God gives warnings and exhortations to return to Him: “I love you and want you to be close to Me!” 

I’m reminded of the encouragement we find in 2 Peter 3:9 – “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (NIV, emphasis mine) 

God excels at giving us time to come to Him so we can be with Him and enjoy His company!  How might you thank Him for His longsuffering with you today – all so you can spend time with Him?  And that leads to the second purpose. 

God wants to remind us that we are so susceptible to pride – at its core, the attitude of “I know better than You do, Lord.”  Oh, and how left unchecked, this will rot us away from the inside out! 

All it takes is time... stewing in the attitude of self-centeredness, and yes, even my laziness.  Are there areas of your life filled with pride that you might confess to Him and change right now?

That’s when my western came to mind, and I was convicted.  “Of course I need another few hours sitting here in mindless entertainment! I deserve it!”  Now, I’m not bashing your Netflix binge. 

But for me, I realized I can easily miss time with the Lord.  He wants to love and equip me to be His instrument for good in challenging world!  Ah, and that’s the final insight.  The belt represents His people – Israel, Judah, and now us!

Our purpose is to cling to Him!  Oh, how I love God’s design for us – to be that close, that intimate, that we are wrapped around Him!  We are to be His people who give glory to Him – to show Him off and how good He is – so others will praise Him!  I have purpose and meaning in life... God desires me!  Take confidence in that today as you lean into Him.

Lord, I want to listen to You calling me today!  I want to set aside my heart of pride and spend some time hearing Your voice in Your Word.  Remind me when I get lazy or complacent to draw deep from You, the Source of Life!  And help me cling to You anew today, in Jesus’ precious name, amen!