Healthy Heart, Healthy Life

Have you ever had a friend that was bitter? A friend that is still talking about the person that betrayed them years ago. Or maybe a family member who is still talking about their divorce. Perhaps you know someone who is going to bring up her ex within fifteen minutes of any and every conversation.

If you look closely at these individuals, you will notice they have a long list of hurts and disappointments. In fact, for many their friendships are short lived, they keep changing jobs, and their closest family members seem to be as bitter as they are. How does this happened? It starts at the heart level.

Bitterness is a heart condition. Your heart’s condition not only affects you, it affects everything and everyone around you too.

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. Proverbs 4:23

Other translations express your heart determines the “borders” of your life. Just how far will your life go? Well, it depends on your heart. How healthy will your relationships be? Depends on your heart. What kind of influence will you have on your children and the people you love? Depends on your heart.

Not everyone hurting is bitter.

Perhaps you’ve had a chance to know someone who seems to be doing well even though they have known tragedies in their life. Perhaps they have lost someone, maybe they have had a huge setback in their career, or a debilitating illness, and yet they remain positive. What’s their secret?

The new testament says it like this.

Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. 3 John 1:2

The truth is your life is going to be about as good as your soul. A healthy heart, a healthy soul will have good relationships and a good life in spite of trouble. A heart sickened by bitterness will make everything in life bitter. We see this in people all around us.

If you want a good life, put into place these habits to make sure you have a healthy heart.

1. Forgive. Jesus said unforgiveness brings torment and forgiveness brings freedom. I guarantee if you hold onto grudges, they will torment and spoil your life.

2. Get mercy. Guilt is like an infection. A proud person thinks they don’t need mercy, but if you spend some time contemplating your life, you’ll see that everyone needs mercy.

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 1 John 1:9

People have joy because they have received mercy and live in it.

3. Humble yourself. Humility brings favor from God and from people. People naturally avoid arrogant people, but humility draws others to you.

So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. 1 Peter 5:6

Getting Through Challenges

The frog is head-and-shoulders inside the pelican’s mouth, but his back and legs dangle outside of it.  His front legs act like hands sticking out of both sides of the pelican’s beak and wrap around the pelican’s throat trying to choke him.  The frog’s back legs are kicking. When I saw this picture, it grabbed my attention. But the best part was the caption: “Never give up!”  I love it!

God has a lot to say about difficulties in life and how He uses them to change us.  We think they are miserable. And when crises come and seem to last forever, we often grieve.  God, however, thinks those times are useful.

1 Peter 1:6-7 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 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.

Have you grieved over things?  You know that terrible feeling that comes when you get really bad news.  It saps your strength and makes you feel like you have been hit in the stomach.  Maybe several hardships have  happened and they all culminated in you feeling grief. These trials are usually of different types- money, people, illness, seemingly unanswered prayer. But the effect they have on you is that they grieve you. If that is you right now, this scripture is for you.   I am amazed that God says that not only are times for grief acceptable, they are necessary.  “Necessary?” you might ask, “You mean I NEED THEM?!” God thinks we do.  We tend to think, “Surely there is another way. I shouldn’t have to endure this.”  No it is necessary.

The Need For Trials

You see, these trials are used by God to give you something that is more precious than money. They approve your faith! Like Paul writing to Timothy, “I kept the faith.” That old man’s faith has an effect on us 1900 years later.  It was more precious than gold. It was not just for Paul, but for me as well.

What if the reasons you have been grieved by bad news and had to put up with it was so your children can see that faith in God can get you through a crises? What if it is because in 15 or 20 years they are diagnosed with cancer and they remember how YOU endured hardship and you rejoiced and did not complain. What if they take courage to do what is right because of your example?  The testing of our faith is precious, valuable, worth something to God to us and to others.  I am sure you have been inspired in the past by someone who persisted right in the middle of a terrible situation that would just not go away.   You admired their courage, their good attitude, and deep down inside you, you wanted to be like them.

You have, for a little while, been grieved. That terrible feeling you feel when you receive really bad news is really there.

Trials can be so bad, Peter said, that it feels like you are in a furnace. Things are burning up all around. Some tests are so bad, no one can bear them. It is true you can not endure, but your faith can. Nothing but your faith can get you through this kind of test. But your faith can bring you through it and make it work for your good.  When we keep our faith alive, the whole trial ends up working for us and not against us.

Just like Peter said, in the end you get the reward, your loved ones get an example, and Jesus Christ gets the glory.

Why Evil Things Happen

Photograph by Drew Angerer / Getty

I can’t imagine the grief of those families who lost someone in the Las Vegas massacre. Not just the pain of losing a loved one, but the senselessness of it. Losing a child, a spouse, a friend is a devastating life altering tragedy. People can take years to recover from things like that, and some never do. One of the troubling questions that humans have to deal with is, why do bad things like this happen?

There is a short answer to that and then an extended one.  The short one is that we live in a fallen world.  It isn’t just that there is evil in the world. It is that people do the evil. If you remember, the beginning chapters of the Genesis there lived a man and woman in the Garden of Eden. It was a virtual paradise. There was no pain, no suffering, no heartache, and no death. Still, Adam and Eve sinned. The bible says Adam and Eve chose to rebel against God. When they did that, sin entered the world as a wicked and sustained power. We live in a world that is full of sin. Adam and Eve opened up a door, and sin entered into humanity. That evil showed itself in the perpetrator in Las Vegas.

We live in a broken world. When we wonder why these bad things happen, it’s almost like going to the DPS and saying, “Why do you let all these accidents happen on our highways?!” It was the drunk who decided to drive home. It was the girl who was texting and putting on mascara as she passed that pickup going 75 mph.

Look at the story of King David. He was a good man who loved God, but even he committed adultery and had her husband killed. The godly man turned bad and killed the innocent. The evil nature of sin is here, but we can do something about it.

We can pray. You cannot talk anyone out of grief.  But God Himself has said He has the ability to heal broken hearts. God can do for them what the best of us can’t: heal them in their innermost.

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:3

We can give. Just search online and you’ll find there are many resources we can give to. Countless ministries are sending chaplains to talk, pray, and comfort.

Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Romans 15:1

We can encourage others to do the same. When we catch onto the fact that we can do something that will actually help others, we can unashamedly urge others to help with us.

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. Hebrews 10:24

Father to 10,000 Children

People liked seeing him come into work. Despite the fact that he had a huge responsibility, he was a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. Instead of acting as though life was a chore, he was genuinely cheerful day-in-day-out. Hard worker though he was, he didn’t let the heavy burden of his job steal his joy nor his good attitude. Instead of letting that stress make cold and stoic (someone people avoided) his positive attitude made people love and respect him.

The year was 1835, and because of Cholera epidemics, his city was full of orphans. Without the funds or the endowment of a huge philanthropist, he began an orphanage. And over the years he housed over 10,000 kids.

Think of that! Half a century ago, the average American couple bore 3.7 children. Today that number has decreased to 1.9. But can you imagine what it would be like taking in 10,000 kids?!  PLUS, this now-father didn’t quit his day job of pastoring a large congregation.

George Muller’s life was busy (to say the least). But instead of being stressed out, walking around with a black cloud over his head, he chose to live happy and that made people flock to him. Many came from all around to his orphanage wanting to help him.

One must ask…How did he maintain a steady happiness that drew people to him? According to his autobiography,

  1. He started every day thanking God, reading the bible and praying for his needs. He wrote, “The first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day is to have my soul happy in the Lord.”
  2. He made lists of things he needed, and routinely prayed over that list. He would continue to ask God for answers until he saw them come to pass. “I believe God has heard my prayers. He will make it manifest in His own good time that He has heard me. I have recorded my petitions so that when God has answered them, His name will be glorified.”
  3. He believed hardships produced great faith. Even when hardships meant wondering where he get money for buildings, food, resources to care for so many children. “The only way to obtain strong faith” he said, “is to endure great trials.” Instead of simply asking for money, he would pray and others would give.
  4. He left a legacy. Johann George Ferdinand Müller became a world re-known Christian evangelist and the director of the Ashley Down orphanage in Bristol, England. During his lifetime, he established 117 schools which offered Christian education to more than 120,000 children.

Great success came from Muller’s dependency on God and what was true for Muller is true for us today.

 

The Danger of Unforgiveness

I couldn’t believe it.  The man who had helped me come to Christ, who prayed the sinner’s prayer with me, was now full of bitterness!  His love for Christ had seemed so genuine, but now it seemed to be dying out. What had happened? By the way he talked, he sounded like a completely different man.

I found out there were problems in his marriage.  He had married a widow with kids. Things got complicated, and many problems did not get resolved. When I spoke with him, he would talk about how bad his family was treating him. But instead of working through the problem, he withdrew into a shell to protect himself.  The marriage dissolved because of it, and things were dire.

As the years went on, he would still speak about how unfair everything was and how wrong he was treated.  It became clear to me what had happened. He was refusing to forgive. He was still holding onto those offenses.

Jesus said unforgiveness  bring “tormentors.” Jesus said the one who refuses to forgive is like one forced into a prison where they are tortured.  This Christian brother of mine was in that prison. But Jesus was offering a “get out of jail free” card.  To walk out of that cell of bitterness and out from under that heavy burden of pain required him to forgive his wife. Unfortunately, he refused to forgive, and so he remained in that prison.

Jesus said because we have been forgiven so much from God, we must forgive others.

Then the king [who represent God] called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt. Matthew 18:32-34

Of all the things I have seen destroy people’s lives, the one that I have seen most is not, alcohol, drugs, or adultery.  It’s unforgiveness, hands down.  Unforgiveness destroys families, businesses, churches, sports teams, and staffs. It makes it grand entrance through offenses and wreaks havoc on relationships.

Jesus was emphatic about this thing of forgiving others because He knew it would be a huge stumbling block. But to show us how important it is, He said,

But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:15

How do you know you’ve actually forgiven?

Well, first let me tell you this. I’ve had to forgive the same people for the same offense over and over again. I may not “feel” different (at least not right away), but I choose to forgive every time I remember it.

Here are some things forgiveness is not:

Forgiveness is not conditional. Forgiveness is given regardless of how the other person responds. They may not earn it, deserve it, or promise to do something to receive it. Real forgiveness isn’t waiting for the offender to apologize, it is given anyway.

Forgiveness is not pretending there was no offense.   It takes courage and truth to admit you were hurt. When Jesus taught us to pray, He said we should speak to the Father this way, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” That means they took something form you, or maybe you trusted them and they betrayed you. There are many things people take from us:

Our Reputation
Friends
Job
Family
Innocence
Money

If they owe you an apology, guess what, they owe you something. Don’t pretend that they don’t. To say, “It’s no big deal, I’m fine” is a lie.

Forgiveness does not mean you must trust them again. Trust is earned.  Some people are afraid to forgive because they believe they will go have to go back to trusting that person. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to be their best friend again, or go into business again with them. It simply means that you’ve released them from the debt they owed you.

What Makes Happy Married Couples Happy?

Couple holding handsMy wife Libby and I recently celebrated our 43rd anniversary. Sounds like forever, doesn’t it? We married just after leaving the “hippie” life and becoming Christians. We stepped into a new world of learning what the Bible teaches about husbands and wives, and we faced a radical change from our previous life.

The scripture commands a husband give things up for the sake of their wife. It tells us to give and care for them unlike anything I had seen before. And for Libby, she was to honor and respect me as the husband and leader of the family.

These ideas were absolutely NOT what our counter-culture of “hippieness” advocated. But it was obvious: Christian marriages worked. When we had serious problems where the marriage could have easily dissolved, we stayed together.  The only reason it worked out was because we had discovered principles God had established, and we cried out to Him for help. Some of these might surprise you, but every married couple needs these principles at work if they want to stay married.

The first is this: love God more than you love your spouse. This simple command is much harder to walk out than you might think. But Jesus commanded it:

And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Matthew 22:37

That means we choose to do what God wants over what we (or our spouse) wants. His plan for your life must take precedence. So, what is his commandment about marriage?

Husbands, love your wife. Seems obvious, right? But loving your wife means more than just buying her roses on Valentine’s Day (which is never a bad idea, guys). It means giving up things I want so that I can give her things she needs. It means putting her needs and desires above my own.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself up for her. Ephesians 5:25

What does look like practically? It means we give up time, money, and make choices for her benefit. Ladies, if you are looking for a husband, here’s my advice: find a man who loves God more than he loves you, and he will love you more than any woman on earth.

Wives, honor your husbands. 

In the same way, you wives must accept the authority of your husbands. Then, even if some refuse to obey the Good News, your godly lives will speak to them without any words. They will be won over by observing your pure and reverent lives. 1 Peter 3:1-2

To be frank, Libby put up with me because she loved God more than she loved me. She honored me even when I made great mistakes, which just made me love her all the more. The God who created us, who designed our psyche, gave us instructions for marriage. He gave us the blueprint of how to have a happy and successful marriage.

By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established. Proverbs 24:3

Wisdom is to live by God’s design. I’ve realized I am happiest loving my wife, when I love her God’s way. That is how He designed marriages to thrive.

The Only Time God Opposes You

Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. was the United States General who led the coalition forces during the Gulf War. He once told a story of his first class at “charm school” which he attended when he became a general.

He and 35 other “one star” generals were all required to attend classes designed to help them get a broader view of their responsibilities as general officers of the army. The classes were also designed to teach them better manners and the political realities of a military that is under civilian authority (I guess that’s why it’s called “charm school”).

When the 36 men gathered there for their first session, they all expected to be affirmed as the best of the best the army had to offer. In the front of the class behind the podium stood the more seasoned general who would instruct them. His eyes grazed over his students a long time before he spoke.

When he finally began he said, “If you had all traveled here together in an airplane, and it crashed and killed you, do you know what would happen?” The young generals kept their eyes focused on him, hanging on his words. He continued, “We would go back out into the field and get 36 more colonels just as good as you to take your place.”

I love that story.  That general knew what he was doing. He just helped those men escape a trap. The trap that is Pride.

Pride is such a dangerous disease. It crawls into your mind and then spreads like a toxin into your whole body. It can make good men into fools. Let me warn you. Before you start elevating yourself in your job, or in your family, consider what the bible says about being proud:

Pride is dangerous because it not only causes God to resist you, He sets a battle against you….

God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. James 4:6

To oppose means to square off in battle. It’s one thing to have an argument with a family member, but to have the Creator of the Universe designing strategies to humble you (in other words, bring you down)… Trust me, you don’t want that.

Pride is the precursor to calamity.

It’s like a road sign “Catastrophe up ahead”

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom. Proverbs 11:2

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Proverbs 16:18 

For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Galatians 6:3

That is why we need good honest friends who can tell us if they see or smell pride on us. It blinds us. We usually can’t see it, but everyone else can. This price for pride is too great to be ignored. It will bring calamity on you and those closest to you.

So I encourage you, ask someone who knows you (and isn’t afraid to be honest with you) to give you a pride check. It will guard you in the long run.

Winning The Battle In Your Brain

chess figures on the brown woden table concept

The table was a beautiful display of savory Chinese cuisine. Everyone was eating and laughing, having a great time. A good meal in China is about talking loud, laughing a lot, swapping stories, and enjoying each other’s company.

As we ate, I turned to talk to one of the pastors at the table to hear his story.  At one time, he shared, he had been a university professor. But because he converted to Christ, he was “dismissed” from his job.  He was forced to leave a prestigious career in Communist China to become a pastor in one of the underground churches. After losing his job, he was imprisoned and tortured. The guards beat him bloody and pulled out his fingernails. This was a man who had at one time been lecturing in the university. Here he was sitting at in a humble dining room laughing and enjoying his friends and openly sharing about his horrible experiences.

You’d assume a man like that would be bitter at somebody, maybe even bitter at God. But he wasn’t. I sat back and wondered, how did this man keep his mind from all that negativity?

My friend’s experience reminded me of the apostle Paul’s imprisonment in Rome in the first century.  He too had been beaten, nearly killed, and imprisoned for preaching Jesus Christ. Sitting in that cell, alone, after suffering such hardships, Paul must have had a serious war going on in his mind. But noticed how he decides to fight it:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything, worthy of praise, dwell on these things. Philippians 4:8

Dwell on these things, he says. Think about these things. Did you know that God could give you the ability to choose one way of thinking instead of another? If you let your mind wander freely, the power of your problems will dominate you thoughts. But God doesn’t want you to be subject to those things. He desires to give you a higher perspective. A godly one. That is a game changer. No more self-pity, no suicidal thoughts, no revenge. God is capable of making you win the war in your brain.

Here’s what He tells us to do…

Leave your old perspective.

…with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; Ephesians 4:22-23.

Ask and God will give you the ability to leave that perspective behind you and live a different way.  Imagine for a moment what it would be like to have control over your negative thinking and act different. When you ask God for a new mind, you set your past behind you and keep it from governing your life now. 

Get fit and stay fit mentally. We can’t just leave a perspective without picking up a new one. We need to empty our mind of the “flesh” mentality, and fill it with Holy Spirit truth.

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:13

There is a battlefield between your ears going on all the time. If you don’t have victory over it, it will drive your life into despair. If we want to live like Paul lived, or like my friend leading a church in China, we are gonna have to drop that destructive thinking and start thinking on God’s level.

How to Change The World

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He had this impression that he was supposed to travel to Rome.  Telemachus had never been there, and had never really thought about going. He was a relatively unknown monk in what we now call Turkey. Despite his hesitation, he followed what he believed was God’s direction and set out for Rome.

When he arrived, he was surrounded by the cheers and chants of the Romans who were headed to watch a fierce gladiator battle in the Coliseum. As he entered the stands in that great arena, his eyes fell on the unbelievable. He saw two men, clad in leather armor and girded with swords, fighting to the death while a crowd 80,000 screamed their support at the top of their lungs. Immediately, Telemachus knew why God had brought him there. In admirable and God-given courage, he walked down to the battle floor and stood between the two Gladiators.

“In the name of Christ, forbear!” he roared. “In the name of Christ, forbear!” He said a second time. The stadium began to quiet as the crowd focused their eyes on this thin and scraggly figure in priestly robes. Once more he cried out, “In the name of Christ, forbear!” This time, the stadium heard him loud and clear. Instead of pity, the spectators erupted in indignation. How dare this man interfere with their entertainment! One by one, they picked up rocks and chucked them towards Telemachus and stoned him.

Telemachus stood there and refused to defend himself as the stones smashed his head and broke his arms and legs. He refused to return their hatred with hatred. When the Romans saw this, something incredible happened. Silence once again crept into the crowd. Someone in the stands stood up and walked out. Then another followed him. And then another, and another. Soon, the stadium was empty. Their in the center of the massive stadium, the lone Christian lay in a pool of blood as a symbol of change. It was a sacrifice in the name of peace.

That was the last gladiator fight in the Roman Coliseum.

Throughout history, the Church has ushered in changes in cultures across the globe. The Christians were the ones who started hospitals and clinics around the world. Christians founded Harvard, Yale, and Princeton as centers to train men and women in the ministry.

I am so proud (the good proud) to be a Christian. What a heritage we have! Our heritage all starts with Jesus, our leader, who set the agenda.

How do we change the world?

  1. Christians are not just people trying to do good. We are designed by God to be influencers for good to the world.

    You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden…Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14,16

  2. God has built us to serve others. When we serve, we are following His model.

    For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10

    I find that truth invigorating! We are created and set on a God ordained timeline to help others, our community, and our world, and see real change happen in people’s lives. That’s our calling.

  3. Christians are members of an ever-multiplying, ever-expanding family. What began at Christ’s resurrection with just a handful of followers in Jerusalem, has exploded to almost every corner of the globe. The number of people who call themselves Christians today is between 2.2 and 2.5 billion. Jesus told Peter he was going to build his Church, and guess what? The Builder continues to build.

If you’re a Christian, you are not just a member of some social club. This isn’t just some hobby to pass the time. You are part of a movement for change. Godly change. A movement that began when Christ was raised from the dead and will continue until He returns.

Nice Guys DO NOT Finish Last

I grew up thinking that living a Christian life meant giving into living a “less than” life.  It was as though if you really wanted to do something great or live a life of true success, the last thing you would want to be is a Christian. They don’t have any fun! They follow all those rules, “Don’t do this!” and “You can’t do that!” I thought being a Christian meant having a dissatisfied life. I mean, I thought it meant I would have to be a missionary in Africa with an unhappy family and live on pennies a day!

It all changed for me when I met men who loved their wives and wives who loved their husbands. I could see that they truly enjoyed each other’s company.  Their kids loved and respected them. And I saw how they prospered. One man who I became friends with did very well as a banker, and unlike so many people I knew, his family was a place of joy for him and not of stress. This challenged my idea of what Christianity looked like, and I started to change.

Of course, that was God’s plan the whole time. He was showing me a biblical principle through the life of my friend,

The reward of humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, honor and life. Proverbs 22:4

Again and again, I would run into men and women who chose to humble themselves before God and serve Him. From the outside, most would say they lived a fortunate life, but the truth is, they lived a “blessed” life. There’s a big difference there. Good things would happen for them that just didn’t happen to others. There were spiritual laws working in their lives changing their character. Principles that cannot be broken. The principles can break (i.e change) a person, but a person cannot break the principle.

Humility

At the end of the day, what separated these people from the rest of the world wasn’t what they did, necessarily. It was the position of their heart.

But the humble will inherit the land and will delight themselves in abundant prosperity. Psalms 37:11

God Himself has said that one who humbles himself will enjoy a better life and receive things he/she does not earn. They become God’s children and become part of an inheritance. But just as their humility brings them under blessing, the opposite is true for the proud person.

God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. James 4:6

That means God sets up a battle plan against the proud. Like lining up toe to toe on the scrimmage line. And trust me, you want God on your side next to you, not across from you.

How do you humble yourself?

Fear God

The fear of the Lord will keep you from doing things that will destroy your life, your marriage, your health, your soul.

How great is Your goodness, which You have stored up for those who fear You. Psalms 31:19

The truth is, God is a ruler. Not an elected official, but a King with absolute authority. But the beauty of it is, people who have come to accept that God is in charge have discovered that God is a good, kind, patient, and loving ruler. He’s not some malicious tyrant waiting for you to slip up. He wants what is best for you, and will make things work in your favor.

When you submit yourself and fear Him, you’ll live the true Christian life. A life of limitless favor and blessing.