The only sword in the world sharp enough to cut through our crap

I have always heard the Bible called a sword. When I was little, we did sword drills, which basically were contests to see how quickly you could find a specific verse. I wasn’t ever sure why we called the Bible a sword until I realized that that Scripture actually calls itself a sword in multiple places.

I think it’s fitting. After all, if you rush into battle, you have to take a weapon to defend yourself with. It’s the same with spiritual battles too. We have to have a weapon to fight with, and Scripture is the only thing that will work in the battles we have to fight.

Today’s verse is Hebrews 4:12.

12 For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.

I’m going to demonstrate a portion of my geekiness this morning. There’s a Japanese anime that I really enjoy watching called Rurouni Kenshin. What I like the most about it is that it really lacks the odd, strange things that permeate most anime (at least in the first two arcs). Most anime is based around spiritual stuff or weird things, not that I mind that generally speaking, but Rurouni Kenshin is different. It’s actually a historical anime, based on the life of an actual assassin during the Meiji Revolution in 1858. The show revolves around sword techniques.

Basically, without going into too much detail, the main character has taken a vow never to kill again to atone for all the lives he took during the revolution, and to help himself keep that vow, he carries a reverse-blade sword. It’s a sword that has the blade on the wrong side. So when he swings it at people in self-defense, he can’t kill them. He’ll give them a good bruise, but he won’t end their life.

I thought about this aspect of this show today when I read our verse. This is one of those verses that I’ve grown up hearing, but I’ve never really thought about it.

What’s the big deal about the Bible being a two-edged sword? I get the fact that it’s sharp. Obviously. But why the metaphor?

Going back to the show, the main character has to be careful to swing his sword a certain way. Becuase if he flips the sword around and uses it, he’ll kill people because the blade of his sword is on the wrong side.

If you have a sword that is sharp on both sides, it doesn’t matter which way you swing it. It will cut no matter what direction it goes. And I guess that’s what hit me this morning when I read this verse.

It doesn’t matter who uses the Bible to reach others. It doesn’t matter where you’re located or what language you speak. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how educated you are. The Bible is a double-edged sword, and no matter how you swing it, it will cut through barriers.

The last part of this verse says that it “exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” The Amplified Version puts it this way: “exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart.”

The Bible cuts through the crap that we use to hide our motivations and our intentions. It cuts through the stories we come up with to use as a shield to protect ourselves. It cuts through the lies that we tell ourselves. And it makes us understand that we are insufficient on our own.

The only way it can do this is because it’s the Word of God. It’s the sharpest sword there is, and there is no defense against it. But even though it can cut through anything, it never leaves us bleeding. Christ already bled for us.

The Bible reveals our faults and our failures and reminds us that Christ already took care of them.

Every day is a battle, no matter where you are. If you’re a Christian, you’re in a war. So don’t forget to take your sword and don’t hesitate to use it today to defend yourself and to charge the enemy’s line. Nothing can stop the Sword of God and no one can escape it. Not even the ones who wield it.

The Bible is a road map . . . and it’s not nearly as confusing as MapQuest.

Where do you go when you need answers? Do you ask your friends? Do you ask your parents? Do you Google your question and see what the internet forums have to say? Do you look to see if Dr. Oz or Dr. Phil or Oprah has a new book out that will explain the meaning of life?

As Christians, there’s only one place we need to go to get the answers we need to live life.

Today’s verse is 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

From a young age, I learned how important than verse is. No other “religious” texts claim anything like this. This verse identifies all Scripture as being breathed to live by God Himself, though the writers He chose, and it specifies where we are supposed to look for direction when we’re feeling lost.

The Bible has often been compared to a road map. It contains all the information we need to get through each day. The difficulty is, you have to read it before it will make a difference. And for some reason, so many Christians have bought into the lie that the Bible is confusing.

Kind of like people bought into the lie that the Constitution is confusing. It’s not. Granted, the language the Constitution was written in is old but if you care enough about it, you can understand it.

The Bible is exceedingly more important than the Constitution and it’s even been translated into modern languages like the New International Version (NIV) and the New Living Translation (NLT) . . . and if those aren’t simple enough, there are even fantastic paraphrases like The Message. And though paraphrases aren’t good for intense Bible study, they’re great if you’re looking to understand the main concept behind a passage.

For example, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 in The Message begins in verse 14 because that’s where the main concept of the passage begins:

14-17But don’t let it faze you. Stick with what you learned and believed, sure of the integrity of your teachers—why, you took in the sacred Scriptures with your mother’s milk! There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.

It’s not hard to understand. And it’s not difficult to read.

But it is painful sometimes.

The only difficult part about reading Scripture is having our mistakes and our sins exposed to us. But we need to remember that everyone who reads Scripture will feel the same way and that’s the reason God gave it to us. Read today’s verse again!

 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.

That is why we have Scripture. It not only points us in the right direction and warns us about pitfalls and dangers in our path, it also shows us the errors and the rebellion and the mistakes we’ve made and demonstrates what it means to live a godly life.

And on top of all that, Scripture explains why we don’t have to worry. We don’t have to pay for our sins, remember? We do need to turn from them and recognize that they aren’t helpnig us. But once we get to that point and believe that Christ paid the penalty for us and accept that free gift of salvation, we don’t ever have to be afraid of judgment.

John 3:16 is probably the most famous verse in the Bible but usually people stop there, but read all the way to verse 21. Here it is in the Message:

16-18“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.

 19-21“This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is.”

God intended for us to be alive today, in this very moment, becuase He has a purpose for us. And even though life is hard sometimes and confusing and twisted up and painful, there’s only one place we need to go when we need answers. It’s not our friends or our family or the talking heads on television. It’s the Bible.

It’s not hard to understand. God gave it to us so that we could know for sure what we needed to do every day of our lives. We just have to be humble enough to accept what Scripture says and apply it to our actions. Otherwise, what’s the point?

A summary of how to live

Sometimes I wish there were a simple five-step manual on how to live life. There just always seem to be so many choices. I mean, some choices are obvious. But other choices, the choices between something good and something else good, are hard. And there’s nothing that tells you what choice is better. Because even though both choices are good, one of them has to be the right one and the other has to be the wrong one. Right?

In any case, I wish the Bible could just sum everything up in one convenient pacakge, every choice I’d have to make and every reason why. And that way, I would know for sure that I’m making the right decision.

But the Bible doesn’t really do that. The Bible gives us hard, concrete facts about how to live but it doesn’t go into specifics like that. It tells us to make the good decisions, but when it comes to choosing between two good options, we have to pick one and trust that God will work it out either way.

If there were a passage in Scripture that summed up how to live, I would say it’s this one, Ephesians 5:15-20.

 15 So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. 16 Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. 17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. 18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, 19 singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. 20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Today’s verse is actually Ephesians 5:19-20, but I wanted the whole context. This is Paul writing to the Church at Ephesus. I think it’s interesting because even though this was written like 2,000 years ago, it’s still relevant to us today. Even the language is relevant. The Bible isn’t into 12-step programs, but if it were, this would be one.

I’m going to focus on verse 19 and 20 since that’s actually the verse of the day, but it’s also the one where something stood out to me. It says to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves.” Isn’t that interesting? Isn’t it interesting that it doesn’t say to sing them out in the world so everyone around you can hear it? Not saying we shouldn’t do that either. There’s another verse that says when Christ is lifted up, He will draw all men to Him.

But this verse says we need to sing and worship and praise among ourselves. And if not among ourselves, in our own hearts. Why?

Well, I can tell you there’s nothing quite like singing a song to God when you’re singing beside a roomful of other people singing the same song to God. If you haven’t experienced that . . . . Well. You need to.

Can a Christian and a non-Christian sing a song together? Absolutely. Will they be singing to the same person? Absolutely not. Someone who isn’t connected to God through Christ with the Holy Spirit can’t understand what it means to worship God truly.

I’m not really an emotional person. I mean, I am. No matter how much I usually try to deny it, I’m still a girl. =) But I usually try to remain logical and rational when making decisions. But even I am overwhelmed with the experience of worshipping God with a group of people who love Him as much as I do.

It defies explanation.

I can come before God feeling weary and exhausted and unhappy. Everything can be going wrong. And when I worship Him, when I tell Him how great He is and how thankful I am for what He’s done in my life — and especially when I do it in a group of people who are telling Him the same thing — I leave feeling refreshed and excited and strong. I don’t know why pouring my heart out to God in song and prayer can rejuvenate me. Maybe it’s because I get my focus right and I fix my perspective and I remember what it means to truly belong to Him. I don’t know. I just know it works.

And worship isn’t just about singing. Worship is a lifestyle. But if you’ve never experienced real worship in song, it’s something you need in your life.

I wasn’t planning on putting this in here, but if you’re in the Wichita area, consider this an invitation to attend a Judgement House praise and worship service at NewSpring church. I guarantee, you will never experience anything else like worship at NewSpring. It’s exciting but orderly. There’s no chaos. There’s no ridiculous flailing that draws attention to a person. But there is a spirit of excitement and joy that I’ve never felt anywhere else. And God is given the credit and the glory because He’s the one who deserves it. Any worship service at NewSpring is worth attending, but if you really want to experience real worship in song, you need to come to a JH service. It’s the core of the church, the really radical folks who sacrifice and give to God because they love Him more than anyone else. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week, it starts at 5:30. Sunday it starts at 2:00. If you’re close (and if you’re not) come on by and worship with us and thank God for everything He’s doing.

And keep Ephesians 5:15-20 in mind today. I know I need to. I get so wrapped up in life that sometimes I forget how to live.

Don’t be foolish. Make the most of every opportunity. Think before you leap. Understand God’s will for the day. Don’t get drunk. Live by the Spirit. Worship and be thankful for everything.

That’s how we’re supposed to live.

Write God’s will on your heart

Hey, everyone! Wow. Apologies for not posting at my normal time. I didn’t sleep at all last night. I don’t know what was going on, but my brain wouldn’t shut off.

For those of you who aren’t in Wichita and aren’t a part of NewSpring Church, we’re currently in the middle of a fantastic outreach program called Judgement House. Thousands of people come to it every year and last year nearly 2,000 people accepted Christ (that we know of). It’s just a huge ministry. But it often keeps us out late. Thing is, last night we got out early. It was really slow. I think the Chris Tomlin concert in town had something to do with it. Silly Chris Tomlin.

In any case, I actually had an opportunity to go to bed at a decent hour. But I couldn’t get my brain to shut down. So I selfishly nabbed an extra 15 minutes of half-sleep this morning instead of writing the devotional.

I’m going to keep this brief because I’ve got to get to work. But I wanted to share today’s verse:

Psalm 40:8

I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your instructions are written on my heart.

Okay, so this is an example of metaphorical language that we don’t hear very often in our very literal society. What does it mean to write something on your heart? Well, my first thought is that it means to memorize it. But I think it’s deeper than that.

What does it mean to share your heart with someone? What does it mean to give your heart to someone?

In Western culture, the seat of the emotions is the heart. And by referencing our hearts, we are really talking about who we really are inside.

When you give your heart to someone, you aren’t giving somebody your blood-pumping muscle. You give them yourself. You give them your life. You trust them with who you are as a person.

When you share your heart, you are telling other people about who you are, about your motivation, about why you do the things you do or think the way you think. You are sharing who you really are inside.

So what does it mean to write something on your heart?

To me, it means to know something so well that you don’t have to think about what you will do when faced with a challenge. If you know a route by heart, you don’t have questions about what direction to go. If you know a friend by heart, you know what they’re thinking before they do.

But then why doesn’t the verse say that we love God’s will so much that we know it by heart?

Well, that’s because God’s will is something you have to work at understanding every day. It’s not this ethereal concept that no one can comprehend. God’s will is a practical, relevant, day-by-day process that you walk through a step at a time. And we actively have to work at pursuing God and His will every moment of our lives.

And that requires action.

Write God’s will on your heart. Keep your eyes open every day for what God wants you to do and learn it so well that the next time the same problem happens, you won’t question what your response will be. You’ll just know.

Finding joy when life gets you down

Today’s verse is Psalm 51:12.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and make me willing to obey you.

Psalm 51 is one of those classic Psalms that I always go to, generally after I realize how flawed I am or when I understand that I have done something wrong and need to seek forgiveness.

David wrote Psalm 51 after a little problem with a gal named Bathsheba, and if you don’t know the story, you can read it in 2 Samuel 11. It’s probably one of the darkest times in David’s life because he gets so far away from what God wanted for him, committing not only adultery but also murder to cover it up. This was David! The man after God’s own heart! How could he stoop so low?

It’s a good reminder that none of us knows what we are capable of when we act in our own interests and do the things that feel good instead of what God has told us is right.

I think it’s in 2 Samuel 12, God sends the prophet Nathan to confront David about his actions, and when David realized what he’d done, he wrote this Psalm.

If you have the chance to read the whole thing, you should. It’s an amazing song about seeking forgiveness and trying to find the way to get back on the right path again. It’s David’s heart earnestly desiring to get back to the place where He and God could be on the same page again.

In verse 10, David is begging God to give him a new heart and give his spirit a new life. And then we come to verse 12, David asking God to restore the joy of his salvation.

How many of us have been there before? Where the day to day struggles of living a Christian life in this world sap the joy right out of us? It’s so easy to focus on the troubles we have. It’s so easy to focus on everything that’s wrong around us. It’s so easy to focus on what we’ve done wrong or how we’ve failed or how we’ll never measure up.

But when we do that, we forget everything that God has done and is doing in our lives. We forget what He’s doing in other people’s lives. We forget what He’s doing around the world.

God is never still. He’s always active, and He’s always moving in people, whether they realize it or not.

Our salvation is the greatest gift that God has ever given us. It’s a free, no strings attached relationship where we can go to Him with any problem. There’s no time limit. There’s no hidden fees.

But even though our salvation can’t be lost once we accept it, our attitudes about it can falter becuase we get so mired down in the muck of the world. Either we fill our lives up with sin or with things that don’t matter or we’re so focused on the world and on ourselves and on our problems that the joy of our salvation gets buried under layers and layers of superfluous gunk.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t live without joy. I can exist, but joy is what brings hope to people. It’s one of the qualities that makes us different because we can face trials and troubles without losing the joy in our hearts. And we have that joy because we have Christ in our lives.

Don’t let the world distract you. Don’t let the difficulties and the problems you face get you down. Don’t let the heavy burden of responsibility you’re carrying convince you that God has forsaken you or that Jesus doesn’t understand. Keep your focus where it ought to be. Put your focus on God and ask Him to help you. Ask Him to give you a new heart. Ask Him to restore the joy of your salvation, and He will.

 

A change of heart

The Bible doesn’t usually dole out “if, then” statements but it does have a lot to say about living life. If you do BLANK, then BLANK will happen. When you BLANK, God will BLANK. Don’t BLANK or God will BLANK. Statements about how to live life. Warnings about what not to do and how not to do it.

One has a promise associated with it. Honor your mother and father, and your days will be long.

One has God daring us to test Him. Trust Him with your finances and He will give you more back than you have room to store.

But what about this one? Psalm 37:4.

4 Take delight in the Lord,
      and he will give you your heart’s desires.

To take delight in something is to find joy in it. Dictionary.com says that delight means “a high degree of pleasure or enjoyment.” How many times have you taken a “a high degree of pleasure or enjoyment” in God this week? How many times have I?

I delight in Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Lattes (ironic because according to the word history of delight, it shares a root with the same word for delicious). I delight in a really good story. I delight in sunrises and sun sets on my farm.  But delighting in God? That seems more difficult to do because in a strict sense, He isn’t something our senses can experience. We can’t see Him. We can’t touch Him. Or smell Him. Or taste Him. Or feel Him.

I’ve heard it said before, though, that we can’t see the wind either. But we can see the effects of the wind. It’s the same with God. We can’t see Him but we can seen what He’s been up to. And I’m telling you, if there were ever someone to take delight in, it’s God. There’s no one more worthy of it. Because there’s no one like Him.

And when we finally convince ourselves that God is worth delighting in, something pretty spectacular happens. When He is all that matters, our lives take a sudden turn. And suddenly, we have everything we ever wanted.

Now, does God wait for us to turn to Him before He starts giving us everything we want? No. Not really. Because honestly, even if you turn to Him, there may be some things He holds back. They may not be good for you to begin with.

What happens instead is that when you turn to God and delight yourself in Him and in the things that He is doing, your heart changes. And when your heart changes to love the things He loves, your desires change too.

It’s funny. Because when I got my perspective right and started delighting in God and living the way God wanted me to, I realized that I already had everything my heart desired. And then I was overwhelmed when God gave me more, beyond the things that I had desired, over and above.

And that’s because He’s good. He’s so good to us, especially when we aren’t good to Him.

So whenever I feel myself unsatisfied with my life or my accomplishments or the things I have, I just remind myself that I need to take joy in God and what God is doing in my life and in the lives of others. And when I do that, suddenly the things that I wanted don’t seem to matter so much. They seem temporal and fleeting because I can see how silly they are in comparison to what God is doing in the world. And when I start wanting the same things that God wants, He answers . . . and most of the time, He gives me the other things I wanted too.

Courage while you wait

Today’s verse is Psalm 27:14.

14 Wait patiently for the Lord.
      Be brave and courageous.
      Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.

The Amplified Version says it this way:

14Wait and hope for and expect the Lord; be brave and of good courage and let your heart be stout and enduring. Yes, wait for and hope for and expect the Lord.

I have blogged before on waiting with patience and waiting confidently. But I’ve never really noticed this until today. This verse says to wait for God to do what He’s going to do, but it gives us something to do while we wait.

Be brave. Be courageous.

I’ve never seen that before. To me, that means we are to be brave and courageous when we face life. Because what is more uncertain? And what’s scarier? And what is more painful than life?

We are to wait patiently for God. We can’t rush Him. We can’t convince Him to move faster. God has a certain timeline and a specific plan that He’s working out, and we don’t have access to why. We have Scripture which can tell us all about His motivation, but it won’t tell us specifically what He’s doing. Just that it’s good.

What do you do when all you can do is wait?

Be brave as you go to work. Be brave as you go to school. Be brave as you stay home. Be brave as you clean your house or take care of your family or hang out with your friends.

When you’re scared and uncertain, don’t shut down or run away. When you’ve lost everything, keep going. When you’re sad and discouraged, don’t give up hope. And don’t give up on God. And don’t deceive yourself (or let Satan deceive you) that God isn’t doing anything in your life.

God is always working.

Courage has always been defined to me as action in spite of fear. We are to be courageous. We are to act when we are afraid. We are to move when we are uncertain. We are to do when we don’t feel like it.

Waiting is a part of life. And waiting on God is the larger part of a Christian life. Because God has to work out the kinks in us before He lets us continue doing what He’s called us to do.

The hardest part of waiting is not knowing. At least, it’s the hardest part for me. Because I don’t know what I’m supposed to do all the time. And I don’t know where God is going to put me tomorrow. And I don’t know what He’s going to want me to say. And I don’t know if I will always be here or if I will always be on my own or if He’s going to pick me up and move me.

And I’m such a control freak that I have convinced myself that knowing for sure would be better for me. But it wouldn’t be better. By letting God have control of that part of my life, I have to trust Him. And for a control freak, learning how to trust is the most important part of being a Christian.

So I’m waiting.

And even though there are days when I’m afraid, and even though just about every day I face uncertainty, I’m not called to sit around. I’m called to be active. I’m called to do things. I’m called to face the day with courage, not meaning that I shouldn’t be scared. I’m human. I’m going to be afraid of things I don’t understand. But just because I’m afraid doesn’t mean I have to shut down. All it means, is that I have to put my faith in God and trust that He will give me the strength to carry on.