THE GARDEN OF MY HEART

I come into my garden, my sister, my spouse. —Song of Solomon 5:1

One of the surprising things for me about Christianity was its relationship with the heart. Before I was born again I had explored various other religions including Bahai Faith and the Hare Krishna movement. Both carry a strange (dare I say demonic) attraction back in my hippy days but at the end of my search I found that they were both another system of works. Man trying to please God by his actions. You can dress religion up in all sorts of ways but it is still religion. That’s what I always thought Christianity was, me trying to alter my behavior to please God. I was wrong, I mean really wrong. When Christ came into my life I became aware of love, a love more profound than anything I had ever known. This love opened my heart. As Solomon taught, my heart had become the garden of the Lord. Here is how Spurgeon describes this garden.

“The heart of the believer is Christ’s garden. He bought it with His precious blood, and He enters it and claims it as His own. A garden implies separation. It is not the open common; it is not a wilderness; it is walled around, or hedged in. Would that we could see the wall of separation between the church and the world made broader and stronger. It makes one sad to hear Christians saying, “Well, there is no harm in this; there is no harm in that,” thus getting as near to the world as possible. Grace is at a low ebb in that soul which can even raise the question of how far it may go in worldly conformity. A garden is a place of beauty, it far surpasses the wild uncultivated lands. The genuine Christian must seek to be more excellent in his life than the best moralist, because Christ’s garden ought to produce the best flowers in all the world.”

As John said, “I love Him because He first loved me”. His love opens us up to receive love and to give love. So what about my behavior? Does He just accept us like we are? Yes and no. We come to Him as we are; goofed up, hurt, and maybe addicted to some form of sensual pleasure. He cleanses us but then He changes us. His love for us effects us so deeply that our hearts are literally changed. We begin to love Him as well as the things He loves. So, Christ has come into the garden of my heart and He has made it His very own.

TURNED INTO ANOTHER MAN

Acts 2:14 – But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words….”

The world could never be the same after the Day of Pentecost. There was the rushing mighty wind, visible tongues of fire on everyone’s head, and the first example of people speaking in supernatural tongues (Paul called them tongues of angels). There was one other sign that really takes the cake for me. What sign was that you ask? Well…, it was the obvious, undeniable change seen in Peter. Think about it. A few weeks before he was denying that he knew Jesus when confronted by a young girl. He was also cursing. Now we see Peter publicly declaring his faith in Christ. Not only that, he was holding the people of Jerusalem responsible for the death of Christ. What an amazing change in the character of Peter. The only explanation is that this was not the same man. That is exactly the truth. The Holy Spirit had changed Peter into another man. This common fisherman from Galilee had been turned into a Bible scholar, an orator, and a fearless leader of this apostolic band. Peter would never be the same. Here are some thoughts from Johann Spangenberg On Peter’s transformation.

“But what was Peter for a man? A simple, uneducated person: a fisherman. And what became of him? A learned preacher, an exegete of Scripture, an apostle of Christ. Before he could not stand up to the high priest Caiaphas’s servant girl; now he stands up to the entire world. Before a woman’s shadow petrified him, so that he denied Christ; now he freely confesses Christ before all people, Jews and Gentiles. Before he struck Malchus with the physical sword; now he strikes the entire world with the spiritual sword, with God’s word. Is this not the work of God and the power of the Holy Spirit? What human power, wisdom and cleverness could have been able to transform Peter’s disposition so quickly?”

The Holy Spirit is still changing people today. Paul said we could be strengthened in our inner man by the power of the Spirit. What happens when you are strengthened on the inside? You become a different person. No longer are you an alcoholic, a sex addict, a thief or a con. You now have the Spirit on you and in you. He is working on you and through you as you too begin to tell the story of how you were changed.

THE HEART OF THE MATTER

Rom. 10:10 – for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

How do you know if someone you know or maybe a new friend that you meet is actually saved? Or even more disturbing, how do you know if you are saved? Many will go back to the answering of the altar call or “praying the prayer” but do those things really tell us of a person’s conversion? Another thing that some may look at as a good indicator of conversion is their behavior. Are they walking in moral purity? Do they dress modestly and behave appropriately around members of the opposite sex? Or do they drink alcohol or use recreational drugs? Do these things really tell us about the true condition of a person’s soul? Maybe, but some people live a pretty clean and moral life without a true born again experience. Maybe their is another indicator we can look at. Maybe it has to do with our affections, the things that we love. Here is how John Piper describes conversion.

“There is a connection between the feelings of the soul and the sensations of the body. This is owing, Jonathan Edwards says, to “the laws of union which the Creator has fixed between the soul and the body.” In other words, heartfelt gratitude can make you cry. Fear of God can make you tremble. The crying and the trembling are in themselves spiritually insignificant. The train can run without them…… Minimizing the importance of transformed feelings makes Christian conversion less supernatural and less radical. It is humanly manageable to make decisions of the will for Christ. No supernatural power is required to pray prayers, sign cards, walk aisles, or even stop sleeping around. Those are good. They just don’t prove that anything spiritual has happened. Christian conversion, on the other hand, is a supernatural, radical thing. The heart is changed. And the evidence of it is not just new decisions, but new affections, new feelings.”

That is it, Christianity is radical and conversion is supernatural. Salvation gets to the very core of our human experience. The new birth changes our heart, the very essence of what makes us tick. When we are truly born of the Spirit we begin to love different things than before. Rather than our lives being dominated by our sensual pleasures of choice we begin to have a passion for spiritual things. A new love for the Bible, gathering together with other Christians for worship and Bible teaching, and spending time in personal worship becomes the passion of our soul. So that’s how you know, have a look at the things you love and you will get a clear indication of the condition of your soul.

I AM WHAT I AM

1 Cor. 15:10 – But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

Paul was the prototype in the New Testament of a person effected by the grace of God. To understand Paul you have to have an understanding of grace. What is grace? The most common answer you will get when you pose that question is this, “unmerited favor”. That is not really an accurate answer. “Unmerited favor” seems to imply that grace is getting good things from the Lord that our behavior doesn’t warrant. That is not grace. Bible grace is so much more than that. Grace is the influence of God on our souls that makes spiritual things attractive to us. In other words, grace transcends the things and blessings of this world and brings us into a place where “only God” will do for us. We begin to follow the Lord with all of our might because we delight in Him and in doing His work. Here is how Albert Barnes describes this verse.

“But by the grace of God I am what I am – By the “favor” or mercy of God. What I have is to be traced to him, and not to any native tendency to goodness, or any native inclination to his service, or to any merit of my own. All my hopes of heaven; all my zeal; all my success; all my piety; all my apostolic endowments, are to be traced to him. Nothing is more common in the writings of Paul, than a disposition to trace all that he had to the mere mercy and grace of God. And nothing is a more certain indication of true piety than such a disposition… He had been enabled by the grace of God, to labor more than all the rest, and he had thus shown that he had not been insensible of his obligations.”

So not only does grace cleanse me of my sin, it also frees me from the power of sin. It works in the most unexpected way, it works through our enjoyment or pleasures. We used to love sin and now we love Him and His kingdom. That’s what happened to Paul at his conversion. Grace arrested him, grace forgave him, and grace consumed him with a new passion. From the day of his conversion onward, Paul was consumed and transformed by grace. That’s why he said, “by the grace of God I am what I am”.

NONCONFORMIST

Rom.12:1,2 – Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,

One of the ways hippies were described in the 60’s was with the term “non-conformist”. The hippie culture prided itself in not fitting into the system or culture of the day. They actually became a counter culture. Actually the thing they were trying to avoid is what they became. Their nonconformity just became conformity to a new system and culture. In today’s passage Paul tells us not to be conformed to this world. In other words, don’t be molded into the shape of worldliness. He was actually describing a true worshipper. Worshipping God from the heart destroys the possibility of being molded into this world’s image. Here is how Barclay describes this verse.

“True worship is the offering to God of one’s body, and all that one does every day with it. Real worship is not the offering to God of a liturgy, however noble, and a ritual, however magnificent. Real worship is the offering of everyday life to him, not something transacted in a church, but something which sees the whole world as the temple of the living God….This, Paul goes on, demands a radical change. We must not be conformed to the world, but transformed from it…. The word he uses to be conformed to the world is suschematizesthai; its root is schema, which means the outward form that varies from year to year and from day to day. A man’s schema is not the same when he is seventeen as it is when he is seventy; it is not the same when he goes out to work as when he is dressed for dinner. It is continuously altering. So Paul says, “Don’t try to match your life to all the fashions of this world; don’t be like a chameleon which takes its color from its surroundings.”

There is only one way to avoid conformity and that is supernatural transformation. Being transformed is the work of the Holy Spirit. He actually begins to transform us into a different image, the image of Jesus Christ. How does this happen in our lives? It all boils down to yielding. Present your whole self to God, that is where the miracle will begin.

SMACK YOUR LIPS

Eph.1:14 – Amp. – That [Spirit] is the guarantee of our inheritance [the firstfruits, the pledge and foretaste, the down payment on our heritage], in anticipation of its full redemption and our acquiring [complete] possession of it—to the praise of His glory.

Nothing like some good home cooking. Last week there was an impromptu Mary’s Song Banquet for ladies involved with Rodan and Fields. There was several thousand women from Rodan and Fields in New Orleans for a convention. Because of a friend of a friend being in leadership with that company, a request was made for a banquet with the Mary’s Song girls to “give back” in light of all the Lord has given us. It was an awesome night of testimonies and giving but that is not why I brought this all up. The meal was cooked by the Mary’s Song girls under the direction of Tyren George.The ladies at my table were raving over the “home cooking”. They also said it was the best meal they had eaten all week; pretty good with the amazing restaurants they all went to in the French Quarter. I guess you just can’t beat home cooked meals.

Now this brings me to the whole point of all of this, today’s verse says that the Holy Spirit is the foretaste of all the Lord has prepared for us. That first taste, or sampling of the food before a meal, tastes awfully good. It actually increases our anticipation for the coming feast. In Psalm 63 David was enjoying feasting on the Lord. He was enjoying the feast of God’s presence, enjoying what he was receiving, but smacking his lips in anticipation of more. Here is how it reads in the Message Bible.

Psa.63:3-5 The Message

In your generous love I am really living at last!

My lips brim praises like fountains. I bless you every time I take a breath;

My arms wave like banners of praise to you.

I eat my fill of prime rib and gravy;

I smack my lips. It’s time to shout praises!

The good meal at our banquet for our out of town guests last week was really only the foretaste. The real meal was when Parris, Ali Spitsbergen (the lady with Rodan and Fields), and the girls from Mary’s Song began to share what the Lord had done in their lives. The testimony of Jesus was our taste of the coming heavenly banquet. So I think I’m going to join David and smack my lips, if this first taste is this good it’s hard to imagine what the whole meal will be like.

STRANGE WORKS OF GOD

Lk. 9:29-31 – And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

Obviously, we don’t have everything figured out yet. Just when we think we have it all sorted, the Lord throws us a huge curve ball. Who could have seen this coming. Casting out devils, healing the sick, even raising the dead; we kind of get that. Transfiguration? What is that anyway? Jesus and three of His disciples were praying when suddenly Jesus’s whole body began to shine with glory like Moses’ face when he came down from the mountain. Not only that, Moses and Elijah were there with Jesus out of nowhere talking about the Lord’s coming death. The disciples were still stuck on sorting out this life, they had no idea about kingdom glory.

What is the message in this passage for us today? It seems like church services today have become shorter and shorter and the emphasis on the kingdom of heaven has gotten less and less. We hear about finances and goals and family and success but not so much about glory and rarely a word about kingdom come. Jesus being transfigured sort of changed the conversation that day. What is transfigured anyway? Transfigured comes from the word metamorphosis. It is describing a total change from one being into another. It’s kind of like a butterfly coming from a caterpillar, it just doesn’t get much stranger than that. The Lord wants to bring a transformation into our lives. Paul used this word and idea in 2 Cor.3:18, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit”. In this passage Paul actually says that there is a metamorphosis in our lives as we are transformed by the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

So there it is, it is that anointing thing again. Maybe the anointing seems strange and insignificant to some but there is no way for us to be transformed or transfigured without this strange work of God. Maybe its time for us to be still in our services and allow this strange, transforming work of the Spirit to come into our services. This is the only place our disintegrating culture can be restored.

HARLOTS AND WORSHIPERS

John 4:23 – But the hour is coming, and is here already, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for indeed the Father is seeking just such people to be his worshipers.

One of the tragedies of the fall of man is our twisted vision of life, especially the enjoyment part of life. We all tend to seek for joy and ultimate satisfaction in places that can never complete us. The world sells a bill of goods that many of us have bought. We are told that we can find our ultimate happiness if we just get the right partner in life. That’s the story of the woman at the well in Samaria. She bought the lie five times and was now working on number six. The hard lesson was that no man can ever fulfill you. That’s when Jesus showed up seemingly changing the subject. He wasn’t changing the subject at all, ultimate satisfaction belongs to worshippers. Here is how John Piper explains it.

“The first thing we learn is that worship has to do with real life. It is not a mythical interlude in a week of reality. Worship has to do with adultery and hunger and racial conflict. Jesus is bone weary from the journey. He is hot and thirsty. He decides: “Yes, even now, just now, I will seek someone to worship the Father—a Samaritan adulteress. I will show My disciples how My Father seeks worship in the midst of real life from the least likely. She is a Samaritan. She is a woman. She is a harlot. Yes, I will even show them a thing or two about how to make true worshipers out of the white harvest of harlots in Samaria.”

Rather than judging this woman Jesus gave her love and understanding. What was He saying to her? She was just drinking from the wrong well. Like everyone else she saw religion as an irrelevant separate part of her life. Like most people, she had her religious beliefs but they had nothing to do with joy or the rest of her life. Sometimes we have to be stopped in our tracks by the uncomfortable truth, we have wasted our lives in unfruitful pursuits. Jesus came to lead the woman at the well to that well of living water. It was that living water that changed her from a harlot to a worshipper.

THE UNLIKELY EVANGELIST

Jn.4:39 – And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all that I ever did.

The woman at the well in Samaria seemed the least likely candidate to be an evangelist. She was more likely to die an early, soon to be forgotten death. She was far too well known amongst the men of that village, she was especially hated by the women. Who knows the damage this home-wrecker had inflicted on her home town. A preacher, an evangelist, unthinkable. That all changed the day Jesus stopped for a drink at Jacob’s well. All it took was one conversation and this woman’s life was unalterably changed. Jesus had operated on her soul, the results were undeniable. Rather than hiding in the shadows, this woman of Samaria began to share the story of her life change to whoever would listen. She had drunk the living water Jesus had spoken of, the results were undeniable. Here are some thoughts from Barclay on this unlikely evangelist.

“There was introduction. The Samaritans were introduced to Christ by the woman….

It is at once our precious privilege and our terrible responsibility to bring men to Christ. The introduction cannot be made unless there is a man to make it.

Further, that introduction is made on the strength of personal witness. The cry of the Samaritan woman was: ‘Look what he has done for me and to me.’ It was not to a theory that she called her neighbors; it was to a dynamic and changing power. The church can expand until the kingdoms of the world become the kingdoms of the Lord only when men and women themselves experience the power of Christ, and then transmit that experience to others.”

So maybe she was the unlikely evangelist to people who knew her, she was the perfect choice for the Lord. Why would He trust His most precious message to unscrupulous people like this former adulteress? Surely He could have found a better choice. No this was His choice because He was all about His glory, imperfect vessels carrying the most precious substance, this is how God glorifies His grace. Those who knew the woman knew her imperfections, now they saw the power of the gospel displayed in her life. Maybe you will be the next unlikely evangelist.

WHEN YOU WALK INTO THE ROOM

MERRY MONDAY BY PARRIS

“When the LORD brought back the captive ones of Zion, We were like those who dream”

Ps. 126:1

August is so historical for Frank and I, it sweeps us up every year because that is the month when everything changed for us. Now some forty five years ago at the sweet age of 16, Christ found me at the bottom of the heap and put a new song into my mouth. That old song had done run its course! Thank God! Frank and I were married soon and swept up into a course of redemption that has never let us go. We have lived a somewhat unbelievable life. If there were ever two losers never to go anywhere in life, we would have been the poster children. When Christ walks into the room everything changes.

Bryon and Katie Torwalt sing it this way-

“When you walk into the room

Everything changes

Darkness starts to tremble

At the light that You bring

And when You walk into the room

Every heart starts burning

And nothing matters more

Than just to sit here at Your feet”

Then 1994 God just outdid himself by bringing us a fresh touch from heaven. He got tired of our dry, sorrowful services and came down with holy ghost power! Jonathan Edwards writes about the Surprising work of God that happen to his city in North Hampton. He puts it this way.

“The daily conversation of virtually everyone was the revival – “Other discourse than of the things of religion would scarcely be tolerated in any company. The minds of people were wonderfully taken off from the world, it was treated amongst us as a thing of very little consequence. They seemed to follow their worldly business, more as a part of their duty, than from any disposition they had to it; the temptation now seemed to lie on that hand, to neglect worldly affairs too much, and to spend too much time in the immediate exercise of religion. The only thing in their view was to get the kingdom of heaven, and every one appeared pressing into it. The engagedness of their hearts in this great concern could not be hid, it appeared in their very countenances. There was scarcely a single person in the town, old or young, left unconcerned about the great things of the eternal world.”

Will you allow Christ to invade your lives like never before? Your worship will change, your outlook will be transformed, even your dog will love you! Your focus will shift from the natural world to Christ world-his eternal world, the world of love.