A HEART OF FLESH IS
AS GENTLE AS A SPRING RAIN
AS FRAGRANT AND TENDER AS A ROSE
AS CHRIST HIMSELF
HOW DOES IT HAPPEN?
IS IT OF US?
OR IS IT OF GOD?
I am privileged to be able to go into prisons, to see firsthand hearts of stone transformed into hearts of flesh. So many women I meet in the faith dorms are women transformed. Many have committed horrendous crimes and came in with hearts as hard as flint, with souls as dark as caverns. If we met them when they came in, we would hold out little hope for transformation. It certainly wouldn’t do any good to preach to them about how they should behave, to tell them to “work on their character.”
WE HAVE NO POWER IN OURSELVES TO CHANGE
THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS NOT MECHANICAL
IT IS ORGANIC
IT IS ALL OF GOD
THE SPIRIT COMES
THE WIND BLOWS WHERE IT WILL
THE LIGHT SHINES IN THE DARKNESS
IN THE PRISONS
HE MAY SHINE HIS LIGHT THROUGH
A TRANSFORMED INMATE
A BIBLE DONATED
BUT HE COMES
PLANTS A SEED
SHINES HIS PURE LIGHT
THERE IS THAT FIRST BUD
THEN THE OPENING OF THE FLOWER
Just recently in a Texas prison I met Clare, the infamous orthodontist who ran over her husband. Clare was a woman as lovely as I’ve met anywhere. I thought, If you were in my town, I would pursue you as a friend. I love talking to you — you sharpen me, you have the fragrance of Christ. Clare is a miracle of God. Though she had been taught of God as a child, she married a man who was an unbeliever. Then, when he was unfaithful to her, her heart grew bitter and hard. One day when she saw him escorting his mistress from a hotel, rage took over and she ran over him with her Mercedes, killing him.
She didn’t have to tell me she wasn’t the same woman. I could see it with my own eyes.
When Karla Faye Tucker, who became known as an axe murderer, shared her testimony, she said that God reached into her heart and tore up by the roots the violence in her. Before that, she said she “honestly didn’t care that she had brutally murdered two people.” A heart like flint transformed into a heart as tender as a rose.
Karla said, “How can I explain it? It’s supernatural.” That’s exactly right. We cannot transform ourselves. Someone else must take out the rocks, the weeds.
When you see, firsthand, these dramatic conversions, you know, as Karla said, “It’s supernatural.”
Jesus’ parables often referred to farming: to seeds growing secretly, to wheat and tares, to vines and fruit. The life of Christ in us is organic, and the seed comes from God.
This all brings me to the last two weeks, where we have seen God in the move. I want us to step into where He is leading us.
I know many of you do not have time to read all the comments — but I want to highlight a few things that happened so you don’t miss this koininia.There was so much I cannot cover, but I want to cover HIGHLIGHTS that warmed my heart, and I believe will yours as too. They fit perfectly, as only a Master Designer could do, into our study of 1 John.
WHAT STOOD OUT TO YOU FROM THE ABOVE AND WHY?
IN A SENTENCE, HOW HAVE YOU FELT THE LOVE OF GOD IN THE LAST TWO WEEKS?
So often you have found that our online study dovetails with another you are doing face to face. I remember how refreshing it was to have Anne bring us truths about idolatry from her BSF Isaiah study. Meg is hearing about idolatry in her Beth Moore Daniel study. In the last post, Rebecca brought up the parable of the sower and I referred her to a Keller sermon (he has two on this parable). I decided to listen to it myself and found a key in it that relates to what we are doing.
We know Jesus does the sowing, and that the four soils represent four different hearts, but “who does the cultivating?” Rebecca asked. She apologized for this being a tangent, but instead, as so often happens, it it exactly where God is leading us.
Look with me at the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. Read Matthew 13:1-23.
1. There are four kinds of soil.
A. The first soil is hard, and the seed never takes root. Find everything you can learn about this soil in Matthew 13:18-20. Whom do you think this soil represents?
B. The second soil is shallow, filled with rocks. How does it at first seem to respond, but then why does it fail to let the seed take root? Whom do you think this soil represents?
C. The third soil is the most interesting — for the seed does take root, yet it is not fruitful. Why?
D. Describe the fourth soil.
Keller said the soils represented:
1) A hard heart (Exposed but not changed at all)
2) A shallow heart (Receive it eagerly because they think they will get blessings — but not interested in God Himself)
3) A divided heart (Torn between God and idols)
4) A fertile heart (What we pray we will be!)
2. Read carefully the description of the third soil, representing the divided heart. Write down everything you observe. Go slowly. Do you believe this soil represents a believer or not? Why?
3. How do you think this promise from Ezekiel 11:19 relates to the divided heart?
I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.
In truth, we must realize each of us has a divided heart, and that it will not be completely undivided until that day we see Jesus face to face.
Yet, on the other hand, if we continue to practice sin, to take the cross lightly, are we His?
I John has a tendency to either make us nervous or give us confidence for he makes black and white statements.
4. Find some of John’s black and white statements in this book — I’ve gotten you started:
A. 1 John 2:4
B. 1 John 2:9
C. 1 John 2:15
D. Now you find some that strike you and list them here:
John’s letter can strike fear in the heart, for we all fail in every way. What does he mean when he says that one born of God will stay in the light, will love his brother….when we know we fail every day? John Stott explained that this refers to the metaphor of the seed. God’s seed is in the one who is born again, and that seed cannot sin. How do we know if we have that seed?
Last week one of you expressed fear that you had never truly repented because you keep committing the same sin over and over again, trusting He will forgive you.I dare not answer that, for Jesus said to leave it to God to separate the wheat from the tares. As ambassadors for Christ we are to comfort the distressed and distress the comfortable — but it can be hard for us to discern true believers. But I do know that as we walk in the light, His light grows in us. As we walk in love, His love grows in us. John’s letter is actually meant to give us confidence. When you see yourself loving, choosing the light, abiding in Him, you know that can only be of God. His seed is in you, growing. An increasing awareness of His holiness and your depravity is another sign you know Him. Apathy is a sign you do not.
If 1 John troubles you, I highly recommend this sermon by Crawford Loretts, which I just “happened” to hear on my way to the airport last week. Here is the link. It’s 2.99 to download. (Link)
My take-a-way from the message centered on the word “practice” as found in 1 John 3:4. If we keep on practicing the same sin, if we keep treating his death lightly, we do have reason to doubt our salvation. Yet 1 John is actually meant to inspire confidence in the believer, to show him that the reason he is disturbed about being in the darkness, the reason he has the power to love his brother, and the reason he longs to have fellowship with God is because indeed, God’s seed is in him. It may be small, but as he abides in the vine, as he responds to the light, it will grow.
My favorite quote of all concerning 1 John is from John Stott:
Our love and our light not only reveal if we are in Christ, but actually contribute to the love and the light we are already in.
DO YOU SEE?
THE MORE YOU RESPOND TO THE LIGHT, THE MORE THE LIGHT GROWS IN YOU.
THE MORE YOU LOVE, THE MORE HIS LOVE GROWS IN YOU.
It happened for Elizabeth recently when she laid down her desire for her mother’s approval at the feet of Jesus. When she was out with her mother, her mother said, “Look, a white horse.” There stood a white horse in the field, a kiss from the King for Elizabeth, reminding her that Jesus loved her and was coming back for her on a white horse. His approval was enough, even if she never feels the blessing from her mother.
It happened for Susan, when she laid down her idol of control, giving up her desire for a new carpet to prepare for the gift of a piano. God gave her a spirit of gentleness and contentedness with what she had. I love to think of Susan playing praises to the one who loves her so. Perhaps she can learn Cowper’s “There is a Fountain” that so touched Diane and Elizabeth.
And what I thought was one of the high points of the week occurred when Shelley from Canada came on and spoke, in love, of her concern about Ann Voskamp’s phrase “I flew to Paris and made love to God.” I felt confident, and was pleased, that you would listen to her, respond in love, and learn. And you did. You were obeying “the new commandment” that John talks about in 1 John 2:7-14. Whether you agreed or disagreed with Shelley, you responded in love. We’re going to return to this new commandment next week — and discuss this time with Shelley again. But what I saw was the love of Christ that allowed a beautiful discussion.
PART II. AN ESSAY (EXTRA CREDIT — BUT I PROMISE, A GREAT BLESSING)
This little book was life changing for me, so I want to offer it to you. If it is too hard to read on your computer, I heartily recommend getting it for yourself. It’s on 1 John 2, and entitled: THE MARK OF A CHRISTIAN. So as not to overwhelm you, I’m suggesting this instead of a sermon this week. (But if you want a sermon, one free Keller that would dovetail is from 1 Peter, who also discusses the mystery if the imperishable seed and the new birth: Link)
YOU CAN READ THIS SHORT BOOK ONLINE BY GOING TO THIS LINK: Link
5.What does Schaeffer say the mark of a Christian is — and why?
6. When we disagree with another believer, what does Schaeffer say will be remembered ten, twenty years from now?
7. What stood out to you from The Mark of a Christian and why?
PART III. GETTING TO KNOW OUR BLOGGERS
Meg is one of our newest and youngest bloggers. We’ve come to love her honesty and vulnerability. Here she is with her mother in beautiful New England.
Hi my name is Meg (Meaghan) and I am single and I will be 29 at the beginning of November. I had a very hard upbringing. My dad left our family ( I have one brother he is younger and he is married and lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and their son Peyton) I was 2 and my brother was 6 months old.. I didnt see much of my dad in my upbringing years. I was physically abused by my stepadad, Sexually abused by my cousin and verbally abused by my stepmom. I was involved in a homosexual relationship for about 10 years which i just ended 2 years ago. I still struggle with that a little bit but God is good and he is helping me have a passion for him instead.I came to know Jesus in January of 2003. through my best friend Jen. I know that her and her family had been praying for me for a long time. My passion in life is to Love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind and strength I serve at my church here in Vermont. I work in the nursery and help out in our Church library. One of my other passions is children! I love them and connect so well with them.My favorite Verse is Phillipians 4:13I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!Blessings to you all!
8. How can you affirm and pray for Meg?
PART IV: REMEMBERING
On a personal note, my husband Steve went to be with the Lord seven years ago. I know seven is the number for completion and I’m not sure what that means, for I don’t think our grief will be over until we are with him again. But I give such great thanks to the Lord for blessing me so abundantly with him. God’s seed surely grew in Steve. Many of you who have read The God of All Comfort have come to know him. Even the day after he died our newspaper’s headline was Beloved Doctor Dies. Here he is the day we adopted our daughter Beth. Steve cared about what God cared about — and the joy of the Lord was so present in him. He did abide in the vine. We heard him singing to the Lord in his den. He was the good soil and his life bore much fruit.
9. What is your take-a-way from the week and why?
10. I’d also like your input. Some of you are keeping up, but many are not. I’m thinking of shortening the weekly lessons, or I could do two week lessons. And I’d like your prayer for wisdom about this.