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WHAT IS YOUR STORY?

We don’t sing the old hymns like we used to. Most churches have moved to the more contemporary style of music and occasionally pull out one of the old hymns of days gone by. I can still remember the lyrics of many of those old hymns I grew up hearing and singing and sometimes they give me such solace and peace. Recently, the Holy Spirit put one of those old hymns in my heart and mind and the chorus has been something that I find myself humming or singing throughout the day. When that happens, you know that God, through the Holy Spirit, is encouraging you to hold on to the message in those words. While the hymn’s title is “Blessed Assurance” written by Fanny Crosby in 1873, it is the chorus that is a constant on my heart and mind. The lyrics of the hymn are:

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

{Refrain:}
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long.

Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels descending bring from above:
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

{Refrain}

Perfect submission, all is at rest
I in my Savior am happy and blest,
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

{Refrain}

That chorus “This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior, all the day long; This is my story, this is my song, Praising my Savior, all the day long” is such a powerful and compelling message to those who claim to be Followers of Jesus Christ. This chorus being planted in my heart and mind, day and night, brought me to a point of self-examination and introspective searching. Can I truly say this is my story and this is my song? Or have I allowed other things to take the place of this being my story and praising my Savior is an occasional thing like Sunday morning in church or special occasions where I need to look holy to those around me? So let’s take a few moments together to give serious thought and honest evaluation to these questions.

God’s Word tells us ““The LORD lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be my God, the Rock, my Savior! He is the God who avenges me, who puts the nations under me, who sets me free from my enemies. You exalted me above my foes; from a violent man you rescued me. Therefore I will praise you, LORD, among the nations; I will sing the praises of your name.”(1) Do you remember every waking moment that The Lord lives and we owe praise to our Rock! He is the Rock of our salvation and He sets us free from our enemies. So often when I hear men talking about their struggles with maintaining a close walk with the Lord my mind immediately goes to the instructions given to us in 2 Samuel. How can we have a close relationship if we don’t remember first what brought us into a close relationship with the living Lord to in the first place? If we are not praising and exalting the One that brought us out of darkness then how can we possibly maintain a close relationship? Satan distracts us with busy-ness and draws our hearts and minds to numerous other activities and things that removes the eternal mindset we owe to the One who Lives and who gives us an eternal promise. We get caught up in the here and now and when we do, we are prime candidates for the temptations of the enemy!

While there are many scriptures and passages of scripture we could use as an example of “this is my story”, I don’t want to turn this article into a book, so we will use a single passage that hits all of the key points.

David testified “The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident. One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the LORD. Hear my voice when I call, LORD; be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’ Your face, LORD, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior. Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me. Teach me your way, LORD; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, spouting malicious accusations. I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.”(2)

  • So, using this passage, let’s pull out some key elements that should be part of our story:
  •  Whom shall I fear, whom shall I be afraid;
  •  The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
  •  Though war break out against me, even then I will be confident;
  • One thing I ask from the Lord, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life;
  • For in the day of trouble He will keep me safe in His dwelling;
  • I will sing and make music to the Lord;
  • Your face, LORD, I will seek;
  • The LORD will receive me;
  • Teach me your way, LORD; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors;
  • I remain confident in this: I will see goodness of the LORD in the land of the living;
  • Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD

While every man’s story will be different because of his life experiences, these elements should be interwoven in the story if he professes to have a personal heart relationship with Jesus Christ. While the language will be different because we do not necessarily speak as scripture is written, the essence of each item above will be in the story. All of God’s men must be prepared to share “their story” so that God may be glorified and others may learn and grow from the story we tell. So, WHAT IS YOUR STORY?


(1) 2 Samuel 22:47-50
(2) Psalm 27:1-14

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The Heart IS the Heart Of the Matter

Mark 4:1-9 tells us “Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge.  He taught them many things by parables and in his teaching said ‘Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed.  As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.  But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.  Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain.  Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times. Then Jesus said, ‘Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”[1]

In today’s age of technology, we know that the key component that makes a computer function is its hard drive.  Without the hard drive, a computer cannot function.  Just as the computer relies on the hard drive, the heart is our hard drive for our lives.  Therefore, the heart really is the heart of the matter.  From a spiritual perspective, if the heart is not surrendered to God’s principles then our lives will not achieve what God has in store for us.

With that in mind, as we look at the parable that Jesus shared with the crowd, He starts by saying Listen!  He then proceeds to tell a story about how a farmer went out to sow his seed.  The word “seed” is used to depict the Word of God and the farmer (sower) is the Son of God and anyone that professes to be His follower.   Just as a farmer sows his seed to produce a crop, you and I as Followers of Jesus Christ are to be sharing God’s Word to produce a crop.  Much of what is going on around us in today’s world is our failure to boldly share the gospel and without the seed being planted then how can there be a harvest.  A good farmer knows that he must sow his seed when the season is right to cultivate the greatest harvest.  Today we have very few who are willing to be good farmers.

The soil is the heart of the hearer.  There are people we come in contact with every day that have experienced challenges and disappointments in life and as a result they have allowed these events to harden their hearts in varying degrees.  Some are downtrodden, some are disappointed, and some are downright bitter.  Much like a potter’s clay, if a heart has been hardened it is virtually impossible to make something useful out of it.  That is why I am so grateful for the Holy Spirit that can come into a life and restore hope which then begins to soften a hardened heart so that God can do a mighty work.

Some seed fell on the path leaving it exposed and subject to its surroundings.  In Jesus’ day, there were no mechanized tools or defined layout of a field so the farmer sowed his seed across the land hoping that it would fall on hearty soil that would allow the seed to cultivate.  Some of us have gotten so busy and allowed so much activity into our lives that we have become like the path.  We’re moving around a lot but there’s not much substance.  We can even get too busy working for God that we lose our roots and foundation.  We have to guard our hearts from becoming so involved with activity and busyness that we lose connection with our Heavenly Father.  We may have been a seed on the path and we were not able to take root in the Word of God.

That brings us to the “bird.”  The bird is Satan and his army of demons.  They desire to devour the seed before it has time to take hold.  Satan is always busy with his lies and devious ways to distract us from truth.  He will use whatever means he can to remove the Word of God from the heart of the hearer before it can take root.

Some seed landed on rocky soil.  Rocky soil represents a lack of spiritual depth.  A person with a heart like the rocky soil may make an emotional or superficial response to the gospel but the minute things don’t go the way they think they should they are quick to blame God for their circumstances.  Because their roots are shallow, when difficult times come along they can quickly be uprooted and slip back to their previous way of life.

Some seed fell amongst the thorns.  Some people hear the Word of God but they allow the worries of life and the desires for things this world has to offer to choke out their desire for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  They are busy chasing promotions in their career, material possessions, belonging to the “in” groups, achieving status by the world’s standards.  All of these can bring stress and worry and many people find themselves dealing with all kinds of physical and mental health issues due to this “chasing” after things of the world.  Worry can kill you and chasing after desires of the world can cause that worry.

Some seed fell on good soil and that would be described as a spiritually productive heart.  The results can only be attributed to the supernatural.  The change that occurs and the peace that replaces the worry and stress are due to the seed being firmly rooted in good soil.  Nothing can hinder the growth and yield of the crop when the heart is good soil.  We must guard and protect our hearts from the efforts of the enemy to harden the soil to make it ineffective in yielding a crop.  “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”[2]

The hard heart is the most vulnerable to Satan.  It is what he looks for so that he not only prevents the seed from taking hold in this person’s life but uses that person to influence others to ignore the Word of God.  There are very real forces at work to do everything they can to prevent spreading the Word of God (the gospel which is the truth).

The flesh is against us like the rocky soil.  A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is not based on emotion or feelings but through a moving of the Holy Spirit within one’s heart that brings about a spiritual change.  There is no magic prayer that brings about salvation and we can’t live with one foot in the world and attempting to have the other in a right relationship with God.  God’s Word says we become “new creatures” when we enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and we no longer live our former lives but live a new life in Christ.

The world tries to smother growth much like the seeds that fell on thorny ground.  We are constantly bombarded with new products, new technology, and new thoughts around morality and acceptable behavior all of which can smother out the new seed trying to find its way to root into good soil.  We can quickly lose sight of the fact that the world is driven by sin and we fall into the desires of this world so deeply that we are no longer connected to the truth.  The world, just like thorns, desires to smother truth and pull us into the tangled mess that eventually strangles us spiritually.

As I stated in the beginning of this article, Jesus and anyone who professes to be His follower has a responsibility for spreading the seed or the Word of God.  Spreading the gospel should not be confined within the walls of the church.  The church should serve as a school for farmers and equip them with going out to the fields and planting new crops.  Farmer education should deal with the various types of soil and how to prepare a field to receive the seed.  We may have to devise a way to keep the birds away from the field.  At times we will have to remove some of the rock that will prevent the seed from growing strong roots.  We must be willing to tend to the field once the seed has been sown; we will have to pull up the thorns and thistles that will try to strangle out the chance for the seed to develop; we will have to nurture the seed by making sure it gets the Son light it needs and the everlasting water to keep it strong.  A good farmer knows that his hard work in sowing the seed and tending the field is in preparation for God to provide the harvest.  A farmer cannot make a seed grow and develop but God can.  It is God that gives us the increase.

Jesus began this parable by saying “Listen” and he closes by saying “whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”  My prayer is this article will open you spiritual ears and be a source of encouragement for getting into spiritual farming.  God doesn’t need our help but He allows us to come alongside to show the world what a difference a relationship with Jesus Christ can make in a person’s life.  What an awesome thing to be allowed to be in business with the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  So get busy getting your spiritual farming education and get out there and sow some seeds for the Lord!


 

(1) All scripture used in this article is taken from the NIV translation of the Holy Bible unless otherwise noted.

(2) Proverbs 4:23

This article is based on a sermon delivered by Scooter Noland, Lead Pastor of Hope Church, Tupelo, MS on 5/10/15, from a series: Exclamation Point; and the message is titled The Heart of the Matter.

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START 2013 WITH A HEART EXAM

As we step into the year of 2013, I suggest you have a heart exam.  Oh, I am not referring to your physical heart (although it’s not a bad idea) … I am talking about a spiritual heart exam.  The word “heart” is used over 700 times in the 1984 NIV translation of the Bible so it must have some significant meaning when it comes to God’s direction to us.  Unfortunately, men are hesitant to talk about issues of the heart because it is believed that such issues create vulnerability and Satan convinces us that a willingness to be vulnerable is a sign of weakness.  WOW!  What a lie and we know that Satan is the father of lies.  I am confident that some of you reading this right now are trying to convince yourself that you don’t need to read any further.  Well, push on and buckle up because it’s time for God’s men to get serious about the condition of their spiritual heart.

When the Lord was speaking to Samuel, He said “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”[1]  Satan has convinced men that it is what is on the outside that counts.  We say things like “the clothes make the man” and the world judges a man by his title, his accomplishments, the social company he keeps and status is based upon perception rather than fact.  God’s men must remember “As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.”[2]   When water is calm and clear it gives an accurate reflection but when it is dark and murky the reflection is distorted and confused.  The same is true of a man’s heart.  If the heart is filled with things that create confusion and distortion then it is difficult for the man to reflect the image that God intended.  Jesus said “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.[3]

All too often men are more concerned with behavior modification so they will be more acceptable to those they wish to receive acceptance.  Jesus told the Pharisees “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”[4]  Too many in the church today are simply “playing” church.  God’s men must look at heart modification to be more like Jesus rather than just paying lip service to the Lord and letting the world dictate what is in their hearts.  Jesus also told the Pharisee’s You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.”[5]

 

OUCH!  Jesus wasn’t one for beating around the bush and His words go straight to the heart of the matter (no pun intended).  It’s uncomfortable to think that men are more closely aligned with the Pharisees of scripture yet when we look around it seems that what is important is being justified before men rather than pleasing our Heavenly Father.

 

Paul gives us the key to this spiritual heart examination when he said The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.   For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”[6]  

 

So how is your spiritual heart?  Are you maintaining the proper diet and exercise for a healthy spiritual heart?  Studying God’s Word, an active daily prayer life, and yielding to the guidance of the Holy Spirit every day are critical to maintaining a healthy spiritual heart.  Dedicate yourself to regularly doing a spiritual heart exam.  Don’t forget that it’s a great idea to have an accountability partner that can assist with conducting the exam.  Carefully select your assistant (accountability partner) just as you would a cardiologist.  You want someone that has developed the spiritual heart examination skills so they will be able to properly interpret the results and then truthfully and accurately provide you feedback of what they have found.  This will result in creating a stronger and healthier spiritual heart!

 


[1] 1 Samuel 16:7b.  All scripture used in this article is taken from the 1984 NIV translation of the Holy Bible unless otherwise noted.

[2] Proverbs 27:19

[3] Luke 6:45

[4] Matthew 15:7-9

[5] Luke 16:15

[6] Romans 10:8-10