The Captive Heart- Matthew 26:73-74, 1 Samuel 8:4-5, 7

And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee.
Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew.

Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah,
And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.
And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.

COMMENTARY

Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee
Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man
Yesterday we examined how Saul and Aaron succumbed to their fear of the people, and did something that went contrary to their conscience because of it. Today we have another example, that of Peter denying the Christ.
What I find particularly interesting in Peter’s situation is the exact pattern of his failure. It is his speech that brings him into disharmony with the masses around him, his manner of words shows that he is a Galilean, and an associate of Jesus. So what does he do? He changes his speech. He curses and swears and denies. He will conform his words however he needs to to disassociate himself from the truth. Our social fears lead us to conform, even to our own condemnation.

Make us a king to judge us like all the nations
And the Lord said unto Samuel, they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them

As the Lord spelled out to Samuel, the choice to conform to the masses, contrary to our own conscience, is us rejecting Him. It is as simple as that, and I think the aching of our hearts shows that we already know this to be true. The excuse “they made me do it,” just never tastes right in the mouth.
Even so, we do need to understand the reality that each of us will be afraid at times, we will conform to those around us, and we will reject God in so doing. It isn’t a good thing, but it is a reality that has to be acknowledged. It is simply part of the package of mortality. Given that fact, it becomes clear that we need a Savior to rescue us from the masses.

The Captive Heart- 1 Samuel 15:24, Exodus 32:21-23

And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice.

And Moses said unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them?
And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief.
For they said unto me, Make us gods, which shall go before us: for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.

COMMENTARY

I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, because I feared the people.
What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them? And Aaron said, thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief.
Saul and Aaron were spiritual giants of their times. A king-prophet and a high priest intended for greatness. However each of them showed moments of weakness, times where they disrupted their streak of faithfulness by going contrary to their own conscience. In both cases, this sudden shift of spiritual trajectory was due to their fear of the people.
To fear the people is understandable. Being “swayed by the masses” or giving in “to peer pressure” are common foibles of humanity. When we are outnumbered we have a sense of possessing less mortal power. Our survival instincts recognize that the masses have the ability to shun us, brand us, or even kill us. When we succumb to that panic, we will do whatever we can to save ourselves. So yes, it is understandable, but losing oneself out of such fear it still as heart-rending as losing oneself for any other reason.
Indeed the guilt of wrongdoing is now coupled with the shame of weakness. It is a hard thing when each of us discovers that in spite of knowing what we ought to do, we do not have the strength to see it through.

Personal Commitment: Month 2

June’s Review)

For June I continued regulating my use of media, and also started a practice of checking in with myself every couple hours, and giving my soul what it needed to remain grounded and connected.

For the first of those goals, I do feel that my media remains in a better balance, though there still comes the occasional indulgence from time-to-time. A pattern that I have recognized in those indulgences is that I am always trying to distract myself with something that is one level less pleasant than what I should be doing. So, for example, if I know that the house needs cleaning, I will try to justify consuming media instead. Whereas if I know I should be getting to task on a difficult patch of work, then suddenly cleaning the house seems very appealing!

In other words, there is a force pushing against responsibility, trying to get me one step lower on the ladder wherever it can. And sometimes I have been able to fight that force, and sometimes I have given in.

The same is true for my two-hour spiritual check-ins. I have not attempted to abandon them altogether, but I do try to “forget” to set the next reminder on my phone, or justify that what my soul really needs right now is to unwind with media…every single time.

The temptation for each of my commitments is to compromise it down just one level. And then one more.

July’s Commitment)

So how do I wish to address this in July? Part of me says: “Life is meant to be spent pushing upstream. Gravity is always there, you just have to stand against its pull forever.” Another part says “Doing right things shouldn’t feel forced. You need to figure out how to get things sorted out in your heart, and then the desire for self-improvement will just flow.”

I think there is some truth to both voices. Life does take grit and determination, but also a paradigm shift can make that which was painful become pleasant.

Something I have noticed is hinge points where suddenly the desire to do good accelerates. Sometimes they come at random, such as when I happen to wake up on the right side of bed, and sometimes they feel deliberate, such as when I make a conscious decision to follow my conscience.

I will always hope and pray for the random moments of spiritual vitality, times where grace lifts me to places I cannot take credit for. But at the same time I can also strive more to be true to my conscience, thus opening the door for God’s light to enter my soul.

Which brings up a question: why do I ever not follow my conscience. And the answer is because I am afraid. I am afraid that if I stop doing the thing that feels important to me, and instead focus on what my conscience directs, that I will miss out on something, or leave something undone, or feel unfulfilled in some way.

My commitment for July, then, is to take a leap of faith. I lack trust that if I just follow my conscience, that things will work out. So let’s focus on that. I’m still keeping my other two commitments to regulate media use and regularly check-in with my soul, but now whenever I feel like giving up ground on those commitments, I am going to ask myself what I am afraid of, and ask myself to exercise a little faith and trust instead.

Thank you.

The Captive Heart- Isaiah 53:6

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

COMMENTARY

All we like sheep have gone astray
Arguably the wounds that cut us most deeply are the ones we inflict upon ourselves. We might respond to them with intense shame, believing ourselves to be irredeemably broken and fundamentally flawed, or else we might become defensive, responding with anger at any suggestion that we did something wrong.
In either case, we have an intense feeling that it is not okay that we are imperfect. Which, in a world without grace, I suppose would be true. In a world without grace, admitting that you had done something wrong, confessing your faults, and exposing your weakness could only result in condemnation without forgiveness. It would be a horrifying prospect. Thus it is little wonder that we feel like we have to put on a perfect face, even as we know that none of us are.

And the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all
But, thankfully, there is grace, there is forgiveness, and there is a way to be loved even after we have done something wrong. All the horror of unremitting condemnation was faced for us by another. It was laid on the back of our brother. It is a sobering fact, but also the only way that this story could have a happy ending.
Because of our mortal frailty we have all gone astray, but because of His divine consistence we may all regather. We can be flawed, but live with the peace as if we had been perfect. We can learn from our mistakes, yet live as with the wisdom of having always known right. We can surrender all the bad, and preserve all of the good.

The Captive Heart- John 5:2-9

Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.
In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.
For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.
And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.
When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?
The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.
Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.
And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.

COMMENTARY

Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool
Previously I examined our reluctance to admit when we are wounded or broken. But then, even when we are willing to admit as much, we still might struggle to know what to do with that fact. Once we know that we have a problem we tend to look for solutions, but if the correct solution is not immediately evident, we usually end up chasing fruitless remedies, or trying to medicate the pain with addiction and disconnection.
Such was the man at the pool of Bethesda, forever waiting for a healing that he was incapable of receiving. It was the place to go, the thing to do, the world’s solution for his problem. But it just wasn’t going to work for him.

When Jesus saw him lie, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?
The man could not find his healing, because he could not meet the terms under which it was doled out. He was physically incapable of finding success. I have felt the same when I have said to myself I need to be healed by God, but I have to earn it first by becoming perfect. This is a physical impossibility, and if I insist on this path, I will only ensure that I am never healed.
Jesus comes with another offer, comes with terms that each of us can meet. It is simple: “wilt thou be made whole?” The simplicity of the way often makes us skeptical. True healing and change cannot come so freely we think. And normally, no, true healing isn’t and can’t be so free in our fallen world. That is why we call it a miracle.

The Captive Heart- Psalm 34:18, Luke 15:7, Matthew 5:3-6

The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.

I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

COMMENTARY

The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart
Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine which need no repentance
Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are they that mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness
Previously we spoke of how Jesus came to rescue the lost and the broken, and so long as we maintain that we’re “just fine,” there is very little that he can do for us. The Psalmist also recognized that the ones that the Lord is nearest to are not the perfect and seemingly well-put-together, but rather those with broken hearts and contrite spirits.
Indeed, Jesus goes so far as to say that there is greater joy in heaven for the lost soul that is saved, than for ninety-nine saved souls that were retained. He also specifically calls out blessings on the poor in spirit, the mournful, the meek, and the hungry.
The gospel takes the things that are paradoxes and contradictions in normal life, and makes them possible. And in the gospel, it is blessed to be broken.

The Captive Heart- Mark 2:17

When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

COMMENTARY

They that are whole have no need of the physician
When Jesus told Peter “if I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me” (John 13:8), he was repeating a message that he had already shared before. Those who are whole do not need the doctor, those that are perfect do not require repentance, those that are clean do not need to be washed. But if you are not broken, or if you are not dirty, or if you are not sick…then you have nothing to do with Jesus, for that is who he came for.
I have recognized in myself the desire to not be a bother to my Savior. I yearn to be totally perfect so that he doesn’t have to be burdened by the weight of my soul. I think it is a good thing he suffered and died for the world…but I don’t want the guilt of knowing that he suffered and died for me.
And so I say to him the same thing that we say to each other any time our emotional wounds come up. “I’m fine, I’m totally fine. I’ve had some rough stuff in the past, but,” shrug “it weren’t nothing.” We are too afraid to admit that we have been hurt and hurt deeply. Afraid to show that we are broken. Afraid to admit that we are not okay.
We’re fine, we’re totally fine. And so long as that is our claim, Jesus sighs, smiles sadly, and says “thou hast no part with me.”

The Captive Heart- John 13:6-8

Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?
Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.
Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.

COMMENTARY

Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet.
Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.
I always wanted a teacher and a mentor in Jesus, someone who was could come and show me how to do things right, someone that would motivate me to overcome my flaws. But I always struggled to receive kindness from others, even from my Savior. Kindness is healing, and healing hurts.
I have heard it best described as an intense light that scorches and burns away festers and barnacles. My shame and my wounds run their roots deep into me, and I feel it when they are pried off. It is painful…but it is a good and healing pain.
For though it is hard to take the scrubbing, I always feel so clean and refreshed afterwards. My Savior does not only purge out the refuse, he also applies balms and oils, binds up the wounds carefully, places pillows under my head and feet, and dresses me in new, comfortable robes.
With strength and decisiveness he purifies me, but then with utmost love he cares for me.

The Captive Heart- Luke 4:18

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.

COMMENTARY

He hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor
He hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted
To preach deliverance to the captives
Recovering of sight to the blind
Set at liberty them that are bruised

After fasting for forty days Jesus officially began his mortal ministry He did so by formally announcing who he was, the Son of God, and clearly laying out exactly what he was here to do. In this moment he was essentially giving his divine mission statement to the world. And in all of the stated objectives that he gave there was a common theme of healing the people who are hurt.
But he didn’t just want to do good., Jesus further specified that he was anointed and sent of God. Thus his desire was united with power. He can help us, and he wants to. There remains only one other variable then, and it is the one that is determined by us: will we let him help us?

The Captive Heart- Question

The end of my last study was very impactful to me. It brought up the point of how we so often choose the very things that hurt us the most, and how God must intervene to save us from our own selves.

But to be sure, each of us are also victims to the onslaughts of others. Indeed most of our own acts of self-harm have their roots in the way others cut our confidence out from under us. We were made to question our worth, and that wasn’t right. So God must also intervene to save us from others.

Yet is it any wonder that others have learned to be cruel, given how harsh and uncompromising this world can be? Sometimes it is neither ourselves nor another that causes offense, it is the misfortune of nature, of chance, of having a physical body and a frail mind, of being subject to disease, deterioration, and death. So God must also intervene to save us from the mortal world.

And He does so. With this study I would like to examine how we are assaulted, and how we find reclamation in the gospel. In the meantime I would invite you to consider in what ways you have been hurt by yourself, by others, and by the world? How are you hurting right at this moment? In what ways is God trying to rescue you? Are there ways in which you are blocking Him? What are the reasons why?