Heart Matters: Rules vs. Relationship

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7, NASB


Rules vs. Relationship

And so the Lord says, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.

Isaiah 29:13, NLT

countrychurchIt was Easter Sunday, 1994, when I went forward for salvation at my small country church as my Dad played Softly and Tenderly on the old, upright piano. I also remember the floral print, puffy-sleeved Easter dress I was wearing. Did I mention it was 1994?

I absolutely believed that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, but on that day I lacked an accurate understanding of the gospel. I had missed the part about grace and falsely believed I needed to earn or prove myself worthy of salvation.

Not knowing what to do next, I took matters into my own hands with the expected gusto of a typical, albeit misguided, Type A Personality, and jumped into Christianity with both feet. I was NOT going to mess this up! Jesus died for me, and I planned to prove myself worthy!

I promptly threw away my favorite Salt-n-Pepa CD, vowed I would never utter another curse word, and I read the book of Revelation in my rose-colored King James Version Bible. All that same afternoon.

You want to know what happened? I ran out of steam. I backslid. In record time, actually. The Book of Revelation overwhelmed me, and honestly, at that time it scared me. I couldn’t just snap my fingers and stop cursing and I really missed my CD. I was buried under the enemy’s condemnation at how quickly I could mess this thing up, thus leading to a decade long journey as a prodigal.

Hindsight is 20/20 and while many factors led to this particular series of events, my heart was at the root. My heart was seeking to be worthy of the gospel, but I had missed the point that I was worthy because of the gospel. Focusing on outward obedience to prove myself worthy, my actions proved useless because my heart was empty.

I had rules but no relationship.

Maybe you have been there yourself, or maybe that is where you find yourself today. Maybe you’re striving in order to earn His love, favor, or salvation? Friend, there is no checklist that we can keep, no sacrifice we can give, no deeds we can do, and no rituals we can perform that will make us worthy of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Not a single one of us are worthy of His love, yet He loves us anyway!

I pray today that if that’s where you find yourself, you wouldn’t stay there a minute longer. Seek Him, pour your heart out, and pray for a relationship with the One who made you.

Resting in relationship,


The Greatest Mystery Ever: What the Cross Tells Us about Us

I love a good mystery. My favorite mystery writer is Mary Higgins Clark, and I’ve managed to collect all but a few of her entire works. But the greatest mystery ever told is why God chose to redeem mankind through Christ’s death on the cross. This week we’ll explore the mystery of the cross—foolishness to the unsaved but the power of God to those who claim Him as Lord and Savior (I Cor. 1:18).


What the Cross Tells Us about Us

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 

Ephesians 5:1-2

IMG_3402When we think of the cross, we can easily get mired in the view of ourselves as sinners, unworthy of God’s love or Christ’s sacrifice. After all, Christ died to save us from our sins. The New Testament is pretty graphic in its portrayal of us before we became Christians: impure, idolaters, jealous, selfish, angry, liars, and so on.

Paul says any of us might give our lives for a good person, but no one would willingly sacrifice himself for an enemy. But Christ died for us while we were sinners! (See Romans 5:6-8.) But that’s not the last word on the subject. Good news! God must think of us as VERY worthy to have gone to so much trouble to save us. In fact, He must think we are the pinnacles of His created order—the cat’s p.j.’s you might say!

If the cross proves our value to God, our response must be one of thankfulness. In a familiar story from Christ’s life, a woman with a bad reputation bathes Jesus’ feet with perfume. When the other banquet guests scorn her actions, Jesus replies, “Well, guys, those who have been forgiven little, love little. She must love me a lot!” (See Luke 7:36-50 for the full account.)

Do you love much? Our gratitude quotient says a lot about whether we feel a need to praise and honor Jesus for His sacrificial death and saving grace. If you’re glad you will spend eternity in heaven instead of hell, perhaps a little kingdom service might be in your future, as well. In fact, we are saved in order to do good. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).

Salvation is past (when you accepted Christ), present (as you continue in Him), and future (when we all get to heaven, hallelujah!). Meanwhile, we are to shine like stars in the universe (Phil. 2:15) as we point others to the light of life (Matt. 5:14).

Are you shining? If not, try an attitude of gratitude. Focus on God’s love, Christ’s offering of His body and blood, the significance of the cross, and your future in glory. That ought to cast a blinding light on the next person who comes your way.

Living in the light,



God thunders marvelously with His voice; 

He does great things which we cannot comprehend.”

JOB 37:5

Sometimes the best encouragement comes through a true story, especially one that shows the mighty hand of God to be at work among us. Instead of the usual format, I’d like to encourage you this week with a true story. Each day the Encouragement will continue as the story unfolds. You don’t want to miss a single day!



And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

Matthew 25:40

THURSDAY_#1Yep. God had great plans for this mission—Nicaragua 2015! The enemy tried to stop those plans, because many people were about to hear the truth for the first time. Many were about to accept that truth, love, and forgiveness, and to be forever changed and forever set free. And that’s exactly what happened.

In churches, on ball fields, in prisons, police departments and politicians offices. God had the victory. Nicaraguan people found victory.

Police women, burdened with the task of keeping the peace in an often-violent society, found freedom in Christ. The lost souls they had cast into prison for their crimes were set free in their hearts and souls … for eternity.

Women without any viable means of support not only found hope for their spiritually starved souls, they found a new way to earn food for their family. And this time it was an honorable way, in the Solidaridad church, sewing kits that provide monthly health care for poverty-stricken women. And, the workers get 100% of the profits!

Yes, God had a plan—a Master plan to restore families with His principles for men and women and their marriage relationships. Children are blessed when husbands and wives find the truth that changes lives. And they were.

He had a master plan to bring redemption to the battle ravaged sinner who previously knew no hope existed.

He had a master plan to put shoes on the feet of poverty-stricken children, and provide bags of rice and beans, flour and oil, for those with no food. He had a plan to place antibiotic ointment and hydracortirzone crème into the hands of mothers with no way to treat a skinned knee or bug bite, and toothbrushes and toothpaste to care for the teeth of their children – as well as their own.

THURSDAY_#2He had a plan to give the gift of hair bands to little girls whose hair hung as strings in their faces. Those little girls stood in line waiting for a hair band for 30 minutes and went away with huge smiles, excitedly winding them into their hair.

We could only imagine what they said as they ran to their huts calling for their brothers and sisters saying,

“Come and see…the church has clothes for us, and new shoes to keep our feet dry when the rain comes. Come and see…the visitors are hugging us and kissing our cheeks as if they love us. They play with us; give us hot dogs, cookies, kool-aide, and candy. And bags of food for our mother to cook for the next two weeks. They’ve brought baseballs, bats, gloves, and shirts for our boys to have a baseball team, just like the rich kids. And they’ve told us the reason they came. Because their God – and His Son, Jesus, told them to come. They said that their Jesus loves us too.  And their God asked lots of others—people who couldn’t come this time—to show His love for us by sending the gifts.” 

In Matthew 25:40 Jesus said – from His lips to our ears,

And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

Praise the Lord! Be sure to join me again tomorrow and I put the icing on the cake of this story. Our God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly, above all we can ask, or even think to ask!

Until Tomorrow,

Your Traveling Partner,