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February 2021

An Open Heart

Today, I will share about our desire to open our hearts to God. (This is a 'virtual sermon' I shared this month.) The thought that I want to share is that we need to be willing to come to Jesus and allow him to change our lives. Let me start with an experience that is common to everyone. We all have gone to see a doctor for a physical check-up. When the medical examination reveals something that needs intervention, then we submit to a physician’s expertise. We trust that what they do is for our benefit. If they discover that we have some viral infection that could affect the health of other people, then we follow their instructions, and perhaps we need to isolate ourselves and go on quarantine. Even if it means a temporary suspension of our freedom, if we see that by giving in, we bring in better things or serve the greater good, then we might be willing to stay at home or refrain from travel. At this point, we surrender our will. In our reading for today, we find two people who are willing to submit and give in. They ask Jesus to heal them from a disease. Let us read the biblical story in Matthew chapter 8, verses 1-13.

(Matt. 8:1-13): When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant,‘ Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment. (Matthew. 8:1-13. ESV)

Here, in our text, we see that Jesus waits to see if these two persons are willing for him to heal them. In the first case, the person with leprosy, he outrightly said to Jesus “if you will.” With the centurion, the second case, he appealed to Jesus for healing for his servant who was sick. In another occasion in John 5:6, Jesus asked a sick person the question: “Do you want to be healed?” Jesus waits for people to express their willingness to be healed. He respects a person’s freedom. He gives them the time to think about their decision and then allows them to submit their will to him—their desire to be healed by Jesus. It is at this point that a person’s heart becomes open to Jesus.

The human heart is very mysterious. When one part is opened up, other parts are also exposed. When a person invites another person to come into his life, inside one’s heart, then it is also the time when other doors are opened up that lead to other sections of one’s life. This is why, among friends or between spouses, we often hear one person exclaim with delightful discovery: “I did not know you are like this.” When we enter the room of the human heart, we begin to discover many doors that lead to other spaces in our life.

This is why Jesus, after healing the leper of his physical disease, asked the person to go to his priest for a ceremonial cleansing, so that he can be declared legally healed and cleansed, and start reconnecting with other people in the community. Without the formal declaration from the priest, he will always be a social outcast. But with the legal papers from his priest, he then can start “social healing” or begin sharing with others and talking with his family. The physical healing has now opened up the door to a future relational healing. The healing that Jesus gave to his physical body can continue through a healing in his community; through the renewal of friendships and reconnecting with families. The healing experience is now leading to another part of this person’s life—his social life. So, Jesus asks this healed leper to go and see the priest for his ceremonial cleansing. 

When one part is opened up, other sections of our life are also revealed. For this reason, when you ask God for one thing, then be assured that other parts of your life will also open up and become exposed. Are you ready to surrender your will to God? When we ask God for healing, and He answers that prayer, He will also ask you to heal your broken relationships. You must be willing to obey Him and extend forgiveness to others. When we ask God for financial blessings and He answers our prayers, He will also asks us to be generous to others. We must be willing to open other doors in our lives and invite other people to partake in our blessings. When we open one room of our heart to God, we must be ready to invite our Lord to every part of our life. When God enters one door, other doors will soon follow.

This is exactly what happened to the centurion. He asks Jesus for the healing of his servant. But then, he soon realizes that he needed healing in his own personal faith. I think, at that point, the door to his own life started opening up and he saw himself, a person who needed to trust Jesus more. Let me pause here. Let us revisit the text with a different perspective. If you will allow me to translate freely what the biblical story says of the centurion’s experience, then it would go like this:

“Lord, I am beginning to doubt that you can heal my servant. Please help me in my lack of faith. I am so used to telling people what to do. I tell them where to go and what to do. They do not ask any questions. They obey me completely. Please tell me what to do Lord. You do not have to be physically there with my sick servant. Just say the word and it will be done. Help me Lord. Heal my doubting heart. Open up my heart, my whole life to you. Say words of healing for my servant and for my own self. I am also a man who needs your healing touch.”

And we see in our text that Jesus commended the centurion’s faith and honesty. Jesus entered the centurion’s open heart and answered his prayers, for his servant and for his own personal need for faith. So, in your life, what are you asking God for? What are the things you want Him to give to you? Are you asking for healing, wisdom, restoration of broken relationships, financial help, new employment, a promotion at work, good health, or some other personal stuff in your life? My second question is this: Are you willing to open up your heart? Are you ready for God to lead the way and open up every door in your life?  Will you trust our Lord? Come to Jesus and allow Him to change your life.

Let me end with another story. When my daughter was a toddler, about one and a half years old, we would very often play hide and seek with her. We would take turns hiding. But when it was her turn to hide, she would always end up running to us and saying “You found me!” or some words indicating a form of submission. She is very much willing to disclose her hiding place to us. She wanted us to find her. In a way, she opened up her heart and willingly invited us to herself. 

Jesus is always seeking us out, actively waiting for each one of us to open up our hearts. But we need to be willing to be found—just like my little toddler who would come out running to meet us. Jesus is waiting. Can you become like a child and run to Jesus? But you need to have an open heart. Are you ready for God to lead the way and open up every door in your life? Come and you our Living Lord. Have an open heart.

Fill Our Thoughts With Pain?

“How happy are those who know what sorrow means for they will be given courage and comfort! “ (Matthew 5:4. J.B. Phillips New Testament)

What would happen if we fill our thoughts with the pain of the world? Paul says to think about commendable things. Certainly, Jesus gave us an example of viewing the world’s pain through God’s heart for the world.  He said that we are blessed when we mourn with others who are mourning.

“You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.” (Matthew 5:4. MSG)

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, . . . whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. . . . Bearing with one another and . . . above all these put on  love, which  binds everything together in  perfect harmony.” (Philippians 4:8 and Colossians 3:12-14. ESV)

So, what would happen if we fill our thoughts with the pain of the world? The answer is that we will be transformed. Just like Abraham standing before the Almighty and interceding for a city, we will all be transformed. (See, Genesis 18:22-33.) And we will be embraced by the God who transforms us. In the end, we all submit to the Almighty Creator and Savior of the world.

Are You Blessed?

"This is why Jesus said that the poor are blessed and the hungry will be satisfied and the merciful will be shown mercy. Not because God loves them any more than he loves the rest but because they know their need. They have a clear diagnosis. A hungry man knows he needs bread. A heart that's been broken knows it wants mercy. And a soul that can see its own self-deception knows it needs good news, which is what the gospel is." (Jonathan Wilson-HartGrove. 2018. Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion. IL: IVP Books)

Forgive me Lord for not seeing the self-deception in my soul. I have not seen the suffering of my Black brothers and sisters here in America. Open my eyes. Help me Lord to reach out and learn from them.