< What I Learned Teaching Sunday School: August 2010

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Colossians – A Daily Must Read

I’ve been trying to read Colossians 3:1 – 4:6 everyday. It’s a nutshell of how a Christian should be living.

We have an obligation to live a life worthy of what God has done for us and we give a testimony by the quality of our lives.

Try reading it everyday. Give it a month and see what happens!

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Place Called Simplicity - Conclusion

How do we actually start this journey to simplicity? Realistically we are complex people living in a complex world. The apple has been eaten, the garden gates are closed and at any given time chaos is closing in on all sides!

In order to change, we have to start on the inside. Paul reminded us in Colossians that we who follow Christ have died to the outward attempts of the world to conform us.

Our first step into simplicity isn’t so much to start working on it as it is to slow down. Find time to be alone with the Lord. To just be still and allow Him to quiet our inner being. Isaiah 30:15 says, For thus the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said, "In repentance and rest you will be saved, In quietness and trust is your strength." But you were not willing,

Only in quietness can our minds be renewed. We can stop thinking about all the chaos and focus in the One who is perfect peace. Simplicity is a person. And His name is Jesus. He is the way, the truth and the life. He is life itself! If we seek Him first, everything else will be added. We don’t just put Jesus on our to-do list though. He is in every part of our lives. Always. If He’s in the center, then our lives are balanced.

As we grow willing to come into the quiet and spend time with the Lord, we will find ourselves drawn into an ever deepening relationship with Him. A bigger awareness of His presence all around us.

Jesus is first of all God above us. He is a fully functioning part of the Creator God who was here from the foundation of the World. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

He is the great, exalted One to whom God has given all power and authority and under whose feet God has put all things. That’s from 1 Corinthians 15:24, 27. And He is the one who sits at the right hand of God. Revelation 3:21 says, “”To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.”

We have to understand His greatness. We have to understand our need.

Oswald Chambers said, “I cannot enter His Kingdom as a good man or woman. I can only enter it as a complete pauper.”

He is above us, but He’s also Emmanuel – with us and among us. He didn’t just stay up in the heavens. He drew near. He came down to us. The Creator entered His own creation and lived among His creatures. He became a Brother, a Neighbor and a Friend.

And He is also in us. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

We are the lamp – He is the light.
We are the glove – He is the hand.
We are the containers – temples to contain His glory. Vessels to contain the new works of His Spirit.

We were not made to be gods, like some New Agers will try to tell us, we were meant to contain God. That’s how His work continues on the earth.

The reason our lives are so hard is every morning we get up and try to do God’s job, calling all the shots, trying to do everything our way, making all the hard decisions on our own. Instead of letting Him take charge.

When I was reading this chapter I suddenly thought that maybe one of the reasons God allows trials in our lives is because when we hit bottom, we finally give up and turn to Him, and finally feel His presence, which has been there all along.

There’s serenity in a surrendered life. What a gift!

Do we have to wait until we’re desperate before we’ll trust Him? No! The serenity of a surrendered life is available to us every day – good days or bad.

When we are tired of trying to be good enough and strong enough and together enough…when we are ready to stop striving and just receive the gift…Jesus is there. Our job is simply to believe that He is who the Bible says He is: the only begotten Son of God the Father, who is at one with God Himself. Our job is to believe He will do what He promised us He’ll do: save us and give us a new and more abundant life. And then we yield. We surrender. We admit to Him we can’t do it by ourselves and we just want to live the life He’s calling us to live.

To the extent that we will let Him, He really will come and live out His life in us.

Then we will be thinking with a Spirit mind and living with a spirit love. And the life He gives us will last forever.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Place Called Simplicity - Part 6 - A Childlike Heart

Mark 10:14-15 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."

Why did Jesus use childlikeness as a prerequisite to kingdom membership? Is it possible for us grown-ups to be childlike again? Lets look at some of the qualities that Jesus treasured in children.

1. Children grow. They are works in progress and they grow a little everyday. When we have childlike hearts we are teachable. We continue to grow, to learn and to mature. We don’t stagnate. We stay excited to be alive.

2. Children understand joy. Children can feel just as much joy in seeing a butterfly as in going to an amusement park. Nehemiah 8:10 says, “For the joy of the Lord is your strength.” The ability to find joy in life is a tremendous strength. People who can delight in the moment are going to live longer then the ones who are stressed and pushed and take everything too seriously.

3. Children are honest and transparent. By honest the author means they wear their hearts on their sleeves. They don’t know how to put up a front. They are who they are and who they are comes out in their speech and actions. They say what they mean and mean what they say.

4. Children have a natural sense of awe and wonder. So many people have said they like to take kids to their first..whatever. So they can see it again through a child’s eyes. I’m sure God loves to see His creation through someone’s eyes who is still awed by it.

5. Children have simple faith. They don’t have to understand everything. They can just believe.

The only way any of us will ever be able to regain that childlike sense of who we are and what we are designed to be is by opening our hearts to the unconditional love that is able to make us real again. It takes time. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, generally by the time we are real, most of our hair has been loved off and our eyes droop and some of our parts get loose… or stiff!

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Monday, August 16, 2010

A Place Called Simplicity - Part 5 - Rest

Claire Cloninger, the author of this book, called this next section "Heaven's pockets in Earth's apron."

Too often, work has been our way of placing value on ourselves. We have trouble doing anything that’s “non-productive.” We weren’t born that way! Kids immediately know how to kick back and have fun. When I was growing up I’d go to the pool with friends in the morning, play made up games outside with the neighborhood kids in the afternoon and then things like kick ball or Red Light Green light in the evening. Of course I had chores for my mom, but they took a small chunk of my time. And I didn’t feel guilty about enjoying summer!

The author thinks it’s tragic that we’ve lost the ability to slow down and enjoy time, space and each other. Somehow we’ve made rest a shameful, frivolous luxury when in fact it’s a necessity. But the rest we need isn’t sitting in front of a TV or surfing the net every night. Or all the other activities that our billion-dollar leisure industry throws at us. When you think of vacations don’t you immediately think of hotels, airline tickets, restaurants and admission tickets?

Real rest cannot be purchased. It’s a gift we can only discover when we are finally committed to slowing down and easing up. Reading a book on the porch, napping on a rainy afternoon, coffee with a friend, picking flowers for a vase, long conversations at the table after dinner, hobbies and crafts. Shifting the way you think and relaxing in to the moment.

It was actually one of God’s commandments! Even God rested on the 7th day and He told us to do that too. He didn’t need to rest; He rested to enjoy His creation. We need to do that too. We need to turn from our driven pursuits to enjoy His creation and just “be” with Him.

The author wrote, “God has woven a beautiful silver strand of rest into the fabric of His plan for our lives. When the world we live in prods and pushes us to follow its hectic pace, we need to take time to rediscover the healing patterns of God’s plan.” And “When we stop and rest in Him, our ambitions are tamed, our anxieties are soothed, our earthly cares are shrunk to their actual size and we are healed in mysterious ways that only God can fully understand.”

Earth’s apron is covered with little pockets of heaven’s rest for those who will stop to find them.

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Place Called Simplicity - Part 4 - Taking it to your job

A man named Gerut Gustaffson, who used to teach on the subject of worship, met Mother Teresa in Calcutta one time. He spoke to her about the worldwide explosion of worship music that he was so excited about. But the more he talked, the more he realized that she had little knowledge or interest in the subject of worship music. Finally, realizing he wasn’t getting through he asked her, “What does worship mean to you?” He was touched and challenged by her answer. She said, “We worship God by living out our lives before Him, by going out and finding the poorest of the poor and then taking care of them. This is what gives God glory.” She was a lucky person who found no distinction between her work and worship! Most of us don’t have that kind of job. Some of us even have jobs that we feel butts heads with what we believe. So the author came up with some stress-stripping, simplicity enduring principles for us to take to work. (And remember, work can be home making or a volunteer committee you’re on too.)

1. Ask advice from people you admire.

Proverbs 19:20 Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.
Proverbs 12:15 The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.
If you have a friend or relative who seems to possess the gift of doing their job (or life!) with a sense of efficiency and calm – pick their brain!

2. Get the big picture

The YMCA has a mission statement on its wall. Many companies do too. Our church prints one on the bulletin. It’s a good idea and therefore it’s a good idea for an individual to write out their own mission statement. Step back and make an effort to think through what you are doing each day and why, as well as what good is served by the fact you are doing it.

Some people may not realize this is what they’re doing when they write their job description or goals and priorities, but it’s an overview of a person’s “work” and what they hope to accomplish written in a short, concise statement so when they are overwhelmed with nothing going right and too much to do, they can look back at it and refocus.

Example – A stay at home mom might write, “I am shaping the minds, hearts and conscientiousness of my children by giving them my time and attention. I am sharing God’s Word with them and making sure they are involved in church so they can build their own relationship with Christ. I am feeding them healthy wholesome food so they stay well and grow strong and I’m trying to teach each child they are unique and valuable to help them be the best person he or she can be.

Same with grandchildren
Or a supportive friend
A good neighbor
Committee member
Church member

3. Ask yourself the right questions.

Questions like, “How important is this task really?” Look at your “job description” and see how important what you are doing is to it. I like her quote, “It’s better to limit your work then to have your work limit your life!”

4. Build in rewards

If you aren’t getting any strokes for what you do – stroke yourself! Take lunch to the park, have a bath while reading a book, call a friend and go to a movie. After you clean your kitchen put a bouquet of flowers on the table.

5. Make where you live or work “you.”

Surround yourself with things that make you feel good. Things you like to look at. I like having framed pictures of family and friends all over. And I love flowers! But everyone’s different.

6. Have a strong support system.

We were not meant to go through life all by ourselves. We all need a strong network of caring friends. Your Sunday School class is a strong support system. Maybe some neighbors, or sisters and cousins. Hopefully lots of friends, but you have to work at it. Friends have to be there for each other. You can’t sit around and expect the other person to make all the effort.

7. Learn to enjoy the process.

Sometimes we want something to be so special or turn out so well and are disappointed with the results and we’re crushed. If we’ve learned to enjoy every step of the process, though, then really we’ve won.

She gave the example of song writing. If it’s your passion you must love every step of it. Because if you’re waiting for success to bring the joy, it may never come and you’ll have worked for nothing. But if you love the words and the music and creating, even if the success never comes you will still have had a life filled with purpose and beauty and joy.

8. Know when to stop

Stop before you’re worn out. Stop when you need a laugh or a conversation with a friend.

9. Learn to let go.

The author says perfectionism is the kiss of death when it comes to working simply. We are never comfortable and no one is comfortable around us.

10. Discover the ministry in the midst.

There are people everywhere who need to be ministered to. Everyone is hurting. Everyone has problems! We need to always be ready to help.

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Place Called Simplicity - Part 3 - Time

Time has become more precious than money to many people. How many times have you heard someone say, “I need more hours in a day”, “More days in a week” or “I can’t believe how fast summer has gone?” But there’s different kinds of time. When we are rushing around trying to be 10 places at once and get 50 things done, time flies – and not in a good way. Then there is time when we are in a dull class, or waiting for someone, when the hands on the clock seem to crawl and that’s not good either.

But then there are moments – an afternoon away in the mountains with someone really special in your life for instance - where time kind of suspends. We want to measure time in moments – not minutes.

The author believes that people with simple faith have more of those kinds of moments. They are not so busy doing, achieving and creating their own self-constructed destiny that they miss the hidden treasures that are waiting in the ordinary events of life. The things on God’s agenda.

She suggests this will be what time is like in heaven.

So what kind of time are we really hungering for? Not the boring minutes that drag or the rushing against deadline time. But the gentle, unhurried quality of life we experience when we have freed ourselves to go with God’s plan. Where do we find this? How do we create space in our busy lives for this?

We can’t manufacture these moments. But we can learn new ways to look at life that will encourage this simpler, more spontaneous, less clock-driven way of life. We can make some subtle shifts in attitude that will welcome more meaningful experiences and relationships into our over-planned, over-stressed lives.

1. Learn to live one day at a time.

Jesus gave us the greatest clue to entering God time when He invited us to live and trust one day at a time, instead of worrying about tomorrow or stewing over the past. The past will try to rob us of our peace of mind and the future tries to rob us of our faith. Faith allows us to let God hold tomorrow until we get to it. And choosing to release the past to God’s redemptive grace simplifies our lives because it gets rid of past regrets. We have today and we can make it count!

We can’t really “make” time, but we can make the most of the time we are given. God created time back in Genesis 1:14 when He separated day from night and marked the seasons. He decided how much time we need and we all have the same amount.

Ephesians 5:16 and Colossians 4:5 tell us to live wisely by “making the most of every opportunity.”

Will we be able to give a good accounting of how we used the time we were given? Will our time be spent getting to know each other and God? Finding joy in our tasks? Sharing our possessions, sharing the gospel, marveling over God’s beautiful creation and praising Him? Praying with friends? Laughing with our children? Or is it our checked off to-do list?

2. Don’t wait to be happy.

“Later on” usually stays “later on”! Be happy today!

3. Trust that there will be time enough. The author says that with God’s help to discern what things will be most meaningful to us and most important to Him, He will help us find enough time to do them.

But, she says we need to think regularly about theses goals and evaluate all activities, even the most trivial, by whether they add to that life. Then ruthlessly weed out what ever doesn’t. (Tasks, errands, TV shows, people, etc.) Computers and television are huge time wasters. Not that they are all bad, but it’s easy to get sucked in and hours can go by without you really getting anything from it.

You know, it’s a fine line, according to society if you sit around watching TV all day you’re kind of a loser and to the success driven people if you want to simplify and slow down you’re also a loser. (In their eyes.) It’s fashionable to be overly busy! If you’re not they think you’re boring.

But, I heard Chip Ingram say that CEO’s make the worst parents because they are so success driven.

Being so focused on success will cause a person to miss the God moments. We need to slow down and enjoy the journey of life.

Toward the end of His life Jesus “set His face toward the cross.” He was focused on that. But, even then He took time with friends, sharing meals, meeting new people. On His way to heal one person He would often stop to heal another. He was keeping His spiritual eyes open for God’s agenda. He saw interruptions as part of the big scheme of things. Travel with a purpose, but live as fully as possible all the way to your destination.

We all know it would be best for our health and happiness if we slowed down. But most people don’t feel comfortable with an unscheduled life. We have to learn to treat our time with God like we would with someone we love. Just enjoy “being in their presence.” Just be still with Him. This isn’t a waste of time, but actually an invaluable investment of time.

We need to learn to embrace the special, unplanned moments in life.

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Place Called Simplicity - Part 2 - Choices

Everyday we make basic choices. Choosing to get up or turn over again. Choosing to have breakfast or not. Choosing a healthy breakfast or a donut! Choosing to help someone else or live for ourselves. Even if we choose not to choose, in effect we are choosing to let life choose for us!

All of our choices, including the tiny everyday ones have the potential to be life changing. What we are today is a culmination of every choice we’ve ever made, including that of attitude or our reactions. If we feel that our life is complicated, rushed and stressed, we may think fate or circumstances have trapped us in this crazy lifestyle. But if we look closely we’ll see it’s the choices we’ve made each and every day. Volunteering for this project, saying yes to this activity, wanting a certain standard of living, wanting a big family.

The world today gives us a zillion choices. We have to become good choosers because a lot of the choices are really trivial in God’s eyes and they won’t matter for eternity. And they are taking too much of our time, thoughts and energy.

We will never reach a place of simplicity without making simple choices.

So how do we recognize a simplifying choice when it comes our way?

First we pare down the possibilities and weed out the options. We already have some limitations that help this: where we live, our age, our finances, being born male or female. We can overcome a lot, but can’t avoid all!

But, we also need to make some voluntary limitations if we want to simplify our lives. This is making a decision to live without something we might have had. It’s choosing to draw some lines; set some boundaries. Maybe spending less to have more to give.

Duane Elgin, a social scientist, said that “choosing to live more frugally on the material side of life allows us to live more abundantly on the spiritual side of life.”

Jesus limited His options. He was the Son of God. All powerful! In heaven He had no limits or boundaries. But He came to earth to help us; starting out as a newborn baby. During his ministry He traveled by foot. He hand-picked a few disciples to train. The author says that by limiting His options, Jesus was able to show us the power and beauty of a simple life obediently lived. He was able to demonstrate all that a simple human vessel is capable of once it’s been filled with the power of God.

Jesus is our example as Christians. He is who we are supposed to become like. You know we all talk about how wonderful cell phones and the internet are. And it is amazing that we are able to stay so connected to everyone. But that very connectedness can also be very stressful; there’s no down time any more!

I work in my yard a lot. More than I want to! And if I look at the whole yard and how many gardens I haven’t gotten too yet; how many bushes I need to trim, it literally overwhelms me! But when I’m out there listening to Christian music on my iPod and just looking at and working on making a small area of ground neat and tidy, it’s very peaceful and rewarding.

We get more out of things if we really focus on just one thing. I think that‘s one of the reasons we like vacations so much, we take a limited amount of clothes and stuff so we don’t have to make a lot of choices each day: what to use or how to dress. We don’t have all of our other activities and chores and friends competing for our time. We have renewed energy to focus on what we’ve chosen to do. We all know this, but knowing and doing are two different things!

So how do we begin to get rid of the nonessentials and the stuff that’s getting in the way? Because most things and people come into our lives originally for a reason. Our lives are organized around an essential priority which motivates our choices. Some people’s lives revolve around a strong, sane, unifying principle and they are pure to themselves. There’s nothing fractured or split or confused about their personalities. What they do reflects what they believe and who they are. When we find our inner point of order, we take a vital step toward simplicity.

The author gave the example of being rushed all the time; taking her kids to dozens of activities, helping at church and being on all the committees and in all the groups. She thought her central priority was her family, but in reality looking at this and seeing how she wasn’t really giving them quality time, she realized her inner point of focus was people pleasing. She was saying yes to everything and trying to do it all. And her life was scattered and fragmented. She began to have marital problems because they weren’t on the same path and she was stressed all the time. She said she finally realized she needed God in a serious way. She needed His unconditional love. That would quench her thirst for approval and confirmation. She needed to start making the choices which would bring her closer to Him and glorify Him. And that’s when she began to have real direction in her life. We have to put Him first and trust and praise Him.

She wrote this song: “We say show me and I’ll trust you. He says trust me and I’ll show you. That’s the way He turns our hearts to Him. We say change me and I’ll praise you, He says praise me and I’ll change you. That’s the way the love of Jesus is.”

We need to first see with our hearts what our eyes can’t see yet. This is what walking in faith is. Daily choices to honor, to trust, to praise, to put God first. It will all lead us to a simpler Christ focused life.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Place Called Simplicity

This lesson is based on a book I've been reading, A Place Called Simplicity
by Claire Cloninger

John Charles Cooper wrote, “As I contemplate the joy that can come when our nervous energies are freed up to engage in meaningful communion with God and His creation, I feel moved to strip down to basics in my life.”

The author of A Place Called Simplicity talks about all the crazy things going on in our world today and how it’s not supposed to be like this. She says we were created for Eden and we are all homesick for that place.

In God’s original plan, man was in a beautiful garden communing daily with a loving God; trusting His provision, marveling at His creation and enjoying His friendship forever.

But in a moment of sin, two people who had everything, suddenly needed more. And we have wanted more than we have ever since!

We are homesick for the simplicity of the original plan. In the beginning Adam and Eve understood the rules. That was pretty easy actually because there was only one rule: not to eat the forbidden fruit. They also knew God was God and they were not. But they listened to the wrong voice. They lost their focus. They took their eyes off of God. And what was simple and beautiful no longer was. Gone was their feeling of connectedness, their clear sense of identity, their understandable boundaries and their primary trust relationship.

Each of these things that they lost affects our lives today. Each gives a clue why our world is so chaotic and confused.

Let’s look at each –

The loss of connectedness:

Ever since Eden’s doors were shut, people have known what it is to feel “cut off”. Feelings of alienation and estrangement are common causes for stress. We’ve all felt alone! And it’s not a good feeling.

The loss of identity:

Adam and Eve had only seen themselves through God’s eyes before the fall. And God said all of His creation was good. Suddenly they were ashamed of their bodies. They were scrambling for cover. Today we see ourselves through our parent’s eyes, our teacher’s eyes, our peer’s eyes… We compare ourselves to airbrushed models and fake characters in movies. And we develop a faulty sense of self.

We also try to acquire a feeling of significance in our work, our achievements, our bank accounts or our social standings. We feel we need to prove our worth!

Adam and Eve in the garden didn’t need any of those things to prove their value. They just had to “be”. Simply be! But we run in circles believing all the ads that tell us if we buy this cream, eat this food, live in this neighborhood, own this item – we’ll be worthy.

The loss of boundaries:

Adam and Eve had clearly defined boundaries. There were no grey areas in their life. No confusion, no guilt, no shame. Today, the author says, our moral boundaries, our black and white ethics are so badly smudged that the lines are all but lost. Nobody is sure of the rules anymore.

So lots of times we make up our own rules! She mentioned those quizzes or polls we see in magazines. And they give us a graph of what “most people are doing”, suggesting that if we fall into those boundaries we must be ok.

This shows that we hunger for boundaries, but we are measuring them against other sinful people’s actions, not against the Holy God’s.

She said if you’ve ever watched young children play, one of the first things they do is establish the rules of the game. And they won’t start unless everyone understands. Well – we’re creating our own rules.

The loss of a simple trust relationship:

This is probably the worst consequence of the fall. God’s children got separated from Him. Humans have turned their backs on the central relationship of trust in their lives. Our lives are fragmented now. There is no one central focus. No unifying center. She wrote, “We are like planets gone wild trying to revolve around too may suns.” And “ We were created to be centered in the one true God and without Him we lack our essential center of gravity.”

But, we are resourceful people and what we lack, we invent! So people invent their own gods: money, success, even our own selves (which is very New Age). Actually I don’t know why we call that New Age because it’s the very temptation that destroyed Eden. Adam and Eve wanted to be gods too.

God created us. We did not create Him. He is what He is, no matter what we think about Him or even if we believe in Him or not.

The author also suggests that we aren’t the only ones who are homesick for Eden, but like parents of the child who is away at camp longing to be home, God is homesick for us too. He misses His children and the relationship we were meant to have with Him. And that’s why He built a bridge back for us. A bridge back from our chaos to His simplicity. Jesus is the bridge. He’s our Salvation, our central focus, our gravity.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What’s in Your Heart?

Our associate minister, Mark Schmitz gave a very convicting sermon this week about the state of our hearts.

Our actions show what’s in our heart. And a human’s heart is naturally sinful. So we need to guard our hearts and to be in God’s Word (the resource He gave us to deal with everything.)

Jesus had this to say about our hearts:

Matthew 5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
His standard is not based on our regard to our outward appearance, but how our heart is.

Matthew 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Your heart focuses on what you value.

Matthew 12:33-35 "Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. 35The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him."
The mouth speaks out of the heart.

God tests us to see the condition of our heart. If we have a heart problem God will allow the same situation to keep coming around to give us a chance to get our root right. It will be a vicious circle until we react right and bear good fruit (the right reaction to the trial). First, go straight to God and His Word. Then honor Him with your actions. Trials give us a chance to turn to prayer and the Bible to change what needs to be changed in our life. To let the Word of God do the work in our heart. We must repent and be humble.

Remember God’s command, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind.”