Thursday, January 14, 2021

A Prescription for Preventing Hardening of the Heart

This past summer, in the middle of a pandemic, I underwent open-heart-triple-valve-repair surgery. That experience has led me to frequently considering the state of my heart, not just the body's blood pumping organ, but also the state of my other heart—the heart of the soul—the heart at the core of my affections and dreams. 

The Bible has a great deal to say about that heart. The prophet Jeremiah states, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it" (Jeremiah 17:9)? 

This devotional, which will appear in Volume II of Psalms 365, speaks to the 'heart' of the matter. And yes, it offers a cure if we will only take heed. 

Reading: Psalm 95

(Verses 7-11)
Today, if only you would hear his voice,
“Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
    as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested me;
    they tried me, though they had seen what I did.
For forty years I was angry with that generation;
    I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray,
    and they have not known my ways.’
So I declared on oath in my anger,
    ‘They shall never enter my rest’”

[cperson holding baby s feet Photo by Andreas Wohlfahrt on

Long before we knew about the medical condition known as hardening of the arteries, there existed another condition called hardening of the heart. Hardening of the heart is not a deadly medical condition; it's a deadly spiritual condition. Those who suffer from hardening of the heart have a hard time hearing God, and when they do hear God, they tend to stop their ears, or they do their best to pretend that God hasn't spoken. 

Although we can safely say that this condition has existed since the human species stepped out of Eden, the first reported case of hardening of the heart occurred about 3,500 years ago. In the Book of Exodus we read that Pharaoh developed a severe case of hardening of the heart. But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said (Exodus 8:15).

Time and again as the ten plagues ravaged Egypt, we read that Pharaoh hardened his heart and he would not let the people of Israel go. In several instances we read that the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart. But let's be clear about this condition. Heart hardening only happens with the willing participation of the individual. Don't go about blaming God for your hard heart. Hearts harden due to our willful disregard of God's Spirit and His laws.

Neither should we presume that heart hardening only happens with a certain type of person. We are all prone to develop this spiritual malady. Our ancestry or genetic makeup offers no protection. The Egyptian Pharaoh developed a heart, but ultimately the Israelites—the people that the LORD pried free from Pharaoh also developed the same condition. That's why the psalmist issues this warning: Today, if only you would hear his voice, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,  where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did."  

The key to avoiding a hard heart is hearing and heeding the voice of God. It's just that simple.

Response: LORD, give me ears that hear your voice gently speaking to me. Give me a heart that is quick to obey. I want a tender heart that reflects your love for me and for others. I pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

Your Turn: Does a hard heart toward others result in a hard heart toward God? What are your thoughts?

* New International Version, Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica

The first volume of Psalms 365: Develop a Life of Worship and Prayer by award-winning author David Kitz is now available. For a closer look at this 262-page daily devotional book click here.

Saturday, January 09, 2021

General William and Catherine Booth: The Blood & The Fire


By Rev. Dr. Ed and Janice Hird

-previously published in the August 2020 Light Magazine


Cholera. Everyone’s fear, and it was happening again. William and Catherine Booth were there to help feed, clothe, and care for the sick in the stinky, rancid streets of East London.  It was 1866. 

The incoming tide from the Thames River dumped sewage into East London’s water reservoir. Almost 6,000 people died.  Two years earlier, Catherine and William Booth had started the Christian Mission in this part of London.  This is where the poorest of the poor lived.

Charles Dickens commented: “I consider the offensive smells, even in that short whiff, have been of a most head and stomach-distending nature.” The smell from the Thames was so bad that people became violently ill.  The Great Stink was not completely dealt with until 1875. 

Catherine, because of scoliosis curvature of the spine at age 14 and incipient tuberculosis at age 18, was often forced to spend weeks lying in bed.  Nothing however stopped her passion to make a difference in the lives of lost and hurting people.  She was always kind to everyone and never told a lie.

She had a strong Methodist upbringing, reading the Bible through eight times before the age of 12. As a preteen, she became concerned with the effects of alcoholism on the community, serving as Secretary for the Juvenile Temperance Society. Her father, while part of a total-abstinence league, used to periodically fall off the wagon.

At the home of Edward Rabbits, in 1851, she met William Booth, who, like Catherine, had been expelled by the Wesleyans for reform sympathies. He was reciting a temperance poem, “The Grog-seller’s Dream,” which appealed to Catherine.

As a vegetarian, she abhorred cruelty to animals.  If she saw a driver mistreating a horse, she would rush out onto the street and compel the driver to treat the horse more humanely.  Catherine, despite her natural shyness, would go to the slum tenements in East London, knock on doors, and ask them ‘Can I tell you about Jesus?” Some people say that she was a better preacher than her husband William.  She even wrote a 10,000-word essay, asserting equality for women in ministry.  Although William Booth had initially rejected the idea of women preachers, he changed his mind, later writing that "the best men in my Army are the women."  One of Catherine’s sons later commented, "She reminded me again and again of counsel pleading with judge and jury for the life of the prisoner. The fixed attention of the court, the mastery of facts, the absolute self-forgetfulness of the advocate, the ebb and flow of feeling, the hush during the vital passages—all were there."

Catherine Booth lobbied Queen Victoria to successfully support the "Parliamentary Bill for the protection of girls", changing the age of consent form 13 to 16.  Three hundred and forty thousand people signed her petition to end sex trafficking of thirteen-year olds.  Catherine Booth started the Food-for-the-Million Shops where the poor could purchase hot soup and a three-course dinner for just sixpence. On special occasions such as Christmas Day, Catherine would cook over 300 dinners to be distributed to the poor of East London. She became known as the “Mother of The Salvation Army”. Queen Victoria noted, “Her majesty learns with much satisfaction that you have with other members of your society been successful in your efforts to win many thousands to the ways of temperance, virtue and religion.”

William, originally a pawnbroker’s assistant, was a practical doer. In 1865, he used a tent on a used Quaker graveyard in East London.  His passion was for soup, soap and salvation. His motto was to ‘go for souls and go for the worst.’  Many of the local churches didn’t want William’s poor young converts because they would soil the seats.

In 1867, the Booths only had 10 full-time workers, but by 1874, the ‘Hallelujah Army’ had grown to 1,000 volunteers and 42 evangelists, all serving under the name “The Christian Mission.” In 1878, William changed the name to Salvation Army, with all the converts becoming soldiers or officers.  “Onward Christians Soldiers” became their favorite marching song.  In 1882, 669 Salvationists were brutally assaulted, with one woman dying.  During 1881 to 1885, 250,000 people were converted and joined the Army. More Londoners in an 1882 survey were worshipping with the Salvation Army than all the other churches combined.

Catherine designed the Salvation Army flag and bonnets which served as helmets to protect from rocks and rotten eggs.  The red on the flag symbolizes the blood shed by Christ, the yellow for the fire of the Holy Spirit and the blue for the purity of God the Father. The star contains the Salvation Army's motto, 'Blood and Fire'. This describes the blood of Jesus shed on the cross to save all people, and the fire of the Holy Spirit which purifies believers.  The Salvation Army uses this flag in their marches of witness, dedication of children and the swearing-in of soldiers. It is sometimes placed on the coffin at the funeral of a Salvationist.  Catherine had the Salvation Army flag brought into her bedroom as she was dying, saying “the blood and fire, that has been my life.  It has been a constant fight.”

Catherine and William revolutionized the match factories.  Women were earning a pittance for sixteen-hour days.  The deadly fumes from the yellow phosphorus rotted their jaws, turning their face green and black with foul-smelling pus.  Catherine pointed out that other European countries produced matches tipped with harmless red phosphorus.  The factory owners Bryant and May said that red phosphorus was too expensive to make the switch.  After Catherine’s death from breast cancer in 1890, her grief-stricken husband William opened a Salvation Army match factory, paying the workers twice the usual wage while using harmless red phosphorus. He organized tours by MPs and journalists to meet the yellow phosphorus victims, and to see the new alternative red phosphorus match factory.  In 1901,  Bryant and May buckled under the pressure and stopped using the toxic yellow phosphorus. 

Catherine loved the poor.  “With all their faults”, she said, “they have larger hearts than the rich.”  William said at her funeral, “She was love. Her whole soul was full of tender deep compassion.  Oh, how she loved.” Catherine believed that “if we are to better the future, we must disturb the present.” May the blood and fire of William and Catherine Booth’s ministry inspire us to disturb our present with love.

Rev. Dr. Ed and Janice Hird

-co-authors, Blue Sky novel

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Repairing the Doors - The Way to a New Beginning by Rose McCormick Brandon

In the very first month of the first year of his reign, Hezekiah reopened the doors of the Temple of the Lord and repaired them. 2 Chronicles 29:3 

Young King Hezekiah, devout and earnest, ascended to Israel’s throne after the death of his idolatrous father, Ahaz. The citizens rejoiced because the new king had the heart of his ancestor, David, and not that of his father. 

The first thing Hezekiah did was open the temple and repair its doors. This act set the tone for his reign. God first. Led by their godly ruler, the nation repented of their sins and committed to serving God. That meant doing away with idols and living a holy life. 

What a great beginning! No to sin and the neglect of spiritual things. Yes to giving God first place. 

After Hezekiah repaired the temple doors, revival swept across Israel. Leaders who had followed the previous king into idol worship confessed their sins, rid their homes of false gods and committed to living in obedience to God.

One of the ways we can repair the gates of our lives is to come back to the cross. 

The act of painting blood on the lintel and the doorposts of their houses concluded Israel’s 400 year sojourn in Egypt. All other homes, including Pharaoh’s, lost their firstborn son on the night God sent the destroyer. Households under the sign of the cross were protected.

Crosses today are made of gold, silver and costly woods. The first cross consisted of blood on the warped rough wood of a peasant’s door. Jesus’ cross was made from wood of the cheapest quality. The best was reserved for palace furnishings not for crucifixions.

The cross, the symbol of Christianity, is disdained by some who prefer a tidy version of the gospel. Without the cross there is no gospel, nothing to save us from our sins. Paul preached “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2).

Behind blood-stained doors Israelite families ate their final meals in the land of their bondage. The next morning more than a million men, women and children struck out on a journey to the Promised Land. Their first sweet day of freedom.

 Every journey with Christ begins at the cross, the doorway to Heaven. God used the stark ugliness of the cross to display the beauty of His mercy. There’s no getting over it or around it, all must go through the cross to experience forgiveness of sins.

“. . . God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .” (Gal. 6:14). 

Are the doors of your life in disrepair? Has Bible reading and prayer taken a backseat? Has the cross diminished in value? It’s time to repair the doors, set them solidly on the hinges of our lives. Time to get familiar with the squeak of the prayer closet door because that door determines the future.

Friday, January 01, 2021


One of the loveliest gifts that I received this Christmas was not intended as a Christmas gift. In mid-December we had the opportunity for a brief masked socially-distanced encounter with my older brother and his wife who live in St. Catharines, Ontario.

While visiting together, David gave me a notebook my parents shared over a period of years when they were young. It included interesting handwritten tidbits from their developing teaching and pastoring careers. Near the back of the book, I found prayers written out in my mother’s script.

I suspect these prayers were prepared for public events where Mom had been asked to offer prayer on behalf of those gathered.

Reading it, I realized how much I missed my parents’ daily prayers for family. For more than 65 years I was lifted up in prayer every day. It began before I was born and continued until they both left this earth. What did it mean – these prayers of my parents for me?

It was not an insurance policy. While I am sure I was protected from many disasters, I still experienced the accidents and illnesses that are a part of human life in this world, yet I thrived and developed.

Many opportunities and blessings also came my way, not because I was special nor did anything to merit them. They were gifts of grace and some I am sure coincided with the prayers of my parents as they presented my needs to God.

My journey of faith was no doubt influenced by their prayers. Their faith was unique to them and their era and I needed to discover my own. One of the important elements in this was language.

My parents’ faith was anchored in the language of the Bible they read and applied to their lives. That Bible was written in the 1611 English of the King James Version of the Bible. It was not surprizing that the language of their prayers was also King James English. As a child, I came to understand that to be the language of their faith. However, for me, this was not the case.

Like contemporary English for an immigrant who comes to this country, I understood and could communicate in King James English but when I really wanted to be understood, I used modern English. Thus, from a fairly young age, I began to speak to God myself in my English.

As part of my faith journey, I accepted the discipline of reading the Scriptures every day, in the faith language of my ancestors – King James English. Although I understood it, the world of which it spoke seemed distant and remote from my every day life.

Then when we were in our mid-twenties, the prayers of my parents for my developing faith were answered in a unique way by a gift to us from my husband, Glen’s parents. They gave us a copy of the newly available Living Bible. This was a version of the Bible that Ken Taylor had initially carefully paraphrased from King James English into contemporary English for his own family.

I began to read it immediately and the Bible really did come alive for me. As I read the stories of the life of Jesus, I could hear Him speaking in words that were meaningful for me. It was the words that were part of my everyday life. They enabled me to see more clearly how what He said and did could make a difference in my day-to-day life.

This was a helpful lesson for me as I matured and joined my parents in bringing to the Lord my concern for the faith development of my own children. Their faith journey has taken them into the 21st century. They need to find the tools appropriate to their generation, like the YouVersion Bible on their devices and Pray-As-You-Go.  Their expression of faith is not the same as mine or my parents but is just as genuine and continues to grow as they learn to apply it to their lives in the world in which they live.

As we travel into 2021, may we each have eyes to see resources unique to our needs that the Lord continues to provide so we can comprehend the height and depth and width of God’s unfailing love for us – drawing us closer to Him.

Word Guild Award

Word Guild Award

Word Guild Award

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