Heart Tracks: Walking in the Heart of the Father by Gary O'Shell by Gary O'Shell - Read Online
Heart Tracks
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"And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts as you trust in Him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God's marvelous love. And may you have the power to understand, as all God's people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love really is." Ephesians 3:17-18 (NLT)

I believe that the greatest tragedy in the western church today is that we know a great many truths about the Father, but so little of Him. He is not a God of the mind alone but first and foremost, of our hearts. He wants to be known by us. It's true that He is a mystery, but a mystery that He means to unravel before us. The apostle Paul said that he wanted to "know Christ, and the power of His resurrection." He also said that in Christ was all the fullness of the Father. He reveals Himself to us through His Son, Jesus Christ, and all of it comes about through the vessel that is His Holy Spirit. It's a journey, a walk, through the heart of the Father, and we are led on that journey by Christ. By the leading of His Holy Spirit, we really can come to know how wide, long, high and deep His love for us really is. This book is my humble attempt to point the way to that knowledge, that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It was, for me, truly a walk through the heart of the Father. I hope it will be so for you as you read it.

However you should read this book, as a series of essays, a devotional, or simply a book, may He bless you, and may you find in Him, all the fullness of His love towards you, and the life He created you for. His blessings be upon you.

Published: Gary O'Shell on
ISBN: 9781311433640
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Heart Tracks - Gary O'Shell

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Moderation

Kyle Idleman, in his book, Not a Fan, tells the story of a parent who asked to meet with him with concerns about the life of her newly converted son. He was a single father who'd grown up in church, made a decision for Christ as a young boy, but never really committed his life to him. Within a few months of coming to Idleman's church, he surrendered his life to Jesus. From that moment, as Idleman puts it, He was all in. After a few months, he was invited to get together with the young man and his mother, who regularly attended another church in town. Idleman assumed she wanted to thank him for having a part in bringing her son to the Lord. What he got was something completely different.

From the beginning, Idleman noticed that the mother was angry and agitated. She said to him, My son has taken this all too far, being displeased with how much of his life and resources he was giving to the church. He was always wanting to pray about things, share new things being revealed to him by the Holy Spirit, and constantly talked of finding new ways to know and serve the Father. In great frustration, she asked Idleman, "Can you please tell him that the Bible teaches everything in moderation? Can you please tell him that it doesn't have to be all or nothing?"

We're in the midst of yet another political season. Much is being made of both party's need to attract the moderate voter, the one who is neither too far left nor right, but more in the middle. They're attracted to the views of both sides, but a part of neither. This might work in politics, but it will never bring true life in the realm of the Spirit. Yet, I wonder if we in the church, much like the political leaders, are not gearing our message to attract these very types of people? A message that will attract people to the bread Christ gives, but not to the Bread of Life that He is. A message that allows for people to receive Christ in moderation. A message that allows people to avoid giving all or nothing to Jesus. A message that creates fans, not followers of Christ. The dictionary defines fan as, An enthusiastic admirer. A fan will gather regularly to cheer Jesus on. He will never take up His cross and follow Him. Only a follower will do that. The fan will always stay in the middle, doing everything in moderation. It will never be all or nothing with them. Jesus called such admirers lukewarm.

I close with one more story from Idleman. He received an email from a member of the church who told him that he was leaving the fellowship because of his sermons. Idleman immediately contacted him and asked him why he disliked them. Caught off guard, the man hesitated for a few moments, but then said, Well, whenever I listen to one of the messages, I feel like you're trying to interfere with my life. Those are the universal words of a non-follower of Christ. Will we joyfully take all the heavenly bread and water He may offer? We will go with Him anywhere, as long as anywhere provides us a costless, comfortable journey. We're glad to know Him, as long as knowing Him doesn't interfere with our lives. Our lives, in the end, are our lives, and we'd like to live them out with Him in moderation.

These words from Idleman will never appeal to moderates, to those who wish to remain fans. They can only be received by those who are all in, who are all or nothing followers of Christ. He writes, There is no forgiveness without repentance. There is no salvation without surrender. There is no life without death. There is no believing without committing. How we receive these words will define us as either moderates, fans, or as radical followers, and partakers, of Christ. How do you receive them?

Cruisin' on the Wide Road

Kyle Idleman, in his book, Not a Fan, tells of how he had once set out to drive from Cincinnati, Ohio to Louisville, Kentucky, which was a straight shot, and normally a one hour drive. He said he was greatly enjoying the drive, listening to Christian music as he drove, even singing along with the songs. After an hour, he thought he must be very close to Louisville, until he saw a sign that read, Welcome to Lexington. What had happened was that just outside Cincinnati was an easily missed cutoff where I-71 to Louisville splits off from I-75 to Lexington. He said that many travelers tend to make the same mistake. His point was that for the entire journey he rode along convinced he was headed to one place, while all the time he was going somewhere completely different. He noted that while there had to have been signs posted along the highway telling him what road he was on, he was oblivious to them, and just cruised along, listening to his music, singing along with the songs. In his words, I never allowed for the possibility that I was on the wrong road.

He told that story in conjunction with sharing the scripture Matthew 7:13-14, Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. This is not a popular scripture. You'll not find it hoisted up on signs at ballgames. It uses words not popular in many circles, some of them Christian. Words like many, few, wide, narrow, and destruction. We tend to like scriptures that emphasize words like abundance, prosperity, well-being, and happiness. We do this at great danger to ourselves. It makes it very easy for us to miss the cutoff sign, and all other signs along the way as we enter the wrong road, all the while believing it's the right one. And, during the entire journey, we listen to our songs, even singing along, blissfully unaware that we are on a road that is heading towards destruction. Somehow, we think the Jesus stickers and fish ornaments on our car make up for all of it, but...they don't. They won't.

Idleman says this: We live at a time when we have become increasingly comfortable with separating what we say we believe with how we live. We have convinced ourselves that our beliefs are sincere even if they have no impact on how we live. As he puts it, We may say 'Lord, Lord,' but we don't live 'Lord, Lord. We think we're on the narrow road, and, no sign along the way seems able to make us see differently. As evangelist James Robison said not long ago, We are drunk on a spirit of deception. Indeed, when psychiatrists speak about patients who have beliefs with no basis in reality, they call them delusions. As Idleman writes, A belief, no matter how sincere, if not reflected in reality isn't a belief; it's a delusion. Our words may be on the narrow road, but our hearts are cruising along on the wide one.

I heard a man say that many believers are little more than Christian atheists. They acknowledge the truth of His Word, but that Word has little, if any impact on their day to day lives, choices, and endeavors. Their dependence is not upon Him, His Life, and His power, but upon their own abilities, understanding, and strength. They may be playing Christian music along the way, singing along with the songs, and even have that fish on the trunk of the vehicle, but they travel by way of the wide road, unaware that the road is taking them to a completely different end than they believe. Could that, at least in part, be you or me today? The Father has, in His love, placed road markers all along the way. Will we heed them? Would we allow Him to make what has been the wrong road, the right one? He does call you to a narrow road, but the beauty of the call is, it will never be so narrow as to not be able to include you.

Longing

Pastor Thom Gardner tells a story of a time in he and his family's lives when they were planning a much anticipated vacation. He was the owner of a small retail music business and the going had been very rough of late. On the day they were to depart, he received some very bad financial news in the mail. He writes, I was filled with worry and anger at the same time and declared, 'We cannot go on this vacation.' we unpacked the van and never went because of worry. I wounded my wife and children that day and worry robbed us and caused me to stagger like a drunken man out of my mind...It has been many years now since that day and I would give anything to have that time back which I forfeited to worry.

When I read that, I was deeply impacted concerning how much of my life, time, joy, and peace have been lost to worry. How many times, I, like Gardner, had staggered about, out of my mind with worry and anxiety. Gardner states he no longer can remember just what the nature of that bad news was, but he can vividly remember what it stole from him. It's always like that. We lose such precious life over things we no longer even remember. It's true for me. You know it's true for you as well. We know in our hearts that this is not the life we were created for, yet it's the life far too many of us find ourselves in again and again. To worry or be anxious is to be going in two directions at once. It literally pulls us apart. Yet for so many of us, this is our way of life. Is there no help?

In my walk with Him, I am learning more and more about what it means to live in His Presence, what it means to abide in Him. I am both learning, and longing, to live from a place of rest. Psalm 46:10 reads, We come to a place of quiet where we can cease striving and know that He is God. This is the Sabbath rest spoken of in Hebrews. It's a rest dependent not on the ending of all problems and need around us, but on our conscious knowledge of His moment by moment living presence within us. We are abiding in Him, He is abiding in us. It's not meant to be two separate personalities forming some kind of loose bonding, but a literal joining together to become one. We're in Him, and He's in us. The result, perfect peace. Our hearts long for this place. His heart longs for us to have it...if only we would receive it.

We're living in a world that shows its lack of peace more each day. Yet, we, who claim to know and follow the Prince of Peace, seem to know little more of it ourselves. Turmoil within seems to be as much a part of our lives as it is the world's. Yet, in the midst of it all stands Jesus, bidding us come to Him as He promises at the same time to come to us. In John 14:23 He promises that He and the Father, Will come to him and make our abode with him. In Isaiah 30:18 we're told that He longs to be gracious to all those who long for Him. Isn't that you? Don't you long for a peace that doesn't depend upon circumstances, but upon His very life coursing within you? Do you, like me, long to live life from a place of rest, His rest, the rest that remains for the people of God? It's already been given. He calls us to enter into what is already ours. As Proverbs relates, Our heart has heard Him say come, and we say Lord, we are coming. Let us come.

What Do You Seek?

In John 1:35-38 the scriptures read, The following day John was again standing with two of his disciples. As Jesus walked by, John looked at Him and then declared, 'Look! There's the Lamb of God!' Then John's two disciples turned and followed Jesus. Jesus turned around and saw them following. 'What do you seek?' He asked them.

Commenting on this in his book, Living the God-Breathed life, Thom Gardner writes, This question and the answer to it determine our peace in every aspect of our life's journey from our friends to our finances... Whatever I seek steals my heart. Indeed, whatever we seek owns our heart. So, what do you and I seek today? What owns our heart? More, just what might be stealing our heart today? What's the pearl of great price (Matthew 13) to us? The man who sought that pearl sold everything to have it. When Jesus told that story, He was comparing it to one's seeking of the Kingdom of God, and of the man's willingness to sell everything he owned to have that Kingdom. What kingdom might we be going after today, and what are we selling of ourselves to have it?

Jesus' questions to His disciples were always direct, even unnerving. They still are. As the two followed Him, He sensed it, and turned to face them. At some point, if you and I are claiming to be following Him, He'll do the same with us. He'll turn, look into our eyes, and ask what we seek. What we seek of and from Him, and just as deeply, what we are truly seeking in life. The two didn't answer His question, but instead asked Him where He was staying. His simple answer, Come and see. If we are truly seeking Him, this will always be a part of His invitation to us. Come and see. Come and see more. Come and know more. Come and be more. Only the heart that is willing to sell everything to have His can do this. Divided hearts never can. They never will. They'll go after what owns them, what they've sold everything they owned to have, but instead of it belonging to them, they belong to it. When this happens in Christ it's known as true freedom. In everything else though, it's bondage. A prison. In fact, a Debtors Prison.

So we come again to the question. What are you seeking today? What are you going after? As Gardner puts it, Whatever does not lead me closer to Home leads me away from Him. If I'm not becoming more devoted, I'll probably become more distracted. In John 6, Jesus says, Do not work (seek) for the food which perishes but for the food which endures to eternal life which the Son of Man will give to you... Are you seeking for that which perishes, which is always death, or for that which can never die, or be lost or taken away? Whether we want to admit it or not, all of us are owned by something. Is what owns us killing us, even if it's by inches, or does it take us daily more deeply into His Kingdom life? His Word says He's planted eternity in our hearts. It's the seed of the Kingdom. The enemy will also seek to plant seeds in our hearts as well; all of them will seek to lead us away from Him. Which seed grows within your heart? Which seed leads your seeking? What DO you seek?

The Greatest Reality

In his book, Living Water, Chinese house church pioneer Brother Yun tells of one of his darkest hours, when he had undergone tremendous suffering for the cause of Christ. He had been undergoing brutal torture, starvation, and sickness for months, and felt himself on the very edge of despair, wondering if Christ had forgotten him. It was then, in the darkness of his cell, shared with inmates who themselves treated him with disdain and abuse, that he heard the voice of Christ speak into his heart and soul, This prison is real, but I am the Truth. Adding to that he wrote, I have learned that it doesn't matter what is going on around us or what fiery darts are aimed at us. Nothing can touch the life of Jesus that dwells in us.

Such a story does not play well here in the west. We're far more interested in hearing about the best life Christ has for us now. Prison cells, torture rooms, and a completely hostile life threatening environment, are reserved for our unfortunate brethren in places that are not free. We may feel for them, even pray for them, but such a life could never be our lot, for we are a blessed and favored people. Indeed, we're obsessed with being such a people. Francis Chan said that we, who are the most blessed people in the world, flock to bookstores to purchase books that tell us how to be even more blessed. There's so much wrong with this picture, but maybe it starts with our great delusion that we are free. We are instead held captive by a lust for a multitude of things, of blessings. We are held captive by everything it would seem, but Jesus Himself. This places us in a prison, that while it may have flower patterned wallpaper, and gold covered bars, is still a prison. As long as the Lord keeps the bread and fish coming, we'll be content to stay there. We're seeing in our culture right now a multitude of people demanding their entitlements, and many look upon them with disdain, but how many of us in the church see our relationship with Him in much the same way?

I realize as well that there are many people who really do find themselves in a place of suffering right now. Their prison doesn't resemble the one we see in the jail at Mayberry, with curtains, rocking chair, and meals brought in by Aunt Bee. Unlike Otis, who never seemed to want out, you desperately do, yet day after day, you seem, like Otis, to keep waking up in the same cell, the same place with the same pain. Your cell may not look like the cell of the self-obsessed and self-possessed, but it's a cell nonetheless. You may or may not be there because of your own actions. It could be the result of someone else's choices, or actions. It could very well be because of circumstances completely outside of your control. Whatever the reason, for you, or for the one who willingly makes their home in the comforts of Mayberry's jail, as it was for Brother Yun, the voice and life of Christ seeks to speak into your spirit, into my spirit, that the place we find ourselves in this day, is real. The bars are real, the circumstances that placed us there are real, their power is real, but He, Christ, is the Truth. And, against that truth, no bars, no walls, no cell, can stand. We cannot transform our circumstances, and He may not at that time, choose to transform them either, but we, you and I, can ourselves be transformed by Him who is the Truth. He who also tells us He is the Way and the Life.

Jesus said, and says, He who is free in Me, is free indeed. You may well have read and heard this scripture thousands of times, but have you ever really heard it? Yun says that we can never really know the scriptures until we're willing to be changed (transformed) by them. This is so, whether we are trapped in a Bless me Lord for I deserve it, darkness, the darkness of our own wrong and sinful choices, or the darkness that comes as the result of living in a lost, fallen world. In all of these places, nothing can stop His voice, His life, and His transforming, liberating power from reaching us, and telling us that no matter how real the prison is, He is the Truth. That, in the midst of our darkest reality, He is the greater Reality, and nothing can keep Him out, and so, nothing is able to keep us in.

Wherever we find ourselves today, be it the prison of expectations over what He should be doing, or the disappointment of what He isn't doing, in our pain, anger, and frustration, He comes to us, telling us that these things, circumstances, feelings, are real. But He is the Truth, and if we will come to truly know Him by allowing ourselves to be transformed by Him, we really will be free. Though the circumstances may not have changed, we have, and so, no walls, or bars of any kind, physical or spiritual, can ever hold us again. We've been transformed. We know the truth, and we're free.

Slaves Holiday

In his book, Living Water, Brother Yun, one of the leaders in the Chinese church tells of a period in his life where the Father engineered his circumstances in order to bring him back into deep intimacy with Himself. Yun had not only escaped harsh, cruel imprisonment at the hands of the Communist government in China, but the Father had brought him out of the nation as well, and he was gradually moving towards asylum in Europe. He found himself presently in Thailand, but something had happened in his walk with the Lord in the midst of his newfound freedom. His relationship with the Father had grown stale. Yun was making more and more choices based on his own understanding, and had even come to the point of not heeding direction that he knew was coming from the Holy Spirit. It came to a head as he was seeking to leave Thailand when the Lord gave him specific direction as to what he must do concerning dealing with custom officials at the airport. In his false confidence, Yun ignored the direction, and as a result, was arrested by authorities and placed in prison. He was to be there for 7 months. What Yun next writes will sound like insanity to all of us who live our lives from the foundation of the flesh. He writes, This was the second time He allowed me to have a holiday in prison while I learned to renew my relationship with the Lord Jesus.

For most of us, our God is not a God who allows us to be in prison, but a God committed to getting us out of prison. This is true when our prisons are those of the mind, emotions, habits, addictions, and unhealed wounds of yesterday. However, when we have fallen into a pattern of living our lives strictly according to our own understanding, nodding to Him as our Lord, but living in our own authority, He is not above, and indeed will, allow us to be put in places where there is no way out but through Him, and where the One we'll ultimately have to face and deal with, is Himself. More than that, we can end up in such a prison not because we have drifted from Him, or have been disobedient, but rather because in His love and wisdom, He knows that such a time will enrich not only our own souls, but so many other lives into which we may come into contact as well. This is the testimony of Paul, of John, of Bunyan, and of countless other unknown, but mightily used men and women of God. It's of such people that Oswald Chambers writes, God breaks up the private lives of His saints and makes it a thoroughfare for the world on the one hand and Himself on the other. No human being can stand that unless he's identified with Jesus Christ. We'll never truly be identified with our Lord unless we're truly willing to be identified with Him in His, and our suffering. The prison cells that we seek so desperately to be free of, can be turned by Him into gateways of life and hope...for ourselves and for countless others with whom we come into contact each day. God means for our prison cells to become doorways to true freedom. Paul knew that though chained to a Roman soldier in a dark prison, His heart and soul were free. No chain could hold his spirit because no chains can hold his Lord or His power and life. Paul knew that what the enemy intended as a day of destruction for him, the Father had turned into a holiday or, as the root meaning of holiday, a holy day. He means to do the same for you and me in those times we may find ourselves through His leading, in our own confined place. He means to make it a time to journey more deeply into Himself.

I think this is what Peter meant when he wrote in I Peter 2:16 You are free to live as God's slaves. Our flesh hates that word, but to be a slave to Him means we can never be enslaved by anything or anyone else. Such lives know that we are not our own, or anyone else's. We are His, and because we are His, we are truly free. No prison, real or spiritual can hold us. No one and nothing can claim us, because we are already marked out for Him. This is freedom, and it's what Yun discovered in his cell...again and anew. We will as well. Do you find yourself in some type of cell today? Instead of crying out for release from it, will you cry out instead for Him? Will you be ready to realize that freedom is not a matter of where you are physically, but where you are in Him? True freedom doesn't come from a change in our circumstances and what's happening around us. True freedom comes from what He is doing within us. It's there we find that truth of Him, and it's there we really are set free. It's how He turns a prison time into a holiday, a holy time in Him.

Vessels of Life

Lately, I've been dwelling a good deal on John 7:38, Whoever believes in Me, as the scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him. This is what I want my life to be, what I want the life of our fellowship, our people to be. Lives through which the living water of life flow through, to the blessing and life of those around us. I think so often, we're much more like cisterns, vessels that collect water, blessings, but keep it to ourselves. It doesn't flow outward at all, and just remains to eventually become stagnant, bitter, and eventually, poisoned.

In his book, Living Water, Chinese evangelist Brother Yun tells of one of his prison experiences in his homeland. He writes, During my first time in prison, I vividly remember that the other men in my cell were completely bound in hopelessness.....These men sang together each day, putting their own words to a popular tune. Part of their totally depressing song said, The iron bars and prison walls have killed my dreams and hopes, I am locked inside this hopelessness, and all the beauty of the world outside has been taken away forever. I will never be free again. Yun changed the words and gave them a new song,' which went, The iron bars and prison walls cannot keep the presence of God from me. He is with me every day. My surroundings cannot hinder God's love and presence, and because of Him, I can live in a land of milk and honey. Yun then says, ...their hopelessness was gradually changed to hope as they opened their hearts to receive the Lord Jesus.

In a place of darkness and despair, Yun refused to be sucked into the bitterness and poison of the enemy's stream, but chose instead to allow the living water the Father had placed within him to flow outward, through him, and into the lives of those around him. Though the prison walls and bars remained, they no longer held the hearts and spirits of these men. They had found freedom, new and real hope. In the center of what all would consider a living hell, Yun allowed His living hope to live through him. He was a carrier of spiritual reality. Will you and I be the same to the culture of despair, hopelessness, self-absorption, obsession with pleasure, and the culture of darkness we are living in today?

As Phil. 2:15-16 reads, we're to be blameless and pure children of God, without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life. No, we don't live perfect lives, but we are perfectly yielded to His life that He may flow through us, holding out the word of life to the blackness of the universe, a universe in which His life causes us to shine like stars. We can't, by our own efforts, make our lives shine, but we can, as we lay in His hands and upon His heart, become vessels of life in a world of death. We shine with His life!

What do our lives resemble more today, a cistern that collects water merely for its own use, and eventually becomes stagnant, and useless, or a stream, flowing from its source, the heart and Spirit of the Father, and bringing, as scripture says, healing to the nations. All around us are people singing songs just like the hopeless prisoners in Yun's cell. What song are we singing to them? Are we teaching them a new song, or, in our obsession with ourselves and our own lives, allowing them to continue on, bound by prison walls and bars, lost in the blackness of a universe that He has called us to shine brightly in?

The Wandering Heart

In my notes I have a quote from Brother Yun, the longsuffering Chinese Christian who suffered such intense persecution at the hands of the Communist regime