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Heart

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Your heart is darker than you think! (Jeremiah 17:9)

Dr. Luke records Jesus’ Beatitudes from His “Sermon on the Plain” in today’s Bible reading. It’s very similar to Matthew’s version from Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount”.

Dr. Luke juxtaposes the blessings in verses 20-22 against the judgmental attitude of the Pharisees in verses 1-11, and then his instructions on judging in verses 24-26 and 37-45.

The key verse in the “don’t judge” part of the passage (Luke 6:37-42) is at the end of verse 45:

“A good person produces good out of the good stored up in his heart. An evil person produces evil out of the evil stored up in his heart, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.” Luke 6:45 (CSB)

The Pharisees’ words only revealed their hypocritical, judgmental hearts. And Jesus warned that when we judge, our judgment will return to back to us … in abundance. (Luke 6:37-38)

Application

Moralism looks good. That’s when you’re doing all the right things and not doing any of the wrong things. It looks really good … on the outside. But the Pharisees’ problem was not their behavior — which was exemplary. Their problem was on the inside: their wicked hearts. And their hearts couldn’t be fixed by their behavior because behavior follows the heart, not the other way around.

Remember, the Christian walk isn’t about behavior change. It’s about a relationship with Jesus Christ. Don’t focus primarily on your behavior. Instead, look at your heart. Ask God to reveal your heart when you’re inclined to judge. Hint: Your heart is darker than you think! (Jeremiah 17:9) Deal with your heart and your behavior will follow.

This devotional was originally published July 4, 2019.

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Without Jesus lost people are hopeless.

In today’s Bible reading, Paul continues his allegations that no one has an excuse when it comes to having a right standing before God. Paul quotes Psalm 14:1-3 and Psalm 53:1-3 to say that all are guilty. None are righteous and no one seeks God.

Just Friday morning, I saw a group post on Facebook where a small church pastor asked for prayer. He said he was preparing to preach a funeral of a nonbeliever who worshiped a lot. I responded that nonbelievers may go to worship services, but nonbelievers are incapable of worship of God. Those who have the Law are condemned by the Law and even those without the Law are condemned by the law in themselves.

Application

Paul makes it crystal clear. Fallen people don’t have it in themselves to be sensitive to spiritual things. It takes a miraculous act of God to spark life in us that enables us to even be interested in the things of God. But when we experience God’s miraculous act of salvation, we so quickly latch onto the promises of God! We know instantaneously that God is all that He claims to be in Jesus Christ.

God is gracious to reach out to us in the midst of our fallen condition. Under what other condition could we be? Those without Jesus are in a desperately hopeless condition. They may think they’re only slightly affected by the Fall. But Paul couldn’t be clearer that apart from Jesus, we are lost. We are hopeless. We are helpless. By definition, we are unworthy of God’s grace.

And recognizing our condition is the best place to be to cry out to God and to receive His grace and mercy. We may think this heartcry is our initiative. But Paul says it’s simply a response to God’s initiative.

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Jesus heals a leper.
Image credit: LumoProject

In today’s Bible reading in Matthew chapter eight, we’re told several stories of faith. The words “faith” (noun) and “believe” (verb) are the same Greek word. They are used three times in the passage. Not all of the stories include the words faith/believe. But faith/believe is implied in the story.

For instance, in the first paragraph, Matthew tells us that a leper comes to Jesus, asking to be healed. The words don’t appear in the paragraph, but we know the paragraph is about faith/believe because why would a leper seek Jesus out unless he believed that Jesus could heal him? Jesus doesn’t tell him that his faith has healed him, but elsewhere when Jesus heals/delivers, He connects faith and healing/deliverance. (Matthew 9:22, Matthew 15:28, Mark 5:34, Mark 9:24, Mark 10:52, Luke 8:50, Luke 17:19, Luke 18:42 [this list is not exhaustive])

If you look up some of the verses above — as with Matthew 8:5-13 — you’ll see that in some cases the faith of the one healed isn’t even factored into the equation. Rather, the faith of the one requesting healing/deliverance is honored by Jesus. And although Jesus rebuked the Disciples’ “little faith”, He honored what little faith they had.

For a comment on “mustard faith”, see my posts here and here.

Application

Does this mean that if you have even a little bit of faith, all you need to do is ask Jesus and He’s obligated to answer your request? NO! It doesn’t work that way! Jesus isn’t your heavenly genie!

And that’s one reason we don’t get what we pray for: we ask with the wrong motives. (James 4:3) Nowhere in the Bible are we given a blank check with the authority to command God to do anything. Remember Christian Life Rule #1: God is God. and Rule #2: You aren’t God. Always remember that your place is to submit to God’s authority, God’s sovereignty. He calls the shots. And the reason we pray isn’t to change God, but to change us.

If you are a Believer, you are an adopted child of God. And being one of His gives you incredible authority and privilege. But that authority and privilege must be a balanced with reverence and awe of the Great God Who created it all, owns it all, and rules it all.

And that requires a great deal of humility and killing of pride.

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Jesus teaches about giving, praying, and fasting.
Image source: LumoProject

Jesus tells us how to give, how to pray, and how to fast in today’s Bible reading.

You really can’t separate Jesus’ teaching on these three Spiritual Disciplines. Why? Because He uses the exact pattern in all three: Whenever you ___, don’t be like the hypocrites who practice their ____ to be seen by people. Indeed they have received their reward in full. Instead, when you ___, go it secretly and your Father Who sees in secret will reward you.

Application

So should we not give openly? Should we not pray publicly? Should we not fast openly? That’s not what Jesus is saying. What He is saying is look at your heart. Look at your motivations. Make sure that when you give, that you’re not looking over your shoulder to make sure that people see you give big. When you pray, don’t concentrate on saying the right words with the right vocal emphases. And when you fast, don’t make a big deal of it.

Actually, that’s the central point of all of the Spiritual Disciplines: Don’t make a big deal of it. Spiritual Disciplines (and the others) are for you to deepen your walk with God. They aren’t to be paraded around in front of other people so they give you their accolades. He says that if you’re doing it for the praise of people, that’s all you’re going to get. If you want the accolades of your Father, you need to do these things with your Father in mind.

Your Father wants to reward your giving. Your Father wants to answer your prayers. Your Father wants to reward your fasting. Seek Him in secret. He’ll meet you there.

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The writer of Hebrews gives us the essence of the New Covenant in today’s Bible reading: “I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:10-12, quoting from Jeremiah 31:31-34)

The problem with the Old Covenant is that God’s people repeatedly broke the covenant. God knew they would and planned the New Covenant from the beginning. Because of the depth of our lostness, the depth of our depravity, God knew that He would have to keep both ends of the covenant. So under the New Covenant, God puts His Holy Spirit in every believer to empower us to live up to His standards and to even give us the desire to live up to His standards. God did it all!

Application

God knew the hearts of His people. And He knew the ones we inherited from our first parents couldn’t keep the Old Covenant. So He told the Old Testament prophets that He would cut a New Covenant with His people. Not only would He cut a New Covenant, but He would also give circumcised hearts to His people, hearts that would be able to — and desire to — please Him. (Ezekiel 36:26–29)

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. (Ezekiel 36:26–29 ESV)

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