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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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trophies

In today’s Bible reading in Philippians 3, Paul rattles off his Curriculum Vitae (resume):

“circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; regarding zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness that is in the law, blameless.” (Philippians 3:5–6, CSB)

Paul says, “You may think you’re religious, you can’t top me!” And then he adds,

But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them as dung, so that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7–8, CSB)

In comparison with all of the awards, all the trophies, and all the diplomas Paul had earned and treasured in his “BC Days” as a very devout Jew, he says all of those admirable things weren’t worth a crap.

Yes, I just said that. I said it because Paul said it. And he meant it.

Elsewhere, Paul emphasized his Christ-centric message:

“When I came to you, brothers and sisters, announcing the mystery of God to you, I did not come with brilliance of speech or wisdom. I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not be based on human wisdom but on God’s power.” (1 Corinthians 2:1–5, CSB)

Paul could have come to the Corinthians with eloquent messages. He could have impressed them with all of his learning. Instead, he focused on Jesus. As a result, God showed up in demonstrable power from the Holy Spirit.

Application

We used to joke about how much we had learned in the cemetery, I mean the seminary. But as they say, there is an element of truth in humor. I can tell you from personal experience, reading (and amassing) a lot of theology books, learning Biblical languages, sitting in classrooms under world-class theologians, and writing a lot of papers doesn’t necessarily result in a closer walk with Jesus. In fact, sometimes these things can get in the way of a closer walk with Jesus.

Being a long-time believer and being a long-time church-goer doesn’t necessarily result in a closer walk with Jesus. In fact, sometimes these things get in the way of a closer walk with Jesus.

The only thing that will result in a closer walk with Jesus is spending time with Jesus. Spending time in prayer. Spending time reading His Word. Spending time studying His Word. Spending time memorizing His Word. Why?

Because we’re talking about a relationship. And the only way to grow closer in a relationship is to spend time together.

This devotional was originally published June 18, 2019.

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Christ is your righteousness

In today’s Bible reading from Romans 10, Paul points out that the Jewish people were attempting to establish their own righteousness. He says, they may be very zealous, but they haven’t submitted to God’s righteousness. What does that mean?

I have heard people say that it doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you’re sincere. That statement is borne out of the belief that all religions are basically the same, that all religious expressions are equally valid. It sounds as good as a “Coexist” bumper sticker; you’ve probably seen them with each letter of the word a symbol from a different religion, the “C” is a Muslim Crescent and the “t” is a cross.

The problem with this belief is that Jesus made some very exclusive claims that are at odds with every religious expression out there. If Jesus is correct in His exclusive statements, then all religions are not equally valid. And if all religious expressions are not equally valid, then our response to Jesus’ statements on salvation affect our eternal destiny which begins on this side of eternity.

So what were some of Jesus’ exclusive statements? I’ll just call your attention to just one: John 14:6 “Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (CSB)

That statement cannot coexist with statements made by any and all other religious leaders. Jesus was not just another “good moral teacher” among many; CS Lewis was correct when he said that Jesus didn’t give us an option to consider him just a good moral teacher.

Application

Getting back to Paul’s statement… Paul says it doesn’t matter how sincere you may be, if you aren’t submitting your idea of righteousness — regardless of how sincere you may be — to God’s righteousness, you’re sincerely wrong. And that wrong belief will cost you blessings with God now and blessings in your destiny in the eternal future.

So how do you submit to God’s righteousness? First of all, you have to reject your own attempts to establish your own righteousness. Next, Paul answers the question in Romans 10:9-10:

If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation. (CSB)

The message of the Gospel is simple, but it isn’t easy. It is as simple as believing that Jesus was raised from the dead (something that no other religious leader predicted, much less fulfilled) and verbally expressing that belief. And if you truly believe that Jesus rose from the dead and really believe Jesus is Lord, then your other beliefs, attitudes, and behavior will be affected over time.

Note: Lordship is necessary for salvation. It means that Jesus is your ruler, your master, your boss, while at the same time, He is the lover of your soul. Yes, being a disciple of Jesus is about obedience (Matthew 28:19-20). But being a disciple is borne out of a relationship. This is the knowledge that Paul is talking about in Romans 10:2-3.

“This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God,
and the one you have sent—Jesus Christ.” John 17:3 (CSB)

Don’t miss out on the message of the Gospel;
come to know God through Jesus today!

This devotional was originally published May 28, 2019.

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Jesus weeps over religion

Today’s Bible reading records some of the saddest times of Jesus’ life. He weeps over the religious leaders of His day, pointing out their hypocrisy, and He weeps over Jerusalem for killing the prophets God sent to her.

In pointing out the hypocrisy of the religious leaders, he also tells His disciples and the crowd to listen and obey what the leaders’ say when they sit in Moses’ seat. (Matthew 23:3) There may be two reasons Jesus told them to do this:

  1. Sitting in Moses’ seat confers God’s authority. Regardless of their personal lives, these leaders are still speaking God’s truth. To disobey the leaders is to disobey God.
  2. Even on this side of the cross, obedience is still required. Just because Jesus has paid our sin-debt doesn’t mean that we can live however we want. I preach grace. I preach mercy. I preach these things because I have received so much grace and mercy. I preach these things because I believe these are important truths for God’s people to hear. But grace and mercy are not opposed to obedience. They empower obedience!

Application

As you contemplate the grace and mercy that God has given to you as a believer, do you think you can live however you want? Are believers no longer bound to live moral, God-pleasing lives? Let me ask you, “What Bible verses are you getting that from?”

If believers were released from obedience, then why do the Apostles give commands in the book of Acts and in their letters? Even in the fifty days between the Resurrection and the Day of Pentecost, Jesus gave His disciples commands to obey:

  • Go back to Jerusalem and wait for the promised Holy Spirit
  • Make disciples by baptizing and teaching obedience

Obedience on this side of the cross is empowered by justification. It is empowered by grace and mercy. It is empowered by the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. We don’t obey in order to get God’s favor. Rather, we already have God’s favor which empowers us to want to obey Him. (Galatians 5:16, Romans 1:5)

Until we cross over to the other side of eternity, we will experience the tension between our “already justification” and our “not-yet justification”. Like Paul in Romans 7, we will do things we don’t want to do, and we won’t do the things we do want to do. (Romans 7:15-24)

And while we struggle in our conflicting desires on this side of eternity, Paul reminds us in Romans 8:1, there is no condemnation for believers.

This devotional was originally published May 7, 2019.

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reading One Book

In today’s Bible reading, we see a couple of occasions when the Jewish leaders posed “academic” questions, trying to entrap him, or at least distract him. “Should we pay taxes or not?” “Who will be a woman’s husband in the resurrection if her husband dies, her next husband dies, etc.?” “Which is the greatest commandment?” “What is the Messiah’s relationship to David?”

To think… The Sadducees asked Jesus questions about a Resurrection they didn’t even believe in.

Only one of these questions really mattered. I confess, it’s easy to get distracted with “academic” questions. I remember spending many late nights discussing deep theological issues in the stairway in the Men’s Dorm at Southwestern Seminary. Some of the questions were good and challenging. Many were just distractions from studies and many were distractions from my walk with the Lord.

I’m glad that someone asked Jesus which is the greatest commandment. The Jewish leaders had developed a commentary on the Old Covenant Law. Then they developed a commentary on the commentary. By this point, they had over six hundred laws that divided hairs on what could and what couldn’t be done without breaking the Sabbath. At least someone had the guts to ask Jesus that question!

As He often did, He cut right through all of the “academics” and went straight for the heart: The greatest commandment is to love God with all that you are and to love others as you love yourself.

Application

I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I have several T-shirts to spare. It’s easy to get distracted with the “academics” and miss the “heart of the matter” which is actually the “matter of the heart”. It’s so easy to amass a library of hundreds of books about the Bible, prayer, the Christian life, etc. written by godly people and not read the one Book that God wrote. Making the connections between my head and my heart is a daily struggle.

How about you? Do you find yourself talking about God or talking with God? Do you find yourself reading about the Bible or reading the Bible? Do you find yourself talking about loving others or loving others? Do you find yourself talking about holiness or pursuing it?

Take some time today to think about what you think about. Then take some time to get to know the One you talk about by taking some time to actually open your Bible and read it, study it, and meditate on it.

This devotional was originally published May 4, 2019.

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1 2 3 8

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