Tag Archives: heart

Through the Bible, September 11

Reading: Acts 15-16

Summary: The first missionary journey concludes with Paul and Barnabas rejoicing over the fact that the “door of faith” has been opened to the Gentiles (14:27).  These men soon learn that not all their brethren are as joyful as they concerning this turn of events.  A major gathering of prominent leaders in the church takes place in Jerusalem in order to address this contentious subject of Gentile conversions to Christ. Though the leaders come to a definite conclusion as to how this matter should be handled, the question is far from over and would continue to plague Paul’s efforts for the rest of his life.  The books of Galatians and Romans devote significant space to addressing this subject.

Following the “Jerusalem conference”, so-called, Paul and Barnabas find it impossible to continue to work together, due to strongly differing opinions regarding the inclusion of John Mark in their effort.  The two part ways and consequently now two mission teams go out.  Acts traces the work of Paul and his new companion Silas.

Devotional Thought:

A Good Heart or a Clean Heart?

The condition of one’s heart is of extreme importance.  Yes, that is true literally and physically, but we’re talking figuratively and spiritually.

A frequently spoken, well-meaning and kind pleasantry is that a person has a “good” heart.  That’s better than a bad one for sure.  It’s rather ambiguous, though, isn’t it?  Is this merely a pleasant person?  a well-intentioned, nice, and otherwise innocuous kind of a person?  Good-hearted is hard to nail down.

When the controversy about Gentiles becoming Christians came under discussion in Jerusalem, Peter observed that God “made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9).  Such was also David’s desire when his pled, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Psa. 51:10).

Sincerity does not cleanse a heart.  Neither does good intentions or fervent desires.  Those may make a heart good; one that would not hurt or harm and one that would favor what’s good and right.  But hearts must be cleansed.

Peter says that for the Gentiles—no doubt thinking of Cornelius and his household, see Acts 10—that cleansing happened by faith.  That’s consistent with other Scriptures.  God is both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).  Salvation is “by grace…through faith” (Eph. 2:8).

Cornelius’s heart wasn’t cleansed by his pious, benevolent life, nor by the coming of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues.  It was only by faith; his “faith in the powerful working of God” as he was baptized into Christ, making his appeal to God for a good conscience (Col. 2:12; Acts 10:48; 1 Pet. 3:21).

Is my heart clean or just good?

Through the Bible, May 20

Reading: 2 Kings 22:1-23:30; 2 Chronicles 35:1-17

Summary: Though Judah was in a precipitous spiritual fall and Babylon was emerging as a serious threat, one last bright spot remained for the nation’s monarchy; king Josiah.  Repairing the damage caused by both his father and grandfather would not be easy, but he set himself to the task.  Even though the restoration efforts would not avert God’s judgment against Judah, Josiah pursued this noble task.

Given the king’s good character, the circumstances of his death are perplexing.  He confronted the Egyptian army passing through Judah and was killed in the ensuing battle.  Pharaoh Neco understood his efforts to be according to God’s will and warned Josiah not to oppose him.  Josiah ignored the warning and paid with his life (see 2 Chron. 35:20-27).  Incidentally, Egypt was going to Carchemish to aid Assyria in a last stand against emerging Babylon.  Assyria’s loss there marked the end of that empire.

Devotional Thought:

Proof of Heart

Josiah was good, very good.  He was one of the rare kings favorably compared with David in that he did not deviate from David’s way (2 Kings 22:2).

Of course, David served the Lord with “integrity of heart and uprightness” (1 Kings 9:4).  The interesting thing about Josiah is that this is said of him before the book of the Law of Moses was found in the temple during repairs and restoration (1 Kings 22:8ff). Second Chronicles points out that he began seeking the Lord in the eighth year of his reign, began reforms in the twelfth year, and the lost book of the Law was not recovered until the eighteenth year (2 Chron. 34:3, 8).

The real test for Josiah came after 10 years of seeking and serving God.  That’s when he was finally exposed to God’s will as revealed in His word.   What would Josiah do?  Make further changes and adjustments to his service to God and lead the people to do the same?  Or just expect God to accept what he was already doing based on his good heart?

Obviously, he chose to initiate further reforms and changes as per the actual word of God. His was not an attitude of, “Well, what we’ve been doing is good enough.  Besides, we’ve been doing it for ten years and we’ve been sincere and earnest.”

The genuineness of the integrity of Josiah’s heart is proven by what he did after learning what God’s word said.

A sincere heart is a fine thing, but neglecting God’s expressed will and relying solely on our good heart is a fool’s venture.

Through the Bible, April 4

Reading: 2 Samuel 14-17

Summary: The prophet’s warning to David that the sword would never depart from his house (2 Sam. 12:10) certainly finds fulfillment with his son Absalom.  David, the effective administrator, is outflanked by his own son as a diplomat.  He demonstrates great skill in gaining favor and swaying public opinion.  Unfortunately, his narcissistic personality turns these abilities toward unrestrained self-promotion.  David suffers much at the hands of his much-loved son.

Devotional Thought:

Keeping Heart Thieves at Bay

I dislike thieves.  Or maybe I should say that I dislike thievery.

I’ve had things stolen before and the emotional effect is very strong.  After all, it’s just property; it’s just stuff, right?  Emotional detachment would seem like a given, but it’s not. Someone by deceit or stealth or force has removed from our possession what is ours.  That just hurts.

So, we take measures to thwart the thief.

But what about when someone steals in full view and with full knowledge?  In essence they steal with our permission.  How do you combat that?

The Bible says of Absalom that he “stole the hearts of the men of Israel” (2 Sam. 15:6).

He did so by showing them attention, expressing interest in their problems, and making a show of affection for them (15:2-5).  He made them believe he cared for them.  He did not.  Absalom’s eye was on his father’s throne and the only way to unseat the king would be with great popular support.  To get it, Absalom stole.

How does one combat that kind of thief?

Obviously, Absalom appealed to people’s self-interest.  He made them believe he cared for them, when in reality he only cared for himself.  That became apparent when he risked the nation’s destruction in his grab for the throne.

The people’s hearts were susceptible to theft when the people’s interest was primarily for self.  A man who would promise to them what they desired was welcome to take their hearts.

The answer, then, seems to be to elevate the primary concerns and interests of our lives above self.  And that ought to ring a bell.  How about these familiar Bible teachings as preventatives to stolen hearts:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Php. 2:3).

Hearts already given to the concerns of others are not liable to be seduced by self-serving promises.

Through the Bible, March 18

Reading: 1 Samuel 8-10

Summary: Samuel takes it personally when the people request to have a king to rule over them.  God assures him that he’s mistaken in his hurt feelings because it isn’t Samuel they’ve rejected as their leader, but God Himself.

It’s a curious thing this request is seen as such a negative turn of events when the Law of Moses itself anticipated the time when this people would be ruled by a king (see Deut. 17:14-17).

This incident well illustrates the fact that we should be careful for what we ask; we might just get it.

Devotional Thought:

Getting to the Heart of the Matter

Have you ever heard of QBQ?

No, it’s not some variation of enhanced BBQ (I could only wish!).

It stands for “The Question Behind the Question.”  John Miller authored a business leadership book by that title.  In part, it has to do with the fact that the real, underlying issue is often masked by another question or observation.  Getting to the real root concern, question, or issue is key.

Israel said they wanted a king.  They told Samuel it was because he was old and his sons were not real leadership material (1 Sam. 8:7).  Both of these statements were true (although Samuel would live another 35 years), but they weren’t the real reason for the request.

This is later revealed when they say, “But there shall be a king over us, that we may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us an fight our battles” (1 Sam. 8:19-20).  It’s also suggested later that threats from a foreign king prompted the desire for a king to protect them, though God already filled that role quite well (1 Sam. 12:12).

It’s a good question to ask ourselves: what’s the question behind the question?  What’s the real reason for what we are wanting?

God warns us about this in terms of our faith and worship.  All in the name of worshipping and serving God, any number of underlying motivations could be present.  Is what I am doing, or wanting to do, moved by the will of God or is it my own personal desires, cultural influences, or long-standing tradition?

We need to be–must be–brutally honest with ourselves.  Human traditions, self-made religion, and compliance to culture all threaten to leave our faith powerless and vain.

Depleted faith and trust in God lie behind Israel’s appeal to have a king.  Really, and honestly, what lies behind what I do (or don’t do) in the practice of my faith?

Through the Bible, March 5

Reading: Joshua 16:1-18:10

Summary: The process for dividing the land among the tribes seems a bit curious as it involved the casting of lots.  This, perhaps, was done in faith believing that God was acting through those lots to provide each tribe their lands (see Prov. 16:33).

Today’s reading is a sampling of this process.  It includes the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin.  Chapters 19-21 (not included in our reading) record the other tribes’ allotments including Levi, which did not receive lands as did the others.  Remember, the sons of Joseph are Ephraim and Manasseh.  So while there is no allotment of land for either Levi or Joseph, there was for Joseph’s two sons and so the number of tribes allotted land remains at twelve.

Devotional Thought:

I Love You with Most of My Heart

I mostly love my wife. There’s another woman or two that I love, but I mostly love my wife. Is that OK?

Whether or not it’s OK with you is immaterial.  It’s not OK with my wife because it’s not OK.  It would be wrong.  And just to avoid any confusion, it’s not true either; I love my wife exclusively.

This isn’t a matter of percentages: it is not that as long as the scales tip in my wife’s direction then everything is OK.  It doesn’t work that way.  And we understand that.

It doesn’t work that way with God either.  The Bible talks about devoting our whole heart to God.  It was what Moses had taught the people, and Joshua will also do the same (Deut. 4:29; Josh. 22:5; see also 1 Chron. 28:9; 1 Kings 8:61).  When Jeremiah later prophesied of God’s people returning to Him, it would be with a whole heart (Jer. 24:7).

Did you notice in today’s reading that in possessing the land allotted to them, some of the tribes failed to drive out some of the nations (Josh. 16:10; 17:12-13)? They drove out most of them, but not all.  Is that OK?

In recounting this fact a bit later, it’s said that “they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you” (Judges 2:3).

Mostly obeying God doesn’t work.

The point is not that if our obedience doesn’t achieve absolute perfection that we’ve failed; but rather if we’re satisfied with just obeying most of what God says and are OK with leaving some of it undone, that’s a problem.

Even more so than my wife, God deserves my whole heart.

Through the Bible, March 4

Reading: Joshua 13:1-15:19

Summary: Apparently a number of years have passed as Joshua is now identified as “old and advanced in years” (13:1).

As the land is conquered and its inhabitants driven out–almost to the Lord’s specifications (see Joshua 15:63; 17:12-13)–the tribes begin to settle the land.  Two and half tribes have been given land back on the eastern side of Jordan.  They go to occupy their new homes, while the remaining tribes begin to receive their allotments of land.

Included in this account is the reward of Caleb, who along with Joshua had served as a faithful spy many years previous at Kadesh Barnea (Num. 13).

Devotional Thought:

Don’t Dare Follow Your Heart

“Follow your heart.” We’ve all heard it and it’s probably among the worst advice ever given.  Sorry, but it’s true.

The heart is unreliable and can be influenced for wrong.  The Bible says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jer. 17:9).

So the Bible also warns to “keep your heart with all vigilance” (Prov. 4:23).  Other translations say to “guard” or “watch over” your heart.

Think about the case of Caleb.  He was one of the two faithful spies when Moses had sent out twelve of them to spy out the promised land (Num. 13).  The ten unfaithful spies “made the heart of the people to melt” (Josh. 14:8).  By contrast, Caleb brought word back to Moses “as it was in my heart…I wholly followed the Lord my God” (Josh. 14:7-8).

Caleb’s heart was one that could be followed because it “wholly followed” the Lord.

You see that’s the point.  Follow the Lord and your heart will be right.  Follow your heart and who knows where you’ll end up.  In this instance Caleb ended up alive and receiving an inheritance from God, the others ended up long dead in the wilderness (Num. 14:36-37).

The only heart that should be followed is the one that has first and fully followed God.

Through the Bible, February 5

Reading: Exodus 13:17-15:21

Summary: The Red Sea

Though Israel left Egypt in “martial array” (Ex. 13:18; NASB)–that is as a victorious army–their deliverance was not yet complete.

God wanted them to have one more unquestionable assurance that their departure from Egypt could have but one explanation–He had made it so.  So, Moses led them to the Red Sea, with the Egypt’s army in pursuit as Pharaoh had changed his mind.

They were trapped with no possible means of escape.  Or so it seemed.   As the Red Sea would prove again, impossible does not apply to God.

Devotional Thought:

The Lord Knows My Heart

That title is a true statement.

What is also true is that the Lord finds out what is in our hearts by what we do, not just by what we say or what we want to be true about us.

God actually tests the heart.  He did with Abraham, He did it with the Israelites, and He did it with Hezekiah (Gen. 22:1, 17; Deut. 8:2; 2 Chron. 32:31).  He does it with us as well.  Our reaction to the trials we face tests what’s in our hearts and the genuineness of our faith (1 Pet. 1:6-7).

Pharaoh is a perfect example of a failed test.  His heart was hard and God knew it (Ex. 7:14).  Therefore God also knew that the king would not respond favorably to whatever He did to convince him to let Israel go.

So, it is said that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8).  It’s also said that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (8:15, 32; 9:34). Both are true.

Pharaoh was responsible for his own heart and God’s actions had a very predictable outcome.  Any different response was only temporary (Ex. 9:27-28; 10:16-17; 14:5).

So, yes, the Lord does know my heart, just like He knew Pharaoh’s.  The real issue, then, is how responsive am I to what God has said and done?  My “heart” is not hidden from view, it is evident in what I do.

My Delight is the Lord, September 10

A Tender and Humble Heart

September 10, Saturday: God’s Story (2)

Scripture Reading: 2 Kings 22:1-20; 23:15-25

Yes, Josiah is an amazing spiritual figure among God’s people. That one so committed to serving and obeying God could follow after two generations that were as bad as can be found, that he could lead in a restoration of faith in a climate so steeped in sin and idolatry, that all of this would emanate from one so young is all beyond impressive. So, what was so special about him? It isn’t some rare opportunity or uncommon trait that made him so. It is, instead, something within reach of us all. It’s just rarely done and uncommonly practiced. Notice 22:19, “your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I spoke” (NASB). Whether we’re an ancient king or a current professed disciple, responding to God’s word with a tender heart and humble disposition will always set one apart.

Questions to Ponder:

  • At what age did Josiah become king? (22:1)
  • What important spiritual milestones are found in 2 Chron. 34:3?
  • Of whom did Josiah enquire? (22:14)
  • What did Josiah restore? (23:21)

My Delight is the Lord, August 7

What’s In Your Heart?

August 7, Sunday: Praise God

Scripture Reading: Psalm 84

What if someone were to look at your heart? What would they see? Not the blood-pumping pulmonary muscle in your chest, but the figurative one; the center of life and emotion. Think about this, “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion” (v. 5). Zion, of course is a reference to the temple mount in Jerusalem and the place where God dwells (that’s what this Psalm is about). If someone were to see your heart would they see the way that leads to God? That’s just thing, our hearts are to be directed, not followed–as per the bit of popular wisdom, “Follow your heart.” A heart directed toward God, that’s worth having. One that we are following–that can easily be misguided and deceived–not so much. “Set your heart to seek God” (2 Chron. 19:3).

Questions to Ponder:

  • What is Zion? Where is it? (v. 5)
  • What is the Valley of Baca? (v. 6)
  • How should we make application of this longing for the temple?
  • According to v. 11, what is God?

A Good Heart or a Clean Heart?

Devotional Text: Acts 15:9

The condition of one’s heart is of extreme importance.  Yes that is true literally and physically, but we’re talking figuratively and spiritually.

A frequently spoken, well-meaning and kind pleasantry is that a person has a “good” heart.  That’s better than a bad one for sure.  It’s rather ambiguous, though, isn’t it?  Is this merely a pleasant person?  a well-intentioned, nice, and otherwise innocuous kind of a person?  Good-hearted is hard to nail down.

When the controversy about Gentiles becoming Christians came under discussion in Jerusalem, Peter observed that God “made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9).  Such was also David’s desire when his pled, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Psa. 51:10).

Sincerity does not cleanse a heart.  Neither does good intentions or fervent desires.  Those may make a heart good; one that would not hurt or harm and one that would favor what’s good and right.  But hearts must be cleansed.

Peter says that for the Gentiles—no doubt thinking of Cornelius and his household, see Acts 10—that cleansing happened by faith.  That’s consistent with other Scriptures.  God is both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).  Salvation is “by grace…through faith” (Eph. 2:8).

Cornelius’s heart wasn’t cleansed by his pious, benevolent life, nor by the coming of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues.  It was only by faith; his “faith in the powerful working of God” as he was baptized into Christ, making his appeal to God for a good conscience (Col. 2:12; Acts 10:48; 1 Pet. 3:21).

Is my heart clean or just good?

–David Deffenbaugh

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