“Man-Made Rules and the Heart”

heaps of rules are not important to God

Mark 7 Mark wanted his audience to see that our lips and our outward worship may say we love God, but it is the inward heart that is God’s measuring rod. “God does not view things the way men do. People look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” [1Sa 16:7]

What did the religious leaders care about? It was the traditions passed down through the centuries. So they came asking Jesus: “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders.” Their priority was the legalism of rules which cleansed the outward man but failed to seek cleansing of the heart. Jesus caustically rebuked them using Isaiah’s words: you honor me with lip-service, but your heart is caught up in the traditions established by your ancestors. In fact, you are so caught up, you find loopholes to set aside God’s commandments to satisfy your sins. Listen, God sees your heart and what lurks there: evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, covetousness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. In essence, he was recalling [Prov 14:17], “a quick-tempered man acts foolishly.” 

When your heart is pure and cleansed, it is revealed in the humility of the heart. To say the words “I love you, God,” but your actions say otherwise is repulsive to God.

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Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Who are you?

Matt 26-28 With his detailed observation skills, Matthew recalls the last week of the earthly life of our Lord. He now recalls his notes on two people, Judas and Mary. Judas was a taker with his embezzling self-seeking heart, whereas Mary was a giver of the most expensive gift of the oil poured out.   

Judas would be revealed along with the religious leaders, as those who would conveniently erase Ex 20:13 “You shall not murder.” Judas would forever be known as the betrayer of innocent blood when he said to the religious leaders—what will you give me to betray Him. Mary would be forever remembered as the one who came and anointed Jesus for his burial. Jesus remarked that she would be remembered for what she did whenever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world.

Charles Spurgeon was right when he asked: What do men think of a love which never shows itself in action? Judas never loved Jesus, but Mary loved with abandon.

What say you regarding your words, I love the Lord Jesus?

What do your actions say about these words?

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Study under the Master

The Master Class 101

Matt 5 This is the first in a series of “Heaven on Earth 101” class, where we will learn how to make the gospel relevant to our society. One of the things we learn from Jesus is that He always took advantage of the opportunities God the Father gave him to “go and make disciples.” So in the chapter on the Beatitudes, we see him using this time to fulfill what we are called to do: “go and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching to obey.”  As the master teacher, He used real-life examples to show them that to “just” know the gospel is not enough. The test is demonstrating what we have learned in “real-life.”

Jesus also places some warnings so that we should not hesitate to do what He has commanded. The first is if we break one of the least of these commands to be salt and light, to be meek, and yet do not mourn over sinful habits, then we are no better than the experts in the Law who knew God’s Law but did not live by it.

Truly James was right; the world does not know us and therefore does not know the one we call Savior because our walk and talk don’t harmonize. Beloved, “heaven on earth” is to not just live by the letter but by the heart.

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Laundry Problems Solved

Only Jesus can cleanse

Zechariah 3-6 From Genesis to Revelation, we have learned that Satan is the accuser of the brethren. [Rev 12:10] He continues to accuse even today!  Thus in chapter three, we are given a marvelous symbolic example of what each believer can know about the accuser’s work and how we can be cleansed from sin to receive salvation. As we are, we “have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.” [Is 46:6] We have a spiritual laundry problem and Satan tries to make us think that our works will make us clean, but that is a lie. “He saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit.” [Titus 3:5] We are only worthy because of what Christ has done because, like the priest, Joshua, we too wear the filthy clothes of sin. We need a launderer to cleanse us, and Jesus did just exactly that. Jesus is qualified to wear the robe of righteousness because He paid the redemption price for our sinful deeds and heart. Now He alone can rebuke the evil one. If we accept his gift of cleansing, we are now worthy of wearing fine clothing and a clean turban on our head.

 The Lord of Heaven’s armies reminds us we are worthy to walk among the Body of Christ in our new robe of righteousness.

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God Loves Our Prayers

God loves a praying people

Zechariah 1 -2 When we read the prophets we come away with our minds swirling because in our 21st century we know we are reading a historical record with implications for our spiritual lives. A new administration under Cyrus allowed the exiles to return to rebuild the Temple. In that time Isaiah prophesied that this was His plan and even named Cyrus as ruler several years before his birth! (Isaiah 44:28)

Both Haggai and Zechariah would remind them that God wanted his people to learn. Learn and do not fall back into what your ancestors did not do. He had sent prophets but they did not pay any attention or listen to them. He offered hope to them if they turned from their evil wickedness but their words fell on deaf ears. Micah had reminded them God would turn and have compassion upon them and cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. Now with this ringing in their ears, they listened and began to confess:  “The Lord of Heaven’s Armies has indeed done what he said he would do to us, because of our sinful ways.” Words of repentance are a sweet balm to the Lord in heaven. He loves to hear of our words: I am sorry and I am willing to obey.

It is then that the floodgates of heaven swung open! “Sing out and be happy!” but also a simple reminder: “be silent in the Lord’s presence…”

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“Is God First?”

Is God first?

Haggai 1 & 2 Today, a refrain is heard: I have bills to pay, and whatever is leftover, I may give to the church. But, God is clear; your thinking is backward!  “Bring the entire tithe into the storehouse; Test me and see if I will not open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing for you until there is no room for it all.” [Mal 3 author’s paraphrase] The point being: when we put God first, He blesses, and as the Israelites were experiencing, the reverse is also true. Is it any wonder then that Haggai came to the people and rebuked them for wrong priorities?  Was it right for them to live luxuriously while the house of the Lord lay in ruins? Then he asked them to consider their priorities.

Haggai’s message was convicting! The people turned and put God first, and then God did just as Malachi said. Their crops rebounded, and their pocketbooks were replenished. God is clear: if I am first, I will be with you, and I will bless you.

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” [Matt 6]

Is church and giving to the work of the Lord on the bottom of your list?

Where is God in your priority list?    

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“God Always Leaves a Remnant”

sit silently before the Lord

Zephaniah 1 to 3 A royal prophet to a royal people could be our title for this small book with a mighty message. Instead, this humble prophet chooses not to use his royal influence but to join the peasantry ranks. He was used by God to remind them that when God brings forth his judgment, they need to see themselves as a part of the remnant, which begins with a repentant heart.

Zephaniah reminds the people that unless they move from a stagnant heart to a heart that is alive and well, they will face the same judgments God has planned for idolatrous Judah. It won’t matter if they are of royal blood or not because God looks at every individual’s heart, not their pedigree. Jeremiah had reminded them that His mercies are new every morning; great is His faithfulness, but they must choose. The starting point is the cleansing of their heart, which begins when they choose to be silent before God. Use this time to reflect and repent.

After His judgment,  God will leave in their midst a humble and meek people, a remnant who will find safety in the presence of the Lord. His words will renew them with His love as He shouts for joy over them.

The real question to the people of Judah (and to us) is will we be part of the remnant?

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False or True Repentance

Is your repentance true or false

Nahum 1-3  Nahum, the Elkoshite, prophesied to the wicked Assyrians about their short-lived repentance. One hundred years earlier, when Jonah spoke the entire city, both man and beast put on sackcloth and ashes in repentance. But, now, they had returned to their cruel ways. Some today may make a faith profession, but later it is as if they had never heard. Just like the Ninevites, they had short memories. The “message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.[Heb 4:2]  Although Jeremiah wrote that God’s mercies are new every morning, He will call all accounts due sooner or later.

‘Listen Assyria; God is slow to anger not willing any should perish, but all come to repentance, yet He is also zealous and will avenge His people.  Whereas your king of old repented and you were spared, your new king is indolent and degenerate. You are ripe for enemy nations.’

Just because you think it won’t happen doesn’t mean it won’t. Assyria was destroyed, and their idols burned. Scoffers say to us: “where is the promise of his coming? It is as it always has been.” [2Pet 3:4]  Amazingly, in 1845, an archaeologist stumbled upon Nineveh’s site and found an extensive library proving Nahum’s words were true and accurate.

Beloved, God is merciful, but He will be patient just so long. If Jesus were to return today, would you be ready?

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“What God Requires”

God's requirement

Micah 5 to 7 Micah was a simple peasant whom God chose to speak to His people because He had a complaint against them. Micah told them that God would contend with them because they followed Balaam, whose way was tainted by the love of money. God  told Micah to ask them this question: Have you forgotten how I redeemed you from bondage? That is a good question for us to ask ourselves as well. What drives us to be faithful? The author of Hebrews says: “Oh, that today you would listen as He speaks! Do not harden your heart.”[Heb 3:15]

Our gracious God has given us some simple tests to show that our heart is right. The psalmist says start here: “Create in me a pure heart” [Ps 51:10]  The prophet Micah tells the wayward Israelites that God has not made it hard! “He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord really wants from you: He wants you to carry out justice, to love faithfulness, and to live obediently before your God.” [Mic 6:8NET]

Micah then extols the attributes of God! He pardons iniquity and He passes over the transgressions of the remnant of His heritage. He doesn’t retain His anger forever, He delights in mercy, and He will have compassion again.

That is the God who loves us; will we love Him in return?

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Bitterness Divides/Forgiveness Unites

Beware of Bitterness

Obadiah: Do you recall the story about a feud between the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s who harbored grudges spanning several years? They were led by a rogue clan member who refused to forgive. Read Obadiah with this tale and the Jacob/Esau story in mind. Just like the Hatfield/McCoy feud, the descendants of Esau/ Edomite’s hearts were full of bitterness. Esau was bitter because his brother Jacob got the birthright and blessing–by trickery. He never forgave him, although when he met Jacob many years later, he “seemed” repentant.

God sent Obadiah to Israel to prophesy about Edom to show them that unforgiveness is a trap laid by Satan. The Edomites harbored a grudge of this event’s outcome from years and years ago. Like the Hatfield/McCoy’s, they rehearsed it repeatedly, probably embellishing the details to the next generation as to why they would not; should not, could not forgive their enemy. The reality is unforgiveness is a sin. Instead: “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For you will heap  burning coals on his head, And the LORD will reward you” [Prov 15:22]

Israel lies precariously close to this story because they refused to forgive their neighbor Judah. For us, it is a warning sign of what happens when we cling to hatred instead of forgiving.

Truth Principle: When we do not forgive, we are shackled in our past.

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