A Pure Heart

A large empty rainbow shaped heart creating a frame on a blue sky background with a big bright sunburst positioned in the cleavage of the heart

Today’s reading link: Genesis 9–10; Matthew 9; Ezra 9; Acts 9

Matthew 5:8 says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  A pure heart is one that is fully devoted to God; no hypocrisy; a condition in which outward actions reflect the true condition of the heart.

Always devoted? Never an impure thought or selfish motive?  We could never get here on our own.  But God gave us a guide, and a lot of grace, to help us.  God’s commandments aren’t simply a list of rules to make our lives more difficult, but a guide to help us purify our hearts and move toward full devotion to him.  This theme runs throughout today’s reading.

In Matthew 9, Jesus saw the thoughts of the scribes and affirmed his authority through a miracle:

When he saw the faith of the people who had brought him and the faith of the paralytic, Jesus told the paralytic that his sins were forgiven. The scribes/teachers who were looking on said nothing, but Jesus looked at their hearts and saw their accusations of blasphemy.  He responded by also healing the paralytic’s physical disability.

In Ezra 9, Ezra mourned because the Children of Israel disobeyed God’s command to remain pure by refraining from intermarriage:

God commanded the Children of Israel to keep themselves separated from the people of the lands with their abominations. They were not to give their daughters to them in marriage, nor take non-Israelite daughters for their sons, and never seek the others’ peace or prosperity.  All these things would lead them away from full devotion to God.

In Acts 9, Ananias sought after a Saul, a known murderer of Jesus followers:

Saul’s heart, “…still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord”, sounds pretty pure.  Purely in opposition to Jesus.  We read the story of his conversion, and know he goes on to purify his heart and become a great man of God.  But the pure heart that rings through in Acts 9 is of Ananias.  When God commanded Ananias to go to Saul, Ananias gently reminded God of Saul’s reputation.  God affirmed his command, but he did not play to Ananias’ selfish desires (like I would have) to convince Ananias to go.  My line would have sounded something like, “Ananias, I realize the risk is great here, but so is the reward.  This guy will go on to write almost have of the New Testament.  You’re going to make history.  This story will be recorded in the best-selling book ever written.  Billions of copies!”  See, God didn’t have to play to Ananias’ selfishness because had a pure heart, he simply followed God’s command.

In Genesis, God punished Ham’s impure actions:

Ham commits an impure act against his father Noah. God doesn’t punish Ham directly, but punishes Ham by making his son a servant to his brothers.  As a mother, seeing my kids pay for my sin is way more painful than suffering my own consequences.  Heart-wrenching is the word that comes to mind.

Samuel 16:7 says, “…for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  What does God see when he looks at your heart today?

Astonished

Concept for procrastination and urgency with torn newspaper head

Today’s reading link: Genesis 8; Matthew 8; Ezra 8; Acts 8

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) closes with two of my favorite verses:

And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teachingfor he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.  (Matthew 7:5-7)

Have you ever been astonished at someone’s teaching?  I am picturing jaws dropping, minds blown, tears of joy as well as tears of remorse due to hearts being convicted from this sermon.  They recognized Jesus’ authority and they were astonished because there had never been anyone like him. Still today there is no one like him, and there will never be anyone like him!

In Matthew Chapter 8, Jesus puts his authority into action and performs various miracles where he demonstrates his authority over:

  1. Disease (v. 3, 13, 15-16) – healed leprosy and other diseases
  2. Winds and sea (v. 26) – calms the storm
  3. Demons (v. 16, 32) – cast out demons

Matthew tells the story of the centurion who demonstrated great faith. Centurions were captains in the Roman army and had authority over many soldiers.  We can learn from the centurion as a model for our own faith and prayer life (humble ourselves, honor Him, believe).  This high-powered centurion humbles himself and defines the relationship with Jesus addressing him as “Lord” and further states “I am not worthy” –  and he trusts and believes that Jesus can heal from afar.  Then the best part: kudos from Jesus.  Jesus recognizes the centurion’s approach as an act of great faith and is “marveled” by it.

I’d love to marvel Jesus today, how about you? How about right now? Today’s reading has a couple examples of urgency.

The first example is directly from Jesus and he makes it clear that following him must be on his terms, without delay:

Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:21-22)

The level of urgency in our response to the good news should match how good the news is. Our outward response indicates our true inward feeling. We’re talking about some seriously good news here – eternal life. The eunuch in Acts 8:34-39 gets it right when his immediate response to hearing the Good News is to become baptized in some water along the road and went on his way rejoicing!

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18)

None of us knows what tomorrow will bring so the time to respond is now.  Jesus has all authority.  Authority over our past and future, our illnesses, ups, downs, jobs, relationships, needs, addictions, failures, fears, families, and most importantly, our eternity.  He’s proven it and has promised it for you and for me. We just need to trust and follow him.

Lord, I am not worthy.  Forgive me for not marveling enough at your greatness and your authority. Forgive my lack of urgency in following you wholeheartedly. Thank you for this new day and the opportunity to follow you. Amen.

Chosen

Concept illustration of hiring the best candidate. The graphic shows company making a choice of the person with right skills for the job among many candidates

Family: Genesis 7; Matthew 7. Secret: Ezra 7; Acts 7.

In any given circumstance, I find that I want to be part of the selected group. Not unlike choosing teams on the playground, I’ve always striven to be either the captain, picked first and at the very least, part of the best group. In order to maintain that status, there are certain things that are expected. In my adult life, a few of the worldly traits that get you into the boardroom are intelligence, influence and often status or wealth. Ironically, I have a tendency to transfer this worldly wisdom to God’s eternal kingdom. Surely, by doing these same things, I can get, earn even, God’s favor. Today’s reading sheds some light on how we get favor by God. Let’s take a look at all four of today’s chapters.

First, God’s favor was clearly on Noah. I can tell you with absolute certainty that I would have been working desperately to be chosen for that 40 day voyage! How did Noah get chosen? The answer lies in Genesis 7:1, where God acknowledges the righteousness that Noah displays. Where exactly did he become righteous? Turn back for a moment to Genesis 6:9, and see that Noah, “walked with God.” What we learn from Noah is that God does not choose his people willy-nilly. He puts out the invitation, makes himself known and allows us to choose Him.

Second, Ezra was also favored by God. Check out Ezra 7:9. It says, “ The good hand of God was upon him.” Wow, when I read that, I want to have it too! As with Noah, God did not choose Ezra randomly. Verse 10 describes Ezra’s passion for God. “Ezra set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” Again, God set out the invitation, with the law in this case; it was up to Ezra to respond.

Third, look back at Acts 7. Stephen was chosen to be a leader back in chapter 6. Once again, it was not a random selection but based on his heart. Acts 6:3 records that he was “of good repute [and] full of the Spirit and of wisdom.” Now, We may not get a description of how Stephen achieved his wisdom and fullness, but chapter 7 definitely gives us an indication. Most of the chapter consists of him reciting scripture to the men in the synagogue. How do you suppose that information landed in his head? More importantly, the information permeated his heart resulting in transformation. This is evident by the intensity of the Holy Spirit working in his life. (Acts 6:10)

Finally, turning to Matthew 7, we hear directly from Jesus about how we can be part of his chosen. God has sent us an invitation, in his son Jesus Christ. We must now choose him, or not. Our choosing Jesus starts with seeking. Verse 7 says that we should “seek and find, knock and it will be opened.” These are the activities that lead to a renewed heart. The benefit, you ask? “The good gifts.” (v11) While I cannot quantify what they are, history says that being chosen and favored by God are among them.

Seven days into our journey, I am praying that Gods wisdom is working its way into our hearts and minds. As it does, I know that we will find opportunities to be obedient to it. Noah, Ezra and Stephen are all great examples of how God’s word, when accepted whole-heartedly and personally, transforms us. I can think of no better favor from God than seeing for myself “the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56)

The Great Flood

Today’s Reading: Genesis 6; Matthew 6; Ezra 6; Acts 6

View of storm seascape

The Flood has been a great source of questions for me but none more than why. Why would God do this? From today’s reading, recent studies, and a most interesting lesson from a good friend; I think perhaps another piece as to why this happened, has fallen into place for me. Along a journey that starts in the Garden of Eden and ends in Revelation I think some clues are provided as to why.

Our journey starts where the conflict started, in the Garden of Eden. Satan has tossed in a wrench of deception in God’s perfect creation which led to the fall of man. God is allotting the punishment for the tragic episode and it is the serpent’s turn:  

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. -Genesis 3:15

Interesting. So the seed of the woman will bruise the head of satan. 

Similar to how satan attempts to foil God’s design in the Garden of Eden we see again satan’s attempt to thwart God’s judgement three chapters latter in the prolog to the story of the Flood. If the seed of the woman were to bruise the serpent’s head, is it possible that he would attempt corrupt her offspring to cut off God’s planned judgement from the source?

And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them,  That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.Genesis 6:1–3

From my research the majority of Bible Scholars seem to hold that the term here ‘sons of God’ is in reference to angels. If anyone will ever know for certain I am not quite sure. Whether it was satan and his angels who laid with the daughters of Eve, Cain’s line intermarrying with Adam’s new seed (Gen 4:25) which was Seth’s line, or something else happened here, the result is certain and clear; a corruption of the generations or otherwise put; a corruption of the offspring. 

And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. -Genesis 6:5

The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.  And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. -Genesis 6:11–12

But lo, there was still one who was “perfect in his generations.” A remnant from which God would replenish the earth.

These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God. -Genesis 6:9

By replenishing the earth through Noah is it possible that God was purifying the world from satan’s attempt to save himself from God’s judgement? Was it perhaps satan’s plan to corrupt all of mankind to save himself? 

I mentioned earlier that the story continues through Revelation. We know now that the seed of the woman is Jesus Christ our LORD and Savior. We have seen the cosmic battle between God and satan continue throughout the Bible so that God can bring this Seed forth to save us. Indeed, though the battle is won, it appears to still rage to this day. That satan would deceive. That many may not know the battle even happened. May the truth prevail. 

I think Revelation 12 depicts the cosmic battle on a sort of spiritual realm. Perhaps a realm where time happens all at once. Certainly a realm I have had difficulty understanding. I encourage you to consider reading it with this battle in mind. It has always made for an interesting Christmas eve story in our home.

God, amidst the holiday season I am reminded I am Yours by purchase. Thank You for paying the price to save me even though the cost was so great. I do not deserve to be purchased LORD. Amen.

Essential Light

Today’s ReadingGenesis 5; Matthew 5; Ezra 5; Acts 5

Genesis 5: When God created man and woman he blessed them and created them in the likeness of him. Verse 1-2 reminds me how God has purposefully created and blessed us all. Take time to see his beauty in all people today.

Matthew 5: Supreme Blessedness = Beatitudes

God blesses us.  Every day and in every way he has provided a framework and blueprint of a way to live our lives. He is our shepherd, our father, and sent his son for us to provide an example how we should live our lives. Much of my physical life I’ve tried to be my own architect, how much more meaningful when you follow his design.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 teaches us blessed are:

Poor in spirit = For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Those who mourn = They shall be comforted.

Meek = They shall inherit the earth.

Hunger/thirst for righteousness = They shall be satisfied.

Merciful = They shall receive mercy.

Pure in heart = They shall see God.

Peacemakers = They shall be called sons of God.

Persecuted for righteousness = Kingdom in heaven.

Persecute you on his account = Reward is great in heaven.

Grace filled love traits for us all  

He goes on to remind us we are the salt of the world the light of the world – let us shine everyday in in all we do. God has our back! Jesus was sent not to abolish the law but provide us an example of being a “doer and a teacher”. Often we do one or the other. When we are doing both for his glory our light shines so bright we encourage others.

We are reminded to avoid anger, lust, divorce, oaths, and retaliation. God tells us to show and give sincere love to our enemies… How hard is that for you? Think about those who have shown us love when we didn’t deserve it. God sent his own son for you and me. Through God- all things are possible!

Dear God, Break our society handcuffs that keep us from sharing the words of this “Life”. Help “our attitudes” with the beatitudes. Teach us to be courageous like Peter & John in Acts 5 and obey God rather than men. Help us to not cease teaching and preaching that our Christ is Jesus and you are all we need.  Amen

Have a blessed day!

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Sacrifice

January 4, 2016

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Today’s reading link: Genesis 4; Matthew 4; Ezra 4; Acts 4

What does sacrifice mean to me? Every thing belongs to God, even our pride. How do I put all that on the alter? How do I make my life a living sacrifice?

Why is the history of man about the struggle to give to God what is God’s?

Cain wanted God’s approval for his sacrifice. He wanted it so bad he killed his own brother in the rage of his disappointment. How could God favor Abel’s sacrifice more than his?

We all face the temptation to seek our glory over God’s. Even Jesus, as God among us, dwelling in the flesh, faced this very temptation in the desert.

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” (Matthew 4: 8-10).

We are not meant to serve ourselves; for we belong to God, and any gifts or possessions we might claim, are all from God.

I am often reminded that everything I am and all I have is God’s. The sooner I am able to return these gifts to the rightful owner, the sooner God is able to bless them to his service.

The words, “it’s not about us” are so simple, so true, and yet very hard to live by, especially in our own power. It seems, we always get in some sort of trouble, when we forget that everything belongs to God, especially all glory, and praise, and reverence.

We were made to build God’s Kingdom, not ours!  What are you building?

Timing

Time Checking the Time Urgency Waiting Watch Deadline Wristwatch

Today’s reading: Genesis 3; Matthew 3; Ezra 3; Acts 3

Seven months after returning from captivity to build the temple, the Children of Israel built an altar. At this time, the foundation for the temple was not yet laid.  It wasn’t until two years and two months after their return that the Children of Israel got around to defining roles and finally beginning to work on the temple structure.  We know from Ezra 2 that a ton of people returned from captivity.  A lot had to be done to settle and re-assimilate to their homeland.  But two years from the start seems like a long time to finally get started on the task for which you came!  Contrasting this to the seven-day account of creation we read over the last two days, I personally expect this should have happened a lot faster.

Today, we also read the account of The Fall in Genesis 3. How familiar this story sounded.  The serpent capitalized on Eve’s desire for wisdom, she brought Adam along to eat with her.  When questioned by God, Adam tried to shift the blame to anyone but himself.  “It wasn’t me, it was the woman you gave to me”, he said.  In other words…”not my fault God”!

Now back to Ezra 3. I can only imagine how much of this “blame shifting” was going on as the Children of Israel all moved back, settled and began to organize to make progress on the task at hand.  These folks were all sinners just like me.  I am positive they were grumbling, fighting and trying to be better than / gain a better position than their neighbors. But God still worked with each of their in adequacies and selfish desires to move them to accomplish his work.

Bottom line, God’s timing is perfect. I often forget this and lose sight of the goal.  God’s goal in Ezra 3 was not really about getting the temple built.  His objective in this passage is the same as it is in every other passage, relationship with the people he created.  Always using a variety of means, including the circumstances at hand, to help shape our hearts to look like his.

Cut to the Heart

 Genesis 2; Matthew 2; Ezra 2; Acts 2

Pocket Sermon from Peter
Peter gives us what I refer to as a “pocket sermon” (something to keep closely with us for reuse at any given moment) and summarizes the Gospels in Acts 2:22-24.

22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

The Gospel summary:

  1. God endorses Jesus through his ability to perform miracles
  2. Jesus is crucified
  3. Jesus conquers death, thus proving his deity

These are the kind of verses that succinctly tell the story of Jesus as the messiah from his earthly miracles through death, burial, and resurrection.  Memorizing verses like this are a great way to be ready to share Biblical truth with those who do not yet believe, as well as a great reminder as to why we follow this man Jesus, God in the flesh.

After Peter’s sermon, we’re told that those who heard it were “cut to the heart” and they asked “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Why were they cut to the heart? Because that’s what God’s word does:

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

When we hear the word of God through the Bible something supernatural occurs and God is literally speaking to us.  How great it is that our creator cares enough to communicate with us today!

As for Peter’s audience and me as well, sin deems us “guilty” for crucifying Jesus. What shall we do then?

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

Would you consider praying for an opportunity to share the Gospel story with someone today so that they too may be forgiven, and their souls saved for an eternity?

Connected With God

I cannot believe that it is already here.  Today, is the first day of a new year and the first day for this fun project.  Thank you, for joining us!

Today’s reading link:

Family: Genesis 1; Matthew 1. Secret: Ezra 1; Acts 1.

CONNECTED WITH GOD

God created this world with an amazing amount of intentionality. When I simply consider the broad strokes that God painted in Genesis 1, I naturally gloss over it. But, taking a closer look, it becomes clearer. What did he do? He created the scene and established the boundaries for us to live our lives. Then, he simply says, “be fruitful and multiply.” He intends to let us do it. There is no step-by-step plan, but an incredibly complex venue for us to live our lives. He has provided all of the raw materials. What we do with them and how we do it, is left up to us. Some might call it “free will.”

For me, perhaps the most striking part of this conversation comes in verse 28. You see, as humans, we are “blessed.” For whatever reason, God created us differently than the plants, birds and animals. When I consider that we God’s blessing on us, I realize that he intended more for us simple survival. According to Merriam-Webster, to be blessed means that we “have a sacred nature,” and are “connected with God.” This reminder is one reason that I appreciate the creation story so much. It is so easy to get bogged down in all the details and rules of religion. Today, remember that we have been given everything that we need.  We have a divine blessing. We choose to embrace it, or not. Furthermore, the way we use it is a direct reflection of our own relationship with God.

About

A Testimony from our founder: 

Several years ago, I found myself wanting more from God and more for God. While I could not pinpoint what this looked like, I fearlessly committed to taking a first step toward living my life more fully for Him. In short, I determined that I needed to know him personally and intimately. For too long, I had relied on the wisdom and words of others to tell me about His greatness and I realized the need to personalize His word. Sadly, for a period of time, I resisted the urges and longings that the Holy Spirit had placed in my heart. These were nudges toward a deeper commitment that would require my devotion of time and energy toward knowing him. Occasionally, I would find myself submitting to the Holy Spirit. However, as I often do with physical exercise, my time was characterized by “fits and starts.” This random and careless approach contributed to my mediocrity and left me luke-warm, always knowing that I was missing something.

Thankfully, the Lord is persistent. Rather than give up on me, He provided me with additional tools in which to pursue his word. Most notably was a one-year Bible reading program. The premise is simple. Read a little bit everyday and, over time, you will have read the entire Bible. Of course, my commitment did not come without a fight. I resisted, utilizing the usual excuses about not having time and followed with other, more complicated justifications, ranging from intelligence to worthiness. Despite my defiance, I committed to reading everyday, for one year. I would read the entire Bible.

Needless to day, that year was filled days of extreme difficulty and days of extreme joy. This is true of any worthwhile endeavor.   I was not, however, prepared for the life changes that would unfold. While I could go into these details, I think far more important are the implications a similar commitment might have on your own life. I do know that God has big plans for your life, as he does mine. I also know that this American life prevents us from fully discovering the life worth living that he promises. If you are feeling the pull of the Holy Spirit, inviting you to discover the freedom and abundance of a Christ-following life, join me on a one-year journey. Choose today, to set aside excuses and ask Him if this is the right choice for you.

~ BJ Armstrong, Elder at Eastview Christian Church.

 

Mission

To present everyone mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28)

Vision

6,000 Christ-followers who interact with and experience God, daily, through his living and active word

Values

  • God’s word is infallible
  • God’s word is living, active and transformative (Romans 12:2, Heb 4:12)
  • God provided us his word (2 Timothy 3:16)
  • The Word reveals who God is and his character
  • God’s word is worthy (Phil 4:8)
  • The Heart’s joy and delight (Jer 15:16)
  • Essential for salvation (1 Peter 1:23)