Today’s reading as part of our journey through the Bible this year is Exodus 10-12 and Ephesians 2.
Who do you most relate to in the story of the Israelites being enslaved in Egypt and their ultimate departure? Do you relate to Moses who did not think he was capable because of his past sin and lack of confidence in his ability to take on a significant leadership role? Do you relate to Aaron who played a key role in the communication with Pharoah on behalf of the Israelites but who maybe didn’t get the credit his brother Moses did? Or do you relate to the Israelites being enslaved for many years?
Most of us probably would not say we are most like Pharoah. However, we may be more like him than we would like to admit. After the 7th plague..yes 7th…Moses and Aaron went and delivered a message from God to Pharoah in Exodus 10:3 asking, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?” He would either refuse to let the Israelites go like God instructed or he would say he would release them but later change his mind or refuse to let them all go along with their property…even after 7 plagues!
Do you feel like nothing is going your way? Do you like you just keep taking right hook after right hook? If so, I think it should really cause us to pause and reflect on if we are humbling ourselves before God and giving our problem(s) and life to Him. Is it possible that He’s just trying to get our attention?
We must ask ourselves…
Am I putting God first in my life?
Am I giving my problem(s) to Him in prayer?
Do I think my problems are too big for God?
Or do I think my problems are too small for God to care?
What is God trying to teach me through these challenges?
Could He be letting things happen in my life to draw me closer to Him?
Could He also be using my challenges for His bigger purpose and glory in ways I might not be aware of yet or even ever will be on this side of eternity?
Ultimately, what God wants is our heart. He wants our faith in Him. He wants us to trust and rely on Him. He wants us to put Him first and humble ourselves before Him so that we cannot brag about anything but Him and His provision and grace.
Ephesians 2:8-9 reads…
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
In these last few days, we’ve gotten a glimpse into the heart of Solomon. As I read 1 Kings 3:1-15 on Tuesday, it occurred to me more clearly that Solomon didn’t ask for wisdom exactly. He asked in 1 Kings 3:9 for understanding to properly govern God’s great people. Then, as a result of seeing his heart to help others God gave him wisdom, riches, and honor (1 Kings 3:12-13).
Now, now not only do we see him praising God’s greatness in adoration (1 Kings 3:1 and 1 Kings 3:27), but we also see him asking God to forgive others. He does so in 1 Kings 8:30, 1 Kings 8:34, 1 Kings 8:36, and 1 Kings 8:39. The people he’s asking God to forgive are not those who have sinned against him where he might really be elevating himself to say in a way…”I’m right..they’re wrong…please forgive them.” He’s not doing to put himself on a pedestal. He’s asking for forgiveness for his people who have sinned in general. His heart is for others in asking God to intercede on their behalf. We know God did this not only for the Jewish people, but the Gentiles as well in sending Jesus (John 3:16).
Solomon also gives us great wisdom in 1 Kings 8:39 in saying only God knows the heart of each person. How often do we judge people without knowing their story and what they are going through? We may think we know, but we don’t know what’s happened in their past or happening behind closed doors which may be causing them to act in a certain way or turn to drugs or alcohol perhaps even struggling from alcoholism which they wouldn’t choose on their own. They may be making some poor choices, but they may actually be telling God they are sorry for their sin problem and asking God to not only forgive them but help them turn from their sinful ways. On the flip side, we may think someone else has a great heart, but really has ulterior motives or is not who they appear to be behind closed doors. They may be in denial of their sin problem. Two weeks ago I wrote on Zacchaeus in Luke 19. Everyone judged him, but Jesus knew who he truly was on the inside. Yet, those Jewish leaders who many likely looked to as being great were the ones with a bigger sin problem.
A few questions for us to ponder on today.
Who am I leading that I should ask God for wisdom in leading them..not just at work, but in my home, community organization, or small group?
Who might I be judging and condemning where I may not know their whole story?
Do I often think about that only God knows the true heart of others?
How are my actions, and what is the condition of my heart right now?
Today’s reading is John 2. This chapter of John includes well known Scriptures about Jesus’ first public miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana and turning over the money tables in the temple. However, we are going to focus on the last 2 verses.
Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for He Himself knew what was in man.
In full transparency, much of my writing today is based off notes written in my Bible from a past sermon which was likely by Pastor Mike Baker from Eastview Christian Church. We must ask ourselves, what is the condition of my heart? As we read here in John 2:23-25, Jesus knows. There are 3 questions we can take a step back and objectively as ourselves to examine our heart.
Where is my money going?
Matthew 6:21 clearly tells us, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” It’s been said that you can tell a person’s priorities by looking at their bank account or credit card transactions and their calendar.
What fruit am I bearing?
Matthew 13:23 says, “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the Word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
Another way to examine this may be from my calendar question above or whether or not those around me in my family, business, or teams/organizations are yielding good fruit and impacting the world positively through the help of my leadership and guidance.
What am I speaking? I would also add, what am I watching?
Matthew 15:18 says, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.” I’m sad to admit my temper often gets the best of me or my desire to crack a joke or make a comment in an attempt to make others laugh which may hurt someone else or include language I know God would not like.
These are humbling questions for us to ask, and no matter where we are on our walk with the Lord, we all have opportunities to grow and shape our heart to look more like His.
Here 5 are ways to help us grow and help change and shape our hearts.
David prays in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” David is asking for God to examine him so he knows if he is going in the right way and then to redirect him towards God’s will if he’s going astray.
Yield to God’s Spirit and Heart
Again, David gives a good example of how…ask God to help you do so!
Yield to His teaching in the Word by reading our Bible.
A friend of mine who is what I would call a newer believer was commenting the other day that the more he reads the Bible, the more he is convinced other leadership and self-help books he previously read for years are just saying what the Bible has already told us in a different way and are teaching us to live and lead like Jesus did. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of the soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” We also discussed how crazy it is when we read our Bible and whatever we are reading that day speaks to us right in the way we need it to based on what is going on in our lives and minds. This verse in Hebrews reminds us this is not a coincidence. The Bible is the Living Word.
Walk with God’s people
I love the quote, “Who you will be in 10 years is a result of the books you read and the people you surround yourself with.” Just like reading the Bible above, who you spend time with will influence you. I still have a lot of growing to do in my walk and to live more like Him (this is a gross understatement), but I can tell you I would not be where I am today not only because of the foundation of faith my parents laid, but also because of the professional mentors with my company I spent much time with who I looked up to and who loved the Lord and His Word. This lit a spark in me to want to get into His Word more. I thank God for putting me in that environment with those people. In more recent years, our small group has helped us walk with His people and grow.
Serve His Church
Jesus gave us maybe the greatest example of serving His people and church when He washed the disciples’ feet the night before He was killed, even when He knew they would run, deny, and abandon Him.
So, let us ask ourselves, “Is He the King of my Heart?”
We can examine ourselves through these 3 questions above and no matter where we are in our walk with Him, improve the condition of our heart through these 5 ways. We will also learn tomorrow in John 3 how much He loves no matter where we are in our journey.
I have to admit in preparing for this I did not know much about the prophet Amos and this book of the Bible which is, quite frankly, a little difficult to interpret. Thankfully, my brother in Christ and fellow Bible Journal writer David LaFrance turned me on to John MacArthur’s “Grace to You” app a few years back which I highly recommend if you have questions and want to learn more about a book or passages from the Bible.
Amos’ name means “burden bearer,” and he was from a small town Tekoa 10 miles south of Jerusalem. He bred sheep and tended sycamore fruit (yet another example of how God can use anyone from anywhere for big things and His glory). He lived in a time of peace during the 8th century B.C. when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam II was king of Israel. As can happen in times of peace when everything seems merry, we can tend to lose sight of true worship of God and God used Amos to bring attention that and also a lack of justice.
“Come to Behtel and transgress; to Gilgal, and multiply transgression; bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days; offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened, and proclaim free will offerings, publish them; for so you love to do, O people of Israel! declares the Lord God.”
God wants to bring attention to their idolatry and them going through the motions in giving and worship. I’m sure we can all relate to doing this…I know I can! I notice when I’m in prayer time and realize I’m distracted thinking of my “to do” list, meetings that day, or personal or professional goals. I notice this when my mind wanders in church, and I’m not focused on the sermon but instead thinking about lunch or the game of my favorite team later that day. I even noticed sleep being an idol today when I was going to wake up early Sunday morning to work on this but am instead working on it in the afternoon! Don’t get me wrong..making an impact professionally, our spouses, our kids, our favorite sports team or hobbies, money, sleep, and food are all blessings from God which we should enjoy. However, are we prioritizing and thinking about them over him? Are we thanking Him for these blessings and using them for His glory or for our own? All of these and more can become idols if we are not careful…yes..even our spouses and kids.
Deuteronomy 6:5-6 says..
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might and these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.”
The people of Israel Amos speaks of were giving and going through the rituals of worship without truly worshipping God and giving to Him with a thankful heart to further His kingdom.
I may have mentioned this in past writings, but I had a Sunday school teacher growing up who became moved to tears nearly every week at some point when talking about Jesus. I just didn’t get it then and thought it was very strange, but I do now. I know the times I’m living out Deuteronomy 6:5-6 is when I’m nearly moved to tears during a worship song, prayer, communion while thinking of His sacrifice on the cross, while reading the Word, or while looking at my wife and kids in thanksgiving to Him for these blessings and more.
As you read through the book of Amos, it can become very confusing, as the wrath and punishment from God is discussed. I must admit again that I have a hard time understanding this other than knowing we should suffer the wrath of God and be separated from God due to our sin. However, I’m thankful that in Amos 9:11, he speaks of Jesus by stating, “In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old.” Romans 8:1 also says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” 1 John 2:2 tells us that God sent Him as the “propitiation” for our sins. I’m extremely grateful God loves us so much that He sent Him to suffer the wrath that should have been mine.
Let us keep this in the forefront of our mind in thanksgiving as we live, give, and worship. When we do, it becomes easy live out Deuteronomy 6:5-6 and love God with all our heart, soul, and might!
As we continue to take a close look at the words of Jesus, He tells us here that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength in Mark 12:30, reaffirming what Moses said in Deuteronomy 6:5 after delivering the Ten Commandments. He then states in Mark 12:31 the second greatest commandment is what some refer to as the “golden rule” which is to love your neighbor like yourself. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a few verses later in Mark 12:38-40 he calls out the religious scribes who talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk and truly live their lives for God warning of their condemnation. This is a good reminder for all of us to take a look at the true condition of our heart. How do we know the true condition of our heart?
This week our son came home from kindergarten and asked his mom and me if we knew what integrity meant. Taken a little bit back by this from him asking this at a young age we asked, “What is it buddy?” He said, “My teacher says it’s doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” Albert Einstein said there are 5 levels of intelligence in ascending order: smart, intelligent, brilliant, genius, and the highest form which is simple. This is not the textbook definition of integrity, but I believe it’s the simplest and the right one. We should all ponder this question,” What am I doing when no one is watching?” This shows the true condition of our heart. We need to fully examine ourselves to know the condition of our heart which God already knows. As the scribes were doing, any of us can paint a picture we want others to see by writing for devotional like this, serving as an elder or even as a pastor, volunteering, going to church and saying the right things. But, does your heart and follow up actions show you are doing these things for the right reasons? Do you truly love Him? You know. God knows.
As I write this, we are talking about repentance as part of our Joshua 24 study and Eastview Church. If we are not living the way we want to live, the great news is at any time we can turn away from sin and run into God’s loving arms. We must acknowledge our sin and specifically and then take action to change what we are doing. The even better news is that 1 John 4:19 tells us He first loved us before we loved Him by giving His life on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. Do you believe this? If so, despite past wrong doings, you can go live your life with integrity for Him today and every day without any guilt of past wrong doing. Is there any greater feeling than that?!
Matthew 6:19-21 could not be more fitting for today. I’m always amazed at God’s timing which makes me know there are no coincidences.
Last Tuesday April 24th, this Earth lost an amazing lady in Mary Ellen Bandy. Mary Ellen was my grandmother, but to me, and many others, she was Memaw.
Today would have marked her 94th birthday.
Memaw did not have monetary wealth when she passed away. Instead, her treasure was her wonderful heart she gave to the Lord and to others as Matthew 6:21 says. She laid herself up for treasures in Heaven by giving her life to the Lord and serving others in same the way the Lord served us. Rev. Mark Doane said, “Mary Ellen did not talk about her faith very much, but she lived it!” As the famous song says, “…they’ll know we are Christians by our love..” Others seeing our love by our actions is more important than anything we say. People will be drawn to Christ when they see our genuine, peaceful, and caring heart we have through a relationship with Him. They will want what we have.
Memaw left an amazing legacy for us to follow, and I’m confident when she entered Heaven the Lord greeted her with a big hug and said, “Well done. my good and faithful servant!”
Happy birthday in Heaven, Memaw!
Here as an excerpt from her eulogy last week…
Memaw was just so memorable..she wasn’t just our Memaw..everyone knew her as Memaw. I have received messages from many over the last few days who may have only met her once… but they remembered her and specific things like maybe having a beer with her or talking about the Cubs or Illini. Her dad gave her the nickname “Pee-wee” because she was small, and my great Aunt Sister, Uncle Roy and their side of the family continued to call her that which was neat… but there was nothing tiny about her personality and how she lived her life! People just didn’t forget her.
Like Chad said..she NEVER missed a game..not a one..and you could always hear her yelling “Easy does it..now..Easy does it!” to whoever was on the free throw line! She was the first person I called when the Cubs won the World Series, and I’m so happy she lived to see it. She always had the Cubs game on when I called her. One of my most special memories is watching the Cubs with her and Papaw and singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame. I learned to golf by her taking me a couple times a week to Oak Leaf starting at probably 7 and can still hear her little sayings on the course. My Mom is a great cook..and I’m told I have Memaw to thank for that as well because she apparently couldn’t boil water before she was married. Thank you, Memaw! I was, and still am for that matter, skinny enough growing up. I can only imagine how bad it would have been if Mom couldn’t cook!
Memaw truly left an amazing legacy and example for all of her family to follow and continue. I believe we are called to glorify God through our life and Memaw absolutely did this.
Many of the Psalms speak of singing praises to God with Psalm 98:4 specifically saying…
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!”
Let’s just say Memaw was not known for her singing voice, but she didn’t care! She wasn’t singing to please you..she was singing for her Lord and Savior and to Him…. her voice was awesome though…because it was praising and glorifying Him. There is a great lesson for all of us in that. She had confidence in who God made her and lived for an Audience of One..caring only what He thought.
The book of Acts talks about how the first Church cared for the needy and widows. They served each other in the same way Christ served us. Memaw lived her life in the same way much like the first church did. She would make meals for events like today, and she made costumes for the church play up until just a few years ago. She volunteered with the Red Cross after Papaw passed serving in LA after an Earthquake and the Great Flood of the Mississippi in ‘93. She would do anything for you and give you the shirt off her back. Uncle Tim tells the story of one of his classmates, Ruthie, who was always dirty and unkept. When Uncle Tim came home from middle-school one day and told Memaw he didn’t think she had a dress for the dance..which is pretty neat, Uncle Tim…Memaw promptly went to her house and asked her parents if she could take her shopping. Not only did she buy her a dress and shoes, but she even brought her over to their house before the dance to clean her up and do her hair and dress her. Talk about going above in beyond! My Dad also told the story about how there was a man named “Little Butch” in the small town they lived in, Hindsboro, IL, who likely had mental disabilities and didn’t have any family..let alone any money. What do you think Memaw did…she always made sure “Little Butch” had a gift and food for Christmas. I wonder who the “Little Butch” is in my life I should be helping? I know I see my Dad continuing her legacy and helping widows and others in need, and Dad…she was and is very proud of you.
My Dad’s letter to her on her 90th birthday highlighted 6 lessons she taught him which I wanted to share…
The greatest legacy any of us can leave to our children…raising him and Uncle Tim to believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Memaw always said..”if you can find time for all the other activities in the week..you can find time for church!”
Treat all people with respect..we are not better than anyone else regardless of race or ethnicity.
Always stand up for what is true and honest..even when it’s difficult.
Help the downtrodden and the poor as I previously shared.
Stand up for yourself and never let people walk on you. The confidence I previously spoke of.
Give to the needs of your family, friends, and your church before yourself.
One of my favorite sayings which Memaw lived out is, “Being humble means thinking of yourself less, not thinking less of yourself!”
This was how Memaw lived and taught us to live. What an amazing legacy of servant leadership and loving God she left to us! I will do my best to carry on that legacy and example for Deklin, Reese, and Hudson.
Memaw….I will end by saying to you the same last words you said to me on Sunday..”Love you more than you’ll ever know.”
Today’s reading is Luke 9. A few years ago our small group studied a series called Follow by Andy Stanley. He talks about how Jesus said, “Follow Me,” approximately 23 times in the Gospel. A mentor of mine would always say that “repetition is the mother of learning.” So, if Jesus says those words that many times, we should probably take note. Ever since we covered Andy Stanley’s study, it always jumps off the page when I read Jesus say it like He does in Luke 9:23-25 and Luke 9:57-62, and I underline it in my Bible.
I believe many keep their distance from Christianity because they believe it is just a bunch of rules to abide by. We live in a society today that tells everyone to just do whatever they feel like, so if they believe all Christ does is make you follow rules then they will not be drawn to Him.
Jesus does not say to do X, Y, and Z and then you can, “Follow me.” He doesn’t say learn the Scriptures, change these habits, get your life in order, and then, “Follow me.” He just says, “Follow me.” Jesus only wants to see our faith and trust in Him. That is what amazes me so much about the disciples. They just left their lives upon Jesus invitation. Jesus did not pick guys that were scholars and had their lives together. He picked regular people like you and me. Earlier this week in Luke 5:27-28 He asks Matthew who was a tax collector to, “Follow me.” Tax collectors were Jewish outcast because they were Jewish, but collected taxes for the Roman government. Andy says they could only hang out with other tax collectors because even the worst sinners wouldn’t hang out with them. Yet, Jesus still called Matthew to follow Him and then he even hangs out with Matthew and his tax collector buddies after. While the occupations of all 12 disciples are not known, it is believed that most were fishermen or tradesmen of some kind. They were not set apart already because of their occupations or previous works before Jesus asked them to come along for the ride.
You may be thinking to yourself because of my earlier comments that the Bible and Christianity does have “do’s and don’ts” so to speak. Yes, it does because God knows what is best for us, and He knows that often what feels good at the time will eventually cause us pain later at some point. Jesus doesn’t lead with this though because He knows that by following Him our hearts will be changed, and we will stop sinful habits (Luke 12:34).
Jesus also knows we are not perfect, and we will still sin and lose faith at times. I know daily God answers prayers that could have altered the course of my entire life if they were not answered. Prayers for safe travels for family, favorable news from an uncertain doctor’s appointment, that a big meeting goes well, and the list goes on. Yet days, hours, or even minutes later I’ve forgotten already, and I’m anxious or nervous about something else! The disciples were no different though, and they even saw Jesus’ direct acts firsthand. Not only did they leave their regular lives to follow Him, but in Luke 9:1-6 He instructs them to leave and take nothing with them as they go to tell others about the Kingdom of God and heal others which they did. Then, in Luke 9:13 right after that, He instructs them to give five thousand people something to eat, and they say they don’t have enough food wondering what they should do. They didn’t even say, “Jesus can you come up with some food like you’ve done before…please perform another miracle.” They just doubted. Yet again, He delivers. Not only does Jesus always satisfy…He even leaves us with leftovers (Luke 9:17).
As we go into this week and think about our own lives and hopefully look to share the Gospel with others, let us not just share the love of Jesus with others we think are ready. In Matthew 19:16-22, a rich young man asks what good deed he must do to have eternal life. Most in our society I believe are wondering the same or think if they do more right then wrong they will earn the favor of God. But, Jesus tells the man there is only One who is good. Let’s make sure they know that they must only do one thing to go to Heaven…follow Him. He gave them, and all of us, that open invitation to do so not only with His words, but with his arms wide open on the cross.
At some point a Christian begins to understand what he thinks, says and does are important to his Father and LORD. At this point that same Christian realizes how wretched he is and how great God’s mercy is.
When Jesus showed up everything changed for the Israelites. The word had become flesh and their judgement was now staring them in the face, no longer to be hidden behind the false teachings of the pharisees. His sermon on the mount made clear that no one was getting away with appearances anymore. The pharisees with all their rites and rituals, were false. Following them, striving to be like them and seeking their approval, righteous in the eyes of man, was a lie. God knows your heart and Jesus came to make this clear by showing us all; what you think matters.
Our thoughts are a battleground. We have victory in Christ to the degree that we have a single eye for Him. To the degree we pursue Him and Him alone, shunning the false promises of this world and placing His promises in our constant focus. This is a result of a true belief and understanding of God’s word and it allows us to worship Him in Spirit and in truth. I have come to believe that taming a tongue starts with taking thoughts captive.
From today’s reading James teaches us a lesson in this area. He starts by warning us of the power of the tongue. How it controls the course of our lives. Know this truth:
Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. – James 3:4–7
James takes particular interest in rebuking the reader of how we use our tongue with our fellows.
Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. – James 3:9–10
James then puts rounds out this lesson by shining light on the truth of the difference between heavenly wisdom and world wisdom of the devil:
Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace. – James 3:13–18
If we are to believe the Word as truth, the question then becomes; where is your tongue taking you?
God may our heart’s desire and trust in You and You alone and may our tongues always lead us in Your ways. May worldly wisdom be kept far from us along with envy and strife. May Your wisdom fill our hearts pure, peaceable, gentle, easily intreated, full of mercy, good fruits, impartial, and whole in truth. May we make peace with all.