The Heart of the Matter

The-Old-Testament-vs.-the-New-Testament-590x295

I love the Old Testament. In it, the Red Sea parted (Exodus 14), walls came tumbling down (Joshua 5-6), the Sun and Moon stood still (Joshua 10) and a giant was slain (1 Samuel 17). Still in its pages, we see fire falling from heaven (1 Kings 18) and men saved from a burning furnace (Daniel 3). What’s not to love? It’s all so much larger than life!!

Yet, while the Old Testament contains thrilling accounts of divine intervention, the New Testament explodes with a new revelation. Jesus’ appearance on the scene turned life upside down as he challenged long held beliefs/traditions and demonstrated a new way of life. Even His miracles served to underscore His overall message and mission. While religious leaders focused on behavior and keeping up appearances, Jesus delved into the heart of the matter. For, as Samuel was told centuries before, “man looks at the outward appearance, but [God] looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7).

In Matthew 15:20, Jesus astonished his listeners by declaring the ceremonial washing of hands unnecessary. After all, the things that we put into our bodies tend to come out as waste. Instead, he urged the disciples to focus on the things which proceed from the heart – words, evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, slander – as these have the power to defile a man (Matthew 15:17-19).

By human nature, the heart abounds in deceit and desperate wickedness (Jeremiah 17:9). But through the Holy Spirit it overflows with, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). How do we get from one state of heart to the other? Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount.

Join me next for a walk through the Beatitudes.

Be blessed,

R

Image Attribution:

http://www.projectinspired.com/a-closer-look-at-the-old-testament-vs-the-new-testament/

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***Devotional – The Noise of the Storm***

boat in the storm

Read: Mark 4:35-41

“Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” The disciples stared incredulously at their slumbering Rabbi. How could He rest so peacefully in the midst of this great windstorm? The pounding waves flung water in the boat, and it was all they could do to hang on for dear life. When Jesus finally blinked the sleep away from His eyes, “He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still!’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.” (Mark 4:39) The terrified men couldn’t believe their eyes – the storm over, at a man’s command! “Who can this be, [they wondered], that even the wind and the sea obey Him!” (Mark 4:41)

By that time, the disciples had seen Jesus do and say enough to have an inkling of His identity. Yet the raging storm made them lose perspective to the point of wondering who their Teacher really could be. I can imagine how they felt. While some people enjoy storms enough to chase them, I do not share that particular sentiment. Howling winds, booming thunderclaps and lightning flashes tend to make me nervous even when I’m sheltered, safe and dry. Gentle rain showers, I can handle. It’s the clamor and din of an intense storm that get me. Jesus may well have been speaking to me when He asked His disciples “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” (Mark 4:40) Like them, I forget that I’m safe inside and instead allow the commotion outside to make me anxious.

The noise and turmoil of life have a way of obscuring our vision from the truth of God’s word and who He is. Isaiah 30:15 says “In returning and rest shall you be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” When we turn off our distractions and rest quietly in God’s presence, His peace will permeate our hearts and strengthen our confidence, for “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7.

Rather than using our minds to conjure up images of calamity and chaos, we will see as Elisha did, that He who is with us is greater than anything on the outside, no matter how alarming the noise it makes.

Be blessed,

R

Image Attribution: http://www.olivedose.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/photo3.jpg

**Devotional – John’s Struggle**

 JohnTheBaptist1

Read: Luke 7:18-28

“Doesn’t he know I’m here?” John wondered. “Does he even care?” He’d tried calming the growing anxiety in his followers’ faces. Yet he too was running out of excuses. The unspoken question remained unanswered: why wouldn’t his famous cousin save him? Reports spread of Jesus’ miraculous works throughout the region. But John’s prison sentence stretched from days to weeks, and still Jesus didn’t come.

Finally, in a fit of doubt and despair, John sent his disciples to inquire. Was Jesus the Expected One, or should they look for another? (Luke 7:19) In response, Jesus told them to report all that they had seen. The blind saw, the lame walked and the dead were brought to life. Then he added something else – “Blessed is he who does not take offense at me.” (Luke 7:23)

John had enough scripture memorized to connect the dots of fulfilled prophecy. He knew the answer before he asked the question. But he was offended that Jesus didn’t stand up for him. At least, not in the way he expected.

Do you get mad at God when He doesn’t respond the way you plan, hope or believe? I know I do. I impose my expectations on God as rights, and then sulk when they don’t materialize. But I’m learning that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than mine, so I can’t always grasp the intimate details He’s working out. Instead, I must learn to trust that His plans and purposes for me are good and way better than anything I could have hoped or thought.

Despite his doubts, John remained faithful. He was ultimately beheaded, but not before Jesus stated that none greater than John had ever lived among those born of women. (Luke 7:28) Imagine what awaited him in glory. Imagine what awaits us as we learn to hold on to God in faith.

Next:

Do you find it difficult surrendering to God’s will when you don’t understand the full picture? What steps can you take to seek God’s perspective on a challenging situation?

Read Hebrews 11 to learn how important our faith is to God.

Be Blessed,

R

Image Attribution:

http://feedingonchrist.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/JohnTheBaptist1.jpg

 

God of New Beginnings: “The Ultimate Reset”

reset

I recently listened to a sermon where the preacher relived his memories of playing video games as a boy. Whenever a game wasn’t going someone’s way, he said, all they had to do was dive for the reset button. And just like that, the playing field was even again.

Wouldn’t it be great if life came with a reset button? There’d never be any need for anxiety, fear or regret. If things don’t turn out just as we like, the button would be waiting. This idea is not as far- fetched as we might imagine. In Isaiah 43: 19-20, God spoke through the prophet, saying ‘Behold, I will do a new thing…I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert…to give drink to My people, My chosen.” Hundreds of years later, Jesus was offering living water to the woman at the well of Samaria.

When God first told Abram that all nations of the world would be blessed through his seed (Genesis 12:3), it may have seemed like pie in the sky. After all, the man didn’t even have one child to call his own. And neither he nor his wife was getting any younger. Well, Isaac came. Then Jacob and his twelve sons followed, blossoming into the nation of Israel.

Even then, the promise seemed shaky. The Israelites couldn’t quite seem to embrace their God intended role, ending up scattered and in captivity. They emerged from bondage with a new focus on God’s word, but in time, their zeal for the law evolved into legalism. The spirit of God’s law was set aside for the letter, and appearances carried the day.

So what did God do? He sent His Son, to dwell among men in the flesh. Jesus, fully God and fully man, came to demonstrate what a sinless life looks like. And having accomplished that, He offered Himself in our place, a perfect and blameless sacrifice to take away the sins of the world. And now, through the blood of Jesus, we have boldness to approach the throne of grace, having been made the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.

“O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But THANKS BE TO GOD, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

We may not have the ability to turn back time, but God is abundantly able to turn things around. Jesus is the ultimate reset of history, of God’s story, of yours and mine. Because of Jesus, we ALWAYS have hope for a New Beginning.

Amen!! Be blessed,

R

Image attribution:

http://colebradburn.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/reset.png

God of New Beginnings: “A People Reborn”

People of the word

In a stunning fulfillment of prophecy declared 150 years earlier by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 44:28), King Cyrus of Persia proclaimed that God’ people (now broadly known as Jews) should return to their homeland and rebuild God’s temple (Ezra 1:1-4). So up went the tribal leaders, priests and Levites who felt God’s urging to execute this order. No sooner had these descendants of captivity settled in the cities of their homeland than they ‘gathered together as one man to Jerusalem.’ (Ezra 3:1b) Once in Jerusalem, they proceeded to build ‘the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses, the man of God…they also kept the Feast of Tabernacles, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings…afterwards they offered the regular burnt offering…for all the appointed feasts of the Lord…’ (Ezra 3:3-5, emphasis mine).

As if that wasn’t enough, the people came forward of their own accord to denounce those who had taken foreign wives from nations forbidden by God (Canaanites, Hittites, Moabites, etc). The entire congregation then willingly submitted to Ezra’s direction that such marriages be annulled (Ezra 9-10).

Were these the people who, only 70 years before, had been exiled from their land due to rampant disobedience to God’s word (including intermingling with forbidden foreign nations)? The same ones who had so neglected the Law of Moses that it lay forgotten in a nook of the temple and was only stumbled upon during a money gathering exercise? (2 Kings 22)

Yes…and no. They were the same descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; however, something had changed during the time of their captivity. Stripped of their national identity and Solomon’s impressive temple, the captives congregated around the one thing that they still had in common – God’s word. Although the Babylonians waged a determined campaign to make their captives forget about their homeland, these exiles held on to the prophecies of restoration with hope. To avoid assimilation into the culture of the day, they had to find some way in which to set themselves apart. And so, God’s word became their very culture. No wonder, then, that it was foremost in their minds and thoughts in a way that their ancestors had never quite managed. To this day, observant Jews take Deuteronomy 11:18 literally, and wear small black leather boxes containing scripture inscribed parchments during weekday morning prayers.

God’s people were so changed that they never again had another king. Instead, the priesthood rose in prominence. And the idolatry with which their ancestors had so struggled? It was truly a thing of the past. Modern day Jews are so leery of idolatry that they permit no images of God in any way, shape or form.

These changes didn’t mean that they were now perfect. However, the new mindset paved the way for the ultimate fulfillment of prophecy – Jesus. Although Jesus was rejected by the larger population, there were a few key individuals who recognized him as the Messiah of scripture.  And with these few, God changed the world.

Deuteronomy 32:46b-47a says ‘…be careful to observe all the words of this law. For it is not a futile thing for you, because it is your life…’ Is that how you see God’s word? Join me next time as we explore this statement.

Be blessed,

R

Image attribution:

https://www.jerichocop.org/ministries/people-of-the-word/