Get and keep the kind of heart God has for you.
Do you remember the flap caused a couple months ago when President Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway used the term “alternative facts?” No? Most of the rest of us have forgotten about that tempest in a teapot, but let me remind you briefly what happened.
While appearing on Meet the Press on January 22, 2017, Ms. Conway defended White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s exaggerations of the attendance at the inauguration, Conway stated that Spicer was giving “alternative facts”. The media, still red-faced at Trump’s election victory, went ballistic. One of the chief critics of Ms. Conway was former CBS Dan Rather, who you will recall was fired for making up his own set of “alternative facts” about George Bush. More than a little hypocrisy?
One amusing side note: Rather compared “alternative facts” to the word “newspeak,” created as another name for “propaganda” by writer George Orwell in his book “1984.” Three days later sales of “1984” had increased 9,500%, making it the number-one seller on Amazon.com.
What may surprise you is the phrase “alternative facts” is similar to a phrase used in Trump’s 1987 book, Trump: The Art of the Deal. There “truthful hyperbole” was defined as “an innocent form of exaggeration—and… a very effective form of promotion.” The book claimed “people want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.” The ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz, said he coined that phrase and claimed that Trump “loved it.”
I’m not here to praise or put down anyone except those who have the hypocrisy to pretend to be offended at somebody else’s lies when they tolerate their own or their favored politician’s. That’s adding a lie to a lie.
I could joke about politicians and lying, but it’s too easy and distracts us from the point. People can and do lie. It should not be tolerated, but it seems pretty inevitable, given human nature and the current ethical condition of our culture.
The worst lies are the ones we tell ourselves. They can set us up with a false security, insensitivity to the truth that can blind us to our need for healing. Lies that lodge in the human heart are the hardest to dislodge.
BUT – the truth and only the whole truth – will set us free. The One who is never deceived by the most sincere-sounding, heart-held lies is God. Hebrews 4:12 says that His word exposes the inner-most parts of a human being, we cannot lie to Him.
We need to stop lying to ourselves and approach God with complete honesty and complete dependence on Him. Only in the truth can we be saved. We obey Him by holding the truth in our hearts as our highest priority.
- No one can please God with a False Heart (Jeremiah 17:9-10).
Context = God gave Jeremiah messages to His people while they were held captive in Babylon. These messages explained their punishment and promised them restoration. Bringing these messages cost Jeremiah a great deal personally. Chapters 16+17 develop Jeremiah’s unhappiness.
Comment = We can be deceived, but God cannot. We can deceive ourselves and be deceived by others. Jeremiah was not deterred from telling the truth by his depressed feelings and thoughts.
THE HEART IS DECEITFUL. In 17:1, he wrote that the sins of Judah were engraved on THE TABLETS OF THEIR HEARTS. The word “heart” is used more than 50 times in Jeremiah. This word picture shows, as he does again in verse 20, that the guilty people of God could not escape the truth; their hearts betrayed their guilt. The word translated as DECEITFUL can also mean “tortuous” or “crooked.” We complicate matters to suit us, to obscure the truth. The people of Judah, for example, turned 10 Commandments into 650+ laws, complicating matters so thoroughly that the average person didn’t bother trying to keep the Law.
In our culture, we see the “heart” as the place of emotions while the “head” is the seat of reason. In biblical culture, both of these inner aspects of human life are assumed to reside in the HEART.
ABOVE ALL THINGS. Since the HEART is the origin of actions, the source of our attitudes and decisions, it can be rightly said to be the most evil thing. (Exception: Satan?) God wants us to know and feel how desperately wicked is the HEART that keeps God out. People are increasingly rejecting the doctrine of hell because they are willfully ignoring how the human heart is DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS.
BEYOND CURE. The word here is “sick,” so it is rightly translated as BEYOND CURE. “Deathly ill” or “mortally wounded” might be a good English equivalent.
All of this to say this: a fundamental part of our faith is the problem of sin. Sin is universal: every human heart is stricken with it; the only exception is Jesus. Sin is BEYOND our ability to CURE it. We cannot be good enough to merit a relationship with God or to solve our problem. We need God to save us; that’s where Jesus Christ comes in. Without first admitting personal ownership of the problem of sin, we cannot be saved. We never get over ourselves.
WHO CAN UNDERSTAND IT? No one but God knows the depths to which any heart can sink into sin or rise to righteousness. To obtain what understanding we can grasp, we need two things indicated in this passage:
This verse conveys an essential truth about human nature. We are prone to self-deception. We need people close enough to us to help us see things that are invisible to us because of our self-deception.
There is a legitimate need for “emotional intelligence;” knowledge of emotions & their effect on us. The more we know about people in general, the better chance we have of knowing ourselves.
Now, we go from anthropology to theology proper, stating no one can deceive God. God sees beneath the surface.
I THE LORD SEARCH THE HEART. The situation is desperate but not hopeless. God is our hope. He knows every human heart and judges in perfect justice. For what is He searching? For every evidence of faith. For true commitment to Him.
AND EXAMINE THE MIND. This word has also been translated as “bowels” or “kidneys.” It refers to the inner person without being literal or scientific about the organs involved. It can also be translated as “hidden depths,” the parts of a person that cannot be directly observed, only indirectly through their actions. These “hidden depths” are not hidden to God. As the writer of HBS wrote; “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13)
God rewards each person according to what He sees them doing. Two phrases develop this.
REWARD EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO THEIR CONDUCT. CONDUCT and DEEDS are the external manifestations of our internal priorities. This is not to say that attitudes have no moral relevance, but is in line with biblical teaching that a person’s deeds are reflections of their nature.
ACCORDING TO WHAT THEIR DEEDS DESERVE restates the truth to indicate emphasis. These verses are a warning to everyone who falsely claims faith in God and a promise to everyone who truly serves him.
- God is pleased with hearts that are entirely true to Him (Acts 11:19-24).
Context = Barnabas is an example of someone with a true heart for God.
Comment = God blessed the ministries of Barnabas and the early church for their true hearts.
God blessed the church in Antioch (19-22). Antioch was near a large and ornate garden in which a temple to Daphne was located. This was a center for culture and vice and became a byword for immorality. In light of this history, it’s a work of God that this city became important to Christianity. It was here followers of Jesus were first called “Christians;” it was the birthplace of missions to non-Jewish peoples (Acts 13:2), and the place where the Apostle Paul got his start in ministry (Galatians 2:11-13). As verse 19 explains, Antioch was one of the places to which Christians fled when the persecution of the Church in Jerusalem got too hot. In Acts 11:21, God’s blessing of the church is revealed by two expressions: THE HAND OF THE LORD WAS WITH THEM and A GREAT NUMBER OF PEOPLE BELIEVED AND TURNED TO THE LORD.
But the Mother Church in Jerusalem still held influence over the new churches. When they heard that non-Jews had come to believe in Jesus too, the leaders decided to send Barnabas to check it out (22).
It’s hard to over-emphasize the historic importance of these events. The first Christians considered their faith to be the fulfillment of Judaism. Including non-Jews in the Church was not something they’d planned. The book of Acts records the Church’s difficult adjustment to this revolutionary concept.
Barnabas called on the believers to be true-hearted to the Lord (23). Acts 4:36-37 mentions Barnabas as a particularly generous believer who sold his land and donated the proceeds to the Church. “Barnabas” is a nickname that meant “Son of Encouragement.” Acts 9:27 shows Barnabas standing with Paul when others doubted the sincerity of his conversion to Christianity.
After looking the situation over, Barnabas decided the outreach to non-Jews was a godly thing and was happy to see God at work. Note the only instruction Barnabas gave them: TO REMAIN TRUE TO THE LORD WITH ALL THEIR HEARTS. TRUE in this case refers to loyalty and honesty. We can’t fool the Lord anyway, so we must be honest with Him and with ourselves.
God blessed the ministry of Barnabas (24). Barnabas was praised as A GOOD MAN, FULL OF THE HOLY SPIRIT AND FAITH. The church in Antioch would later commission Barnabas and Paul to go start new churches, reaching out to non-Jewish peoples (Acts 12:25-13:3). His own ministry in Antioch resulted in several people being saved: A GREAT NUMBER OF PEOPLE WERE BROUGHT TO THE LORD. Both Barnabas and the church in Antioch were important to the Lord’s work because their hearts were wholly and truthfully devoted to the Lord.
There’s an old joke which goes, “Today my parents read the new book I am writing. They said the main character was not likeable. It was an autobiography.”
While that is a little amusing, it’s a little uncomfortable too. Sometimes we worry that people would reject us if they really knew us. That becomes a reason to keep them at arm’s length, hide our inner self away and put on a false front.
The comedian Groucho Marx said, “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”
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The good news is, God has given us the truth in His word and His Son. We don’t have to guess or make it up ourselves. He has given us our church family to help us live with true hearts. Let’s not make this more complicated by being false in any way. A heart for God is only a true heart.