Impure Heart or a Pure Heart?

Get and keep the kind of heart God has for you.

If I asked you to name a consumer product that is laboratory tested to be “99 and 44/100 pure,” could you name it?  Hint: the name is found in Psalm 45:8.

I have often thought of that trademarked phrase as a metaphor of the human heart.  Impure by nature, and always at least 56/100ths short of absolute purity, the heart is a symbol of why we need God in our lives.  Why the problem of sin is unsolvable in our own strength.  Without Jesus, the human heart is a puzzle with at least one piece missing, the very picture of never good enough.  Grace is the answer and the path to perfect purity.

  1. An impure heart is the source of sin (Mark 7:20-23).

Context = This is one of the many confrontations between Jesus and Jewish religious leaders.  This particular one is a dispute about keeping the letter of the Law while violating its spirit.

Comment = Jesus showed that keeping the Spirit is more important than superficially obeying the letter.

The hypocrites’ view was that external things like hand-washing DEFILE a pers0n.  As ridiculous and nit-picky as it may sound to our ears, the religious leaders were leveling what they saw as a serious charge against Jesus’ disciples.  The seriousness of the charge is implied in the length of Jesus’ reply.  I doubt He’d waste time on something trivial.

In Mark’s language, to be “defiled” meant to be impure; guilty of sin.  A defiled person was excluded from the temple until they were cleansed by ceremony & sacrifice required by the Law.  There was often a waiting period too.

Jesus’ taught that the seriousness of the matter is dependent on the condition of one’s heart, not one’s hands.  Logically, it is possible for a person to obey all the hand-washing rituals perfectly and yet not have God in their heart.  Having clean hands in no way proves a clean heart.  Dirty hands are a symptom, not the sickness.  The real sickness, the cause of the problem of sin is the condition of a person’s heart.

In fact, as we see from Jesus’ list, sins flow from a sinful heart.  As He described it, EVIL THOUGHTS come from a person’s HEART and they, in turn, lead to all sorts of evil deeds and sins.

Interestingly, listing sins like this is something Jesus did not often do in the Gospels.  It is not an exhaustive list – it was not intended to be – but a sample of what a human heart can produce.  They go from t more obvious/overt/sensational sins to more subtle/covert/ commonplace ones, but Jesus is not ranking them.  All sins have deadly consequences.

As Jesus summarized in v. 23, it is the overflow of evil from within a person that truly defiles them. This is a point Jesus often tried to make in conversation with the Jewish religious leaders; He said it three times in this passage (vs. 15, 20, & 23).

  1. A pure heart produces righteousness (2 Timothy 2:22-26).

Context = Paul wrote Timothy at length about how he was to deal with false teachers. One step is to make sure his spiritual life was in order.

Comment = A PURE HEART is two-sided; it involves fleeing from evil and pursuing good.  Part One – avoiding evil – is expressed in the phrases FLEE THE EVIL DESIRES OF YOUTH (“youth” having more to do with spiritual immaturity more than age) and DON’T HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH (“refuse”).

As Jesus did in Mark 7, Paul listed actions that spring from EVIL DESIRES: FOOLISH & STUPID ARGUMENTS (23), QUARRELS (23), and resentment (24).  These sins divide people, and that’s all they really accomplish.  In t heat of the moment, we think something important is at stake, but truth is that the argument is more sound and fury, empty of significance.

Part Two is to PURSUE godly actions.  PURSUE means just what you think it means: to be active, continuously seeking God’s way. Virtuous deeds don’t happen by accident; they have to be actively pursued.  Paul offers a sampler of virtues: RIGHTEOUSNESS, FAITH, LOVE, and PEACE are gifts from God, but we have to choose to express them in our words and deeds.  KIND TO EVERYONE and NOT QUARRELSOME are characteristic of spiritually maturing people, folk who understand they don’t always have to be right or insist on their own way (25).  Indeed, God’s people are characterized by gentleness, even when they are bringing correction to someone else’s life (25).

Pure-hearted people act in virtuous ways because they have a godly agenda, not a selfish one.  For example, their aim in bringing a rebuke is IN THE HOPE THAT GOD WILL GRANT THEM REPENTANCE LEADING TO A KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH, AND THAT THEY WILL COME TO THEIR SENSES AND ESCAPE THE TRAP OF THE DEVIL, WHO HAS TAKEN THEM CAPTIVE TO DO HIS WILL (25-26).  In this very lengthy sentence we see Timothy’s aim was to be to deliver these people from captivity to the devil caused by his lies.  Having this aim required placing God’s will and the good of the other person in higher than his own feelings or benefit; to have a purity of good purpose.  These virtues have to be commanded because they aren’t always part of our nature.  In our heart we enjoy winning arguments, spouting off, or putting people in their place.  But these sinful motives pollute our hearts and dilute the purity God desires.

Paul is here reminding Timothy that even people who choose to be our adversaries are NOT our enemy.  Instead, they are victims of the Enemy, captives of Satan.  Therefore, gentleness aimed at freeing them from the influence of the Enemy is what God wants.

The answer is, of course, IVORY soap.  It has been advertised with that slogan since the late 1800s.

False-hearted or True-hearted?

 

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Fearful Heart or True Heart?

 

Get and keep the kind of heart God has for you.

Some folks think courage is something like adrenaline: it will be there when you really need it. That makes for a good story, but it is rarely true.

The fact is, courage is like a muscle you build through constant exercise.  Like all character traits, it must become a functional part of us through repeated practice.  I realize words like “practice” and “exercise” are not popular words and they do not make for a dramatic story, but they are the means by which character is built.

So, in order to have courage when you need it most, you have to exercise it every day.  It’s the little decisions, the daily tests that develop more courage in us.

  1. Fear God only; do not have an anxious heart (see Leviticus 26:36-37).

In a lengthy section detailing the warnings of penalty for disobedience, God said, “AS FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO ARE LEFT, I WILL MAKE THEIR HEARTS SO FEARFUL IN THE LANDS OF THEIR ENEMIES THAT THE SOUND OF A WIND-BLOWN LEAF WILL PUT THEM TO FLIGHT.  THEY WILL RUN AS THOUGH FLEEING FROM THE SWORD, AND THEY WILL FALL, EVEN THOUGH NO ONE IS PURSUING THEM.  THEY WILL STUMBLE OVER ONE ANOTHER AS THOUGH FLEEING FROM THE SWORD, EVEN THOUGH NO ONE IS PURSUING THEM.  SO YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO STAND BEFORE YOUR ENEMIES.’

An anxious heart can be a sign of disobedience.  Among all the warnings in this section, this one has to do with a state of heart.  If they won’t fear God and respect Him, then He will ironically send a fear so strong that they will retreat from shadows; worry over nothing.  The picture here is rather comical; like Abbot and Costello or “Dumb and Dumber,” these characters are going to be falling over one another to retreat from things that are not actual threats.  Though is mocking or comical, it’s not a funny situation.  The outcome will be constant defeat: YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO STAND.  This truth is also expressed in the form of a contrast in PBS 28:1; THE WICKED FLEE THOUGH NO ONE PURSUES, BUT THE RIGHTEOUS ARE AS BOLD AS A LION.

An anxious heart can be a sign of discouragement.  Ten times in the Old Testament fear and discouragement are directly linked.  God repeatedly said to His people; “Do not be afraid or discouraged.”  There were different threats at different times, but always His message was the same; “do not be afraid or discouraged.”  Based on human nature, fear and discouragement are typically our first responses when we have to face setbacks.

  1. God does not want you to have a fearful heart (see Isaiah 35:3-4).

STRENGTHEN THE FEEBLE HANDS, STEADY THE KNEES THAT GIVE WAY; SAY TO THOSE WITH FEARFUL HEARTS, “BE STRONG, DO NOT FEAR; YOUR GOD WILL COME, HE WILL COME WITH VENGEANCE; WITH DIVINE RETRIBUTION HE WILL COME TO SAVE YOU.”

The context of this Scripture is a word of encouragement first given to the Jews who were captives living in the nation of their conquerors.  The people of God spent 70 years in captivity before these promises were fulfilled.  These promises are also for us, for our encouragement in anxious hours.

A fearful heart needs to be strengthened.  We can strengthen our human nature by means of reason and emotion, but we can receive spiritual strength only as we rely on God.  Prayer and knowledge of the Word are used the Holy Spirit and are the ways we begin the process of receiving this strength from God.  The process continues with the encourage-ment God’s people give to one another.  Fear in one’s heart weakens not only one’s resolve but also one’s hands; our physical strength is sapped when fear takes over.

We are strengthened by trust in God.  There are two specific promises in this passage.  When He appears, God will bring about completion of all the woes of creation.

He will bring about perfect justice.  This is indicated twice in our text: HE WILL COME WITH VENGEANCE, and WITH DIVINE RETRIBUTION.  These promises have a negative ring in the ears of some.  However, we need to be reasonable; the only way perfect peace can be achieved is by the destruction of all evil.  This isn’t negative at all; it is God keeping His promises and rewarding the faith of His people.

He will save you.  He will save His people from all their enemies, all evil doers.  He will save them for eternal fellowship with Him and with one another.

The two sides of the ultimate victory of God are the eternal life given to His people and eternal destruction visited upon those who refused to be His people, choosing evil instead.

3. Follow Joshua’s example to have a courageous heart (see Joshua 1:5-9 + 18)

God promised Joshua complete victory over his enemies.  There were a lot of them and the territory they occupied is described in v. 4.  Let’s note all God’s promises:

– “I WILL GIVE YOU EVERY PLACE YOU SET YOUR FOOT, AS I PROMISED MOSES.” (3)

– “AS I WAS WITH MOSES, SO I WILL BE WITH YOU; I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU OR FORSAKE YOU.” (5)  Moses occupied a unique and important role in God’s salvation plan, but the grace of God did not end with him; it continued with Joshua as Moses’ replacement.  What is noteworthy here is that it is the presence of God that makes all the difference.  Military power or any kind of earthly advantage is nothing compared to the works of God.

– “YOU MAY BE SUCCESSFUL.” (7)

– “YOU WILL BE PROSPEROUS AND SUCCESSFUL.” (8)

– “GOD WILL BE WITH YOU WHEREVER YOU GO.” (9)

– “GOD IS GIVING YOU YOUR OWN [land].” (11)

God repeatedly commanded Joshua to be “STRONG and COURAGEOUS.”  Moral strength and courage are part of this command.  As God repeated promised His people, doing the right thing is a key to achieving the right result.  This is important because people can be stubborn or in some similar way display something that looks like strength or courage.  However, it is the strength and courage that come from God that matter.  These we receive by faith and obedience.

 

Biblical courage can be defined as “following through on your faith-based decision to obey God’s will.”  This results in doing the right thing without regard for earthly support or opposition.  Courage is built by consistently choosing God’s way in the daily and seemingly trivial daily decisions we all make.

For example, why do bullies prosper?  It’s because their victims are not prepared to exercise courage from the beginning, when the stakes are comparatively low.  Instead, they give into their emotions early and repeatedly until their emotions get out of control and they explode from pressure.  The result is sometimes very unpleasant and always avoidable.  (Think of “Ralphie” teeing off on “Scot Farkus” in the movie “A Christmas Story.”)

One other example.  Some of the most courageous acts we do is to have an open mind and trust others.  The person who insists on “my way or the highway” is a bully whose mind is closes and is distrustful.  Courage is manifest in the undramatic and ordinary circumstances where we obey God in His timing.