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.

An Invitation to Dance

(Please read Jeremiah 31 in your favorite translation of the Bible.  I have used the NIV.)

God’s people have reason to dance with joy.

  1. Look who’s dancing. (vs. 4 +13)

In the Bible, dancing is an act of WORSHIP on occasions of JOY. The Bible records occasions when God’s people danced.  Generally speaking, these were worship services, feasts, and at military victories.  (The men danced a/t battle site, immediately after the victory was won.  Women danced in a parade with the returning soldiers.)

There are two familiar examples of joyous dancers in the Bible.  In Exodus 15, Miriam, beside the Red Sea, danced immediately after God vanquished the Egyptian army.  In 2 Samuel 6, David danced before the Ark of the Covenant as it was finally brought to Jerusalem.

In the New Testament era, dancing was a point of controversy, so we don’t read much about it.  Some early Christians distrusted it because pagans danced as part of their worship.  However, some of the church fathers wrote in favor of including dance in worship.

Let’s take note of our passage for today: dancing in Jeremiah 31.  Who is dancing in this prophecy?  THE JOYFUL (4) = Everyone who celebrated what God has done for them.  MAIDENS…YOUNG MEN AND OLD AS WELL (13) = Neither age nor gender were no barrier to praising the Lord in this way.

Why were they dancing? Because at last God’s promises were being fulfilled; they were delivered from their enemies.

  1. You too have reasons to dance. (vs. 3, 5-20, 31-34)

While this prophecy was fulfilled in part during the lifetimes of the Jews returning from Babylon, part of it remains to be fulfilled in our lifetimes.  Also, the spiritual principles that are at the heart of these promises are just as true today.  So let’s take a look at the reasons for joyous, worshipful dance that are detailed in Jeremiah 31.

First, God LOVES you (v. 3).  God’s love is definitively stated: I HAVE LOVED YOU WITH AN EVERLASTING LOVE and I HAVE DRAWN YOU WITH LOVING-KINDNESS. The national history of Judah is the same as our personal history; we’ve gone our own way, defying God.  We have benefitted from His discipline and enjoyed His forgiveness.  Take the promises personally

Second, He promised you will enjoy the fruits of your LABOR (v. 5).  When the Babylonian army invaded, they reduced Judah’s fields to rubble.  From that point on, the people served their Babylonian masters and they enjoyed the fruits of the labor of God’s people. To work and enjoy the fruit of your labor is grace, a gift from God.

One of the most frustrating things in life is to work and receive no reward. For example, consider Tax Freedom Day.  That is the day experts calculate you have been working for the government, that the money you’ve made hs gone to pay your annual taxes.  Tax Freedom Day came to us in South Dakota on April 8, the rest o/t nation averaged April 24!  We are 4th earliest!

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Third, you can WORSHIP God (vs. 6-7, 12).  The Bible does not endorse any one style of worship as more pleasing to God.  All styles of acceptable worship are the reaction of believers to their experiences of God at work in their lives.  It is a matter of choice, with three caveats.

– It focuses on God’s glory.

– It is sincere. Sincerity is proven in different reactions, including the sorrow of repentance and the joy of salvation.  Feel all emotions in worship!

– It is done decently and in order.

Jeremiah 31 is a vision of God’s people reunited in worship.  They are GOING UP TO ZION, up the temple mount to worship God.  He reunited His people for this purpose.

Fourth, God saves us, bring us together, and makes us one FLOCK (vs. 8-11).  This FLOCK is constituted by God’s grace, not by the strength of the sheep.  In this text, they are described as folk needing assistance.  It is the BLIND…

LAME…EXPECTANT MOTHERS who God leads back to Zion.

Because it’s clear they did not save themselves, this FLOCK returned with WEEPING and prayer (v. 9).  We can’t understate this point: joy comes from knowing we’re saved by grace, not our hand.  They rejoice because the LORD RANSOMED and REDEEMED them.  Rejoice and dance because it is not about you and it never will be.

Fifth, your TEARS will be dried: God Himself will be your comfort (vs. 15-17).  RACHEL represents the nation of Judah, who wept over all she lost: her people, freedom, temple, and land.

In his Gospel, Matthew saw fulfillment of this passage in the slaughter of the innocents at Bethlehem by King Herod.  He quoted it in Matthew 2 to explain the horrifying deaths of infant boys to satisfy Herod’s fear of being supplanted and ruler of Judea.

This passage shares our grief but more importantly affirms our hope.  We all suffer loss, but thanks to God, we are defined by our joy, not our grief.

Sixth, you will be disciplined, but God is eager to forgive you (vs. 18-20).  God took His people into exile, but 70 years later, He brought them home.  Just as promised.

In this section we hear the voice of repentance.  By faith, they finally understood the seriousness of their sin. They finally felt the necessity of repentance.  Best of all, they finally experienced the relief of forgiveness.  Flooded with joy, they danced in spirit in worship of the One who forgave them.

Seventh, we’ve been brought to a NEW COVENANT; a new relationship with God (vs. 31-34).  These verses are the climax of the passage: the very best news possible.  The Old Covenant was bound to be replaced.  The New Covenant provided a better, more personal relationship with God.

Under the New Covenant, God’s will is put in our MINDS and written on our HEARTS, not on tablets of stone. Under the New Covenant, all people of faith – FROM THE LEAST OF THEM TO THE GREATEST – can have an intimate, personal relationship with God.

Of all the reasons that a person might dance, this seems to be the best, doesn’t it?  Life can be like a musical, if only you will have faith to hear the notes.

(You may view the video version of this message at YouTube.com.  Look up “EBCSF” to find it.)

“What’s in Your Wallet?”

(Please read Jeremiah 9:23-26.)

Samuel L. Jackson want’s to know, “What’s in Your Wallet?”  You can tell a lot about a person by what’s in their wallet, but what’s in their hearts is what really counts.  What’s needed in our hearts is the humility to forsake self-sufficiency and instead embrace dependence on God.

MESSAGE: Self-sufficiency is one of the biggest roadblocks to a godly life.

CONTEXT: The previous 21 verses of the chapter have been spent in pronouncing woe upon Jerusalem, similar to what we heard Jesus doing a couple weeks ago.  So this set of four verses sounds a little out of place, but t point is that in desperate days we’ve an even greater need to rely on God.

COMMENT:

  1. Do not rely on any worldly thing (23, 25-26).

Why we should not rely on worldly things.

– They will not ward off trouble or tragedy.

– Trusting in worldly things is a subtle idolatry.

– It pleases God if we rely on Him & trust Him.

– The problem with all forms of worldly self-sufficiency is that they can blind us to our need for God.  In that blindness, we fail to seek God & are thereby not saved.

– The world honors its scholars, athletes, warriors, and wealthy, but their assets will not save them.

Jeremiah gives four examples of worldly things that have been proven untrustworthy.

Do not rely on your WISDOM (v. 23).  Man’s wisdom is not God’s wisdom – not even close (see Psalms 111:10; Proverbs 1:67; 9:10).  We have a tendency to self-deception and can be deceived by others – only God is always true.

Do not rely on your STRENGTH (v. 23).  Neither physical might nor any other form of worldly power will have the spiritual and moral strength that God’s righteousness endows. Worldly STRENGTH will fail us.

Do not rely on your RICHES (v. 23).  Jesus told us that only treasure kept in heaven is safe from thievery and decay – all kinds of loss (see Matthew 6:19-21).       Jesus pointed out how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven (see Matthew 19:23-24).

Do not rely on your religious credentials (vs. 25-26).  In the Old Testament, circumcision was the ultimate religion credential.  It was the physical sign that distinguished men of God from everyone else.

But Jeremiah dismissed any notion of privilege based on circumcision: “I WILL PUNISH THOSE WHO ARE CIRCUMCISED ONLY IN THE FLESH.”  While it is stated in the Old Testament, the people often missed the fact that keeping the Law was not about the letter of the Law as much as it was changing the heart.  So being circumcised only in THE FLESH was a way of describing the kind of hypocrisy that can occur with people who observe only the letter of the Law.  The Apostle Paul dealt with this same issue in Romans 2:25-29 and also observed that true circumcision is a matter of the heart, done by the Holy Spirit. This is a recurring them in Jeremiah:

– 4:4 calls Judah to circumcise their hearts.

– 6:10 condemns “uncircumcised ears” that fail to listen to the LORD’s commands.

The only thing all the nations listed in v. 25 have in common is that they are going to be punished by the LORD.  (It’s easy to dismiss others as irreligious, but to truly seek God is not.)  So, in spite of the spiritual advantages God gave them, in spite of all the grace He had shown them, His people continued to trust in their worldly wisdom, strength, and riches instead of God.  Ironically, this is when God’s gifts become perverted into idols.  What He gives to empower godliness can sometimes become substitutes for Him.  When we worship the gifts and not the Giver, we sin.

As an alternative to worldly priorities, God wants us to value the following – this order:

– Dependence on God.

– Interdependence on each other.

– Independence and self-support.

In our culture we often have these backwards, don’t we?

  1. Rely on the Lord alone (24).

The LORD is the only one worth boasting about.  Our highest good is relationship with God.  Understanding Him is an intellectual experience.  Knowing Him is a spiritual, emotional, and moral experience.  From this primary relationship flows true wisdom, power, wealth, and religious relevance.

The life of faith is a matter of knowing what delights Him and DOING IT.  This is one way to demonstrate a real faith-relationship with God.  Jeremiah offers three virtues that characterize a life in which God delights:

– KINDNESS.  This Hebrew word is hard to translate into English.  It refers to an inner attitude good will to people whether it’s expected or deserved.  “Steadfast love” is an alternative translation.  It is the kind of love God has shown to us, the example He has set and we are to follow.  This is GRACE – the single most important way to demonstrate love.

– JUSTICE.  This is a far-reaching term; it describes a society where good people are protected from evil people so that they are free to continue to do good.  One of the sins condemned by the prophets is the oppression of the poor.  God rejects all forms of injustice as a violation of His will.  Those who are blessed in worldly things need to be careful to use their wealth to lift up those not as endowed in worldly things.  For examples, see how Hosea 5:4; 6:3; 8:2 called the people to know God and His justice.  See Micah 6:8 and 7:18 to find activities that please God.

– RIGHTEOUSNESS.  Similar to justice, this term describes a culture in which doing the right thing is the predominant, normal, expected behavior.  As with all God’s standards, the bar of behavior is set at its highest.  “Righteousness” involves doing the right thing at the right time in the right way.  God sets His standards impossibly high to force us to rely on Him.

– We rely on His forgiveness when we fail.

– We rely on His Spirit to succeed.

– All of our life experiences are supposed to direct our attention to Him and deepen our relationship with Him.

Self-sufficiency is one of the biggest roadblocks to a godly life.

Do not rely on your WISDOM (23).

THE PROBLEM: People who are intellectually self-sufficient insist on forms of evidence they can verify with their five senses.  Whether well-educated or not, they take God’s gift of intelligence and turn it into an idol.  They proudly believe they’ve got it all figured out.

THE SOLUTION: The remedy for intellectual self-sufficiency begins with 1CT 3:18-20 = DO NOT DECEIVE YOURSELVES.  IF ANY ONE OF YOU THINKS HE IS WISE BY THE STANDARDS OF THIS AGE, HE SHOULD BECOME A “FOOL” SO THAT HE MAY BECOME WISE.  FOR THE WISDOM OF THIS WORLD IS FOOLISHNESS IN GOD’S SIGHT.  AS IT IS WRITTEN: “HE CATCHES THE WISE IN THEIR CRAFTINESS” AND AGAIN, “THE LORD KNOWS THAT THE THOUGHTS OF THE WISE ARE FUTILE.”

The remedy continues by a reliance on the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  This individual grows in faith by trusting the subjective, intuitive guidance of the Spirit and experiences divine wisdom as they respond immediately.

Do not rely on your STRENGTH (23).

THE PROBLEM: This kind of self-sufficiency represents all the resources that an individual has WITHIN themselves.  This power may take the form of their physical, political, economical, egotistical, or circumstantial power.  They exert their will over others based on the prideful notion they have the right to do so.  “Might makes right” leads to sin.

THE SOLUTION: The remedy for strength self-sufficiency  starts with PSS 20:7-8 = SOME TRUST IN CHARIOTS AND SOME IN HORSES, BUT WE TRUST IN THE NAME OF THE LORD OUR GOD.  THEY ARE BROUGHT TO THEIR KNEES AND FALL, BUT WE RISE UP AND STAND FIRM.

The remedy deepens as the individual pays more attention to the Giver than the gifts.  They need to do the hard work of being more responsive and less reliant on their own plans.  They need to purposely seek ways to worship God and serve people that are outside their usual powers.

Do not rely on your RICHES (23).

THE PROBLEM: Money is not the problem; it’s the LOVE OF MONEY.  RICHES represents all the resources we have OUTSIDE of self.  These are the things we own that we think we’ve earned or somehow deserve.  They can easily become a point of pride and an idol.  Money is one example.

THE SOLUTION: The remedy for this kind of self-sufficiency starts with LKE 12:13-21, the Parable of the Rich Fool.  In this parable, Jesus tells of a man blessed with wealth whose sole concern is making more wealth.  “BUT GOD SAID TO HIM, ‘YOU FOOL!  THIS VERY NIGHT YOUR LIFE WILL BE DEMANDED FROM YOU.  THEN WHO WILL GET WHAT YOU HAVE PREPARED FOR YOURSELF?”

The remedy continues when we take a spiritual view of things; increasingly seeing the world as God does.  For example, “Savers” need to stop relying on money in the bank for their sense of security.  It’s better to trust in God than in the FDIC.  On the other hand, “Spenders” need to stop relying on material things to bring them joy.  Give less time to your toys and more time to your relationship with God and the people around you!

Do not rely on your religious credentials (25-26).

THE PROBLEM: This kind of self-sufficiency is based on the notion that religious acts can earn salvation or authority.  You’ve heard people suppose they’re good enough to get into heaven.  You’ve heard people recite their good works in church and/or community.  Each are equally false.  True good works begin with a heart of love for god and people and have no such strings attached.

THE SOLUTION: The remedy starts with having the attitude shown by Isaiah when he encountered the glory of God in the temple.  He said, “WOE TO ME!  I AM RUINED!  FOR I AM A MAN OF UNCLEAN LIPS, AND I LIVE AMONG A PEOPLE OF UNCLEAN LIPS, AND MY EYES HAVE SEEN THE KING, THE LORD ALMIGHTY,” (ISH 6:6).  The Lord, in response, cleansed the prophet of his sins, preparing him for divine service.

The remedy deepens when our focus is on the Lord and not on ourselves and when our motive is love and heavenly riches, not worldly gain.  We practice the three virtues characterize a life in which God delights: KINDNESS, JUSTICE, and RIGHTEOUSNESS.