Changed Hearts or Do-It-Yourself?

The Lord is clear with us that our human hearts are deceitful and sinful and that only a remake by Him can change us into the loving, tender, joyful creatures we would like to be. Even though God has made it clear that His Son has paid the price for our disobedience, our stubbornness, our selfishness, and our pride, too many people resist His call. Too often, even those of us who have joyfully accepted His salvation, let our deceitful hearts reign. It takes the Master’s healing hand to transform us from the inside out, starting with that “stony, stubborn heart” … and turning it into a “tender, responsive heart.”

 

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“It is not what people put into their mouths that makes them unclean [Jesus said]. It is what comes out of their mouths that makes them unclean.” (Matthew 15:11 NCV)

“I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.” (Ezekiel 36:26 NLT)

WHEN IT’S TIME FOR A SPRING CLEANING OF YOUR HEART, WHERE DO YOU GO FOR HELP?

Do you dust off an old do-it-yourself manual or buy the latest self-help paperback that 47.Changed Heartspromises you that, basically, you’re OK, but you need some tinkering around the edges, and we have a 30-day plan that will do just that?

Or do you look in the mirror, take a deep breath, and admit that the root of your problem is contained in the image staring back at you?

If you’re like me and probably millions of other folks, you’d feel much more comfortable finding a quick-fix solution that comes in a box or magically remakes your life after you slap some reminder notes on the refrigerator and maybe your bathroom mirror.

The last thing most of us want to admit, let’s face it, is that the problems we face — that internal angst that senses that things just aren’t right with our lives no matter how diligent we are in making adjustments — stems from … us.

Maybe the cartoon strip character Pogo got it right, after all: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

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NOT SURPRISINGLY, GOD HAS A FEW THINGS to say about our dilemma.

He points directly to our hearts as the incubator of our troubles. In Jeremiah 17:9, God 47.Fixed_Heart says of the heart, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (NIV) Other translations quote God saying the heart is “desperately sick” (NASB and ESV), “desperately wicked” (NKJV),” “cunning” and “beyond help” (CEB) and “incurable” (HCSB).

A disciple quotes Jesus giving this description in Matthew 15:11 (NCV): “It is not what people put into their mouths that makes them unclean. It is what comes out of their mouths that makes them unclean.”

Not a pretty picture, for sure.

God also has some things to say about our efforts at self-improvement. “Cursed is the man who trusts in man,” He says in Jeremiah 17:5 (NKJV) and “Cursed is the man who trusts in and relies on mankind” (AMP).

The cure, according to the Creator of the universe, the One who made us and fashioned us in His image, is to turn to Him, instead, and let Him heal us.

Listen to the Lord in Jeremiah 17:7 (NCV): “But the person who trusts in the LORD will be blessed. The LORD will show him that he can be trusted.”

Big difference.

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SO, ON THE ONE HAND, mankind can rely on its own wisdom and understanding, all of which God notes come from an evil heart, or, on the other hand, men and women can fall on their knees and trust the One who made them, who understands them, who knows “how they tick.”

Should be an easy choice. One way works; the other way doesn’t.

Yet part of the legacy of that evil heart is that humans don’t want the remedy when it’s attached to the need for obedience.

Solomon wrote in Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV): “In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.” 47.New_Heart

Continuing in Proverbs 3, we read in verses 11 and 12 (NCV): “My child, do not reject the LORD’s discipline, and don’t get angry when he corrects you. The LORD corrects those he loves, just as parents correct the child they delight in.”

Even when the Lord lays His hand on us, it is with the tap of correction, lovingly applied, to scoot us away from evil and back toward the pathway that leads to God’s good graces.

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INCREASINGLY, IT BECOMES CLEAR that we need to listen to what God has to say about our human condition and less on what Dr. So-and-So on TV has to say, no matter how many books he has sold.

God not only says He has the diagnosis for our problem, He also has the cure.

“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you” (Ezekiel 36:26-27a NLT).

In the New Testament, we learn from God that His plan for conducting this needed heart transplant is through His own surgeon, Jesus Christ. Peter, the apostle, says in Acts 4:12 (ESV): “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Jesus, naturally, said the same thing during His earthly ministry: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn  the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17 NKJV).

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WHAT’S OBVIOUS HERE?

God wants to change our hearts, not our outward appearance, not our public persona, not our facade, not our public face.

47.Open_Bible1Anyone can strive to “get real” on their own — maybe slap some “great sayings” on the refrigerator; determine to increase personal motivation to stay positive or smile more or say “please” and “thank you” to a stranger, even when they probably don’t deserve it; and maybe stick a toe into a non-profit service center now and then.

It won’t last. It never does. Once the euphoria of the initial gung-ho speech we give ourselves wears off, we’ll be back to the pit, where our depression, distrust, bitterness, and insecurities run rampant.

There’s that “desperately sick” thing the Bible says about the human heart to consider.

No, the resolution to our ills does not rest within our power to change. It must be a complete make-over by the Master and Creator, and that requires our recognition that we are sinners, that He died to release us from sin’s bondage, and that He needs to take up residence in our hearts.

It takes a “new heart,” as the Bible says. It requires letting the Lord give us “a tender, responsive heart.”

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PRAYER: Dear Father God, the Almighty Creator and Ruler of the Universe. We come to You in humility, confessing our great need for Your healing hand, Your forgiveness for our pride and stubbornness, and Your guidance for our path. Please, LORD, change our “hearts of stone” into “tender, responsive hearts,” hearts that yearn after the LORD, that love His majesty, and that give Him all praise, honor, and glory. In Jesus’ Name we lift this prayer. Amen

God Calls Us To ‘Choose Life’!

No falsehood leveled by unbelievers against the God of the Bible is more nonsensical and mistaken than the notion that He sends unbelievers to an eternity in hell. In fact, God goes to extraordinary means to ensure that all of His creation can enjoy eternity with Him, even to the point of sacrificing His one and only Son on the Cross to atone for our sins. However, He will not force us to accept Him, allowing us the choice. Those who reject the Creator have assigned themselves to eternal banishment. He calls us — in fact, begs us — to choose life! To choose to be with Him.

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“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!” (Deuteronomy 30:19 NLT)

This is good and pleases God our Savior. He wants all people to be saved and to learn the truth. (1 Timothy 2:4 GW)

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 ESV)

GOD WANTS US TO CHOOSE LIFE!

How different this statement is from what most of the world believes, yet how basic God’s love is for those who have been bathed by the Holy Spirit.

46. Choose_LifeMention a saving faith in Jesus Christ, and many, if not, most non-believers quickly claim that God, the creator of the universe, is a “cosmic killjoy,” who “cramps their style.”

They’ll say He offers little or nothing for their lives. By the way, wasn’t He that “old dude” from the Bronze Age that gave us a bunch of rules and regulations, like waiting until marriage for sex (like, that’s going to happen!), and you can’t get drunk or party hearty, and He doesn’t much like gambling, either.

Add to that He’s not politically correct. He hates gays and lesbians, is very judgmental, and, worst of all, His followers are bigoted hypocrites and judgmental do-gooders, who insist on imposing their beliefs on everybody else. They’re like ISIS without the face wrap.

Well, really?

That’s a 180-degree misstatement of the Bible, but we shouldn’t be surprised. The apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:18 NIV, that “[T]he message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of  God.”

Add to that the words of the prophet Isaiah regarding the world’s rebellion against
God: “They have refused his teaching and have said to his messengers and prophets: Don’t tell us what God has shown you and don’t preach the truth. Just say what we want to hear, even if it’s false” (Isaiah 30:9-11 CEV).

In other words, those who are steeped in the world’s wisdom will not understand 46. Rebellion_Against_GodGod’s message of salvation nor will they respond to it.

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THAT’S WHERE WE COME IN.

Our job is to share the testimony of Jesus’ life-changing work in our lives. The ultimate “proof” of His love for us is how He reworks us from the inside out to conform us more to the life and character of Jesus.

As the apostle Paul explained, “I am certain that God, who began the good work with you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT). The apostle John said: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12 ESV).

God offers salvation to everyone who accepts it, but that offer — and our acceptance of that offer — must be on His terms, not ours. S. Michael Houdmann, founder of Got Questions Ministries, said it this way: “We must come the way He has provided. We cannot create our own paths or come to a holy God based on our own efforts.” 

The Lord has provided one way, and one way only, to reach Him. It is through belief in Jesus Christ as God’s Son and our Savior. No other way. Not through Muhammad, not through Buddha, not through Moses or Elijah, not through Brahma, Vishnu, or Shiva, and not through Joseph Smith’s Mormons.

Not through our good works and charity, not through incense and crystals, and not through our “inner spiritual selves in oneness with the universe.”

46. Jesus_Shephed_SheepThrough Jesus Christ and Him only.

Jesus made it clear: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one goes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 GW). Later, the apostle Peter, filled with God’s Holy Spirit, added this: “Only Jesus has the power to save! His name is the only one in all the world that can save anyone” (Acts 4:12 CEV).

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WE ARE AMBASSADORS for the Gospel.

We read in 1 Peter 3:15 CSB: “[B]ut in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”

My friends, how can we be the ambassadors for Christ — “salt and light” to the world — if we who have heard the Good News barely register its meaning in our hearts? When God tells us to choose life over death, He wants us to jump full in for the Gospel, just as He has given all to reach us.

God has given us free will — which includes the freedom to make bad choices, harmful decisions, destructive pathways — that includes the freedom to choose Him and His  offer of eternal life with Him! In Genesis 2, right at the beginning of the Bible, God announced to Adam when Adam was the only human around that he could eat the fruit of any tree in the Garden of Eden save one.

“Your choice, Adam,” God said. “You may not eat from that tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; but if you do eat from that tree, on that day you will certainly die, and the special relationship you and I enjoy today will be destroyed” (Genesis 2:16-17, author’s adaptation).

46. Sin-Separates-From-GODIn a pivotal scene in the Bible, known as The Fall, we see Adam and his wife, Eve, standing by that same tree that God told Adam to avoid. What were they doing? Talking to a serpent (Satan), who was encouraging them to disobey God. How? By casting doubt on whether God really said they would die (Genesis 3:1).

Yet, exercising the free will their Creator gave them, Adam and Eve joined together to believe the serpent over God. What a terrible choice, but they exercised the free will God had granted them.

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GOD PURSUES US STILL, encouraging us to make a wiser choice; in fact, to make the only choice that will reconcile us to Himself.

In his book, Knowing God, British-Canadian theologian J.I. Packer writes that God, in setting his love on human beings “has voluntarily bound up His own final happiness with theirs”; that is, that God has purposed to bind His complete happiness with our happiness, which can happen only when we are reconciled to Him through Jesus Christ.46. Sin_JesusChrist_God

Jesus, the Christ of God, who came into the world to die for our sins, told us the Father did not send Him into the world to condemn the world but to save it through Him. That truth is the exact opposite of the falsehood the world believes.

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned,” Jesus said, “but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16-17 NIV)

The choice is ours to make for our own lives, but God has made it clear that He wants us — longs for us — to choose a relationship with Him.

To choose life. L’chai-im!

TO LIFE!

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PRAYER: O LORD, our Heavenly Father, how we have sinned against You in our rebellion and faithlessness. How patient You have been with us and still are. How loving and merciful You are. Yet, LORD, we know You also are just and will judge us with a righteous hand according to our deeds and misdeeds. On Your mercy we come, confessing our sins and praising Your holy name. Thank You, Father, for giving us Your Son to die for our sins, so that we, believing in Him, can be reconciled to You. Thank you, merciful Father, eternally. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.