Dead Hearts Can’t Understand

S (Scripture) – Acts 28:23-29 When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening.  Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe.  And when they did not agree with one another, they began leaving after Paul had spoken one parting word, “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, saying, ‘Go to this people and say, “You will keep on hearing, but will not understand, and you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive, for the heart of this people has become dull, and with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I would heal them.”‘  Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen.”  When he had spoken these words, the Jews departed, having a great dispute among themselves.

O (Observation) – Paul finally had the opportunity to share the Good News with the leading men of the Jews (v.17), and solemnly testified about Jesus “from morning until evening.”  He logically and methodically explained exactly why Jesus was the promised Messiah based on the very Scriptures that these men had most likely memorized as young boys.  Yet, some believed Paul, and others did not.  How can so many people all have access to the same information, but some choose to believe the truth, and others reject it?  The same situation is still happening today all around us.  It is possible to hear without understanding, and see without perceiving.  This happens because of a heart that has become dull; the NIV uses the word “calloused.”  Jesus used the same words to explain why He taught in parables (Matthew 13:14,15), John referenced this passage from Isaiah to indicate why so few Jewish followers had responded to Jesus’ message (John 12:40), and then Paul referenced them here to explain why he was about to change the emphasis of his ministry from the Jews to the Gentiles.

A (Application) – The Greek word used for “hardening” is similar to the word for “calloused,” and means “to petrify, render insensitive.”  “Petrify” means “to make rigid or inert; harden; deaden.”  This particular word is used by Paul when writing to the church at Ephesus when he said,

“So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.  They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.  Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more (4:17-19).”

What makes someone’s heart hardened, calloused, and as a result leaves the person unable to see, hear, and perceive the spiritual things of God all around them?  It is simply living in rebellion against the Lord – our own selfishness, pride, arrogance, and refusal to believe that we need anything or anyone to tell us who we are, or what we should, or shouldn’t be doing.  The moment we change our minds, get off the selfish train of thought going in the wrong direction, step into the right train of thought that agrees with God about who He is, who we are, what sin is, and acknowledge our need for a Savior…everything changes.  The blood of Jesus is applied to us by grace, God removes our hearts of stone, and puts a new spirit within us.

Ezekiel 11:19-21 says, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.  Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  They will be my people, and I will be their God.  But as for those whose hearts are devoted to their vile images and detestable idols, I will bring down on their own heads what they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

P (Prayer) – Search my heart, O Lord.  Find anything that is displeasing to You, and empower me by Your Spirit to turn away.  I want to know You more, Lord.  It’s impossible to go deeper with You when I am still harboring sinful thoughts, attitudes, and actions.  May my heart never become calloused from daily habits of bad choices.  Draw me closer to You.

Advertisements

As I Have Been Told

S (Scripture) – Acts 27:20-26, 44 “Since neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small storm was assailing us, from then on all hope of our being saved was gradually abandoned.  When they had gone a long time without food, then Paul stood up in their midst and said, ‘Men, you ought to have followed my advice and not to have set sail from Crete and incurred this damage and loss.  Yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.  For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.’  Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told.  But we must run aground on a certain island…'”  (Verse 44) “…And so it happened that they all were brought safely to land.”

O (Observation) – Paul was on this ship in the middle of a horrific storm.  Everyone else on the ship was scrambling around trying everything they knew to keep the ship from sinking.  After exhausting all possible options, the 240+ passengers had given up all hope of making it off the ship alive.  Paul, a prisoner-in-transport, stands up boldly with this message of hope – that the God he belongs to and serves has declared a promise to him, and that he believed it.  Ultimately, everything transpired exactly as Paul had declared that it would, and every passenger made it off the ship alive.

A (Application) – God has so many promises for His children.  He declares them in His word, and will also speak truth into each of our lives if we are listening.  As we grow in our relationship with Him, we must begin to verbally declare these promises over our lives.  The God to whom WE belong and whom WE serve has promises for each of us, if we would only believe Him.  He knows the plans He has for us, plans to give us a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).  The Lord shall fight for us, and we shall hold our peace (Exodus 14:14).  The Lord shall go before us, be with us, will not fail us, and will never forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:8).  If we ask, it shall be given to us; if we seek, we shall find; if we knock, it shall be opened unto us (Luke 11:9-13).  We shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon us (Acts 1:8).  In the last days, God says He will pour out His Spirit upon all flesh (Acts 2:17-18).  My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).  If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14).

These are just a handful of the thousands of promises that God makes to us in His word.  Like Paul, let us hear from Him and believe what He says.  God always keeps His promises, and He can be trusted.

P (Prayer) – Heavenly Father, there are so many promises that You have made to us.  It breaks my heart to think of the millions of people who have never heard them before.  It is even more sad to me to think of those who have indeed heard them, but are not experiencing the freedom that comes from trusting You.  Help us to speak Your truth into our circumstances, believe what You say is true, and watch Your glory shine into our lives.

Open Our Eyes, Lord

S (Scripture) – Acts 26:14-18 “And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?  It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’  And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’  And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.  But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.'”

O (Observation) – The picture is clear: without Jesus, people are going through this life with eyes wide shut, walking in darkness, belonging to the dominion of Satan (earth), condemned by their sins, without an inheritance with Jesus.  Faith in Jesus – through grace – results in the believer being sanctified (made holy), guarantees an inheritance with Jesus for all eternity, all sins forgiven, transferring to God’s kingdom, walking in light as opposed to darkness, with eyes opened to see what God sees.  That’s a pretty stark contrast, but very true.  Our perspective of how this plays out can be very marred by two particular sets of people – those who proclaim to be “Christians” but really don’t live any differently than the rest of the world, and some of which are even criminals committing despicable crimes, as well as unbelievers who seem to live lives that are overall pretty good, but don’t claim to follow Jesus.  How do we wrestle with that?  We are not ones to judge whether or not someone has truly met the Lord and has been transformed by Him.  That is between each and every human being and their Creator.  Matthew 7:16 says that we “shall know them by the fruit they bear.”  In other words, someone’s actions will prove whether or not he or she is a Christ-follower.  That doesn’t mean that Christian’s are perfect people, but the desire of their hearts is to be more like Jesus, and actions taken are in alignment with the Word of God.

A (Application) – Have you ever had the electricity in your house go out in the middle of the night, and then had to try and accomplish anything (e.g. going to the bathroom, finding your kids, etc.)?  When you can’t see anything, it makes accomplishing even the most simple of tasks extremely difficult.  Without Jesus, that is what it feels like to go through life.  Everything may seem like it’s going along just fine.  In reality, whenever the Word of God is sought after, everything else makes so much sense.  The chaotic world around us all of a sudden seems to be falling in line with exactly what God says is true.  Psalm 119:105 says “Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”  The world is a very dark place, but Jesus is our guide.  His desire is to know us well, and for us to know Him.  He has so much to offer those who trust Him.  It’s just a matter of us dying to self [desires, worldliness, selfishness] (Galatians 2:20) and allowing Him to live in and through us.

P (Prayer) – Heavenly Father, thank You for offering a better way – one that is lined with not only an eternal state of bliss with You in heaven, but one that is for the here and now.  You have not only justified us by sending Jesus to die in our place, having forgiven all of our past sins, but You also call us into a transformation process each and every day (sanctification; being made holy).  You want to continually draw us closer to Your heart, so that we become more and more like Jesus.  Open our eyes, Lord, so that we might see what You see.  Open our hearts, and come into our darkest places – heal us, restore us, purify us, and allow us to experience your times of refreshing.  Then, empower us, by Your Spirit, to share this wonderful news with others.

Disagreement About a Dead Man

S (Scripture) – Acts 25:13-19 “Now when several days had elapsed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and paid their respects to Festus.  While they were spending many days there, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, ‘There is a man who was left as a prisoner by Felix; and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him, asking for a sentence of condemnation against him.  I answered them that it is not the custom of the Romans to hand over any man before the accused meets his accusers face to face and has an opportunity to make his defense against the charges.  So after they had assembled here, I did not delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought before me.  When the accusers stood up, they began bringing charges against him not of such crimes as I was expecting, but they simply had some points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive.

O (Observation) – Festus had a very interesting observation as he was explaining why Paul was a prisoner to King Agrippa: simply some points of disagreement with the religious leaders of the day about a dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive.  Why is it such a big deal if a bunch of people want to believe that this particular Person is alive?  Because if it were true, everything about life would be different.  This matter is not simply a point of disagreement.  The Jewish leaders knew that if Jesus really were the Messiah He claimed to be, and if He really defeated death and stepped in for sinners to take the punishment for them, then their religious activity they had been doing as a cover up for their lost and broken hearts would be exposed for the rote and meaningless dogma that it had become.  They didn’t want to face this reality, and felt just getting rid of Paul would ultimately be easier than facing the truth of the message He was proclaiming.

A (Application) – The Gospel is not simply one of many disagreements that we will have with the world.  It is the predominant one.  Everything hinges on it.  Our worldview will either fall in line with that of the world’s, or will be defined by the Word of God and centered on Jesus.  It really is that simple.  That’s why there was such a battle between Paul and these early leaders – the ramifications of dealing with who Jesus is meant facing our perspective of everything and dealing with whether or not it lined up with God’s truth.  Some people aren’t yet ready to go that deep.  The sooner we get there, the sooner we start truly living.

P (Prayer) – Lord Jesus, thank You for truth.  Thank You for clearly defining what Your way looks like.  Give us the desire to go deeper with You, know You more, know Your ways, and live a life worthy of the calling.  Help us to love others in such a way and care for them in such a way that they are drawn to You.  Help us also to stand firm on Your truth and not shrink back in fear of our culture as it changes with each passing day.

Yielded

S (Scripture) – Acts 24:24-27 “But some days later Felix arrived with Drusila, his wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus.  But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, ‘Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.’  At the same time too, he was hoping that money would be given him by Paul; therefore he also used to send for him quite often and converse with him.  But after two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, and wishing to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul imprisoned.

O (Observation) – Just because people hear the Good News of Jesus, doesn’t mean they experience it for themselves.  It is possible to encounter the apostle Paul, hear him speak the truth as someone who encountered the living Jesus, and still not get it.  Telling is not teaching, and listening is not learning.  This is a matter of the heart.  Even Satan and his demons know who Jesus is and believed He died on the cross and rose from the dead.  James 2:19 says, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.”  The difference is that believers in Christ not only have faith that He is who He says He is, did what He said He did, and can do what He said He can do, is that we are wholly surrendered to Him, yielded to the Holy Spirit, and have taken ourselves off of the throne of our lives.  This is why Felix became so uncomfortable when Paul was discussing matters of righteousness; he knew that he was serving his own needs and interests, and didn’t want to acknowledge Jesus as being Lord of his life.  Lastly, what Felix didn’t realize is that by leaving Paul imprisoned he was actually preserving his life from the angry Jews who sought to kill him.  Paul was also given yet another opportunity to share the Good News with the new successor as well as the entire tribunal.  God is able to use our circumstances for His kingdom purposes.

A (Application) – Jesus has supplied all of the grace we will ever need, but just knowing about it doesn’t apply it to our lives.  We must die to self and acknowledge Jesus as our Lord.  When we receive the Holy Spirit, He will tell us where to go, where not to go, what to do, what not to do…not in a dictator-like way, but in a gentle and guiding way.

Pastor and teacher Charles Stanley shares ten verses that pertain to the Holy Spirit as our guide:

1. The Holy Spirit guides us into God’s will.

Ps. 143:10: “Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God; Your Spirit is good.  Lead me in the land of uprightness.”

2. The Holy Spirit guides us to pray God’s will.

Romans 8:26-27: “The Spirit also helps in our weaknesses.  For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. … He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.”

3. The Holy Spirit guides us to live by God’s Word.

Ezekiel 36:27: “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.”

4. The Holy Spirit guides us to obtain God’s promises.

Ephesians 1:13-14: “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession.”

5. The Holy Spirit guides us away from sin.

Galatians 5:16: “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”

6. The Holy Spirit guides us into the truth.

John 16:13: “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.”

7. The Holy Spirit guides us into our ministry.

Luke 4:18: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”

8. The Holy Spirit guides us to see what God has given us.

1 Corinthians 2:9-13: “‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.’  But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. … We have received … the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.”

9. The Holy Spirit guides us by His power.

Zechariah 4:6: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts.”

10. The Holy Spirit guides those who belong to God.

Romans 8:14: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”

P (Prayer) – Holy Spirit, thank You for being the perfect teacher, guide, and alongsider in this journey.  Direct my steps, lead me, and show me the way of life.  Don’t allow me to be caught up in the whirlwind of worldliness all around me, but instead, draw me closer to the heart of God, and walk in victory and Your power.

Divided

S (Scripture) – Acts 23:6-10 “But perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, ‘Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!’  As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided.  For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.  And there occurred a great uproar; and some of the scribes of the Pharisaic party stood up and began to argue heatedly, saying, ‘We find nothing wrong with this man; suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?’  And as a great dissension was developing, the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them and ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks.”

O (Observation) – Division is defined as, “disagreement between two or more groups, typically producing tension or hostility.”  There is no greater time of division in our country than during the political season.  We are all Americans – United States citizens – yet we can be so divided from within, casting piercing glances at others without the same political ideology that we have, badmouthing candidates we have never actually met based on how the media portrays them, rallying behind candidates we have never met because of video clips we have seen of them on social media, and harboring hostility in our hearts because the future of our country is up for grabs and the uncertainty is enough to drive some people over the edge.

A (Application) – Division is nothing new.  Ever since Cain and Abel, people have been fighting, have been divided, have had different world views, ideologies, and beliefs about the world as we know it.  We, humanity, have never all agreed on everything.  Even within the church of Jesus Christ we can’t even agree on what God says is true, despite having the same Bible.  What we can do in the midst of this tension is respect each other.  We can listen to each other, try to understand what the other person is saying instead of assuming we know what he or she is feeling.  If we can have respect for each other and not allow the enemy to get a foothold in our lives by harboring bitterness in our hearts, then we will be able to have our disagreements without the hostility of dissension.

P (Prayer) – Lord, nothing going on in our world is a surprise to You.  Anyone who believes that there is no such thing as free will only needs to look around at every opinionated man and woman in this world to see that it seems everyone is going in their own respective directions at times.  Thank You for Your patience, Lord.  Thank You for never giving up on me.  I was one of those people that walked this earth with a clenched fist, thinking I knew better than You did.  Now, You bring my chaos into order, and the whole world makes so much more sense when I simply believe You.  Help us all to respect those with different beliefs than us, so that we might attract others to the truth of Jesus.

What Shall I Do, Lord?

S (Scripture) – Acts 22:6-10 “‘But it happened that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’  And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’  And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’  And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me.  And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’  And the Lord said to me, ‘Get up, and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.’

O (Observation) – Saul had gone his entire life believing in the foundations of the Jewish faith.  Every law, every festival, every custom he sought to complete perfectly.  He saw every affront to his faith has a cruel attack on his God that must be stopped.  It’s crazy to see how someone so zealously opposed to Jesus could have such a transformation occur, and become one of the main writers of the New Testament and missionary all over the known world.  Jesus stopped him in his tracks while he was literally on his way to continue persecuting Christ followers.  In that encounter, Saul came to the realization that everything he had ever known and believed to be true about Jesus was wrong.  Instead of the perceived attack on the precious Law, here was God Himself coming to fulfill it for us.  The key point of this verse for me is the next words out of Saul’s mouth after coming to this realization…”What shall I do, Lord?”  Saul didn’t proceed to get into a debate about what just happened, or need some time to think and process what just happened; in spite of the realization that everything in his life would now be completely different, Saul’s question focuses on what he should now DO with that realization.  Without delay, Jesus tells him where to go so that all that “has been appointed” for him to do will be shared with him.

A (Application) – A recent teaching by Pastor Tony Evans emphasizes the three-fold relationship we have with the cross (the sacrificial death and atonement of Jesus).  First, justification atones for all of our past sins, and makes the sinner righteous (as if we have never sinned, although we have).  Then, glorification is the promise of our eternal state of transformation and actually being with Jesus in heaven when we physically die on this earth.  In between the time we are saved by grace and the time we go to heaven, our relationship to the cross is one of sanctification (becoming more like Jesus as we grow closer to Him and He deals with our souls – our personhood (mind [thoughts], will [actions/intentions], and emotions [desires]).  Our soul is lost without Jesus, following the winds of change in our culture and our own selfish nature.  When we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit at the time we our saved, a seed is planted.  As we continue to grow spiritually, the Holy Spirit begins to have more control of our souls as He guides us through our thoughts, actions/intentions, and our desires.  What once was completely left up to the whims of our inner selves is now wrestling with what God says is true.  This process of spiritual growth is our transformation on earth known as sanctification.  It all starts, however, with answering the question after we are saved of “What should I DO now, Lord”

Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” NASB  Pastor Evans goes on to say in his lesson that when we wake up each morning, we are to take heed of Paul’s words, and remind ourselves that when Jesus died on the cross 2,000 years ago, we actually credit that transaction to our accounts today.  In other words, I may not have physically been there with Jesus, but my soul identifies with His sacrifice, and in it, I die to my own selfish desires each and every day, allowing Him full control to accomplish His purposes for His kingdom.  Instead of fighting with God about every little thing and thinking I know better than Him, I must yield to His Spirit’s leading each and every day.

P (Prayer) – Lord Jesus, You want so much for each and every person to realize that all that matters in this life is that we know You, and are known by You.  When we get this fundamental reality rooted in our lives, everything else makes sense.  Our relationships with loved ones, our relationships with the rest of humanity, our short-term goals, long-term plans, vices that plague us, and hurts we have endured all come into proper perspective in light of Your glory.  Instead of trying to deal with our lives and manage our issues, may we instead relentlessly pursue Your heart so that we might find rest and peace in knowing You.