March 14 – When The Heart is Revealed

Matthew 15:1-20; Leviticus 24-25; Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

“For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” (Matthew 15:19-20 NKJV)

Some people are just wrong. On the outside, everything is perfect. All their hair is in place. Their pants legs are creased just right. Their color match is exquisite. Yet, the more you interact with them, the more your “trouble-meter” goes off, even though they don’t do anything wrong. You’re uncomfortable and, were you to share your sense of discomfort with others they’d call you crazy. Then, something happens: a coworker makes a mistake; a waiter brings the wrong food; someone bumps into them. That’s when your concerns are vindicated because mister or miss perfect suddenly explodes. They overreact and the minor issue results in a stream of abuse that leaves everyone around shaken. That’s the kind of situation I think Jesus was talking about here. The Pharisees were complaining that Jesus’s disciples weren’t following the pharisaic protocol for symbolic handwashing so they could let everyone knew how good they looked, and Jesus pointed out that even if they ate with dirty hands, it wouldn’t be as bad as the evil that flowed from the hearts of the Pharisees.

The first thing to note here is that Jesus is not saying, “don’t wash your hands.” If you’re an employee at a restaurant, you probably need to wash your hands more! (I’ve seen those videos for food handler permits.) Jesus is making the point that the outward signs of religion don’t change the heart. If those evil thoughts are dominating your life, you may need to draw closer to God; not wash your hands, not go to church, not take communion, or not get baptized. Our thoughts and our words in dealing with others need to be seasoned with grace so that all who hear us, all who put up with us, experience God’s grace no matter what they do right or wrong.

Lord, let the meditations of my heart and the words of my mouth bring honor to Your name. Let all that comes out of my heart and mouth reflect Your love and grace for others.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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March 13 – Overcoming Character Flaws Related to Poverty

Matthew 14:22-36; Leviticus 22-23; Proverbs 31

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 23:22 NKJV)

God provides for all people, even those in poverty. Those who are poor, have a different requirement for sacrifices in the Old Testament. It doesn’t take much reading to realize that the sacrifice that Mary offered at the Temple for purification after the birth of Jesus was the sacrifice designated for poor people. In Proverbs 31, part of today’s reading, we are told to plead the cause of the poor and that the godly wife finds ways to care for the poor. The verse I quoted today is an amazing picture of one way that God cares for those living in poverty. Landowners, come harvest time, were to leave a portion of their crops unharvested so that the poor and the alien in the land could find a way to feed their family. This wasn’t charity, in the modern sense of the word, as much as it was an opportunity to provide for daily needs for those living in poverty. It allowed those who might otherwise have no work at all, a chance to provide for their families while experiencing the dignity of productive work. Obviously, that’s not the only way to provide for one’s family, and wouldn’t be practical today, but we must always find ways to help those in poverty while recognizing their human dignity.

Poverty exists in our world today, but to a much larger degree than most people realize. A lot of poverty is invisible because people struggle to avoid appearing to be poor. Sometimes, that struggle exacerbates their problems. Economic poverty isn’t a sign of a poor relationship with God. It isn’t a sign that someone is evil, or dumb, or lazy. It’s not a character flaw. A character flaw would be criticizing someone because they’re poor. A character flaw would be turning a blind eye towards those in need. Want to find a way to help? Look for single parents dealing with kids and find a way to help them that doesn’t look like help. Work with some of the homeless agencies to provide meals. There are so many ways to meet needs and restore people’s dignity, if we’ll just be creative about them. We can overcome our character flaws related to how we treat people in poverty.

Lord, open my eyes to see the needs of people around me. Give me a willing heart so that I’ll find ways to meet needs and empower people who feel powerless.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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March 12 – Keep Your Word by Giving it Judiciously

Matthew 14:1-21; Leviticus 20-21; Proverbs 30

“Therefore he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. So she, having been prompted by her mother, said, ‘Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter.’ And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded it to be given to her.” (Matthew 14:7-9 NKJV)

Herod had a love/hate relationship with John. He was fascinated by his preaching, but Herod sure didn’t like the part where condemned Herod. He arrested John and put him in prison, He wanted to execute John, and he wanted to listen to John. So John languished in prison because Herod wasn’t sure what to do with him. Then, people threw a birthday party for him and his daughter danced for the crowd. Herod was so delighted, he offered his daughter pretty much whatever she wanted. Her mom hated John because his preaching called Herod out because he had married her. She wanted him dead and her daughter did the dirty deed for her: her request was for John the Baptist’s head on a platter. Herod had backed himself into a corner. He could either renege on his promise and tell her no, or he could kill John, which he knew was wrong. Because he’d made his offer in front of the whole crowd and he didn’t want to lose face by backing down, John was executed. If you need a good lesson on being careful what you promise others, this is it. Herod’s rash promise led to John’s death.

Did you ever make a promise you regretted? Ever give your word only to see it backfire on you? Jesus, in another situation gave a great example of how we should respond to open-ended requests that could leave you in a bind. He was asked to do a favor. You know that old question, “Hey, will you do me a favor?” The quick response is “sure.” Jesus’s response was “Tell me what you want first.” (paraphrased) Your word is so valuable because it represents your reputation. Don’t treat it lightly. Don’t give it away without thoughtful reflection. While you’re reflecting, remember that you can always share God’s love with others which is far more important than even your reputation.

Lord, give me wisdom in dealing with others. Help me to be patient when people ask for my word. May I focus on Your desires, not mine, and not the other persons. Empower me so that I’ll be willing and able to share Your word with others through all I do.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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March 11 – Something Evil This Way Comes, Something Greater Shows God’s Love

Matthew 13:24-58; Leviticus 19; Proverbs 29

“ ‘Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ‘ “ (Matthew 13:30 NKJV)

You’ve heard it. I’ve heard it. We’ve all heard it: the church is full of hypocrites. Usually, it’s an excuse to stay out of church – not because the people in church are necessarily worse than others, but because they don’t live up to the high standards that we proclaim about living in Jesus. I’ll be honest with you: there are people who go to church who do it because it’s good for business or their social standing. And the amazing thing is, Jesus predicted that in this parable. According to the beginning of the story, a farmer planted seed, but when plants sprouted, weeds were growing among the desired plants. The servants talked about pulling up the weeds, but the master said to wait until the harvest time. One understanding of the parable is that evil integrates well with the world, even among God’s people. There are those who would wish to rid the world of evil but doing so could harm the good. In the end, God will take care of all those who are evil.

If the evil we see in the world is getting you down, take heart. God sees it. God knows about it. God’s going to take care of it. Until then, the one true point the parable doesn’t make is that evil can change. Those who are evil can be changed by the grace of God. In fact, God’s people are called to share His grace and forgiveness with all people, including the evil ones. And the OK ones. And the not so bad ones. And…well, you get it. Seek ways to share the love of God with the people around you and be used to change those who are evil into children of God.

Lord, as I encounter evil in this world, give me the grace to show them Your love. Lord, only You can change those who are evil. May I be an example of Your love and grace to those who need to know it.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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March 10 – Restoring Relationships Begins with Confession

Matthew 13:1-23; Leviticus 17-18; Proverbs 28

“He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13 NKJV)

There’s a problem with unconfessed sin – it alters how you deal with people, especially those you’ve sinned against. Sometimes, only you know the problem, but you keep wondering if the other person knows and is just waiting to give you grief about it at a more opportune time. Sometimes, it becomes the elephant in the room that everyone tiptoes around while waiting for you to acknowledge what you did and apologize. Too often we don’t apologize because we get this idea that if we don’t acknowledge our sin, people won’t know what we did or that life will go on as if it never happened. The opposite is usually true. People usually know who sinned against them, and even if they didn’t, you would know and that taints your relationship with your friend. You end up living on pins and needles and the relationship isn’t what it once was. Usually, friends have an amazing capacity for forgiveness. If you confess what you did wrong and apologize, you’ll usually get mercy and the relationship will be restored. If a friendship can’t endure those kinds of issues, then maybe it wasn’t such a strong friendship after all.

The message here is pretty clear: if you wronged someone, go and clear the air. Apologize. Let the other person know that you’re sorry and you won’t do it again. Either they’ll forgive you and the relationship will be restored, or they won’t forgive you and you won’t have to walk on eggshells to maintain a pretend friendship. At the same time, if someone wronged you and they ask for forgiveness, be willing to forgive immediately. There is nothing that imitates the love of God more than forgiving others.

Lord, I sure mess up a lot. I thank You that You forgive me. Give me the courage to apologize to those I sin against and give them the grace to forgive me. When someone sins against me, give me the grace to forgive them and show them Your love.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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March 9 – I Continue to be Amazed That God Knows Me and Loves Me

Matthew 12:22-50; Leviticus 15; Leviticus 16; Proverbs 27

“As in water face reflects face, So a man’s heart reveals the man.” (Proverbs 27:19 NKJV)

We’ve all seen our reflection in the water at one time or another; if not there, we’ve used a mirror to look at our own appearance. We fix our hair, clean our faces, or work on makeup as we look at our own reflection. The reflection in water or a mirror reveals what we really look like. Now, we have cell phone cameras that do the same thing and people take selfies, revealing their faces and locations. Sometimes they use that camera as a mirror, making sure everything looks just right in a last-minute checkup. Solomon used that concept in this verse noting that just as a reflection in water reveals all of our physical beauty, and imperfections, our hearts reveal who we really are. Oh, we can fake our way through life so most people don’t realize what we really think or who we really are, but the truth is, we know who we really are and our heart reveals it to us. We usually don’t want people to know the real us, sometimes for fear that if someone really knew our hearts, they wouldn’t like us anymore. Yet God knows our hearts and still loves us. He knows our weaknesses and failures, our sins and foibles and He still loves and forgives us. Our heart reveals who we are and hard as it may be, we need to be able to forgive ourselves like God does.

Let me guess. You blew it recently. You really messed up. You over-reacted when someone wronged you. You cussed a blue streak with your little one in the car when someone cut you off, and now they’re repeating a few of those forbidden words. You got mad at a customer or a fellow employee when you shouldn’t have. It happens. You opened your heart a little so that others could see what God already knows about you. He knows it and He still loves you. Apologize where necessary and appropriate, but forgive yourself and live in God’s forgiveness, growing closer to Him each day.

Lord, too often I let others see the real me, the me that only You and I know. The me that I don’t like too much. Remind me that You love the real me that I don’t like too much. Help me to love and forgive myself like You do and love others the same way.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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March 8 – No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Matthew 12:1-21; Leviticus 14; Proverbs 26

“Then He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other. Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him.” (Matthew 12:13-14 NKJV)

I don’t know if the ancient Jews had a saying like “No good deed goes unpunished,” but the reaction of the Pharisees to Jesus is a great example of the truth of that phrase. Jesus had defended His disciples feeding themselves when they plucked and ate grain on the Sabbath. Then, He walked into a synagogue where the Pharisees brought Him a man with a withered hand and asked Jesus if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath. This was a gotcha question, because however Jesus answered He was going to run into trouble. Jesus answered by noting that it was possible to take care of animals on the Sabbath, and people were more valuable than livestock, so of course it was, and He healed the man. Since no good deed goes unpunished, the Pharisees began plotting ways to destroy Him; sinister, evil plotting being acceptable on the Sabbath, apparently. I don’t think Jesus was surprised by their response. I do think that He healed the man with full knowledge of how they’d respond knowing that doing the right thing was worth whatever it cost.

Maybe it’s happened at work. Maybe it’s happened at home. You make a special effort to do something just right for your coworkers and your family and something doesn’t turn out right. You baked a dish and didn’t realize your coworker or family member was allergic to one of the ingredients. Maybe it was some other issue that you had no way of knowing about and when you saw that your efforts caused problems and harm to others, you threw up your hands in despair. Don’t worry. It happens. Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath and the Pharisees began plotting to kill Him. I can’t imagine you had anything worse happen to You. Keep doing good. Keep doing the right thing even if no one else follows along. It will be worth it in the long run.

Lord, let me live by Your grace and care for people first. Help me to understand and live by the principle that you never do wrong by doing right.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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March 7 – Gods Grace Compels Us to Change

Matthew 11:20-30; Leviticus 13; Proverbs 25

“Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent:” (Matthew 11:20 NKJV)

Jesus expected, and still expects, people to respond to His message and His miracles. I don’t know if He was more angry or more frustrated as He rebuked those cities where He’d performed many of His miracles and did much of His teaching. All that teaching and all those miracles, and they didn’t make a difference in the lives of the people who experienced them. He made it clear how He felt when He compared them to “those” cities who had suffered greatly from God’s judgment in the past. Some today would teach a relationship with Jesus based on a grace that calls for nothing to change in our lives because God loves us just the way we are. While God loves us just like we are, His grace compels us to repent from our sins and seek His wisdom in our everyday life. God has expectations. He doesn’t demand perfection of course, but He works by building His relationship with us, and then our lives change because we don’t want to disappoint Him. We can do nothing to bring about our salvation, but we repent and turn from our sins because we love God so much that we want to please Him.

Did you please God with how you lived today? Too often, when we look over our days, we think about our mistakes and the things we did wrong. I could be wrong, but I think God is pleased with progress as we grow in our relationship with Him. Did you learn something new today? Something that helped you understand something you hadn’t known before about God? About His world? Did you sense His presence in a difficult time? Even though He’s always with us, it’s too easy to forget that He’s around, especially in difficult times. Did you avoid those things that distract you from being with God? Those are the things that make God smile. Those are the things that make you relationship with God stronger.

Lord, I’m not perfect, but You knew that when we got together. Thank You for leading me to repent of my old way of life and helping me to grow in my relationship with You.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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March 6 – Got Questions for God? John Did Too

Matthew 11:1-19; Leviticus 11; Leviticus 12; Proverbs 24

“For this is he of whom it is written: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.’ ‘Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.’” (Matthew 11:10-11 NKJV)

John sent disciples to check with Jesus – perhaps for assurance when he quite likely was a bit discouraged in jail. Jesus responded to the disciples who wanted to know if He really was the Messiah by telling John’s disciples what He was doing, which was in accord with most Jewish thought about what the Messiah would do. Then, as John’s disciples left, Jesus praised John and made the startling claim that John was the promised Elijah, which in turn, was a claim that He Himself was the Messiah. If all this isn’t startling enough, Jesus made it clear that as great among men as John was, he was nothing compared to those who were in the kingdom of heaven. The last person in line in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than John. I’d like to believe that John eventually made it into the Kingdom of Heaven, but the point Jesus made was important. Our greatness in God’s eyes isn’t based on what we do, it’s based on our relationship with God.

How’s your relationship with God? Are you going through a difficult time when you ask God if He’s really there and if Jesus really loves you? Don’t feel bad. The forerunner prophet, John, asked the same question. God’s never had a question that surprised Him. He’s never had a question that’s too hard for Him to answer, and He’s never had a person He hasn’t wanted in the Kingdom of Heaven. He welcomes everyone who calls on the name of Jesus into His kingdom. So, how IS your relationship with God?

Lord, I have a lot of questions, especially when things don’t go right. Thank You that I can ask those questions. Thank You that You don’t always give me the answer, but You always love me. Keep our relationship strong through Your grace and let me be the reason that other people seek to know You.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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March 5 – Fears, Worries, and Concerns – All in the Arms of Jesus

Matthew 10:26-42; Leviticus 9; Leviticus 10; Proverbs 23

“Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31 NKJV)

Jesus sought to calm the possible fear His disciples might deal with. Would they be arrested and appear before people who could put them to death? Perhaps, but they shouldn’t fear someone who could kill the body, but not the soul. Ah, perhaps they should reserve their fear for the devil who can kill both body and soul? In response to that issue, Jesus made it clear that God the Father knows and understands. Sparrows may be sold cheaply in the market, but God knows when they fall. God knows us better than we know ourselves. Don’t believe me? Quick, how many hairs are there on your head? (Perhaps some of you will have to think back to another time to answer that question.) God knows the answer to that question. He loves and cares for you and He recognizes that you are worth far more than a bunch of sparrows. The key is that if God recognizes that much worth in who we are, we have no reason to fear even the devil.

What do you fear? Are you worried about what other people think of you? Are you worried about your eternal destination? Afraid of heights? Or spiders? Whatever it is that you fear, God is greater. We may worry about how we’ll be received when we talk with others about the good news of Jesus. When those worries arise, we can trust God to take control. We don’t need to worry about what we say or even how people will react. We just need to keep showing them God’s love and trust God to deal with our worries.

Lord, I have to admit that I have trouble trusting You at times. I keep forgetting that You will guide me if I depend on You and that I need to keep sharing Your love with others. Continue to remind me that my life, my words, and my actions are in Your hand.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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