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An Understanding Heart

Throwback Thursday is a new feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other writing ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve been taught that Solomon asked God for wisdom. I tried looking up the scripture where he asked God for “wisdom”, but the Bible doesn’t put it that way. In I Kings 3:9, Solomon asked God for an understanding heart so he could judge the people well. In essence he was asking for wisdom, but as I dug deeper, he wanted more than just wisdom. He wanted to do well in God’s sight and to care for His people.

When I looked up the word “understanding” as it was used in this context, it had three meanings. The first was to hear. Solomon wanted a heart that could hear not only God, but what others were saying too. He didn’t want to just rely on what his ears heard, he wanted to really hear what people meant. Wisdom comes in not just hearing what is spoken. It comes when we can discern the true intent of the words spoken.

The next meaning of “understanding” was to listen. Almost everyone is born with the ability to hear, but only a few ever learn to listen. I believe that God is always speaking to us. We hear Him, but we don’t really listen to what it is that He’s telling us or showing us. Solomon was concerned about the ability of his heart to listen to God. He wanted God to know that he understood the only way to truly govern the people well would be if He could listen to His voice.

The third meaning of “understanding” in this context is to obey. It’s not enough to hear or listen to God. We have to obey what He tells us. I’m sure that Solomon had been told of Saul’s disobedience and of God’s response in I Samuel 15:22. Obedience is better than sacrifice. God is more concerned with our obedience to His word than in our obedience to religious rituals. Anyone can walk through the motions of a ritual, but only the wisest among us obey a God at all costs.

Wisdom was a by product of what he truly wanted. Hearing the voice of God, listening to what He really said and acting on it from his heart is what made Solomon truly wise. You and I can experience that wisdom. Solomon’s request for an understanding heart is one that you and I can ask for today. James 1:5 says, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you.” God would love to give each of us the wisdom that comes from an understanding heart.

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Led By God’s Love

I grew up seeing things very black and white. I believed I had a firm grasp on all the rules in the Bible. The way I interpreted those rules was simple, if you broke any of them, you were going straight to Hell. There was no room for mercy or grace in my mind because those things don’t follow the rules very well. They aren’t easily definable and didn’t fit into my black and white world. It wasn’t until I got older that I began to make room for those in my mind and in my life. The more I looked at the things Jesus did, the more I saw that He wasn’t about the rules as much as the Pharisees were.

One of the stories that helps me to see differently is in Luke 13:10-17. Jesus was teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath. There was a woman listening who had arthritis so bad that her body was twisted and she couldn’t look up. Jesus saw her, laid hands on her and healed her. The head person was furious with Jesus. He said, “Six days have been defined as work days. Come on one of the six if you want to be healed, but not on the seventh, the Sabbath.” But Jesus shot back, “You frauds! Each Sabbath every one of you regularly unties your cow or donkey from its stall, leads it out for water, and thinks nothing of it. So why isn’t it all right for me to untie this daughter of Abraham and lead her from the stall where Satan has had her tied these eighteen years?” (MSG).

Jesus was telling them and us that it’s not just about the rules. We’ve got to have compassion, mercy, love and grace too. As I said, those don’t always fit into our predefined understanding of the rules, but Jesus constantly showed us that those things trumped the rules we try to force people to live by. Jesus was constantly at odds with the legalism of the Jewish leaders and did things like this to help open their eyes to what God really wants from us. A life led by God’s love for others will always yield more fruit than one bound by legalistic thinking. Yes, we need the rules, but without compassion we miss the point.

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Living Honorably

Throwback Thursday is a new feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other writing ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.

How many times have you told someone, “Actions speak louder than words”? Probably too many times to count. A pet peeve that we all share is someone who says one thing and does another. It speaks to their credibility and your ability to trust what they say. I’m sure we can all think of examples right now of times we’ve encountered this in others. The sad thing is that it happens in the Church as much as anywhere. That’s why the book of James in the Bible is pretty much about just that.

We’re all familiar with “Don’t just be a hearer of the Word, but a doer also,” and “Faith without works is dead.” James continues this theme throughout his book to remind us that we can’t just talk like Christians, we must live and act like Christians. James 3:13 says, “Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts” (MSG). As he wrote, it speaks to our reputation.

Living well can be translated into living honorably. People around us should be able to trust what we say. Proverbs 22:1 says, “A sterling reputation is better than striking it rich.” What is your reputation among other believers? Are you someone they can count on? Are you a person that has an honorable reputation among your local group of believers? What about your reputation among non-believers? To me, this one is of utmost importance. How can anyone accept our faith if the way we live our life is in opposition to what we profess to believe?

I was always told that integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is looking. What I’ve learned is that there is always someone looking. People are always watching us as believers. Our lives should reflect what we say we believe. I’m not saying you have to live perfectly because that’s impossible, but you do have to live honorably. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. So let’s not have dead faith. Let’s be doers of the Word and live a life that acts out the faith we profess.

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School’s Out

As a kid, this was one of my favorite weeks of the year because it was the beginning of summer. For the next three months, school was out and summer was in session. Eventually i graduated high school and then started taking college courses. They had the option to take summer courses. You could either take a summer break or you could take classes through the summer and finish college early. In either case, the time came when there was no more summer vacation, and it was time to put my education to use.

The same is true of our life with Jesus. If you grew up in church, you probably went to Sunday School or children’s church where they taught you the stories of the Bible. They helped you to memorize Bible verses, learn the books of the Bible and to have fun at church. But just like school, eventually your time ran out and it was time to go to big church. The learning didn’t stop, but the environment changed. It was less about the stories and more about how to apply them to your life.

Colossians 2:7 says, “You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving” (MSG). There comes a time when we need to not just study the Bible, but to apply it in our lives too. What good is knowledge if it’s never applied? Our faith grows and gets stronger when it’s tested and proven. Make today the start of being a Bible doer instead of just a Bible studier. Take one thing you’ve learned, apply it and live it out. Then keep adding to it day by day until you’re living a life of faith.

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Risen Indeed

One of my favorite places to visit in Israel is The Garden Tomb. With all the craziness of Jerusalem going on outside of this garden, there is a bubble of peace resting over it. When you visit the tomb, there is a door instead of a stone. On the door is a sign that reads, “He is not here – For He is risen”. It’s such a great reminder that He conquered death, Hell and the grave so that you and I could be with Him one day.

It wasn’t enough that He was born and became a man. It wasn’t enough that He lived a sinless life. It wasn’t enough that He died. Yes, He needed to in order to pay the debt for our sins, but it’s His resurrection that gives us eternal life and hope. It is the cornerstone of our faith. The empty tomb represents redemption for mankind and a restored relationship with our creator. This weekend, don’t just focus on the death of Jesus. Celebrate that there is an empty tomb, and that gives us life.

Here are verses about Jesus and the resurrection.

1. David saw what God was going to do in the future, and so he spoke about the resurrection of the Messiah when he said, “He was not abandoned in the world of the dead; his body did not rot in the grave.”

Acts 2:31 GNT

2. Jesus said to her, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in (adheres to, trusts in, relies on) Me [as Savior] will live even if he dies; and everyone who lives and believes in Me [as Savior] will never die. Do you believe this?”

JOHN 11:25-26 AMP

3. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.

1 Corinthians 15:16-17 NASB

4. Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own.

2 Corinthians 5:15 MSG

5. Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying.”

Matthew 28:5-6 NLT

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White As Snow

Have you ever spilled bleach on your clothes? I have. I even did it on purpose one time. In the 90’s, stonewashed jeans were in style, and we couldn’t afford them. I decided I could stonewash a pair myself. I went to the driveway and poured bleach on my jeans. I then began to rub it in so I could get that faded look. It turned out nothing like i thought. They were the ugliest pants ever. To make sure I never tried that again, my mom made me wear those out in public.

Bleach is a pretty amazing product (if you know what you’re doing). It will take the color out of almost any fabric and make your whites brilliant. I’m not sure when it was invented, but I can tell you that they didn’t have it in Jesus’ day. On our trip to Israel, they showed us how they made wool yarn, and then showed us how they dyed it. Once they put the color into the wool, there was no getting it out.

Isaiah 1:18 says, “‘Come now, let’s settle this,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool’” (NLT). The people understood the whiteness of wool and the redness of dyed wool. What they didn’t understand was how God could take something dyed and turn it back to its original color. God was saying He could do the impossible in an impossible way.

For over a thousand years, there was one way to get your sin covered up. It was through sacrificing a perfect lamb. God sent His only Son into the world, not to cover up our sins, but to bleach them. His blood would remove the stain of sin from our lives. An impossible task made possible by a baby born in Bethlehem. Christmas is the season of hope because with the birth of Jesus, there was hope of being reconciled to God. No matter how stained our lives are with sin, one drop of His blood will make it white as snow.

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Respect


I once heard someone say, “If you want respect, you need to give respect.” They were purposefully disrespecting a person in authority because they felt like they weren’t getting the respect they deserved. Of course the situation escalated because now the manger was feeling disrespected. It created a vicious circle and a broken relationship. It was sad to watch, and unfortunately it’s pretty common in our world today.

The Bible has a lot to say about respecting others. However, in no place, does it say we are only to respect those who respect us. Our flesh is what cries out for that. You and I are to respect our parents, our leaders, and those in authority whether they deserve it or not because they are placed over us by God. You can disagree with them without being disrespectful, but God’s Word is clear. If each of us learned to respect others, a lot of strife would go away.

Here are some Bible verses on respect. 

1. Children, it is your Christian duty to obey your parents, for this is the right thing to do. “Respect your father and mother” is the first commandment that has a promise added: “so that all may go well with you, and you may live a long time in the land.” Parents, do not treat your children in such a way as to make them angry. Instead, raise them with Christian discipline and instruction.
Ephesians 6:1-4 GNT

2. Older men are to be level headed, worthy of respect, sensible, and sound in faith, love, and endurance.
Titus 2:2 HCSB

3. Show respect to the aged; honor the presence of an elder; fear your God. I am GOD.
Leviticus 19:32 MSG

4. Pay to all what is due: tax to whom tax is due, customs to whom customs, respect to whom respect, honor to whom honor.
ROMANS 13:7 AMP

5. Respect everyone, and love the family of believers. Fear God, and respect the king.
1 Peter 2:17 NLT

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