Clean Hands and Pure Hearts

Today’s reading is Psalm 24.

We’ve decided to lay down our tools for building our own personal hill. We’ve decide there really is a hill to climb. But we are still left with the question of who actually gets to climb it. The God who “dwells” on this hill owns everything because He created it all. Surely, not just anyone can make their way into His presence. A similar question was asked in Psalm 15. Almost every bit of that qualification list had to do with the worshipers relationship with others. This list, however, seems to give the other side. This one is mostly about our relationship with God. The four qualifications: 1) Clean hands. 2) Pure heart. 3) Worship God only. 4) Honest; though, considering the list, this is probably more about not profaning God’s name (see Leviticus 19:12). Isaiah seems to have these same principles in mind in the context of Isaiah 59:3. God doesn’t listen to the worship offered by those with defiled hands. Paul makes this same point in 1 Timothy 2:8 when he points out men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger and quarreling. While this statement demonstrates prayer with uplifted hands was a norm for Christians in the New Testament, his main emphasis is those uplifted hands were supposed to be clean. Perhaps the most pointed allusion to this passage is often overlooked by commentators and search engines (maybe because the Greek words aren’t the same as those in the LXX for Psalm 24:4). In James 4:8, James says sinners need to cleanse their hands and purify their hearts. But, contextually, this was part of drawing near to God so He will draw near to us. This is part of submitting ourselves to God and resisting the devil. It is part of humbling ourselves before God. And the pure heart actually means to be single-minded, which, of course, means our mind doesn’t go after other masters. We don’t become friends with the world or with false gods. But here is a fantastic principle we need to grasp. The person of Psalm 24:4 is not the sinlessly perfect person who has brought his/her own righteousness to lay out before God. After all, who can say, “I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin?” (Proverbs 20:9). Rather, this person is blessed with “righteousness from the God of his salvation” (Psalm 24:5). If we humble ourselves before God, He will exalt us (James 4:10). In other words, even the clean hands and pure heart are not made that way by our own strength, but are made so by the strength and grace of God as we resist the devil and draw near to the Lord. Who can ascend the Holy Hill? The one who resists the devil and draws near to the Lord. The one who seeks the face of the God of Jacob. Why the God of Jacob? Because Jacob was the one who sought the Lord’s blessing and simply would not let go no matter how much it hurt and how much it cost him until he got it (see Genesis 32:22-32). In other words, we were wrong in the beginning. Anyone can climb this Holy Hill. That is, anyone who really wants God more than he or she wants anything else. What do you want?

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 24.

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All Things to All Men

Today’s reading is Acts 21.

What is Paul doing? Offering sacrifices? Isn’t Jesus the only sacrifice needed? We have forgiveness of sins now, we don’t need to sacrifice, right? Yet, here he goes helping with the vow offerings of these Jewish men. And, before we say something foolish, please recall from Numbers 6:14 that sin offerings were part of the offerings given in these vows. We simply need to understand that these early years were a time of transition. As Jews were becoming Christians, they continued to honor God based on the Law as they learned to honor God based on Jesus Christ. God, of course, helped bring this transition time to a close by removing the temple and therefore all sacrifices in 70AD by the destruction of Jerusalem. What we ultimately see in this passage is Paul living out his claim to be all things to all men. Whatever it would take to draw people to Christ and avoid putting obstacles in their way, so long as it wouldn’t cause him to violate Christ’s law, Paul would do it. May we love people and long for their salvation so much as Paul did.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 21.

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In Public and From House to House

Today’s reading is Acts 20.

When Paul was in Ephesus, he taught publicly and from house to house. Back in Acts 19:8-10, we see Paul preaching and teaching in the synagogues and then in the hall of Tyrranus. We know in other towns, and probably can assume in Ephesus he did the same thing, that he would go to the marketplace and reason among the other teachers and philosophers. This would account for the public teaching. But I really want to home in on teaching from house to house. Have you ever thought about what made that possible? Paul didn’t break into people’s homes and start teaching. He was able to teach from house to house because people invited him into their homes. I think about Peter’s opportunity with Cornelius back in Acts 10. When he got to Cornelius’s house, Cornelius had invited family and friends over to hear the message. Have you ever wondered why God has let you purchase or rent a home? It isn’t so you can save up a retirement nest egg in equity. It’s so you can use it to His glory and in service of others. If we are going to walk in Paul’s footsteps today, letting the gospel be preached in public and from house to house, some of us need to open up our houses and invite people in to hear the message.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 20.

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He Made from One Man Every Nation

Today’s reading is Acts 17.

Where did white people come from? Where did black people come from? What about all the shades in between? Paul proclaimed, God made all people from just one man. We all go back to Adam. In fact, we have the exact same parentage all the way from Adam through Noah. Were you aware that “Adam” actually means “Red”? In other words, it is very likely that Adam and Eve had a more reddish, ruddy colored skin and all the other colors are simply genetic variations throughout the millennia. Did you notice, however, that Paul doesn’t make this statement the way we do today. He doesn’t say God made from one man every race, but every nation. Why? Because biblically speaking, there is only one race. That is, there is only one kind of human and that is humankind. There are different nationalities, cultures, languages, even skin colors. However, there is only one race and that is the race that comes from Adam and Eve on through Noah and his wife. When we see a person with a different color skin or a different nationality, we are not looking at a different kind of person, we are looking at a cousin. It would be great if we all treated each other this way.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 17.

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A Gentile at the Place of Prayer

Today’s reading is Acts 16.

In order to have a synagogue, a town was to have at least 10 Jewish males. Apparently, Philippi did not meet the qualifications. But Paul was not to be deterred from his modus operandi of speaking first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. He went outside the gate to the riverside because he supposed a place of prayer would be there. My understanding is due to certain washing rituals, Jews would often have places of prayer by a local body of water. This explains Paul’s assumption. And it paid off. Sure enough, there was a Jewish place of prayer. Several women had come. However, who responded to the gospel? Lydia. Guess what. Lydia is a Gentile. The phrase for “worshiper of God” in the ESV is used in Acts exclusively to refer to devout, God-fearing, worshipers among the Gentiles (the only exception is Acts 19:27 where it refers to Gentiles worshiping Artemis). Lydia is basically a female Cornelius. Like Cornelius, she and her household, having heard the gospel, were all baptized into Christ. This may explain her statement about “If you have judged me faithful to the Lord.” As a Gentile God-fearer, perhaps a proselyte, she would still be a bit of an outsider at that place of prayer. But now she is on the inside of the newly established community of Christ. What a wonderful day for Lydia, for Gentile Christians, for the kingdom.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 16.

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Aeneas: A Testimony for Peter

Today’s reading is Acts 9.

For a couple of chapters, Acts moves back to following Peter. But this entire story is going in a powerful direction. Luke is setting the stage for the inclusion of the Gentiles in the kingdom of Christ. We see a kind of parenthesis in Acts 8:4 and Acts 11:19. Both passages mention the folks who scattered from Jerusalem, but went preaching. What is in between these two parentheses is actually setting the stage for the Gentiles that will become Christians in Antioch. Luke knew this would be a shock to the readers. Many simply would not believe it. So, he provides an undeniable argument by progressing through a series of conversions. We saw Simon the Samaritan Sorcerer become a Christian. We saw an Ethiopian Eunuch, very likely a Gentile that had been proselytized to Judaism, become a Christian. Then we saw the biggest enemy of the church become a Christian. In Acts 10, we are going to see the first Gentile Christians. But to prepare us for that, Luke takes us back to Peter and proves that Peter is still a faithful apostle. God is still working miracles through Peter. Just as Peter had raised up a lame man in Acts 3, he does so again in Acts 9. Aeneas is a great testimony for Peter. We can listen to Peter. We can follow Peter. We can heed Peter. God is still with him. He isn’t going rogue. He isn’t changing the plan. This is what God had in mind all along. So, let’s keep reading. Exciting things are ahead in Christ’s church. Exciting things that mean something very important for me and most of you reading this blog.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 9.

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Created to Walk

Today’s reading is Ephesians 4.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is actually a powerful sermon with two main parts. The first part explained the faith. That is, it told what God had done through Jesus Christ for Jews and Gentiles alike, making one body from the two peoples by the forgiving blood and gracious sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It told of the recreation God had produced in the disciples by the death of Jesus. The second part called for application. God never expected to produce faith alone in disciples. Rather, the faith prompted action. We are God’s workmanship, Paul wrote inĀ Ephesians 2:10, that you have been created to walk in God’s good works. Therefore, Paul urges you “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” By the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus we have been created anew to walk; so let’s get walking.

Tomorrow’s reading is Ephesians 5.

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Mercy for All

Today’s reading is Romans 11.

All have disobeyed. Therefore, all need mercy. God has consigned all to disobedience that He may have mercy on all. That being said, Paul isn’t actually talking about every single individual (though, surely it applies to all individuals). Rather, in the context of Romans, Paul is actually talking about Jews and Gentiles as groups. Jews had received the Law, but they disobeyed. Jews need the mercy that comes from Jesus. Gentiles were not under the Law, but they too had disobeyed. Gentiles need the mercy that comes from Jesus. But here’s the great thing. Jesus is offering mercy to Jews and Gentiles alike. That is great news for us today. Whether Jew or Gentile, Jesus died to offer you mercy. Why not receive it today? Why not live in it today? But keep in mind, Jesus died to give mercy to that person next to you as well. Why not proclaim it to them? Praise God for the mercy of Jesus on all.

Tomorrow’s reading is Romans 12.

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The Unsaved Devout

Today’s reading is Acts 10.

Cornelius was devout. He feared God. He gave alms to the Jews. He prayed all the time. And he was as lost as lost could be. He was outside of Jesus Christ and had no way of getting to God. Sadly, that is where many are today. Most people are good people, in the same way we see Cornelius as a good person. But most are lost in sin while being those good kinds of people. The reason is because despite how good we seem to one another, we are all sinners. Cornelius may have been a mostly good guy, but he was still a sinner. He still needed the gospel. We may be mostly good people all on our own, but we are still sinners. We still need the gospel. Praise the Lord, God made sure Cornelius heard the gospel. Praise the Lord, God has brought you the gospel. If you don’t know what the gospel is, check out this very simple video by clicking here. If you want help knowing and understanding God’s good news, which is called the gospel, let us know in the comments. We’ll be glad to share it with you.

Tomorrow’s reading is Acts 11.

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