God is the Strength of My Heart (Jul 15)

July 15

God is the Strength of My Heart 

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 73:15-28 | 1 Chronicles 19:1 – 21:31 | Romans 2:25 – 3:8 | Proverbs 19:10-12

Today’s Scripture Focus: Psalm 73

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever”

(Psalm 73:25-26 ESV).

Some questions just can’t be answered to the heart’s satisfaction. Questions like: “Why do the wicked prosper?” As Asaph begins this Psalm he pours out his heart to God. He is in a place of suffering while the wicked only seem to prosper. How can this be? Somehow life just doesn’t seem fair. Why am I the one getting beat up and burned out, and not the wicked?

In the first 14 verses, Asaph seems to be “in a fog.” When you are hurting, things are often that way. Your situation seems worse than it really is; the situation of those we envy seems much better than it really is. When life gets us down, we don’t see things clearly (22) and we tend toward self-pity. Even trying to understand becomes oppressive (16). Our heart left to itself tends toward grief and bitterness (21, 22).

But there is a turning point in this lament Psalm: verse 17. “Till I entered the sanctuary of God.” The lament is an important part of our prayer life. We need to pour out our hearts, like Asaph, in complete openness and honesty. We need to open our hearts to God: even our questions, doubts, fears and wounds. But we do so in his presence, and when possible in the company of a loving group of fellow believers who are there with us to help us move from bitterness to strength. We need to enter the sanctuary of His presence.

We pour out our hearts to God, and suddenly we become aware of his presence—his nearness. “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel” (23-24).

In his healing presence, our hearts our strengthened. He, himself, becomes “the strength of our heart and our portion forever” (26). We find the courage and strength for the day. We are able to place the unanswerable questions in the hands of the Sovereign Lord and move ahead in the joy of his presence.

“As for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.” It really is good to be near God. Pour out your heart to him and he will draw near to you. ”The Lord is near to all who call on him. To all who call on him in truth” (Psalm 145:18). Let your heart be strengthened in his presence.

God, you are the strength of my heart. I bring my hurts, my doubts, my questions, my concerns and I lay them at your feet. Thank you for always being with me and holding my right hand. Thank you for guiding me with your counsel.Thanks for strengthening me for the tasks of this day.  Amen.

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An Honest Heart (Jul 14)

July 14

An Honest Heart

Today’s Scripture Readings:  Psalm 73:1-14 | I Chronicles 16:37 – 18:17 | Romans 2:1-2 |  Proverbs 19:8-9 

Today’s Scripture Focus: Romans 2: 1-24

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things (Romans 2:1 NIV).

“Pastor Jeff, that was a great sermon today! I only wish that Mrs. Jones was here today to hear it.” I’ve heard words like that many times as people were leaving the church after a Sunday worship service. Nearly always the person who makes the comment is completely blind to the fact that they probably needed the message more than Mrs. Jones did.

Who needs the good news (the gospel, which is the power of God)? We all do. Especially those of us who don’t think we need it.  In Romans 1, Paul points out the obvious fact that those living in idolatry and lifestyles characterized by sin, need good news. Chapter 2 points out that the one who thinks they have it all put together needs the good news too.  The one who is tempted to think the sermon was for someone else— The one who is quick to point the finger—whose heart is filled with self-righteous pride, needs the good news just as much or more than the one they are so quick to condemn.

Some of us play the religious game very well. Paul points out that the good news is about life transformation, not playing religious games. The Pharisees played religious games better than anybody. And Jesus had some harsh words for them because of it.

Often the one who finds it most difficult to enter the kingdom is the religious one; the one who is not aware of their need. It is also a cause of lukewarm living. The diagnosis of the lukewarm Laodicean Church was this: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing,’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17).

Who needs good news? We all do– especially the self-righteous. The world already has enough bad news. We don’t need any more self-righteous judges pointing their fingers and bringing shame and condemnation. What it needs is people who have opened their heart to Jesus and are allowing his love to heal their hearts and flow through them to bring words of healing and salvation to others.

What brings people to Jesus? Not your condemning attitude. Too often the church comes across as bringing condemnation instead of hope and love. Listen to the words of Paul:

“…do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?”

God’s kindness, tolerance and patience: that sounds like good news to me!

Open your heart to Jesus and allow him to deal with your self-righteousness and pride.  Experience a fresh touch of his love, his kindness, his tolerance and patience.  Then you may actually have some good news to share with a world that desperately needs it.

Spirit of God, search my heart. Point out and pull up any remaining roots of pride and sin. Give me the grace I need. Pour out your love into my heart. Fill me and empower me to bring love and grace and kindness to others. Amen.

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A Heart Set Free (Jul 13)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

July 13

A Heart Set Free

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalms 150:1-6 | I Chronicles 15:1 – 16:36 | Romans 1:18-32 |

Proverbs 19:6-7

Today’s Scripture Focus: 1 Chronicles 15:1 – 16:36 (esp.15: 25-29)

“As the ark of the covenant of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David dancing and celebrating, she despised him in her heart” (1 Chronicles 15:29, NIV).

What a contrast! David dancing before the Lord; Michal despising and trying to take his joy. David’s heart was free to worship God. His focus was the Lord. He danced and celebrated with all his might. Unconcerned for his dignity, he celebrated before his God. The ark – the visible symbol of God’s power and presence—was back and this was time to celebrate. Michal’s heart was bound up and unable to enter into the joy of worshiping God. Not only was she unable to enter into the joy of worship, she tried to steal David’s joy. She was more concerned with “appearances” and doing things in a “dignified way.” Her heart was needy and bound up. It was in need of major renovation.

The Pharisees manifested the same attitude toward Jesus who was free to eat with tax collectors and sinners. The forms were more important to them than the substance. They spent all their time cleaning the outside of the cup, instead of cleaning the inside (Matt. 23). Their hearts needed healing (Matt. 13:13-15).

Paul dealt with a similar attitude in Galatians when the Judaizers tried to steal the freedom of the believers in the city of Galatia: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).

He warned Timothy of those who would have “a form of godliness but deny its power.” In other words, watch out for those that would hold on to the form, and lose sight of the substance.

You serve a great and awesome God, and he delights in you. Soon you will once again enter into the assembly of believers to worship him –a place where he longs to manifest his power and presence. Let’s celebrate!

Don’t let anyone steal your joy and freedom. Allow Jesus to deal with your heart issues. Open your heart to Him. Then your heart will find the freedom to celebrate like David and it will not become needy and withered like Michal’s.

Open your heart to Jesus. Enjoy your time in his presence in the solitary place. Then join together with the saints to celebrate God with all your heart and soul and strength—with all the intensity you have. Find the freedom of David—the freedom of a heart set free. Don’t let anyone steal your joy!

Almighty God, set my heart free to worship you freely and with abandon. Take away the masks and the pretending and the concerns over what others might think, and allow me to joyfully express my praise. May my abandon lead others to find the joy of a heart set free. Amen.

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A Joyful Heart of Praise (Jul 12)

Quote from Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

July 12

A Joyful Heart of Praise

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 149:1-9 | 1 Chronicles 12:19- 14:17 | Romans 1:1-17| Proverbs 19:4-5

Today’s Scripture Focus: Psalm 149:1-9 

“Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of his faithful people.” (Psalm 149:1, NIV).

Hallelujah!  It’s one of those words you can’t help but shout or sing out really loud! You just can’t mumble Hallelujah. 

Psalm 149 is one of those glorious Hallelujah psalms.  While your translation may say “praise the Lord” at the beginning and end of this Psalm (which is what it means) I always bring it back to the original: “Hallelujah!”  It’s a word that you really don’t need to translate.  It works in most every language. Hallelujah!  

Most of my growing up years, I was in a church where everybody understood the word, Hallelujah!  Every Sunday was a celebration of joyful praise and worship.  People sang from their hearts and with enthusiasm (even those who could only make a joyful noise—but they weren’t a distraction). 

They loved to sing new songs (and even the old ones sounded fresh and new) in the assembly of the saints.  Sunday was a celebration and we looked forward to gathering together to praise the Lord.  We rejoiced in our Maker; we were glad to worship of our King. Our only instrument was a clunky old piano, but on Sunday it knew how to play “Hallelujah!” I never could understand why we seemed to leave off the first part of verse 3, but we were dancing in our hearts. Why were they singing loudly and with joyful enthusiasm? They understood verses 4-5:  “For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation. Let the saints rejoice in this honor.”

But not all share this enthusiasm.  I have been in many churches and have noticed that some have lost their joy.  I’ll never forget the shock I felt as a teenager when I was asked to sing a solo at another church.  It was a big church with lots of people.  As the worship service began, the organ played and I sang out at the top of my lungs: “A mighty fortress….”  All eyes turned toward me.  I broke the rules, I actually sang.  They only mumbled.  They couldn’t help but look at me.  Unfortunately, I’ve experienced that same thing many times since.

It’s almost Sunday.  It’s almost time to gather with the saints to celebrate the greatness of our God.  It’s almost time to sing joyful songs.  Get excited, shout, sing, and if they’ll let you, break out the tambourine and dance.  Go ahead; take a chance. After all, “the Lord takes delight in his people.” Think about it: “The Lord delights in you.” Isn’t that reason enough to let go of your inhibitions? Come on, let’s sing and dance and shout, “Hallelujah!”  Let’s have church!

To You, O King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever.  Hallelujah! Fill my heart with praise today, for you are worthy. I long to celebrate your goodness with my brothers and sisters in the sanctuary this weekend. Help us to worship you with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Amen.

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Courage To Do Exploits (Jul 11)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

July 11

Courage To Do Exploits

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 148:1-14 | 1 Chronicles 11:1 – 12:18 | Acts 28:1-31| Proverbs 19:1-3

Today’s Scripture Focus: 1 Chronicles 11:1-12:18

“Such were the exploits of the three mighty warriors” (1 Chronicles 11:19b, NIV).

David’s mighty men were described as courageous, loyal, and strong. They followed David’s leadership and did “great exploits.”  Any leader longs to have men and women like these on their team. 

Courageous – They had faces like the faces of Lions (12:8). What a powerful image of courage.

Loyal – listen to their words of support. “We are yours, O David! We are with you, O son of Jesse! Success, success to you, and success to those who help you, for your God will help you.”  Some of the most valiant were willing to risk their lives to retrieve water from behind enemy lines, because they knew David was thirsty (11:15-19). That is loyalty. 

Strong— several times we see the words: “such were the exploits” (19, 24).  The stories told of these brave-hearted warriors show their strength again and again.  They were strong and victorious. ”But they took their stand in the middle of the field. They defended it and struck the Philistines down, and the LORD brought about a great victory” (11:14). God sent these mighty warriors to David to extend his kingdom.  “They together with all Israel, gave his kingship strong support to extend it over the whole land, as the Lord had promised.”

In our day, God is still extending his Kingdom (though not through military force as “the weapons we fight with are not of this world”). He is looking for mighty men and women who are courageous, loyal and strong in his strength. People who will “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power . . . so that . . . you may be able to stand your ground and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6).

He is looking for “brave warriors, ready for battle and able to handle the shield and spear” (12:8). By putting on his armor and taking the sword of the Spirit praying and interceding, we too may do “great exploits.”

Spend time in his presence today and get to know the one who leads you victoriously in battle.  Take the time to put on the armor and be equipped by his word for the exploits he has planned for you today. Gain courage and strength as you open your heart to Jesus (let him deal with those fears). Get to know your God and you too will do exploits, O mighty warrior. 

 “But the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits. “Daniel 11:32b (KJV)

Almighty God, enable me by your spirit to do exploits. May I be courageous, loyal, and strong. Extend your kingdom through my prayers and faithful obedience. Lead me, guide me, and use me today for your glory. In Jesus name, Amen.

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Courage to Face Life’s Storms (Jul 10)

From Open Up Your Heart by Jeff Syverson

July 10

Courage to Face Life’s Storms

Today’s Scripture Readings:  Psalm 147:12-20 | 1 Chronicles 9:1-10:14 | Acts 27: 21-44 | Proverbs 18: 23-24 

Today’s Scripture Focus: Acts 27:21-44 

The storm was so devastating and went on for so long that they “finally gave up hope of being saved” (Acts 27:20 NIV).  

The storm was so devastating and went on for so long that they “finally gave up hope of being saved” (Acts 27:20). They were overwhelmed by the storm. Have you ever been there? Confronted by a seemingly hopeless situation? Tempted to give up all hope? Sure, we all have.

What was Paul’s advice to his fellow shipmates? “Keep up your courage” (22) “Do not be afraid” (words passed on to him by an angel—did you ever notice how often angels use those words, it must be advice we need again and again) (24). “So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.”

Paul took comfort in the promise of God given to him. He trusted in the promise of God and it enabled him to have courage even in the face of what seemed a life-threatening storm. Because he trusted in God, he was able to find hope in an apparently hopeless situation. Because he feared God, he didn’t have to fear the storm. I’m often struck by how often the Bible’s heroes need to hear the same words that you and I do: “Be strong and courageous,” “Do not be afraid,” “I will be with you.”

May the blessing of Paul to the Romans be yours as you face the storms of life: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him that you will overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13).

We serve a God of hope who will give us hope and courage (even joy and peace) when we trust Him. Rest in that promise and find peace for your soul even in the midst of the storm.

God of Hope, fill me me with all joy and peace today as I trust in you so that I will overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Opening Up Your Wounded Heart (Jul 9)

July 9

Opening Up Your Wounded Heart

Today’s Scripture Readings: Psalm 147:1-11 | 1 Chronicles 7:1- 8:40 | Acts 27:1-20 | Proverbs 18:22

Today’s Scripture Focus: Psalm 147: 1-11

“He binds up the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3-5 NIV).

The same God, who created the universe, cares about your broken, wounded heart.  He is almighty and all powerful and all wise.  But he is also compassionate and cares about the details of your life. He knows the wounds of your heart and it is his desire to bring healing: Jesus revealed the heart of the Father for us as he stood up in the temple and declared his mission by quoting Isaiah 61: 

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” (Luke 4:18-19; 21)

At the heart of his mission was healing brokenhearted people, bringing freedom and deliverance to people that are bruised and banged up life. We all have our wounds and when we really open up our heart to Jesus, they will be exposed so that they can find healing.

Sometimes we pretend they are not there, but they do not go away through denial or through pious sounding words like “past is past.” They don’t even go away by quoting scriptures about leaving the past behind you (always out of context, by the way).  Healing the broken heart is exactly the way God will enable you to leave the past behind you. Until you deal with it openly in his presence, it will always haunt you.

God is infinitely creative in how he heals those wounds, but often there are steps he takes us through like these:

1) We open our hearts to Jesus and in his loving presence we ask him to search our hearts and identify the wounds. 

2) We tell him all about the wound and how we feel. Like David in the Psalms, we lament it in his presence. The sin that caused that wound really is a big deal and Jesus knows that. He wants to listen and comfort you. 

3) We forgive those who have wounded us.  We allow Jesus to help us to forgive them deeply from the heart. Sometimes we find the need to ask forgiveness or to receive it in such a way that we know we’ve been forgiven. 

4) We listen and receive his affirming words, his encouragement and we open our hearts fully to “abide in his love.” Take time in his presence to listen and experience his “healing love.” Seek the words of blessing from the Father. Sometimes he gives us a picture. He is so creative, but take the time to listen. 

5) We become wounded healers who can comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have received. The wound is healed but a scar often remains and becomes a source of comfort to others. Your story of healing and freedom will be used by God to help set others free.

Sometimes God takes us through the process of healing our broken hearts in our private times with him, but it is often helpful to have praying friends who can be a part of the healing process.  In the process you all get blessed.

Jesus came to set you free from the bondage of your wounds.  Will you allow him to heal your heart and bind up those wounds? Open up your heart to him and he will do it.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for bringing healing to my wounded heart and binding up my wounds. Help me to honest and open and take my hurts to you. Help me to lament them and then to leave them at your cross. Help me to forgive deeply from the heart.  Speak words of affirmation and healing as I wait in your presence. Thank you for the freedom and joy that comes from forgiveness and healing. In Jesus name, Amen.

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