Heart of the Matter: Daily Reflections for Changing Hearts and Lives

Heart of the Matter: Daily Reflections for Changing Hearts and Lives

by Michael R. Emlet, Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation

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New Growth Press
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Heart of the Matter

Daily Reflections for Changing Hearts and Lives

By Christian Counseling Education Foundation

New Growth Press

Copyright © 2012 Christian Counseling Educational Foundation
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-936768-65-3


January 1

2 Peter 1:3–9

God "has given us everything we need for life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3). The first few verses of this passage lay out the glories of our identity as God's children that Peter says we must not forget. God has given everything we need, not only for eternal life, but also for the God-honoring life to which we have been called until he returns. Notice the tense of the verb. Peter says God has given us everything we need. It has already happened! This is a fundamental Gospel truth. God will not call us to do anything without providing a way for it to be done. If he calls us to cross the Red Sea, he will enable us to swim, send a boat, build a bridge, or part the waters!

Don't forget who you are. You are the children of God who have inherited riches beyond your ability to conceive. You have been given everything you need to do what God has called you to do. Don't give in to discouragement. Don't quit. Don't run away from your calling. Don't settle for a little bit of faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, brotherly kindness, and love. Get everything that is your inheritance as God's children.

Paul David Tripp

January 2

1 John 1:5–10

Asking for forgiveness is a war between self-righteousness and unearned grace. Between the rules of my kingdom and the commandments of the King. Between a desire to be served and the call to serve. Between living for my own glory and being consumed by the glory of God. I do not fight this war alone. The King, who has welcomed me into his better kingdom, is a Warrior King who will continue to fight on my behalf until the last enemy is under his feet.

This is the battle of battles. His kingdom will come. His will will be done. He will not sit idly by and permit his kingdom children to live with a greater practical allegiance to the building of their own kingdoms. So he fights for the freedom of our souls. He battles for the control of our hearts. He works to liberate our desires and to focus our thoughts. And as he does this, he calls us to humbly confess that we really do love ourselves more than we love him and others. He invites us to admit how regularly we demand our own way. He welcomes us to own up to our anger, greed, envy, and vengeance. If his kingdom is ever to fully come, it must be a kingdom of forgiveness where rebel citizens can be made right again and again and again.

Paul David Tripp

January 3

1 Kings 19:1–8

Elijah had abandoned the job God gave him to do as Israel's prophet. He admitted that he had wrongly given up as he prayed in the desert, "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors."

When we lose confidence in God, we never do so in the abstract. Rather, our faith dissolves in concrete situations where God doesn't seem up to the job. When Jezebel threatened Elijah he ran, revealing his false faith that she could affect his life more than the Lord. Yet, Elijah felt conviction of sin. He knew he'd sold God out, hence his conclusion that he was no better than anyone else. Life had become a messy, vicious cycle that made it hard even to consider approaching people again.

Remarkably, God did not ridicule or berate him. Nor did he reject him and find someone else to complete the mission. Instead, when Elijah arrived in the desert, God sent an angel to feed and strengthen him. Not only did Elijah's strength revive, so did his faith. Instead of simply running away from the enemy, he ran toward his Lord. Elijah may not have had enough faith to face the queen he had angered, but he learned he could face the God he had failed.

William P. Smith

January 4

1 Peter 1:3–25

The ending makes all the difference. A tragic story like Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet starts well, with people full of hope and love, but it ends badly. A comedy like Much Ado About Nothing opens with dark omens and scheming betrayers. The future looks very uncertain but it turns out wonderfully. It is the ending rather than the humor that makes it a comedy.

You must decide whether you will live life as a tragedy or a comedy. The story that Jesus offers you is a comedy. Scripture tells you the end, and, if you have put your faith in Jesus rather than in yourself, it is your end too. Jesus wins. His justice prevails. His love is seen for what it really is—boundless and irresistible. Our unity with him exceeds our imaginations. We will see that life was much more purposeful than we thought. Everything we ever did by faith—because of Jesus—stands firm and results in "praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed" (1 Peter 1:7). Knowing this, of course, does not blot out sorrow. But knowing the end reveals that sorrow and death don't win. For those who know Christ, life and joy are the last word.

Edward T. Welch

January 5

1 Thessalonians 5:14–18

Taking you out of the center of things, deep and thorough repentance and faith enable you to see those around you. You now see them through eyes cleansed by the forgiving grace of Christ. You begin to see things that, in your sin, you were not able to see. You may not ignore sin if it is there, but you begin to see the person and the struggles, temptations, and weaknesses that are part of his conflict with you. At this point, you can choose to serve and not be served. Christ's massive service for you on the cross gets bigger; it progressively changes your heart and empowers you to serve the other person. In 1 Thessalonians 5:14–18, Paul is giving pastoral instruction to the Thessalonians as they seek to help each other grow in grace.

"Warn the idle." Love warns someone when there are patterns of destructive behavior that involve obvious violations of God's wise and loving commands. Whenever there is a persistent pattern of sin, love requires us to move toward the person with gentle courage and humble resolve. "Encourage the timid." Love comes alongside the fearful and brings encouragement. "Help the weak." The word help can be translated: "Hold on to them," or "Put your arm round them." This emphasizes the need for practical guidance and support through the long process of change. They need to be reminded of the gospel's comfort as well as its call.

Timothy S. Lane

January 6

1 Timothy 1:12–17

Watch God engage people in the Bible, and learn that he really doesn't treat us as our sins deserve (Psalm 103:10). He doesn't pursue us to make us pay him back for all our sins and mistakes. He wants us to turn to him and be reconciled to him (2 Corinthians 5:20–21). He does not engage people with a hidden agenda to make his life easier. He invests himself in relationships that make his life harder!

The apostle Paul was handpicked by Jesus to see his resurrected body; he was used by God to share the gospel all over the known world; and wherever he preached, churches were started. Why then does he keep reminding us of his failings—that he was a blasphemer, a persecutor of Christians, and an enemy of Jesus (1 Timothy 1:12–17)? He doesn't do this just once; he regularly and publicly proclaimed his failings (Acts 22:3–5; 1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13; Philippians 3:6). Paul had two reasons for his public confessions: to give glory to God and to give hope to others. His message was, "If Jesus can do this for me, the chief of sinners—a self-righteous, murdering, religious hypocrite—then surely he can do the same for you!" Paul's confession inspires hope.

William P. Smith

January 7

2 Corinthians 1:3–11

Did Paul forget Jesus' words about worry? He wrote about hardships that were far beyond his ability to endure, "so that we despaired even of life" (2 Corinthians 1:8). These hardships indicate that God does not always satisfy basic human needs; Paul was not expecting God to spare him from death. But Paul writes, "This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead" (2 Corinthians 1:9). Paul was delivered from these hardships, but he did not assume that God guaranteed such deliverance in the future.

How did Paul reconcile Jesus' observation about birds that are fed by the Father with his own history of hunger and near-death experiences? The apostle viewed the world through the defining event of the kingdom of heaven: Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). Jesus Christ was the Word that came from heaven. He was the Bread of Life. When Paul witnessed the King going through hunger, the worst of hardships, and death itself, Paul realized he was witnessing the way of the kingdom. When he was ushered down this path, he welcomed it. What sustained him was spiritual food and drink: "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.... I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:12–13).

Edward T. Welch

January 8

Hebrews 2:5–18

Suffering does not oppose love; it is a result of it. One of the grand purposes of human existence is to look more and more like Jesus. This is God's plan for us. It is one of the greatest gifts he could give. It is evidence that he has brought us into his family. If Jesus learned obedience through suffering, we will too. A path without hardships should cause us to wonder if we really belong to God.

The challenge for us is to think as God thinks. In other words, our present thinking must be turned upside-down. We once thought that suffering was to be avoided at all costs; now we must understand that the path to becoming more like Jesus goes through hardship, and it is much better than the path of brief and superficial comfort without Jesus. When we understand this grand purpose, we discover that suffering does not oppose love; it is a result of it (Hebrews 12:8). We are under the mistaken impression that divine love cannot coexist with human pain. Such thinking is one of Satan's most effective strategies. It must be attacked with the gospel of grace.

Edward T. Welch

January 9

1 Corinthians 1:18–25

The world bears the mark of sin. Culture provides a way for us to see ourselves and the world. It emerges whenever people gather together. Therefore, families, schools, and church denominations all have particular cultures. Culture oversees the unwritten guidelines for manners, traditions, and relationships: whether or not we have dinner together, how we celebrate our holidays, whether we raise hands in worship or kneel, how we greet each other, and so on.

Infused through culture, however, is what Scripture refers to as the world. The world was created by God as the abode of human beings. As created by God it is good, but as our abode it bears the mark of our sin. Therefore, in the New Testament, the term world is used to denote the order of things that are alienated from God. In this sense, it is morally corrupt (2 Peter 1:4), peddling foolishness as wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:20) and interpreting God's wisdom as foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:23). Even though we don't need any assistance in sensual indulgence, the world plants the message that unbridled sensuality is good, thus abetting the tendencies of our own hearts.

Recognizing that the world is outside us heightens our awareness of the spiritual battle we must fight. Not only do we have to fight against our own sin, we also have to fight against aspects of the culture that applaud our sinful tendencies rather than rebuke them.

Edward T. Welch

January 10

2 Samuel 7:5–16

Is God punishing us when we suffer? It's easy to feel like it. So as you think about your life and what God is doing, you need to keep in mind the very important distinction between punishment and discipline. Punishment means someone is trying to extract payment from you for what you owe them. When you think about how much debt you've racked up by sinning against an infinite God, then you quickly realize that it would take eternity to pay it off. God knows that it would be impossible for you to pay for your sins, so he sent Jesus to pay your debts. If you have put your faith in Jesus, then the pain you are experiencing has nothing to do with paying what you owe—Jesus' death paid it all. You have no outstanding debt in your relationship with God. That's why you need to understand that what God is doing in your life is not punishment—it's corrective discipline. Those God loves do experience pain, but the pain is not punishment; it's discipline and it's meant for our good. Even verses that use the word "punish" when discussing God's people have disciplined training in view (2 Samuel 7:14–16; Lamentations 4:22). What you're experiencing is pain that is helping you grow in holiness.

William P. Smith

January 11

2 Timothy 3:14–4:8

The Bible is God's breathed-out word. "Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:20–21). Because the Bible is God's truthful word and not the flight of human fancy, it has authority for God's people. It is, as Paul goes on to say, "useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." Peter puts it this way: "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires" (2 Peter 1:3–4). Peter connects the knowledge of God, the Word (promises) of God, and our participation in God's nature or character. Both apostles would affirm that the Bible is a divinely authored means of God's grace to grow us into the likeness of Christ. God speaks to change us.

Michael R. Emlet

January 12

Acts 2:14–28

Is death a bad thing? Yes. But Scripture tells us that the brightest of good things can be found in the midst of evil's darkness. The cross most powerfully demonstrates this. On the hill of death outside the city, the best thing ever came out of the worst thing ever. What could be worse than the killing of the Messiah? What could be more unjust than the illegal execution of the one perfect person who ever lived? What could be a greater injustice than the torture of the One who came to free us from death? In Acts 2:23 Peter says that the death of Christ was an evil deed by evil men, but Peter says more. He says that God delivered up Jesus for his own "set purpose." This terrible moment was under God's control. He planned from the beginning to use the ultimate evil to accomplish the ultimate good for humanity. In this dark moment, God conquered sin and death—two enemies we could never defeat on our own. On that cross of death, sin and righteousness met.

In the same way, God often brings the most lasting and wonderful things out of the darkest moments in our lives. Your Lord is present in this darkness. He planned the darkest things to result in redemptive good for his children. He surrendered his Son to death so that you could have life. He will not abandon you now.

Paul David Tripp

January 13

Colossians 1:24–29

Your suffering occurs alongside of Christ's. Your life story is embedded in his story. Your suffering, therefore, is actually a participation in the sufferings of Christ (2 Corinthians 1:5; Philippians 3:10; 1 Peter 4:12–13). Consider Paul's amazing statement: "Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church" (Colossians 1:24). Paul is not saying that your sufferings add anything to Christ's work on the cross. There's nothing deficient about Jesus' suffering and death. He is saying that there is a purposeful link between the sufferings of Christ and your own suffering. Your connection with Jesus means that your identity is bigger than what you suffer. Paul says: "If we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory" (Romans 8:17). Paul is saying that your suffering actually confirms your identity as a child of God. It does not undermine that identity, even though it sometimes feels that way. This perspective reminds you that as you suffer, you suffer in Christ. Your life (both suffering and, ultimately, glory) is intimately connected with his life.

Michael Emlet


Excerpted from Heart of the Matter by Christian Counseling Education Foundation. Copyright © 2012 Christian Counseling Educational Foundation. Excerpted by permission of New Growth Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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