Sunday, August 18, 2013

Locate Your Heart

Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t serve God and wealth.
Matthew 6.19-24

Where’s your heart?  Not the pump in your chest, but the real you. 

Your heart is the home of your passions, your desires and your efforts.  When your heart is the issue in the bible, see it as your true self.  Your identity.

Being honest about what’s in your heart is hard, and getting to know yourself is tricky.  We often don’t like things about ourselves, and so we cover our hearts with layers of deception; even self deception. 

Most Christians spend their lives trying to deny, conceal, and/or control their hearts. 

There are things we want desperately, but we know we’re not “supposed to” want those kinds of things, so we work to discipline ourselves and try to control or handcuff ourselves (and others) with rules and regulations.  But these don’t really work, do they?  Put a drunk in a cell with no alcohol for a week, and he’s still an alcoholic.  Put a child molester away in jail for a few years and even though he hasn't committed this sin for a while, he still emerges with the same desires.  A glutton who has been denied food for a few days is still a glutton. 

External controls (like rules and self discipline) do not change our hearts!   

“Rick” is prone to anger.  When he unfairly treated, he goes off.  His friends try to tell him sometimes he’s ‘justified’ and sometimes not.  Others want him to learn “anger management.”  But none of these things address the true problem (his heart); they merely occasionally handcuff his actions.  He is still seething on the inside even when he doesn't display it.  

When he thinks back on an episode later he’s upset with himself.  He begs forgiveness from God and others around him, and despite his great intentions, he’s filled with rage the next day. 

Everyone struggles like Rick with something.  Maybe your issue is sexual or material or relational, but we all can understand Rick’s issues.  We wish we were different, but there’s that automatic response that seems to come from nowhere, and no matter how hard we try, it gets us.  And once we stumble, we mask it, justify it, apologize for it, and keep trying to “manage” or “control” our desires, our fears, our struggles.  It’s a cycle.  If we repeat the cycle long enough, eventually something’s gotta give. Some people turn to rationalization or excuses; which is just one form of quitting.  Others wallow in guilt and repeatedly “confess” to purge their guilt.  Some just walk away from God altogether. 

Consider the people you know and how they handle these difficulties.  Some folks are rigid.  They have rules and discipline and structure and they appear to have everything under control.  And often they’re very judgmental.  Others rationalize their sin or have excuses for it, or just plain re-label it as not sin at all.  They are forgiving and kind, and often more forgiving than God. 

Jesus taught a better way

Jesus taught us to control our hearts - rather than our behavior. 

It’s easy to avoid sins you don’t really want to do, isn't it?  I don’t want to inject heroin into my body, so it’s easy for me to never do heroin.  There are lots of sins that aren't tempting to me, and several sins that are nearly irresistible.  For example, I have an ongoing love affair with food.  I’m a glutton.  So I try to control my diet.  But diets are SO hard!  But what if I didn't like food just as I don’t really want heroin? 

Or consider our example above, Rick.  Instead of managing anger, what if Rick could change his outlook so that he didn't get angry in the first place?  There are lots of people who are wronged every day but don’t get angry like Rick does. 

In the same way, there are men who see hot women every day but don’t lust.  There are people who are surrounded by wealth and beauty but don’t become materialistic. And there are great, righteous people who are not inclined to be hateful or judgmental. 

This is what Jesus taught us to do: he taught us how to control what we want.  If you can stop yourself from wanting to do bad things, and only want to do good things, then you can always do what you want - your will and God’s are one!

Can you imagine how great it would be to never want to do bad things, or at least rarely want to do them?  And in the few moments when you were tempted, what if the temptation was very minor and easy to resist? 

Now remember that biblically speaking, your heart is the real you: the home of your desires, passions, fears and ambitions.  If your heart is right, then you will automatically want to do right. 

Like our religious leaders today, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day had a list of things designed to control outward behavior.  In Matthew 15 they challenged Jesus because he and his followers didn't follow their rules.  Jesus responded to them with an insult.  But to his own disciples he said:
Everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated.  But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.  These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”  (Matthew 15:17-20)
 Do you see that our sins proceed from our heart?  While religious people teach us to control our behavior, Jesus taught us to control our desires, knowing our behavior would follow automatically! 

Think about it: how did Jesus live thirty three years without sin?  Of course he was tempted, but because he wanted to do his Father’s will more than anything else, the temptations didn't have the same impact on Jesus that they do on us. 

Heart Management

OK, so how do we control our desires, and align our desires with God’s, so that we won’t even want to sin anymore?  Jesus told us when he said:

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”
If you control your “treasure,” you’ll control your heart.  If your treasure is in the right place, so will your heart be in the right place, and then your behavior will automatically be good! 

This is why Jesus told his disciples not to invest in earthly things, but to invest in heavenly things – it’s because our hearts follow that which we value.  If you invest lots of money and time and interest in a nice car, or in your house … you become “invested” in those things.  You will pay attention to them automatically. 

Consider what people invest themselves in, and you’ll see it’s true. 

Many people invest themselves in their children.  They put family first, and so everything is focused on the kids until the kids are grown, then they expect their kids to invest back in them, and so it goes.  Many in our culture put family ahead of God.  And most of them actually believe it’s the right thing to do, even though Jesus specifically taught against it. (Matthew 10:34-39; Luke 14:26)

For others, it’s their retirement savings.  They will be frugal and focused and invest wisely so that they can retire in comfort.  These people watch money more than they watch God.  And this in spite of the fact that Jesus explicitly taught this was a sin. (Luke 12:16-22; 16:19-31, etc.)  

Others are all about how they look to other people.  They want to look good, dress well, have lots of shoes or spend time in the gym or do all the things one needs to do in order to be popular or cool or well-liked.  Fear of being alone can drive people crazy. 

The human heart is all over the place.  Our example above (Rick) wants respect and fairness.  Others want companionship.  For others it’s sensual, and for some it’s pride. 

So … what is your heart’s desire?  Do you want to be “reasonably” wealthy?  Do you see that as “security”?  Do you want to be surrounded by great friends and family?  Do you want the coolest toys, or the best spouse, or the smartest kids? 

If you control your investments, your heart will follow.  Jesus came “to seek and save the lost,” (Luke 19.10) and Paul did his work so that he could save as many as possible (1 Cor. 9.22-27). So they invested their “talents” (Matthew 25.14-30) accordingly.  Their desire to rescue others from slavery to sin drove ALL their actions; their actions became their investment, which turned their hearts, etc.  That is the cycle they were on, unlike our sin/guilt/rationalization cycle. 

What if you focused on finding someone at work to rescue, instead of focusing on climbing the corporate ladder or being a good employee?  What if you took your children to do God’s work instead of focusing on the kids themselves, making them the center of the world?  What if you and your spouse worked for others, gave to others and focused on rescuing others?  What if you worked to see how much you could make and give away, instead of making it and saving it for your own selfish desires or need for financial “security”? 

You will invest yourself in something today.  And when you do, your heart will become more attached to that thing.  I’m writing this on a Sunday.  This morning some of you will go to church.  That’s an investment.  Some people are so invested in their church, they can’t see the difference between that and God, and they excuse the bad things their church or leaders do, and shout the good.  Heart follows investment. 

Others will watch political news programs, and invest in the political struggles of the country.  I know some people who are so invested in conservatism they can no longer distinguish between earthly politics and their Christianity.  They are more invested in the USA than they are in God’s kingdom, and their hearts will follow. 

Still others will invest themselves in the NFL (or MLB or NBA).  As they spend time watching the game(s), their hearts will follow like a baby duck follows its mother. 

And so the list goes.  Do you golf, surf or go rock climbing?  You are investing in that – and so your heart will follow. 

Make this your mantra ... repeat it again and again until you know it automatically: 
"Actions follow the heart, my heart follows my investments - therefore to reduce temptation, I must invest wisely" 

The Goal: Christ-like investing  

Jesus told his followers to invest in heavenly things.  Heavenly things are those things that cannot be destroyed or taken.  They are not impressive to other people, but are very impressive to God.  Investing in heaven will not make you popular or wealthy.  All the prophets were hated, so were the apostles, and so was Jesus; and none of them had health insurance or retirement plans or even several pairs of shoes.  But they also had far more security than we do, for they had real security – an eternal home in glory!  They had nothing, and so had nothing to lose. 

They invested in helping the poor, teaching the ignorant and giving all the glory to God.  They spent more time comforting the sick than they did dining with the elite.  They never watched TV, and you’ll find precious little time devoted to politics, let alone hobbies or fashion.

When crowds followed Jesus, he didn't swell with pride; he saw the poor widow who had just lost her son; or felt the touch of a sick woman. 
When falsely accused, he did not defend himself.  
When insulted, he didn't return it.  
When he was hurt he didn't cry, when he was hungry he didn't stress, and when attacked by a violent storm at sea, he slept.  
When people wanted to make him king, he responded the same way he did when his hometown village wanted to murder him – he slipped away. 

The Challenge: Replacing investments

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”  (Matthew 13:44-46)

If you want to change your heart and invest in heavenly things, then you must start by “selling” all your current treasures to buy the pearl of great price. 

Or as Paul shared his own attitude:
Whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and consider them mere trash so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in him … that I may know him, the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become teleios, but I press on….  I don’t regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are teleios, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you.  (Philippians 3:7-15)

Turn your back on the past and start over.  Leave Egypt.  Throw your current way of life into the garbage, sell it, or whatever you need to do in order to stop – STOP investing as you have been.  The investments you've made in the past have led to your current desires.  STOP IT!

If you want to overcome sin and temptation, there are some simple things to do: 

  1. First, recognize your situation 

If you’re not an active Christian, your heart and desires are naturally selfish, and perhaps you see the only reason to follow God is based on whether or not He will bless you.  In that case, you'll never understand the true value of being in God's kingdom. 

We “Christians” are prone to look down our noses at people in the world, and that’s to our shame.  Without God it’s natural – normal even – to be selfish. 

Most of our “Christian” friends are just like religious people of Jesus’ day.  It’s very hard to tell the difference between true disciples and those who merely make the claim.  Jesus called these people disgusting and lukewarm (Revelation 3.14-22).  And he called the lukewarm fakers “tares among the wheat.”  Tares look like wheat, but they don’t produce the good fruit.  They use up the soil and produce nothing.  (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)

Start by examining and challenging yourself.  Are you bearing fruit?  If not, why?

  • If you’re not a devoted disciple – make a commitment to God right now to follow Jesus no matter what. 
  • If you’re a devoted disciple but have not been immersed (baptized) from a repentant heart, then make it so.  When we are immersed in water as commanded in the New Testament, we have our sins washed away and we receive the Holy Spirit.  He (The Spirit) helps us with our struggles.  And without His help, all our efforts to be “good” are in vain. 
  • If you suspect you may be unclear about baptism, contact me immediately, and I’ll help you
  • If you are a baptized disciple but have been making bad investments, read on. 

  1. Recognize your situation
  2. Second: Resolve to Repent

This is the biblical word for “change” or “turn.”  It means that you are going to confess that you've been investing badly, and now want to do better – to be different.  Make your mind up to do this – be resolved. 
Resolve to change as quickly as possible, and yet to be as persistent as necessary. 
Resolve that no matter how many times you fail, you’ll always get back up and keep trying again. 

  1. Recognize your situation
  2. Resolve to Repent
  3. Third: Take Practical Steps

At first, this is a lot like ‘rules’ or ‘discipline.’  This doesn't work in the long run, but rules are necessary when you first start out.  We are all like children.  Little kids need to be taught not to touch a stove (that’s a rule), but as they mature, we teach them how to use, clean, and maybe repair the stove.  So it is with our change of investment strategy.  At first we need to give ourselves some rules. 

I’ll give you a few examples from my own life.  I used to be addicted to politics.  I studied it, watched lots of news and listened to radio shows, etc.  To reinvest my time, I shut off the news and picked up my bible.  When tempted to get political, I went to the bible and studied “politics” in Israel’s history or things Jesus said about his kingdom.  It was really hard at first, but the more I invested in study in the word, the easier it was to forget how badly America is doing.  Nowadays I skim the headlines to see what’s what … but invest very little time other than voting. 

I also used to smoke.  I tried several times to quit.  Finally I found some suggestions from the American Heart Association with tips and tricks and diet changes.  And after several failed attempts, I finally overcame it by God’s grace.  Today I occasionally smell smoke and the craving comes back, but it’s a LOT weaker now than it used to be, and much easier to avoid. 

Notes about the practical steps:
  • Some things are easy to change, others are hard
  • Some are a bigger deal than others (consequences vary)
  • All of us have more than one thing to change

Because those things are true, you must not attempt to fix all of your problems at once, but prioritize.  I used to be a habitual liar.  My lies had much worse consequences than my smoking did, so I worked on lying first, and smoking later.  Doing both at the same time was too much for my weak faith.  So you need to eliminate the easy things and then do the hard things only a few at a time.  If you don’t … discouragement can kill you.  Satan wants us to be discouraged.  It comes from a weak faith, and none of us has strong faith when we first start out.  But as you see yourself succeeding, you’ll eventually develop very strong faith, and so overcome the temptations of the world. 

And remember: the 'rules' and 'fences' and things like that are temporary.  In the long run, they won't work.  When you first start out, use these as crutches or training-wheels and then grow out of them. 


Coach yourself  
Be wise and determined and recognize your weaknesses.  Also recognize the difference in what works for you.  Some people respond well to harsh criticisms, others need constant reinforcement.  Know yourself, and coach yourself accordingly.  If you “yell” at yourself every time you fail, and you keep failing … maybe you need to be a bit more forgiving and patient with yourself.  If you tend to forgive yourself easily when you fail, maybe you need to start yelling.  Don’t quit until you find what works.

Build walls around your fences   
If you’re struggling with porn, for instance, maybe you should stay away from any kinds of pictures of attractive women for a while.  It may not technically be a sin to look at the SI swimsuit issue, but for you, it may be a stepping stone to trouble.  I quit cigarettes, but if I have a cigar today it makes it much harder to resist smoking more.  Alcoholics don’t go to bars.  Don’t even go inside.  Gamblers, stay away from even your friends if they gamble. 

Choose relationships that help
Some people make your sin easier to avoid, some make it hard.  I have friends who completely overlook some of my shortcomings – they don’t think it’s that big of a deal, and so they don’t help me.  I must stay away from people who are stumbling blocks.  Even if I like them – if they are family, friends or brothers … if they make my walk with God more difficult, then I will simply not be around them.  I seek fellowship with those who make my struggles easier.  

This is as important as it is difficult!  I had a "friend" who I confessed to and asked for help, and instead of helping, she used it as opportunity to cause me to stumble.  Remember the stories in the Old Testament.  God told Israel not to even make a treaty with the foreigners, not to marry them, and to completely stay away.  If your own spouse causes you to stumble, it's better to be apart.  No one on this earth will ever care for you like God, who gave His Son - so let no human relationship interfere with your walk with God. Don't play with this one, and so delude yourself!  

Help others, help yourself
It’s natural to be judgmental of others, especially if they don’t share our weakness.  It’s easy for me to be judgmental of gay people, because that’s not a temptation for me.  But what if I helped them instead of judging?  It’s easy for lots of women to be judgmental about porn, but what about helping their husbands and friends instead of judging?  It’s easy for husbands to be judgmental of their wives’ materialism and shoe/clothes fetishes.  But we’d all be much better off if we would work together to help without being judgmental!  The more you ‘invest’ yourself in helping another with her sin, the easier it’ll be for you to repent from your own sins.  When you invest your time in helping people … your heart goes right there.

So will you make the effort? 

I know this is a long post – but for those who are willing to actually try to literally invest in heavenly treasures, it can be a life changer.  

Behavior management becomes a never-ending struggle, and one which most people will never overcome.  That’s because our behavior isn't the real problem.  Behavior is a symptom.  Angry words are symptoms.  Fights, hatred, short-tempers, lust, greed, envy … all of these things are mere symptoms of the real problem.  It’s much the same with any sin – sexual sins, materialism, people-pleasing, gluttony – they’re all symptoms, not the real problem. 

The real problem is a heart problem, and it has always been so 
Then Yahweh saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  (from Genesis 6)

For those of you who are willing to join me in the struggle to “reinvest,” you will find the pathway to be narrow and difficult, but it’s a pathway to freedom.  You really can find the peace that surpasses understanding.  God is faithful!

“So then, brothers, we’re under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
  For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
(Romans 8:12-18)

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