the heart of the matter

Why do I do the things I do? Why am I so angry? Why is my friend so depressed? Why was my family awesome one day, but now it seems like guerilla warfare? Why do I get angry in traffic? Why is she so critical and controlling? Why is he so ungrateful? Why is she so afraid? Why won’t he talk? Why am I the way I am? The simple answer is: the heart.

What is the heart? The heart is not just a muscle that pumps blood, the shape of a card you receive on Valentines Day, nor where romantic feelings come from. It is said that you cannot understand a human until you understand the heart. The Bible describes the heart as your inner man [spirit, soul, mind, emotions, passions, will, etc.]. The heart is the real you, where your beliefs affect your behavior. It is the control center of a your life.

There is something seriously wrong with your heart. Your control center has a glitch in the main frame. What is the matter with the heart? It is stained with sin. Sin is like the fat that clogs your heart from functioning properly. Sin is like eating a constant diet of junk that will eventually kill you if you do not do something about it. Sadly, there is nothing you can do about it. However, God has done something about it. He has given you Christ whom if allowed will do surgery on your heart opening up the clogged arteries and capillaries so His life-giving power can clean you from the consequences of sinful living.

The Bible Uses a Tree to Illustrate Heart Change: Fruits & Roots [Luke 6:43-46]

When the Bible speaks about fruit, it is usually referring to the responses to your behavior [what you do and think based on what you believe]. The fruit is what speaks in Luke 6:43-46. Jesus says something very powerful about words [i.e. fruit]: they flow from the heart [cf. Matthew 5:21-30].

Now it is important to understand that people and situations do not cause you say what you say or do what you do. Why can’t people cause you to sin? This may fly in the face of modern psychology and self-esteem talk, but you alone are responsible for the way you respond to people and situation. People and situations might influence you to sin because you are being blamed, threatened, manipulated, piled on with guilt, or spoken to unjustly, but you are the root causer of your responses to these influencers. Your words and responses are revealed in the fruits of your heart.

You can recognize a tree by the fruit it bears. If you plant apples what do you expect to take root? What if you plant giant pumpkin seeds? How about an acorn? The type of seed you plant is the plant that will grow. It is unnatural to plant a pumpkin seed and discover a few years later an oak tree. When you are dealing with plants you recognize there is an organic connection between the roots and fruit. The same is true with people—the roots of your belief bear the fruits that resemble

When the Bible speaks about roots, it is usually referring to your heart [where beliefs are born, incubated and grow]. You have the kind of fruit you bear because of your roots. You will speak and act the way you do because of what is in your hearts. The heart is how you function. Your sin problem is a result of our heart [cf. Matthew 23:25-26; clean cup]. You cannot change your behavior until you change your heart.

How can you change your heart? It begins by a change of belief [roots], which will affect your behavior [fruit]. When I was growing up my gramps had an apple tree. The apple tree didn’t produce many apples. It began to produce dry, wrinkled, brown and mushy apples. Knowing my gramps he would try to remedy this problem. Let’s say gramps went out to the tree with trimmers, a staple gun, stepladder and a box of Washington apples he bought from the grocery store. He decides to cut off the bad apples and puts on the new store bought ones. Did he fix the tree? Stapling apples will not help because the new apples will rot too. Change that doesn’t reach the heart [roots] does not last. Cosmetic changes never satisfy. Are you stapling? What kind of fruits are you trying to staple in place of actually changing?

To Change Your Heart You Need to Understand What Rules Your Heart [Ezekiel 14:1-5]

In Ezekiel, the spiritual leaders of Israel come to the prophet because they have questions they want to ask of God. As they come to the prophet he sees something is wrong with them. What is wrong with them? [Idolatry] What kind of idols? [In their hearts] These idols run deeper than cultural or religious idols they are idols inside the heart of man.

What is God’s response? Idols in the heart are a ”stumbling block before the face” Ezekiel 14:3 If you put your hands in front of face and walk about the room you will not make it far without stumbling. That is exactly God’s point about idols of your heart; eventually, they will cause you to sin.

An idol is anything that rules me other than God. Sin is fundamentally idolatry [cf. Romans 1:21-25 & Matthew 6:19-24]. Idolatry is the great exchange: creation for the Creator. Here is a great truth from this passage: Whatever rules your heart will exercise inescapable influence over your life and behavior. You live for some kind of treasure. Whatever you treasure will control your heart, “where your treasure is your heart will be also.” [Matthew 6:21] Whatever controls your heart will control your behavior, “no one can serve two masters.” [Matthew 6:24]

Isn’t it impossible to know the heart of another man? Yes, you can only see the outside of a man [behavior]. However, Hebrews 4:12-13 tells you that the Bible is like a scalpel. It cuts through layers of flesh and exposes the condition of your heart. Although you do not have x-ray vision to any mans heart, God and His Word do. The Bible is a heart-revealer. The Word of God has the power to change your heart. That is the Bible compares itself to a surgical tool that can cut to the innermost part of your soul—the heart. For without heart change, there is no real change. Here are some great x-ray questions to ask to see the condition of your heart, preparing you for potential heart change:

What do you love? Hate? What or who do you trust? Who do you seek to please? Whose opinion matters most? Who are your role models? Who do you want to be like? What makes you tick? If this were your last day on earth what would you do? How would others describe you on your deathbed? What is your definition of success? What would make you feel rich? What brings you greatest joy? What do you desire, crave, lust, and wish for? What desires do you serve and obey? What is your life aim? Goal? Purpose? Where do you bank your hopes? What do you fear or worry about? Where do you find refuge, safety, comfort, escape or security? What do you pray for? How do you live with yourself? Where do you find your identity? How do you define what you are?[1]

Next week we will talk more about understanding your heart and in the weeks that follow how to guard your heart from influencers in our world seeking to distract you from giving all your heart toward God.

[1] Taken from an article by David Powlison, X-ray Questions: Drawing Out the Whys and Wherefores of Human Behavior, The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Volume 18, Number 1, Fall 1999. Pgs. 2-9

who’s in your driver’s seat?

The first two cars I owned were hand-me-downs. When I was 16, I bought the 1987 Dodge Daytona from my stepmother for $500. She lasted about 6 months before she gave up the ghost. My second car I bought while in college—a 1989 Chevy Corsica from my grandmother. She was a fairly reliable 4-door sedan. I named her Angus, mostly because she was black and I wanted her to have a bold name for the complex I had while driving her.

Angus had issues. First, my door got stuck. I felt like one of the Duke brothers climbing through the window of the General Lee to get into my car. Second, the ignition broke, so I had a buddy hotwire a toggle switch to help start the car without a key. I was embarrassed to take dates in this car because I never knew what would happen next. On one occasion I took a gal out for dinner and it started raining really hard. I turned on the wipers to full blast and they rocketed off the windshield never to be found. I spent the rest of the ride with my head out of the window like a panting dog to see where we were going. Nothing like that to dampen your date!

I did upgrade to nicer cars, but never really got the car of my dreams. If you could have any car what would you drive? Many people desire the German BMW or Mercedes, while others adore the Italian Lamborghini, Ferrari or Bugatti Veyron. I would settle for a Ford Mustang Shelby. I often daydream about what it would be like to drive one of these hot wheels around town, feeling the roar of the engine; proud of wow-factor I get from people I zoom past.

Have ever realized how much cars and relationships have in common? The next few weeks I will share a series on dating and relationships. We are going to approach this topic from the biblical standpoint. You might be thinking, “I know what the Bible says about relationships, it’s so old fashion and culturally irrelevant.” Stay tuned. You might be pleasantly surprised how practical and helpful the Bible is when it speaks about relationships with the opposite sex.

you get what you pay for

There are two ways to look at buying a car: either you get something really cheap that quickly breaks down or you get something nice that will last you a lifetime. There is no middle of the road. When it comes to relationships, God is in it for the long haul for “nothing can separate us from the love of God” [cf. Ephesians 3:17-19, Romans 8:35-39, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7]. He has put the miles in for you and He expects you to go the distance with those you committed.

Jesus says marriage—the chief earthly relationship—is a visual illustration to the world of Jesus’ commitment to the church [Ephesians 5:25ff]. Never will He abuse, neglect or separate Himself from His Bride. The love binding together Christ and the church is eternal. He has a covenant relationship with His followers built on sacrificial love for His followers. Relationships are no small matter or a place for shallow commitment.

Do not settle for anything less than the best. What is the best when it comes to relationships? God says the best is for both partners to be committed followers of Christ. In 2 Corinthians 6:14-16, believers are commanded to set their relationship standards high, “Do not be yoked with unbelievers.” To understand this verse you must learn from the farmer. Back in the day, farmers used oxen to plow their fields. They would match up two animals that were similar in size and strength to get straight rows. A smart farmer would never match up a goat and Clydesdale, or wild stallion with an old donkey. If so he would simply spin in circles getting nowhere. Do you see the illustration God gives to us about relationships? A believer and non-believer pull each other in opposite directions, in fact, the relationship will spin in spiritual circles if both parties are not committed to Christ.

beware of lemons

Beware of the dodgy deals from the used car lot. In other words, be careful of the worldly messages you hear and see on TV, Internet, or romance novels. The message is of compromise not commitment, “Dating is just for fun and sex.” Also, be careful of ungodly advice from friends who are sinful sympathizers. His or her message is listen to yourself not your God, “You should be with someone who makes you happy or makes you feel fulfilled.”  Lemons are sour deals that as you think back on them you regrettably know you have bought into a lie and you should have been cautious enough to search under the hood of that person’s heart before you signed the paperwork. Here are common lies and excuses about dating a non-believer:

“He or she is really nice person and is very good to me.” This is admirable and chivalrous. Some non-believers truly have better character than believers. However, if they are not in Christ their motives in the relationship are always selfish. Use your friendship as a God given opportunity to share with them the gospel. Let them know that Christ wants to reconcile an eternal relationship with them.

“Don’t worry, I will share my faith inside our relationship.” Missionary dating is sin. You have already compromised the relationship. How can you tell your partner to obey God when you are not being obedient to God by dating them? It is never God’s will to sin, even if it feels so good and right.

“If God was loving He would let me date who I want.” Remember, God is the standard. What He commands is for my good and His glory. God is not being cruel when He commands you to date believers and steer away from non-believers. He is protecting your heart. Take the time to read the story of Sampson [Judges 13-16] and Solomon [1 Kings 1-11]. You see how quickly love blinds their hearts from their God to the idols of their women. God warns about inter-spiritual relationships because He knows how distracting and spiritually detrimental they are for both parties.

In order to prevent yourself from getting a lemon you need to do some research into the person you want to partner. When buying a car you will get an inspection from the mechanic, check under the hood yourself, or go to to see the specks and history of the car. When it comes to our relationships we must go to the Word of God. The Bible says by their fruit you will know the kind of person they are [Matthew 7:16-17; John 15:8; Galatians 5:22-23].

How can you see someone’s fruit? See how they handle conflict [Proverbs 9:8-9], probe their passions, and ask x-ray questions: First, who is driving your life? If they give you a shallow answer or they are offended you asked this should be a red flag. Second, what is your relationship like with your mom and dad? You can tell a lot about how someone will treat you by the way they treat or speak to their parents. Third, are you involved at church? If they are serving others and loving the church this gives you a seek peak at their passions and priorities [cf. Philippians 2:4]. These are not fail proof questions since people can put up good fronts or change, but they are a starting point. [Note: more on danger signs for relationships next week].

no more backseat driving

Backseat drivers are annoying. They whisper or wail in your ear what they think you need to be doing. They are never satisfied and always complaining about your driving style. Are you a backseat driver to God? Do you say to Him things like, “Stop telling me how to run my relationships,” “Can you get going already? I am tired of waiting for the right guy or gal to come along,” Now if I were God I would be like the parent who says, “If you do not stop it right now I am going to pull this car over and give you something to think about!” Good thing I am not God, but if you say that God is in your driver’s seat let Him drive.

quick Q&A about concerning biblical relationships

Just because someone is a Christian does that mean I should date them even if I do not like him or her? What if never meet a Christian that I am attracted to? Waiting is never a bad option. In fact, while you wait, your primary relationship—between you and God—can be growing some great fruit. Also, pray to God asking Him to provide you a partner that will love God more than you.

What if you are in a relationship that you are convinced is second best? Repent and respond by doing the right thing. Speak honestly with your partner and break off the relationship until you are both faithfully committed to Christ.

How can you tell who is behind the wheel when it comes to your other relationships? Here are some helpful tips:

  1. Surround yourself a great examples of faithful followers who have done it right. Take good notes.
  2. Learn from the examples of failed relationship. Don’t let history repeat itself.
  3. Keep accountable to someone wise while dating. Ask them to assess your relationships often with objectiveness.
  4. Listen to the advice of your parents and heed the warnings of the Word of God.

a fruitful look at forgiveness

We have defined forgiveness as a decision to treat an offender as if the offense never happened at all. Forgiveness is a choice. Forgiveness is an event, not a process [i.e. Jesus on the cross]. Forgiveness is not forgetting, rather it is not dwelling. Forgiveness is like taking a trash bag full of pain and hurt and throwing it away. However, many people like to go to the dump and dig through their old dirt, but that gets you more messy and stinky.

The Bible paints a picture of forgiveness as a tree with deep roots and healthy fruits. The Bible uses this illustration to say that what comes out of a man’s mouth shows you what is in his heart [cf. Luke 6:43-46]. The root of the matter is the heart. The fruit is our behavior. Ephesians 4 gives a practical principle of how to test the quality of fruit by getting at the root issue. God has not called us to be fruit inspectors; rather we are to be root investors.

When I hold onto unforgiveness I will produce destructive fruit [Eph 4:31].

We often ignore or fail to realize the cost of unforgiveness. The cost of unforgiveness is loss of intimacy with God, loss of relationship with others, and stunted spiritual growth [i.e. put off—bitterness, rage, anger, etc.]. If I do not deal with my ungodly anger quickly it will soon be snowball that ends in a deadly avalanche.

I want you to get a real look at forgiveness [Is.55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”]. This is not just a passage about the bigness or smartness of God, in the context it is about His forgiveness. You see we measure our forgiveness with a yardstick: Are they worthy of my forgiveness? And how much am I suppose to forgiven them? God’s forgiveness cannot be measured or compared to our view of forgiveness. Our forgiveness is so little compared to God’s. We cannot conceive the boundaries on God’s forgiveness.

When I unleash forgiveness I produce delightful fruits [4:32a]

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.” When I put off the fruits of the old man and begin to live as the new man Christ created me to be I begin to bear fruit that is in His likeness [cf. Gal.5:16ff]. His image has rub off on me. You cannot fake this kind of fruit for long. It is the result of an intimate relationship with the maker and sustainer of the universe.

Growing up my grandpa Dale had a few apple trees. The apple tree didn’t produce much. It just produced dry, wrinkled, brown and mushy apples. Let’s say gramps decided to fix the tree one year. He went out to the tree with trimmers, a staple gun, stepladder and a box of apples he bought from the store. He cuts off the bad apples and puts on the new store bought ones. Did he fix the tree? Stapling apples will not help because they will just rot too. Forgiveness that doesn’t reach the heart [roots] does not last. Cosmetic changes never satisfy. Are you stapling fruit? You can know if you are forgiving person if you have the freedom to give your best, most, and greatest to God and others without reservation.

Why do I need to be forgiving? What is my motivation? [4:32b-5:2]

“As God in Christ forgave you…” When I forgive I am most like God [cf. Matthew 6:12]. I want to be forgiving because I realize how much I have been forgiven. Stop for a moment. Think about all God has forgiven you. Are you amazed? How can you not be impacted by that truth? Think about those you are having a difficult time forgiving. How can God’s forgiveness motivate you to forgive today?

I am certainly no trekkie, but in conclusion we are going to take forgiveness through to the fourth dimension. Here is how we must deal with unforgiveness: First, defer to God. All forgiveness is from God—He is the final frontier [John 20:22-23]. Second, decide to take the initiative. God gives the grace, and you must you decide to enter the race [cf. Lk.15:20; Rom.12:18]. Third, disengage from your emotions. Even if you don’t feel like forgiving that is not an option [Gal.5 “fruit of the Spirit”; Is.43:25]. Fourth, the final dimension is to deliver your enemies to God through much prayer [cf. Luke 6:27-28].

too busy

“We are too busy to pray, and so we are too busy to have power. We have a great deal of activity, but we accomplish little; many services, but few conversions; much machinery, but few results.” -R.A. Torrey, How to Obtain Fullness of Power  
Busyness or fruitfulness-that is the question… Is your life full of meaningful activities or just busy activities? 
It’s easy to be involved in many different efforts and good causes, but the truth is, busyness does not guarantee fruitfulness. It also does not authenticate the fact that I am in God’s will. It is the quality of what our lives produce that determines whether or not we are truly fruitful. 
One good way to help determine if you are being fruitful or just busy is by asking yourself some questions like: 
Am I spending my time doing what helps fulfill God’s purposes for life?
Am I doing what I really desire to do?
Am I using my God-given gifts and talents?
Am I being controlled and pressured by circumstances and expectations of others?
Do I see concrete results-good fruit-from my busyness? 
Being fruitful begins with putting God first. John 15:5 says, I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever lives in Me and I in him bears much fruit. However, apart from Me you can do nothing. 
In Luke 10:38-42, we read the story of Martha and Mary. Martha was very busy serving, even serving Jesus. She got angry because her sister sat at Jesus’ feet listening to Him talk instead of being busy helping her serve. Jesus’ response to Martha was that Mary had chosen the best thing to do at that time-sit and listen to Him.  
I can be a lot like Martha. I have to constantly be busy doing something, even busy serving God. It does take long to figure out that this busyness can have bad effect on your relationship with God and others. While being busy I didn’t want to sit and listen to God, and it made me very angry when others did. Why? They aren’t busy accomplishing “things” like you.  
You can never do everything you want. And certainly you cannot do anything on your own strength very long before needing to rely upon the everlasting reserves of Jesus Christ. 
Busyness often has its roots in pride. It says, “Look at me, look at all that I can do, and see how busy I am.” If you pride yourself on your busy schedule or ability to juggle a packed day timer, you have a problem with busyness. Make time for God. Be still and wait upon Him. This may be the hardest thing for you to do, but in the midst of busyness it is the most fruitful thing.