So I’m just going to let you know as we get started today that what we are talking about is going to be a challenge because it’s just so opposite of how we tend to live our lives.  I think the nicest way to say this would be to say that what we are talking about today is counter cultural.  That’s a pretty accurate way to view it because today we are going to dive deep into our hearts, and our motives, and our actions…which hopefully are lining up with our faith, our words, and what God is teaching us in our lives.  So as challenging as it may be, is as exciting as it could be, if we can make a few connections here today because we are talking about the very things that make our faith real.  So why would I call this a challenging Sunday?  Because we all want to be real, right?  I mean no one wants to be the hypocrite!  We aren’t setting up goals and working to be hypocrites…nobody wants to be fake!  So why is this going to be such a challenge, if we all want to be real?  Well, it’s because I know a couple things going in.  First, I know that everything we talk about today will really be encouraging us to live opposite of the world’s ways…which isn’t easy!  Second, I know that for many of us we would rather keep things on the surface, where it doesn’t challenge or dive into our heart conditions…that makes us uncomfortable!  It’s easier to keep these talks, nice and neat and all about knowledge without ever challenging us to really engage our hearts!  It’s just easier and a lot less invasive to never get this real.  Lastly, I think maybe the biggest challenge we have is that there just seems to be something blocking us from ever allowing the things we learn to leave our brains and travel south far enough to penetrate our hearts which then would come out in the way we live our lives…and to just add something else, it gets harder and harder to see our own issues as we gain knowledge about our faith, and do many things that make us feel so good about ourselves around church and life…but we have to understand just how important it is to allow God’s love to penetrate our hearts where it can then come out in our actions.  The importance of our hearts and inner world is highlighted all through Scripture.  I love this from Solomon…in some versions it says guard your heart for it guides everything you do…

Proverbs 4:23 Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. NIV

Jesus talks a lot about heart condition and how important that really is…and if you notice Jesus had a specific group of people that he was in conflict with…do you remember who that is?  It was the religious leaders of that time.  Doesn’t that seem strange to you?  Why fight with the church leaders of that day!  Shouldn’t they have all been on the same side?  He drove them crazy, because he saw through all their religious acts, and holy looking lives, and pressed in on who they were on the inside.  He saw that disconnect in them that I spoke of earlier.  They knew all the right things to say. They knew all the right things to do.  They probably had a fish on the back of their cars, and a bumper sticker with their favorite verse on it…but Jesus kept pressing in on their hearts, their motives, and who they were on the inside…and it drove them nuts, eventually to a level where these amazing leaders of the church would kill him!  It wasn’t too long ago that we read about one of Jesus’ most intense confrontations with them here in Matthew 23 and I thought it was a great place to start today.

Matthew 23:1-12  Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them. 2 “The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. 3 You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer. 4 “Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help. 5 Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. 6 They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, 7 preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend.’ 8 “Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. 9 Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of ‘Father’; you have only one Father, and he’s in heaven. 10 And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them — Christ. 11 “Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. 12 If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty. MSG

I love this, and while it’s really a fun read, I think it describes so much for all of us around religion and the true condition of our hearts…it’s also really important to understand what Jesus is doing.  He is pointing out that in the end, you can look so good on the outside and still be a mess on the inside.  You can impress people and look so good to the human eye, you can have the right title, say the right words, wear the right clothes, have the best and most Christian social media timeline out there…and still be a total mess on the inside, where it matters…where it’s real.  I’ve always found it amazing just how the things that impress God or that He values are so opposite of what impresses us humans.  I love how Jesus presses in so hard on who we are on the inside…on our hearts and motives.  But I will say there are some things Jesus teaches about that just seem a little more challenging than others.  Like, more than once Jesus talks about what will happen on that last day, and it should really make you stop and think.  I mean at the point of Judgment Day we lose all those take backs and do overs that God has given us over the rest of our lives!  I mean there is literally something final about that last day, and it should make us pause and look in the mirror.  I can’t stop thinking of one of these moments as I put this talk together, and it’s really tough, and frankly can be a little intimidating to think about and maybe isn’t the most fun to preach on, but it’s so important.  Check this out.

Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ NIV

It’s pretty intense right?  This is so important for us to see…and can make you think, the last thing I want is to get to that day thinking all is well, and have the Lord say to me He never knew me!  Let’s read it again in the Message version, maybe that will help us make some sense of what Jesus is saying here.

Matthew 7:21 “Knowing the correct password — saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance — isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience — doing what my Father wills. 22 I can see it now — at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ 23 And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’ MSG

Yikes!  Well I want you to see something, and no I’m not trying to scare you here today but once again think about what Jesus is saying.  It’s not how you look.  It’s not about how much you can impress those around you.  It’s not about what you have said or any of the religious acts that you find so impressive…it has everything to do with who you are and how you truly lived your life.  Think about that confrontation he had earlier with the religious leaders…doesn’t it mirror so much of what He is saying here?  In both instances I think we see something so important that can lead us to a true and real relationship with God.  It’s that in the end it’s all about who you are on the inside…not what you project or what you look like to those around you…an the key if you ask me is found once again in surrendering our lives to God and living out His will rather than our own.  Did you see that in the very first verse there?

Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. NIV

Why does it seem to always come back to us submission and surrender?  It is so interesting isn’t it?  Jesus says that it’s the person who does the will of God…this means actions, and those actions come out of who we truly are…those actions stem from our hearts.  Remember what Solomon told us earlier?

Proverbs 4:23 Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. NLT

Make no mistake about it, what is going on in your heart is coming out in your actions, and what we are seeing here is that in the end it isn’t about what you say, how you look in public or on social media, or even how many wonderful religious things you do…it has everything to do with who you truly are and how you are living your life…which comes right out of our heart condition.  It’s hard for me to not tie this concept to something God speaks through the prophet Isaiah here in Isaiah 29, if you’re paying attention you can clearly see a theme developing all through Scripture.

Isaiah 29:13 The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. NIV

The Scriptures we are reading today tell a story don’t they?  Do you see it?  We started with Solomon letting us know that everything we do comes out of the condition of our hearts.  Who we are comes out in how we are living.  We then went to Jesus confronting the religious leaders and warning his disciples about who those men were…remember he said they knew they rules well and you could safely follow their teaching…you just needed to be careful not to follow them because their faith and their actions didn’t line up…they could teach it, they just were not living it out. That had to be challenging to hear both for the people who looked up to the religious leaders but also to those religious leaders who were so happy to walk in those elevated positions over people.  We then went to a real eye opening moment where we saw Jesus talking about the last day…you know Judgement day, and how people would be coming up with confidence with a long list of wonderful religious accomplishments…and Jesus is going to say get away from me, I never knew you!  Why because the heart and motives were all wrong.  Because in the end it is about us surrendering our will to God’s and living out His will for our lives…not looking really holy, and doing some good things while continuing to live for ourselves…which took us full circle back to understanding the importance of the heart from Solomon and Isaiah here with God saying so many people come church and look the part, they follow a bunch of traditions and rules taught by people while never allowing their hearts to be penetrated with God’s love…saying and I find this so sad to even hear.  “Their hearts are far from me.”  We need to see this, and understand that in the end God’s desire isn’t for you to do a lot of good things, or act a certain way, God’s desire is for you to embrace who He is, and allow Him all the way into your heart so that His love can flow out into all areas of your life. Which is interesting because I told you as we got started today, letting God all the way into our hearts is a challenging thing to do.

So let’s think for a moment about where we are at in this Redeemed and Forgiven series.   I have told you every week that this is a building process.  So every week it’s important to kind of look back and build out to where we are today.  We started with trying to wrap our minds around God’s grace and then moved into five weeks really working through the one thing that each and everyone of us needs, which is life change!  Really that allowed us to hang out in the concepts of God’s amazing love and grace in our lives for a while which is always a lot of fun to talk about!  After that, we moved into the next section of the series which is really talking about the thing that most Christians struggle with the most, which is living out our faith!  This allowed us to hang out in a much more challenging area but just as important a portion of our faith and that is our will vs God’s will and the idea of surrendering our lives to Christ.  Doesn’t always lead to as many hugs after services on a Sunday morning but it’s really important…and as you can see from the Scriptures we have been in today, it’s a massive subject!  We also see that our heart condition, our actions, our motives, and our willingness to surrender to God matter most to Him!  And I want you to see this inner world that we don’t really like talking about is coming out in our lives.  Listen we know this is a challenging area of our lives which is why we took these four weeks to discuss how to truly live out this New Life in Christ.  Think about it, we have admitted it’s something we all struggle with, it’s challenging for sure but think about how this portion of the series has gone.

Ken introduced this section of the series to us by helping us see something so essential.  He helps us see that our lives are not our own.  Do you remember that?  In the end we need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves some important questions that lead us to this understanding.  Our lives are not our own, and we need to surrender our wills to God and live for Him rather than continuing to live for ourselves.  Then it was my turn and I was talking to you about just how important it is to stay connected to God.  I was pressing in on the importance of walking in a true relationship with God which includes daily time with God in prayer, reading God’s word, and taking intentional time to rest and worship and reflect on God’s enormous love for us…but I also knew that in the end, everything I was bringing up, were things we all would agree with and tell others they should do without really doing them ourselves.  So I felt the need to really push in again on the idea of surrender and getting to the place where we can stay connected to God…because of how challenging life is and will continue to be.  Then last week Ken did a phenomenal job of talking to us about true spiritual maturity which once again led us to our hearts, and this life of love.  Remember how he looked at the Prodigal son story but really pointed out the older brother, and he warned us not to be that guy!  Then he led us into an important heart check asking us question after question about what is truly going on inside us…even as we walk through life doing a lot of good things.  Now today I’m closing down this portion of the series and my job is to help us all take a look at where our relationship with God is truly at today…and I want you to understand that the way you are living your life is letting you know what is going on deep inside your heart.  You know the place that God would say is the most important.

If you are living out a true life in Christ it comes out in everything you do.  It’s funny because I think we, much like the religious leaders in Jesus’ time can sometimes be content to just fake it.  I think they were content to know that people around them were impressed with who they were projecting themselves to be, the issue is that God is not content with fake.  God is after our hearts.  He wants this to be real.  He wants all of us, not just the public parts that look good in front of people…remember that stuff is all very empty to Him.  I also want you to understand that if your heart is not right, yet you are pretending to be that perfect Christian without living out this true relationship with God…that is coming out of you too.  You can’t hide it.  What is going on, on the inside is coming out on the outside…I know you might be great at hiding it, but who you are in Christ or not is clearly coming out in how you live your life.

So, I want you to see this, if you believe and are living out the principles we have spoken of so far in this part of the series on living out our faith it will show.  So, if you believe that your life is God’s and not your own it will show.  If you are walking daily connected to God, it comes out.  If you are growing and walking in that true spiritual maturity, it’s shown in the love, humility, and servanthood coming out of your life…and the opposite is true too.  If you are faking it…that comes out too.

So, if you are wondering how your relationship with God is going?  If you are wondering if God’s love and will are running the show in your heart and life.  If you are wondering if you truly are living out this God life, it’s pretty simple.  How you are living your life is showing you the truth about what is going on deep down in your heart, regardless of how you may think you appear to others…it comes out.  The things that happen on the outside aren’t a coincidence.  Those things are happening because of what is going on, on the inside.

I have to tell you I have been around some really difficult situations with people in the last few weeks…and I think this Redeemed and Forgiven series hitting right now has been enormous because it is so clear to me that what is going on deep down in our hearts really comes out in our lives and relationships and actions.  Did you ever just wonder why life is so messy?  I mean, especially life with people.  I know for me I spent years so confused and just beating myself up as life with people just seemed so volatile all the time…have you ever been there?  Like wondering if you have a giant kick me sign on your back or something?  Well, we must understand something.  It is messy…and it is because we humans walk in so much pain and so many hurts and insecurities and then we bump into other humans who are also walking in so much pain and insecurities of their own…and when we get a bunch of hurt people together, well we know that hurt people, they hurt people.  It really doesn’t matter the environment you are in…work, church, school, sports, out in the community it’s all a mess, because we people are all so broken and hurting.  Now what’s interesting is many of these people don’t look like they are hurting.  We don’t always project the messy parts of who we are do we?  Of course not!  We may look like we have it all put together on the outside.  We act composed and wear the right clothes and drive the right cars…posting the right posts with the most perfect pictures we can find and engaging the right social circles.  Making sure that everything looks exactly right, and we think if we look right maybe we can hide the truth of what is going on deep inside us but believe me it all comes out.  I was thinking about this a lot and it led me to this really intense chapter in James, that helped me understand that the mess and the fights, the resentments, the stress and volatility that comes with life with people in all of these environments from work to school, to our child’s sports teams is because of this reality…regardless of how we look, who we are comes out.  The reality is our inner worlds, our heart conditions are coming out.

James 4:1 What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? 2 You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. 3 And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. 4 You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. 5 What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the spirit God has placed within us is filled with envy? 6 But he gives us even more grace to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but favors the humble.” 7 So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. 9 Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor. NLT

Do you see it?  James is exposing that the messy fighting and volatility is all about what is happening on the inside…in our hearts.  It’s this battle to continue to live life the way we want to live rather than surrendering our lives to God.  James is doing the same thing Jesus did time and time again…exposing hearts and helping us see that the truth of who we are is coming out in our lives.

If you are wondering where your heart is at…if you are sitting here thinking I wonder if I’m truly living out a real relationship with God I want you to understand that your life and your actions are answering that question for you.  No one wants to be fake or looked at as a hypocrite.  We love God and want to live out these lives in Him, we aren’t hoping to be those people like the religious leaders of Jesus’ time or the prodigal son’s older brother…and it’s all going to come down to surrendering our lives to God.  It truly is all about our heart conditions.  So, if you are wondering what your relationship with God is like just take a look at your life and understand that your true heart condition is reflected in how you are living your life right now.  Ask yourself some important questions.

Does God’s love reflect into your relationship with others?  Not sure?  Well ask yourself this. Can you celebrate others when they succeed?  Can you support and serve those around you?  When someone hurts you do you respond with love and forgiveness and the understanding that they have hurts and issues too or do you need justice and try to hurt them back?  If you truly believe that your life is not your own, and if you are staying connected to God and walking in true Spiritual Maturity it is coming out in how you are dealing with the other imperfect and hurting people on this planet.

Do your priorities reflect God’s priorities for your life?  Not sure?  Well you are going to have to be honest here and look at and maybe even list out your priorities and see if they line up to God’s for your life.  We have been talking a lot about God’s will for and desire for our lives in this series, so you know what God is after.  Look at your priorities.  Look at where your time, energy and money goes because if you truly believe that your life is not your own, and if you are staying connected to God and walking in true Spiritual Maturity it is coming out in what matters to you and your decision making process.

Do your finances reflect God’s heart of giving in your life?  I know, you are thinking…really Sam, you need to talk about money…well yes, we do.  Money comes up a lot in the Bible, in fact Jesus talked about it a lot…because it’s a great indicator of where your heart is…remember this?

Matthew 6:21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. NLT

Just like with your priorities…a great way to know what matters most to you is to see where your money is going!  Remember God doesn’t bring up greed and money often because He needs your money!  He is God!  He doesn’t need your money; He wants your heart and greed is a huge blocker to you and I walking in intimacy with God.  So, I think we have time for one more question and it’s an important one for the times we are all living in here in 2020.

Does your response to life and the challenges that come at us in life reflect a faithful belief that God is in control?  I don’t know if you have realized this, but life is not easy.  There is so much adversity and so many hurts in our lives.  There are also so many things that come at us that just don’t line up with the plan that we personally have drawn up for our lives.  How do you respond to those things?  How do you respond to change?  Adversity?  Challenges beyond your control?  If you truly believe that your life is not your own, and if you are staying connected to God and walking in true Spiritual Maturity it is coming out in how you respond to life and it’s difficulties and all the things that are beyond your control.

So I want you to think about this as we close down this section of the series on the most difficult thing for most of us Christians to do which is to live out our faith.  The only way to do that is to dive into a personal relationship with God.  It’s all about working on our hearts and allowing God’s love to pour into our hearts which then flows out in our lives, and actions.  We may wonder how we are doing in our walk with God, well I want you to know that our actions, our lives, and our decisions are answering that question.  It’s something that I really hope you can connect with today.  It’s who you are that matters.  It’s one thing to look the part.  It’s a whole other thing to live this stuff out and we need to understand something.  You can wear the right clothes.  You can say all the right things.  You can show up at church, paste a smile on your face and look the part in every way.  You can buy the right home and drive the right car and put the right bumper stickers on that car.  But in the end, you can’t hide who you really are, your heart condition comes out in your life.  Your true relationship with God is being seen and felt whether you realize it or not.  There is a reason that Jesus so lovingly points out the heart over and over again…and we need to understand that in the end it’s everything…it’s literally determines the course of your life.  It’s what matters.  It’s what is real…and there will be a time when what is real is what truly matters most so focus on your heart.  After all, the wisest man that ever lived not named Jesus tells us it’s the most important thing we can do is take care of our hearts.  Remember, it’s who we are that matters not what we look like.  I think as we focus on the truth that our lives are not our own, as we stay connected to God each and every day and grow into true Spiritual Maturity our eyes leave what satisfies us in the moment of today and help us remember what is real and what is important.  It’s all about the heart.

Proverbs 4:23 Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. NLT