It’s hard to believe this, but our big fall series on Spiritual Success is starting to wind down!  Ken will be closing it out next week, time sure flies when you are having fun!  This means that the next time I will be talking to you it will be in our Christmas series, called “Missing Jesus.”  I’m somewhere between shocked that the Holidays are right in front of us, and excited about the new Christmas conversation we will be in and bummed to see this Success series coming to an end because I think it’s been such an important teaching, on some important and sometimes intense subjects.  When these principles we are learning are applied to our lives, they can lead us to not only understand what Success is in God’s eyes and how different His view of success is than ours, but to hope because we can all be successful when we view it and define it as God does.

“Success according to Scripture, is becoming the person God calls you to become, and doing what God calls you to do-in His way, and according to His timetable.” – Pete Scazzero

This series has been intense because it is a deep dive into our inner worlds.  This excites us, because it’s so important, and it excites us because for so many people the inner world is the part of our lives that gets the least attention.  We have talked a lot about this idea of Spiritual Success and how to walk in it.  We have talked about the importance of a relationship with God.  We have talked about the deep and painful realities that we all face in life.  We have talked about the importance of love and even took a deep dive into the idea that our pasts affect who we are today.  This is powerful stuff when we engage it, but there is something really on my heart as this series begins to wind down…and it’s this.  Where do we go from here?  So, I have sat here through the fall listening to this series, maybe found some good practical handles, and I get that it has touched some deeper issues that we all face, but where the rubber really meets the road for us all, is what do we do with this?  I guess the real question is, ‘How do we move forward in this difficult life, with issues, pain, and challenges and find joy, peace, and Spiritual Success?’  Well, I think that is the right question to be asking today, and I’m looking forward to jumping into that with you, but to set the tone, I want to just talk…and I am going to warn you that I’m going to talk about life and culture today and I’m not going to apologize for using a couple of “p” words that can distract so many of us.

So, it’s fair to say that there is a lot going on in our world today isn’t there?  And for many of us, all this talk about our Spiritual Lives, or dealing with these deep internal issues that we all face in life really doesn’t sink in and become part of our lives.  It can feel next to impossible to engage into this stuff.  Or maybe it can feel like it is just one more thing to do that we aren’t really going to do…because we have too much to do already.  Or this discussion may be met with us not even hearing it, or being open to it, because we are thinking about all these things in our world today which keep us from dealing with anything real that is going on deep inside us.  So we come to MRC, and week after week they talk to me about internal things, and I can’t hear it, receive it, or engage it because I’m focused on many external things…which if you think about it, the internal things are the things that you could actually deal with and control, while many of the external things are often the things we focus on, pay attention too, get stressed and anxious and fearful over…while having no control over those things, yet they seem to take up the most real estate in our brains and our lives.  So, I will just politely say that we live in a very divisive and confrontational time politically.  For many of us, this consumes us right now, we spend our days watching and listening to our preferred news outlet, passionately fighting…no not fighting, we will say educating others out there in life and on social media with what is right and what is wrong.  We are furious (or concerned) at one side or the other over all the different hot button issues going on today, and the fact that our preferred news outlet keeps letting us know every reason that the world is coming to an end, probably isn’t helping the urgency we feel here.  Then it’s Sunday, and we walk into church and can’t hear or receive God’s message on what truly matters, and what could set us free, how could we, with all these political issues right now.  Let’s add to that.  We are also watching many people walk through extremely difficult things in their lives, and it can feel like people are struggling to be around people more than ever before, fuses seem shorter than ever if you ask me…and we walk through life and we are supposed to live out this life of a disciple of Christ, loving, and serving others, and spreading The Gospel Message to the world…and frankly it is brutal to do that in a world that doesn’t seem to want anything to do with God.  So, we struggle with politics, we struggle with people and how they respond to us, we struggle through our jobs and the pressure of providing for our families.  We struggle through all the details, errands, and challenges that fill up our calendars every day, we struggle with deep emotional wounds and hurts in our lives and if you truly are trying to share Christ with people, it’s a heart-breaking time you are living in, because it’s the last thing people are interested in engaging into…their response to God can add to the struggle.

Now I know I took a risk and said ‘politics’ in this talk and lost some of you, but I would like you to come back for a second and I would like you to see this.   When it comes to internal things, like our relationship with God, our heart condition and inner world, we tune that stuff out…but when it comes to external things like politics, people and their response, culture, public opinion, we seem to focus on that, giving it energy, passion, emotion, and attention.  So that tells us a couple of things, first it does let us know that we still have passion, time, energy, and emotions which is good but I think it’s important for us to take a step back and realize that when our energy, passion, emotion, and attention go to external things, rather than internal things we will stunt our spiritual growth and get stuck spiritually, never moving towards God and true Spiritual Success.  So, could it be that the world, and our culture today are screaming at you and I to focus on and give all our energy, emotion, and attention to these external things, so that we never deal with anything real, and never become the people God called us to become?  Could it be that by ignoring the heart, and focusing on the external stuff, nothing will ever get resolved?  Could it be that the answer to all the issues is found in the internal thing and not the external?  Listen, I know some of your heart rates have gone from resting all the way to 160 BPM right now…as you race through all the political issues in this world, and all the brutal ways people have responded to you lately, and all the pressures and hurts that you are facing in this world we live in today…but what if all of that is distracting you from walking into true Spiritual Success?  What if all of that is keeping you from walking in that life to the full that Jesus told us He came to provide for us all along.  What if our goal really should be to take all that passion, focus, and energy, and pour it into our relationship with God rather than all these external things?  What if there is peace, and joy, and strength, and abundant life waiting for us when we focus on the internal things and move out from there?   How are you doing so far?

So, I will say, to be in ministry today is a humbling and at times frustrating calling because of all the things I have mentioned above and many more…but the crushing realities, and the hurts, and the frustration for me often come from me focusing on things I can’t control, rather than focusing on what I can.  I can’t control where peoples’ choices and responses to God land, but it sure can break my heart to watch it unfold the way it does in life today.  When I came into ministry I will just say, that I was so passionate and excited and truly believed I was going to change the world…just a ball of passion and energy back in those days but over time I have learned that the one thing that I have been able to influence or change the most is me…the rest is really beyond me!  It’s interesting because that has put me on a journey where I just want to share this heart stuff, and inner health with you…our inner worlds, our heart conditions are such a big deal, and frankly, it’s the one thing we truly can control…and maybe if we would get that right, we could start building out from there and doing some real good…but often we ignore or skip the heart, and can’t figure out why we aren’t figuring this life thing out.  I wanted to share this quote, it really was what I wanted to build this talk around today.

“When I was young, I set out to change the world.  When I grew a little older, I perceived that this was too ambitious, so I set out to change my state.  This, too, I realized as I grew older was too ambitious, so I set out to change my town.  When I realized I could not even do this, I tried to change my family.  Now as an old man, I know that I should have started by changing myself.  If I had started with myself, maybe then I would have succeeded in changing my family, the town, or even the state-and who knows, maybe even the world.”  Old Hasidic Rabbi on his Deathbed

What an awesome quote…and frankly it’s one that makes a lot more sense to me in my mid-40’s than it did in my early 20’s but think about how countercultural this is…to set out to change ourselves, to work on our inner worlds, to embrace reality is just so contrary to the way we live our lives today.  We can be hurting and broken on the inside and still look great to this world.  We can post nice pictures on social media and look like we are doing great to everyone around us.  We can appear powerful and successful and still be hurting…add to that all the external issues that scream for our attention, and you get a world designed to keep you from ever seeing the importance of this inner world…of our hearts which I really want us to slow down and let this message penetrate our inner worlds today.  I acknowledge that is a daunting task in the worlds we live in today!  But let’s talk about the heart.

1) The first thing we need to understand from Scripture is just how important the heart is…Solomon really helps us understand that the heart is where everything comes from for us as people.

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

Above all else, we must take care of our hearts because it is the wellspring, the source of life for us.  This cannot be talked about enough, the heart is the most important thing, which is just so opposite to the world you and I live in today…the investment of today isn’t into internal things like the heart is it?  No, because that is a little boring compared to all the exciting and emotional and flashier and louder things in life these days, but Scripture says, it’s the most important thing…we must take care of our hearts.

2) The Bible is also clear, that your heart condition is seen, heard, and felt by those around you. 

Proverbs 27:19 As a face is reflected in water, so the heart reflects the real person. NLT

I love that Scripture and it is so true.  The heart shows the real you for what and who you really are and regardless of how big you smile, how positive you try to be, and how much you may want to hide it, we need to understand that the heart comes out and is seen and felt by those around us.  If you are wondering how your heart condition is doing and how it’s seen by others, I want you to understand that God has built a way for us to know how this inner world (that we may think is private) but comes out to the rest of the world.   We may not like it, but Jesus lets us know that every day our heart condition is on display for the world to see in what we treasure, how we treat people, and in the words we speak…check this out.

Our heart is seen by what we treasure.

Matthew 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. NIV

Our heart is seen in how we treat people and the good or evil that we do.

Luke 6:45 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. NIV

Our heart is seen in the words we speak to people…it’s our heart condition that comes out of our mouth.  This is the same verse, very next sentence from Jesus here…

Luke 6:45 For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. NIV

You know Jesus is helping us here…we need to understand that our heart condition is coming out, we can’t hide it.  It is seen and felt.  It comes out in what you value, and what matters to you most.  It comes out in how you treat people, and it really comes out in the words you speak, even the funny little jokes, that you make…ha, ha…yeah, so funny, but it is revealing the true condition of your heart.

3)  The Bible also lets us know that our hearts have everything to do with our will. 

Ezekiel 36:26 I’ll give you a new heart, put a new spirit in you. I’ll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that’s God-willed, not self-willed. 27 I’ll put my Spirit in you and make it possible for you to do what I tell you and live by my commands. MSG

I think for most of us when we think about our hearts, we probably think of our emotions…but I want you to understand that it is so much bigger than that.  Our hearts are a huge part of our will, and we know that really the key to walking in Spiritual Success is all about surrender.  When we surrender our will to God, we live differently…and this happens from this new heart and spirit that God gives us.  For so many of us we talk about accepting Jesus into our hearts.  We tell people we have given our hearts to God, but we continue to live for ourselves.  When we need to see that this new heart is God-willed…that is huge…and I think missed by so many because we kind of associate our hearts with our emotions and we need to understand that our new heart is God-willed and not self-willed.  This means that the more we tend to our hearts, and allow God to rid us of our heart of stone and replace it with a new heart, we know that transformation is taking place because of our ability to surrender our lives to God because the new heart isn’t just a heart full of positive emotions, but a heart that is following God and not our own desires anymore.

4)  The Bible is clear, we need a new heart, and that new heart is given to us by God. 

So, if you have spent any length of time around people, you understand that we humans have some challenges in this area of our hearts and inner worlds…which we are learning comes out clearly in our lives.  This means that we all need a new heart, which can only come from God, and I want you to see a few more characteristics about this new heart that only God can give us…we saw in Ezekiel that this new heart will help us live a God willed life, but David shows us a few more things about this new heart that we all need.  After his horrific sin with Bathsheba and all that David walked through there, he writes Psalm 51, and asks God for this new heart and shows us a couple more important characteristics of this new God-willed heart.

Psalm 51:10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. NIV

David is asking God to give him a pure heart, which is something only God can do…and something we all need, am I right?  We know that we ALL sin…and fall short of God’s glory, but we also know that through Christ our sins are forgiven and as God removes this heart of stone and gives us a new heart, it’s a heart that is God-willed and pure…doesn’t mean we won’t still be tempted or challenged with sin, but does mean that we are moving towards holiness, and moving towards the will of God and away from our selfish, sinful ways.  David also speaks to something very important to God when it comes to our hearts just a few verses later in Psalm 51…

Psalm 51:17 It is a broken spirit you want-remorse and penitence. A broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not ignore. TLB

It’s interesting, isn’t it?  For so many of us when we think of our hearts we think of our emotions, and feelings but we leave out our will.  Yet time and time again we see Scripture pointing to our will…which is why having a broken and contrite heart is so important, because without brokenness we won’t submit, and there really is no change of heart.  We may love God, but we aren’t going to live differently without a broken and contrite heart which humbles us to a place where we can surrender our lives to God, accepting this new heart that is God-willed and truly live differently.

5) The Bible is also clear that the heart is so important that it must be guarded because it is the focus of the spiritual battle.  Remember Solomon’s words from earlier where we learned how important the heart is?  Well, he also lets us know that the most important thing we can do is guard our hearts.

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

Paul tells us that we should guard our hearts with God’s peace here in Philippians…

Philippians 4:6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. NLT

So, we are to experience God’s peace, and it’s God’s peace that will guard our hearts and minds as we live in Christ.  Can I just ask you, how are you doing with that one?  We live in a challenging and painful world.  Life with people is so hard, then you add all these external variables to it that we were talking about earlier.  Seriously, how can I live in peace in these political times?  How can I live in peace as we walk through a pandemic?  How can I live in peace when people respond so poorly to me?  How can I live in peace when I’m this busy, and feel so hurt, overwhelmed, and let down?

Listen, I get it, life is so hard, but I want you to understand something here today…you can’t live in God’s peace and allow His peace to guard your heart if you are focused on all these other things that you can’t control instead of your heart condition, your inner word, and your relationship with your Heavenly Father.  You need to understand that your heart is under assault all the time and you aren’t going to find protection from those assaults in people, politics, pandemic policies and perceptions, your treasures of today, social media outlets, public opinions, your job, your families, and how people treat and respond to you and God.  You cannot find God’s peace anywhere but in God, and Scripture says that it’s God’s peace that will guard our hearts, which we learned today is the life source of our lives.

6)  The Bible is very clear that the love of God is too big to contain in your heart.  I think this is awesome and something that we need to understand…when God’s love is pouring into us, it overflows out of us and into our lives and relationships.  We spoke on this a couple of weeks ago, but this is why Jesus brings everything in our faith down to the idea of love.  Saying the most important thing we can do is love God and love others…remember that?

Matthew 22:37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” NIV

We are to love the Lord our God with all our hearts which leads to a love that cannot be contained in our hearts but flows out of us into our lives, and relationships and is clearly seen by those around us…

John 13:35 “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” NLT

So let me ask you some very important questions as we close here today.

What are you focused on?  Do you focus on God and growing in a relationship with Him (that inner world) or do you find yourself focused on the external things of today?  If you aren’t sure, just take a moment and think about where your time, your thoughts, your conversations, your emotions, and your energies are going.  Ask yourself if you are walking in anxiety, and fear, and stress over some of these external things that are beyond your control or if you are focused on your heart condition and relationship with God.

When was the last time you took a break from the world and just slowed down to be in God’s presence and asked Him to move into your heart?  Do you pray, and hide God’s word in your heart?  Do you take time to rest, recharge, and clear your heart and mind from all the busyness of life?   Do you spend real time with God reflecting and thinking on where you were and where you are going? What would you need to stop doing to spend real time like this with God?

Did you ever stop and think before today that all the stuff happening around you in the world may be an intentional distraction that is keeping you from God?  I grew up playing baseball, and one of the things we weren’t supposed to do was swing at pitches that weren’t strikes…it was just a waste of time, to swing at a pitch in the dirt, and in many ways, that is what it looks like when we focus on those external things around us, and not our hearts.

Did you ever consider the idea of the heart tying to your will before today and do you see why our will is such an important part of our walk with God?

Where do you feel your heart is being assaulted right now?  Could you answer that?  Could you name the hurt?  If you can name it, are you taking that to God?  If this is something you aren’t even sure about or haven’t really thought about before, it could be a sign that you aren’t resting and spending the time with God necessary to reflect and think clearly.

Have you given your heart to God?  Would you look at your heart and see a heart that is God-willed and not self-willed?  Would you look at your heart and see a heart that is pure, and broken and humble?

Do you find yourself drawn to engaging your heart condition?  Is doing the heart work needed to grow in a relationship with God something you are focused on or passionate about, or are you drawn to more of those external things we were talking about today?

Listen, we love you, and we are going to continue to do our best to lead you to Christ, and that abundant life that He told you He came to provide for you all along…and as I thought through how I wanted to talk to you about moving forward in life, I knew we needed to go straight to the heart today.  We live in a world that never wants you to focus on God and a true walk with Him.  We live in a world that is intentionally trying to keep us from understanding the value of our hearts.  We have lots of issues, and challenges, and problems in this world, that need addressed but will never be fixed without life change and life change starts and ends with our hearts…so do you find it ironic that the heart is the last thing we would ever want to focus on and deal with all these issues in the world that we face?  No, I don’t either.

I will just close with another look at that awesome Scripture from Solomon…

Proverbs 27:19 As a face is reflected in water, so the heart reflects the real person. NLT

You want to change the world?  You want to make a difference?  It is all about your heart.