(sermon series adapted from North Point Community, Atlanta, Georgia. Andy Stanley) Illustrations and manuscript by Tim Douglas, Lead Pastor, Creekside Community Church.
There were certain rules we all grow up with. Some of them are necessary and good. But others are just, sort of, silly. Whichever it seems your families rules were, or are, it is a part of life to learn how to get along, obey and/or manipulate – I mean negotiate – through it. Our family had some interesting rules. Some were spoken and some were not.
One thing that I recall as a kid had to do with words we were allowed or not allowed to say. This is pretty common still. There are just some things that are not appropriate at certain ages. When we get older we often look back and wonder why we thought those words were so cool anyway.
In our house it was not okay to use the “h” word. You know what I’m talking about. After all, the pastors kids can’t be seen as disrespectful or crass, right? But in my 8 year old mind I figured it was okay to say it. After all, Grandma used it all the time at the farm! Anytime I would tell her a story or ask a question she would start every reply with it. I still picture her expression and hear her voice all these years later. She’d say, “Heck, Tim….”
Grandma was so cool. A rebel in her day. An English teacher with the guts to speak her mind! She had opinions and you knew it. So why wouldn’t I want to imitate her? I’ll tell you why – because mom would wash my mouth out with soap for using such vulgar language! Once I learned that this word was off limits I couldn’t quit thinking about it. I wouldn’t say it, at least where mom could hear, so I learned to think it but not use it.
Another quick story: I have a friend or two, and at least one relative, that speak their mind vociferously. And with two in particular we have this little code to warn them of their over the line moment. We simply say, “Filter.” (Imagine a close your mouth gesture here). They get the message – eventually. And if you think I’m talking about you, your wrong, but they know who they are!
Most of us have been there or are still there. We all have things in our language or in our actions that we don’t want to do. Being human, however, makes it difficult to catch ourselves. We learn to edit ourselves as best we can. We learn to filter. Much of this starts when we begin to have children, or when we first hear our toddler repeat something they heard – often from one of us parents. Here’s an illustration of that from a friend of mine. (play video clip here)
I think we’ve all been there, done that. By the way, this clip is from Bill’s 1983 routine called, “Himself.” It’s only available on YouTube and is hilarious, though sensitive people might skip the first and last 5 minutes to avoid linguistic offense. My mom laughed but still doesn’t approve of less than appropriate language.
Behavior modification – certain things you don’t do because there are consequences…
We learn what to say to get along, what to do to get a good reputation, how to act so as to be accepted by the most people.
We learn what to say to get a date. We learn what to say to keep a relationship going. We learn what to do to get a job or a raise.
But at some point we do or say something that crashes our relationship or causes us to lose a job. And we wonder where this action or verbiage came from, so we think about it and contemplate, “what’s my deal? why would I do that? why would I say that?” We all experience this. We have all developed a filter to filter our words and our actions to get along, move along, make a living, handle relationships. Early on we learn to monitor our behavior. But that’s not enough.
Because we discover that at times our filter doesn’t work. And we do things or say things that we don’t want to do or say. And maybe even our friends or family says, “That’s not like you, where did that come from?” And we don’t even know. It’s as if your filter has a hole in it, proving that monitoring our behavior is not enough. So for the next couple of weeks we are going to talk about the thing we really need to monitor. And it’s something that few of us have ever been taught to do. It’s probably something most of us have never even thought about. But it is the one thing that can make a permanent difference in all our life’s relationships.
We are going to look at some teachings from Jesus, himself. Not Bill Cosby, Himself, but Jesus, himself. Those are two different things. And what we’re going to discover is why simply monitoring our behavior is not enough. We will see why things happen like, “He was awesome when we dated, but when we got married he completely changed, she completely changed. He is not the man I married. She is not the business partner I talked with. These are not the same people who invited me into this condominium deal!” This stuff happens all the time.
And the passage of the Bible we are going to look at is really dealing with religious leaders – at first. We know that the religious leaders of the day did not like Jesus’ teachings, and Jesus made no bones about what he thought of their words and actions. But by the end of the story we realize that Jesus is not just talking to religious leaders, or even religious people. He’s speaking deep truth into the human condition that everyone, everywhere would do well to consider. These thoughts are not intuitive. You may well push back against these teachings. There is a deeper issue at hand. And it’s not just a behavioral issue. It’s not just a filtering and monitoring issue. It’s so much deeper than that.
Let’s read this passage. Matthew chapter 15:
1 Some Pharisees and teachers of religious law now arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. They asked him, 2 “Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.”
10 Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “Listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 11 It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.”
12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?”
15 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Explain to us the parable that says people aren’t defiled by what they eat.”
16 “Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked. 17 “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. 18 But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you.
If you want to know what’s in a persons heart, you just listen to their mouth. Because you can tell what’s really in a persons heart by listening to what comes out of their mouth. Not the filtered version, no, that’s the edited, behaviorally modified, cleaned up, washed and pressed version. But in those moments, especially of tension, stress, crisis, conflict or being questioned, that our heart shows it’s real content and make up. The heart doesn’t lie.
So in a moment of weakness or struggle, when you let loose with whatever choice words or actions, you quickly say, “But you don’t understand, Jesus. That’s really not me. I was just a little stressed. It was a momentary lapse.”
And Jesus replies, “But our words come from our heart.”
“No, no, no. Really. It was just a slip. I don’t think those things about him or her. I don’t consider that stuff true, it just slipped out.”
Jesus might continue this way, “Our words always come from our heart. It is the deepest part of our humanness. It is the collusion of all our life experiences, all our biases, all our guts, our innermost self. And I know that you, like all people, have a complex monitoring system, a complete filtration system in place. But every once in a while that filter is going to let you down. Then what you get is what’s really deep inside. It’s the real you. It was what really lives in and lurks within your heart.”
This is a big warning for those of you who are dating. Those of you who are engaged. Have you seen glimpses of their heart that make you pause and wonder? Because they will, you will, bring into your relationship or into your marriage the heart. And in marriage, in deeper relationships, the filters tend to get a little bit thinner. Efforts to monitor seem to wane. Expectations tend to get a little bit higher. Stress and tension increase without warning. So the heart thing becomes even more evident.
19 For from the heart come evil thoughts,
“I object! This doesn’t make sense. Thoughts don’t come from my heart, they come from my brain!”
And Jesus would say, “No, your brain only let’s loose what’s in your innermost being – your heart.”
“Well, I may have evil thoughts once in a while, but I just try not to think about those things.”
(Jesus) – “But their really in your heart.”
“But I’m a good person. My momma told me all my life, ‘You’re a good boy.’”
(Jesus) – “Your momma’s wrong. Actually you may be a good boy in the world of filtering and monitoring, but in your heart your really an evil boy with selfish motivations and self-serving intentions.”
“Wait a minute. Murder? Really?”
(Jesus) – “Yep. If you consider hatred against someone in your heart, you’ve already murdered them.”
And who do the police go to first when there is a murder? That’s right, the family! Because somewhere in the world of relationships the moral filter breaks down and “thou shalt not murder” slips away and the heart takes over, and someone’s life is taken, often in what we call a act of “passion.” And where does passion come from? It comes from the heart, too.
adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. 20 These are what defile you.
These things are all driven by the heart, by passion, by emotion. And we may have accepted Jesus’ forgiveness and mercy for our sin, which means Jesus has saved our spiritual side of existence. But our heart – our mind, our will, our emotions – has to be transformed, purposefully, one day at a time, from the dark, selfish thing that it is, into the image and example of Jesus. This is a process. But it will never begin until we acknowledge the truth of the matter and allow God to begin the transformation. Otherwise we will simply monitor our life through filters rather than truth. What we really need is to learn to monitor our hearts.
You may want to argue with this. But there is constant evidence that this is true. Every once in a while a new study comes out that asks people this, “If you could do anything you wanted to, without any consequences, would you consider…murder, adultery, theft, cheating, etc.” And every time one of these studies is done the results are overwhelming. A vast majority of people would do all sorts of evil things if they knew there would be no recourse, no consequences, no prosecution, no negative repercussions to themselves.
Hopefully these studies make up step back and say, “Wow, what’s that all about?” And Jesus would say, “That’s the heart. They’ve learned to filter and monitor their behavior, but there’s stuff lurking around in their heart that’s gone unmonitored and un-dealt with. And it continues to grow and grow and grow. And one day, when the filter weakens, when the monitoring fail, it’s going to come to the surface. And it will wreak havoc in their life and relationships that they care about the most.
We don’t have to look at “they” to talk about this. This is about us. It’s about how we operate. It’s how we make it through life the easiest. Why would I do something like that? I don’t even agree with that? If there was a vote to outlaw it, I’d vote. “It’s your heart.” Why would I say something like that at all? “It’s your heart.” And until we learn to monitor, to deal with, your heart, your filter is just a filter. There’s no real, lasting, permanent change. This is why the wisest man in the world, the man who wrote so much about wisdom, money, business, ethics, family, etc., etc., said this,
Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart.” Beyond anything else I’ve written, beyond what I’ve told you, over and above all other actions and thought processes, this is the one thing that you need to, have to do – “guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.” This is where you live. This is the core, the center, the essence of your being. Above all else you must guard your heart, because it is the place from where everything comes out. Solomon here is agreeing with Jesus here. All greed, envy, adultery, thievery, immorality, hate, murder, it all comes from your heart! Everything emminates from your heart. So we have to be careful about what goes into our heart and what comes out of our heart. And Solomon is saying, “Yes I have lots of practical advice for you on how to get along with people, how to treat people and the wise thing to do, but this is the absolutely, positively most important thing for you to do – ‘guard your heart.’”
No one has ever taught most of us to do this. We were just taught to behave, taught to be good. No one ever trained us to guard our hearts. Here’s how you guard against evil, here’s how you know when something bad is about to enter. Here’s how to know where something bad is coming from. Here’s how to know if this conflict is a heart issue with you OR with the other person. We were just taught to edit our behavior. But here the wisest man in the world is saying above all else, guard your heart…. So we have to develop the discipline, a conscience effort of watching and standing guard over our heart. There needs to be a little more self awareness. And we have to be mature enough to push back and look at a situation and say, “Okay. What’s really going on here? What is it my heart is letting out?”
So for the next several weeks, we are going to take the advice of Solomon, the wisest man in the world, and Jesus, the Savior of the world. And we’re going to try and learn how…to…guard…our hearts, because everything negative we’ve ever done has come from there. And life lodges things in there that we may not even be aware of, but we can learn to be cognizant of them. If we can learn the disciplines of how to guard and monitor our heart, rather than just editing our behavior, God will do some amazing things in our families, our relationships, our workplaces and, most importantly, in you and me. God can cleanse our hearts of even those things that were put on us, against our will. But even more than that, God can begin the process of transforming those hurts and habits that are lodged deep, deep inside, into healing of our mind, emotions and even body.
Some of you know first hand what I mean. So many people have experienced the shaking of relationships and of life. So many of us feel like Joseph from our lessons these last weeks – degraded, beaten, forgotten. And if we do not begin the process of guarding our hearts, if we don’t let God begin to cleanse our hearts, the only thing that will come out will be hurt and anger and greed and worse. That’s why we are studying this now, after we heard about learning to forgive, after the challenge to not take revenge. Often forgiveness is the first step in our cleansing and healing of the heart. But if we are not careful to guard our hearts, because of the way life and people are, we can slip right back into editing mode rather than freedom mode. So we are going to learn some habits, daily disciplines, that can help us guard our hearts, keep our hearts clean and to teach us to keep certain things at arms length so they don’t get lodged in our hearts to begin with.
Now this isn’t new. No one will gasp in amazement or revelation. But even though you may not know your heart too well, you’ve lived enough life and known enough people that made you stop and ask, “What just happened? Why did they react that way?” You might say “There was just something wrong with them. They couldn’t take constructive feedback, they wouldn’t work with anyone. There was just something off. There was an evil, a twist, an edge to them, and they didn’t even know it.” And you may have know it, but you never could talk about it. They just blame, blame, blame. We all know or will know someone like that.
Challenge: Will we take responsibility for our hearts? Will we embrace the work of God in our hearts to change us?
For some of us this will be hard work, most of us. Some of us might be tempted to say, “I’d try but so much has been done to me I don’t think there is any hope. I’m not worth trying to fix anyway.” Others might say, “Well, I’ve got a bad heart. There’s no hope for me. It’s just the way I am.” But Jesus has an answer for that, too. We’ll use greed for an example because no on here is a greedy person. You won’t normally meet a person that says, “Yep I’m greedy.” Mostly it’s just, “I’m careful.” People will say, “I’m angry, or I’m envious, I’m jealous, ” but rarely, “I’m greedy.” But Jesus had an answer for greed. Jesus said the answer for greed is to give. So, If you’re a greedy person, if you heart has shut your willingness to give down, then your first step is to write a check!
“Oh no,” Jesus, “I can’t do that. I just want you to fix my heart.”
“This is the way you fix your heart, you’ve got to give.”
“But it’s not that I’m greedy, I’m just careful. I just need you to fix my heart first.”
“This is the way to fix your heart.”
So much of the time we want a quick fix. We want an instant answer. But things that are fast are rarely long-term. It’s the way life is. It’s like a guy that goes to the doctor and finds our his heart is in danger, his cholesterol is high, his arteries are clogging. So the doctor comes up with a solution:
“Here’s what you need to do. We are going to put you on a a strict diet and exercise program, and if you do this your heart will be better, your life will be extended.”
“But Doc, I can’t exercise. I don’t have the energy. I get so tired, so quick. And diet? Hey man, I gotta eat? And diets make me so hungry. No, man, can’t you just give me some medicine and send me home to fix it? If you fix my heart then I’ll exercise. I see people that are in shape and I want to be like them. Fix my heart so I can exercise.”
And the doctor replies, “You’re not getting it. Exercise is how you fix your heart.”
“But Doc, exercise makes me sweat. And I look so bad in those clothes because I’m so overweight. But I promise, if you fix my heart, I’ll exercise and I’ll eat right and I’ll even wear those funny pants for biking! Just fix my heart. So I won’t have this kind of appetite, so I want to exercise.”
“I’m telling you how! You’re not getting it!”
For every one of us there is this tendency to push back and resist change, even if it’s good for us. We say, “That’s not how I am. I can’t do that. If I could just pray a prayer and God would reach down and fix my heart, it would be great. And I know my wife and my kids have been praying for me to have a changed heart. And I’ve been praying for my kid’s hearts to change. Everyone wants this.”
As we look at the scriptures these next weeks and gain insight into how this can happen…there may be a tendency in you, like there is a tendency in me, to push back and say, “The reason I can’t do that is because of what’s in my heart.” And God is saying, “Yeah, but by DOING these things, by guarding your heart, I’ll change your heart.” There will be some of us that will say, “The reason I can’t let God change me, the reason I’m so twisted up inside, the reason I have anger issues, the reason I’m on edge all the time is because of what’s been done to me.” We can all listen and we’d most certainly agree that, yes, those things that were done to you were bad. In fact, they were terrible. But God can set you free from that.
One time I was talking with a homeless man. He passed through regularly as he moved between Houston and San Antonio. Our church was on a major highway and so many homeless would stop by for a handout. And I decided that we should do more for these regulars than give them a little money or a little food. You know, ‘give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime.’ So we sat down as we had before. And I asked him how it was going. He told me a sad story of the hard life on the road. The harshness of life under bridges was hard to bear. So I asked him why he traveled so much between Houston and San Antonio. His reply was promising, “There’s work in San Antonio. So I go there to work landscape and when the work dries up I come back to Houston.” I thought this was great. I mean, who doesn’t want to help those who are willing to work. So I proposed to him that I make a few phone calls and secure him a permanent job with a landscape crew right here in Katy. He immediately said, “Well, I can see you don’t want to help me.” And started to leave. I reassured him I wanted to help him get a regular job, find a place to live and join us to help others. “No, no. I can see you don’t want to help me today.” And with that he left abruptly. Do you know why? He really just wanted an instant solution, a quick fix. He may have even been lying to me about the jobs.
Isn’t that how many of us are with our issues and hurts and habits? People try to help, but when they touch a little too close to us having to change from the inside, we bolt. Sometimes we bolt on our families. Sometimes we run away from a job. Sometimes we run away from God. And the question is, “What’s it going to take? What consequence is finally big enough that we will begin the change process? How long will we live with a lack of forgiveness for what others have done? How long will we stubbornly refuse to admit our wrongs and ask others to forgive us? How long will we blame circumstances and life’s little setbacks for the problems we are facing? One writer says it this way,
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” –The Problem of Pain …C.S. Lewis
When will you have allowed those people and circumstances that have hurt you to control you long enough? What’s the date on the calendar when you will let go? How long will God have to shout through your pain before your willing to say, “I can’t do it on my own? I’m willing to follow your plan, God.” How long? For some of us this process of growing closer to God and further from our heart issues will be a very, very long process. Some of us have been hurt in unbelievable ways. And some of us have hurt people to the point we don’t believe there is enough forgiveness in all the universe to save us. So again I bring up our challenge during these weeks: Will we take responsibility for our hearts? And will we embrace the work of God in our hearts to change us? If we do, if YOU do, your life will never be the same again. And it will “never be the same again” for the better!
Jesus says that our heart drives every, single thing in our life. The good news is that this is not a series of lessons on behaving. Some of us, maybe you, grew up thinking religion or Christianity was all about behavior. It’s not about that. We may have thought that being a Christian is “acting” like a Christian. It’s not about that either. Your heavenly Father wants to give you a new heart. God wants to change you from the inside out. He doesn’t want you just to have a really cool Christian filter for what you say and do. He wants something much more substantial than that - to learn how to guard our heart for what gets in and for what gets out. So that when we see those little things begin to grow inside us, when we see those monsters trying to take over, God wants to show us how to slay them, by exposing them to the light of Truth and create in you and me a clean, pure heart.
So I’d like to end today with a series of questions. And what I’d like you to do is to close your eyes and just answer these questions in your heart.
Is everything okay in your heart? Are you mad at anybody? Are waiting around for someone to come to you to make things right? Have you had any extended, imaginary conversations lately? Do things come out of your mouth on a regular basis that you have to apologize for? that embarrass you? that you wonder, “Where did that come from?” Have you secretly celebrated someone’s failure in the past several days? Got any secrets eating at you? Anything going on that you hope no one ever discovers? Is there a question that you hope no one every asks you? Have you lied recently to somebody that you love?
And with your eyes closed would you say this prayer out loud?
Heavenly Father, teach me to guard my heart, for it is the wellspring of life. (x2)
Next week Coach Tim Ripperger is coming to share with us the second part of this series, Luring Them Into the Open – dealing with guilt. You don’t want to miss it.