Saturday, October 8, 2005

hearts (a sermon)

Here is a teaching I gave at Oasis last Saturday. It's part one of a series we're starting. The series is called "Body Parts" and this teaching is entitled "Hearts". I hope it helps you in some way.


a sermon by Troy Cady

Jesus is a remarkable figure. If we were to open the Bible right now and read the account of Jesus’ life, and if we were to write down words to describe Jesus as we did so, we would come up with an incredible list. We’d write words like: magnetic, excitable, passionate, emotional, affectionate, impartial, selfless, gracious, strong, courageous, humble, gentle, radical, unpredictable, tender, compassionate, and loving. What’s even more remarkable: not a single item on the list would be negative.

Sometimes I wonder what the world would be like if we were all more like Jesus. Just think: there would be no lying, no cheating, no stealing, no hypocrisy, no lust, no hatred, no war. Our lives would be so different! That’s why, if I could have just one wish granted, I would wish that we could all be more like Jesus.

Now: lest you think this wish far-fetched, let me take you to God’s wishing well, to a place where even time finds its birth.

Here in God's art studio, we catch a glimpse of what God wants for us: we see God creating the world, the sun, the moon, rivers & lakes, and animals & plants of innumerable variety. And, with each creation, God called it good. God created a world filled with wonder, God created a place intended for good. Then, God created humans in his image. God did this because he wanted us to be like him in a very special way. This, the Bible tells us, is not just “good”; it is “very good.” This tells us that God wanted us to be a reflection of him. In other words, when people look at us, God hopes they’ll see him!

Of course, we all know that somewhere along the way things got messed up. We lie, we cheat, we hate, we envy. We do not look like God. So, we’re all on a journey now to recover a paradise that was lost. But achieving success on this journey is next to impossible because, with the loss of paradise, we’ve also lost our memory of the God who made paradise. We’ve wandered so far away we even find it hard to call to mind what God looks like anymore.

Thankfully, in the Bible, God compensates for humanity’s amnesia by describing what he looks like in concrete terms for us. These are terms we can understand because they are the same terms we use to describe ourselves as humans. To be sure, God is spirit; but (before the time of Christ) God used words like arm, mouth, eye, hands, feet, and face to describe himself to us. Theologians call these descriptions “anthropomorphisms”. It’s a compound word derived from two Greek words: “anthropos” (meaning “human”) and “morphe” (meaning “shape”). In other words, God gave himself a shape to which humans could understand and relate. God did this because God knew that in order for humans to become like God again, God had to become like us.

And that’s why God sent Jesus. In the person of Jesus Christ, God did not just talk about himself in terms of metaphors, he literally embodied those metaphors! This is what Christians mean when they say “Jesus is the Son of God”. In saying that, they are saying that Jesus is “the exact representation of God’s being”, and Jesus is “the image of the invisible God”, and Jesus is “God with us”. That’s why, when the early followers of Jesus said to Him, “Show us God”, Jesus said, “You’re lookin’ at him, baby!”

So, why did God move heaven and earth to show himself to us in such a concrete form? Two reasons: 1. So that we could have a clear picture of God. And 2. So that we could become like him once again.

Athanasius, a Christian in the early church, says: “For as the Lord became man by putting on the body, so we men are deified by the Word…” Here's how I put it: When immortal God assumed mortal flesh, we mortals were offered immortality. God became human so humans could be like God.

So, God wants us to be like Him, since He is the source of all goodness. And God has given us some very concrete expressions of himself to let us know what he is like. The question is: what do we do now?

That’s what this next teaching series is all about. It’s called “Body Parts”. Through this series, we’ll be asking ourselves the following questions: How can my heart and hands and feet and eyes and mind and arms and mouth and ears be more like God’s? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were all more like Jesus? So, to address these issues, we’ll take a fresh look each month at what characterizes God’s body parts and what God does with his body parts. Then, we’ll ask: “How can my body parts be like God’s?”

This idea is rooted in a short text of Scripture I’d encourage each of us to memorize for the coming year. It’s our theme verse for the series. It says: “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.” (Romans 6:13)

This is the essence of the series on “Body Parts”: we are on a journey together to become more like God and, to do that, we need to offer the parts of our body to God, to let him do what he wants through us.

Having said that, now I’d like to look at the most important part of our body we can offer to God: our hearts. Everything else receives its life from this one place. This is why the Bible says: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Pro. 4:23)

That was spoken by Solomon, the wisest king in Israel’s history. We could couple those words with the words of Jesus, the wisest person in world history. He says the most important thing to do in life is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart.” (Matthew 22:37)

Putting those two together we could sum it up this way: If you are going to do only one thing in your life, do this: give God your heart. Let him hold it, he’ll keep it safe, he’ll lavish love and care upon it. Give God your heart.

Now, Jesus noted that it’s possible to give God your other body parts without actually giving God your heart. The result is somewhat perplexing and life-draining. For example, when people give God their mouth but not their heart, it results in cold religion and brittle self-righteousness.

Have you ever met someone who prided themselves on “purity of speech” yet their lives lacked joy and their spirit was harsh? Sure, you could never accuse them of using filthy language but their demeanor is as loveless as a zombie from “Night of the Living Dead”.

Or have you ever met someone who gave God their eyes, but not their heart? They avoid watching certain films and reading certain magazines, yet they have less compassion for a hurting person than a wolf has for a rabbit.

Or have you ever met someone who gives God their mind, but not their heart? They memorize whole chapters of the Bible, yet they lack gentleness, tearing down souls with a tornado of insensitive words.

This is what someone has called “adventures in missing the point.” God wants our heart, that’s the whole point! If you give God your mouth, but not your heart, you’re missing the point! If you give God your eyes, but not your heart, you’re missing the point!

Jesus noted this about a group of religious leaders called the Pharisees. He said, “These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” He said, “You hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones…You appear to people as righteous but…you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (from Matthew 23)

In the Sermon on the Mount (found in Matthew 5-7) Jesus identified that, though the Pharisees could say truthfully that they had never committed adultery, nevertheless they had lust in their hearts. He told them that they may not be guilty of murder, yet on the inside malicious thoughts were feasting on hateful sentiments like vultures plucking a dead jackal. In saying this, he states that God doesn’t want us to have merely the appearance of godliness; he wants us to be like Him through and through, right to the core.

God cares nothing for limp religion; what he wants is a love relationship. God doesn’t want our so-called “holiness”; he wants our surrendered hearts. Listen to God’s heart for us, expressed in Jesus’ words. He says: " often I have longed to gather you together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37)

Did you catch a glimpse of the heart-ache God expresses here? "I just want to hold you and care for you and love you, but you won’t let me! Why won’t you let me? What are you waiting for?"

The good news is: we don’t have to resist anymore. We can give God our whole heart right here, right now. A life-giving adventure can start today. If only you’ll give God your whole heart.

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