Friday, December 16, 2016

Christmas: How God Rescued the Human Heart

Bolles Harbor, Monroe



As I was standing in the funeral home after the funeral an elderly man came up and shook my hand. "Very good job," he said, with a large smile.

Thank you.

"Of course," he added, "I forgot to put in my hearing aid, and didn't hear a word you said."

He was smiling as he told me this. I smiled and thanked him for the compliment.

Please put your hearing aid in, because God has something he wants to say that, if you are a Jesus-follower, will focus you during the American secularized "holidays." The mission of Jesus is to captivate and capture and heal human hearts. 

It will help to understand this word “heart,” used over 300 times in the Bible.

The heart is that spiritual part of you where your emotions and desires dwell. The “heart” is a metaphor for the location of your most basic orientation, your deepest commitments. “Heart” concerns what you trust the most. Trust in the Lord with all your heart.

The biblical metaphorical heart concerns what we most love and hope in, what we most treasure, what captures our imagination. Jesus said, Where you find your treasure, there you will find your heart.

The “heart” has to do with inclination and orientation. Like – Do you have a heart for jazz music? Or – Do you have a heart for the little girls in Bangkok caught up in sex trafficking?

Your heart has an inclination (Genesis 6:5), something it leans towards. The orientation of your heart controls everything — your thinking, feeling, decisions, and actions – like the incline of a mountain controls the flow of water.

“Heart” is what you most love and, therefore, find most reasonable, desirable, and doable.
The "heart" is the core of a person.

No wonder Jesus is so concerned about our hearts. No wonder God sees outward actions as manifestations of the heart. Because if you can change a human heart, you can change their outward behaviors. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)
People look at selfies; God looks at souls. God looks at orientation and inclination. God looks at what we cherish. Because whatever we most cherish in our heart controls the whole person.

In this sense God has a heart. God has emotions and desires. God has purposes and motives and a rock-solid orientation. Therefore, God can be said to have a “heart.” And David can be called a man “after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22). This means David's purposes, motives, and inclinations inclined to God. The plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. (Psalm 33:11)

God’s heart inclines towards his creation. Especially you. And me. YOU are on God’s heart… right now… as you read these words. Like a loving parent has their children often on their heart, so also God is captivated by you.

God awaits a response, from you. God wants your heart to be captivated by him, to look to him, to love and trust him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart. (Isaiah 40:11) This is why it grieves the heart of God when one of his children gets disoriented and jumps out of his arms (Genesis 6:6).

God created you. You have been fashioned in God’s image. God has a heart. Therefore, you have a heart.

God made you to have the kind of heart he has. To share His orientation, his motives, his inclinations, his desires, and to cherish what he cherishes. To accomplish this God has planted seeds of his thoughts and ideas and truths in your heart.

In every heart there is a longing for God. I call this the primal metaphysical impulse, the ontological desire for something more, for the transcendent. I see it in the college students in my classes. They want to talk about the Big Questions of life. I see in them a basic longing for more than mere materiality, for more than what the media can give them. OK… but what if they are an atheist? No matter – I see it in them, too. As atheist Julian Barnes wrote at the beginning of Nothing to Be Frightened Of, “I don’t believe in God. But I miss him.”

Correct. Because God has made everyone in his image, which essentially means: with his heart.
Linda, Josh, and I were driving home from seeing a movie in Toledo. It was a beautiful, clear, starry night. I heard the Perseid meteor shower was peaking. I asked Linda and Josh if we could drive to Bolles Harbor on Lake Erie and look for meteors. It was almost midnight when we pulled in. I turned off the car, and we sat in black silence.

We saw five meteors that night. I thought about God, because God made this vast universe, as well as the inclination of my heart to attribute it to him.
What may be known about God is plain to [us] them, because God has made it plain to [us] them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20)

God has also placed – deep within every human heart – a basic sense of right and wrong. I see this when I teach my logic classes. One section of the class is on applying formal and informal logic to ethical systems. I take my dry erase marker and write this sentence on the white board: It is wrong to rape little girls for fun. And behold! The moral law manifests itself in every student's heart. Yes, it is really, objectively, wrong to do that.
C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, called this the “key to the meaning of the universe”; viz., the existence of objective moral values. Lewis wrote an entire book dedicated to this – The Abolition of Man – where he discovers the Golden Rule in all cultures big and small. (My friend William Lane Craig presents his metaethical argument for God’s existence, using as an evidential premise the statement Objective moral values and duties exist.)

14 Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them. (Romans 2:14)

Is this relevant today? Well, “Star Wars” is culturally relevant. "Rogue One" begins showing tonight. Millions will descend upon theatres across the world and see, again, a battle between good and evil, between light and darkness. When George Lucas was interviewed by Charlie Rose he explained:

“It’s about good and evil, but heroes — what makes a hero, what’s friendship, what’s the idea of sacrificing yourself for something larger? They’re all really basic things, you might say you don’t have to make a movie about that [because] it’s very obvious, but it’s actually not. It’s not that obvious to a lot of people…”

My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. (Psalm 84:2)

I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. (Psalm 16:7)

Your heart is a hard drive containing the software of God’s moral code, humming and teaching you even while you sleep. In his amazing book Addiction and Grace clinical psychiatrist Dr. Gerald May, wrote:

“After twenty years of listening to the yearnings of people’s hearts, I am convinced that human beings have an inborn desire for God. Whether we are consciously religious or not, this desire is our deepest longing and most precious treasure.”

God has placed His treasures, the things he cherishes, how he is oriented, how He is wired, in every human heart. In your heart, too. Therefore, guard this.

Don’t give your heart to just anything!

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.  (Proverbs 4:23)

This is the most important thing about you. Guard your true orientation. Guard the metaphysical impulse. Protect what you were made for and inclined to go after. Because from the heart, actions come. Here is the order:

First, your heart.

Second, what you do. 
Your orientation; your inclinations; your motives; your passions; what you worship… such things determine what we do.

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

As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart. (Proverbs 27:19)

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (Luke 6:45)

Christmas is the story of how God came to rescue and redeem that which was made in his image. He comes to give you himself, to fill your heart with all the fullness of Christ. When that happens, as it has happened to me and perhaps you as well, O come let us adore him is our natural response.