Velcro

As Solomon grew old… his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.

1 Kings 11:4-6

At one point in Solomon’s life, he was fully devoted to the Lord. His heart was fully surrendered to God. Yet, as he grew older, he experienced a kind of heart-drift. In order to appease his wives and gain favor with other countries and kingdoms, Solomon allowed the worship of false gods. Then, not only did he allow it, Solomon began to participate in it. Finally, not only did Solomon participate, but he ordered the building of special high places for the worship of these false gods.

But notice that it didn’t say that Solomon became an unbeliever. There really isn’t such a thing. We all worship something, even if that something is ourselves. We’ll make something our god. It is the thing to which we have the most loyalty. It’s the thing to which we’ve given our heart. Solomon still believed in and worshiped the Lord. That wasn’t the issue. The issue was that he worshiped the Lord AND worshiped these false gods. What set his father David apart was his full and complete devotion to the Lord. Despite all of David’s mistakes and failures, David’s heart belonged to the Lord and the Lord alone.

The theological word for mixing our worship of the Lord with the worship of other “gods” in our life is syncretism. There are consequences for treating the Lord as if He is just one option on a buffet of spiritual food.

The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord’s command. So the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son.

1 Kings 11:9-12

Like the tearing of a garment, the Lord declared that He would take the kingdom out of Solomon’s hands. But, for the sake of David, the Lord would not do it in Solomon’s lifetime but would wait until the next generation came into power. Because Solomon’s connection to the Lord went from being intertwined to being little more than velcro, God would rip the kingdom out of his hands like velcro pulling apart.

A highly prophetic friend of mine once gave me this word that said, “whatever isn’t interwoven will be removed.” If we are interwoven with the Lord, nothing can pull us away from Him. Our heart will be fully surrendered and devoted to Him. But if our connection to Him is little more than velcro, when life pulls on it, there will be a ripping away. Likewise, our relationships to each other must be interwoven and not just velcro or they’ll pull away.

So, we must ask ourselves, “What other ‘gods’ are we worshiping?” “What other things have crowded our hearts and stollen some worship from the Lord?” Like David, is our heart fully devoted to the Lord? Or, like Solomon, have we set up a few high places that have us bowing down to priorities other than God’s priorities?

Deep Recesses of the Heart

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:5-8

We are called, in our relationships with one another, to have the mindset of Jesus. The main mindsets that get stressed in this scripture passage are humility, lowliness, and servanthood. And if you’ve lived any length of time as an adult, you’ve likely discovered that there are layers to this.

What I mean is that there seem to be layers to our hearts. When my wife and I do premarital counseling with young couples, we tell them that marriage isn’t about what you’re like when you are at 100% or even 90% but what you are really like when you’re at 30%. When we are single and without kids, it is easier to get a full night of rest, carve out time for rejuvenation, and do things that bring our emotional tank back up to 100%.

So in early marriage, when everyone is rested and rejuvenated, there can be a honeymoon phase where people have a lot of grace and understanding for each other. But as life comes at us with work stress, illness, and bills, our tank can get sapped. Then add kids into the mix, the lack of sleep, the constant caring for others, and usually married couples are at about 30% when they interact with each other.

The question is, “Who are you at 30%?” That is often when the real person comes out. That is often when there is less grace, less patience, more anger, and more hurt. The question is not, “Can you humble yourself?” but instead, “When you are at 30% capacity, hungry, and running on little sleep, can you humble yourself?” This is why marriage and parenting has the unique ability to shape us into the image of Christ.

These are the top two layers of our heart. There is the layer when we are at our best, and then the next layer under is who we are at 30%. But I am discovering a layer under that. This is the layer that Jesus reached down into. This is the deep recesses of the heart, and this can only be explored in the midst of betrayal and failure.

When Jesus became fully human in the incarnation and decided not to use His divinity to His advantage, He began to experience that second layer of the heart (what He was like tired and hungry). But it wasn’t until He was betrayed by His own people and by His best friends that the deepest layer was revealed. The question of this third layer of the heart is not, “Who are you at 30%?” but rather, “When people closest to you hurt you, fail you, and, ultimately, betray you, what comes spewing out of the deep recesses of your heart?”

This is what is meant by the phrase above that Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death–even death on a cross!” When Jesus was betrayed at the deepest level by people closest to Him, what came pouring out of His heart was not bitterness or rage, defensiveness or victim mentality. What came pouring out of the deepest recesses of His heart was humility, obedience, compassion, grace, and love. That is who Jesus really was when pressed to His human limits.

Many of us who have been married and have been parents for a while have had that second layer of our heart transformed over time. We’ve learned to be loving, humble, and gracious–more than we ever thought we could be–even while operating at 30%. But where few Christians have been transformed is in the third layer. Where few of us have allowed the Holy Spirit to do His work is in the deep recesses of our heart in moments of betrayal, rejection, or failure.

What comes out of your heart (and mouth) when you are hurt? What comes up from the deep recesses of your heart when those closest to you have betrayed you?

If you’re anything like me, that is an area of the heart that doesn’t see much sunlight and so what comes bubbling up is ugly. It’s the sinful sediment that I’ve allowed to find a home in the deepest trench of my soul. I believe God sometimes uses betrayal and hurt as a strategic surgical tool to show us the ugliness down there so that He can begin His cleansing work.

What if hurt, betrayal, and rejection are unique tools–gifts really–with the awesome capability of shaping us into the image of Christ if we let them?

Eyes of the Heart

The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men…

…the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 

Matthew 28:4 & 8

An angel showed up at Jesus’s tomb to tell the women that Jesus has risen. Scripture tells us that this angel caused quite a commotion. First, the earth shook, then the stone that sealed the tomb rolled back, and the angel himself was white like lightening.

Both the women and the guards standing there were afraid of the appearance of this angel. They all had that in common. However, their heart conditions must have been different because we see two very different responses in the midst of that fear. The women were “afraid yet filled with joy.” But the fear experienced by the guards became shock-inducing terror as they fell down like dead men.

The Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13) reminds us that the condition of the soil of the heart makes all the difference in how an event, a message, or an encounter is received. These women had hearts that were filled with faith. So when they were given the message that Jesus was alive, the hope of that message sparked the kindling of faith and ignited joy in their hearts.

The guards did not experience this at all. Their hardened hearts had no faith. The encounter with the angel increased the fear that already lived in their hearts. So fear upon fear became terror. Faith gives us eyes to see, and these guards were blind to the hope that his angel represented.

We are responsible for tending to the condition of our heart. We cultivate good soil so that when we encounter something fearful in life, good fruit can come from it. We cultivate good soil–a heart full of faith–so that if we have an encounter with the Lord or with something powerful from His Kingdom, we don’t shrink away in doubt but instead step forward in faith.

Notice that the very next line of Scripture, as the women are leaving to tell the disciples about all of this, says, “Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him“(Matthew 28:9). If a person can’t handle the presence of an angel, they certainly won’t be able to handle Jesus showing up to them. Our hearts have to be able to handle it. Hearts full of faith and hope are the only kind of hearts that can handle an encounter with Jesus.

So many people say they wish Jesus would just show up to them, either to answer their questions or calm their doubts. But most people would drop down as if dead, just like the guards, if He showed up in their room. Their ill-prepared hearts couldn’t handle His Presence and glory.

Jesus said it this way, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God“(Matthew 5:8).

The apostle Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians echoes something similar, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you…“(Ephesians 1:18).

Unclean Heart

“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

Matthew 15:17-20

The Pharisees had the wrong understanding of what made a person “unclean.” They were hung up on traditions made by men that tried to keep people ritually clean through external purity. One of those traditions was to wash hands before eating so that the “uncleanness” from any Gentile item, dead or unclean animal that was touched in the marketplace would be washed away and not contaminate the food that was about to be eaten.

But Jesus clarifies to His own disciples that “cleanness” isn’t about what goes into one’s stomach, but what comes out of one’s heart. And one of the easiest ways to determine what is in our own hearts is to listen to what we say and how we say it.

It’s easy enough to flex our religious muscles and makes sure we sound holy around certain people. But when we are pressed in life, what comes out of our mouth then?

When we squeeze an orange, we expect orange juice to come out. When we press an olive, we expect olive oil to come out. What a peculiar sight it would be to squeeze a lemon and have motor oil come out. How strange it would be to press a cluster of grapes and have corrosive bleach leak out.

Yet, what Jesus is saying is that this is how we discover the broken places in our own hearts. This is exactly what happens to us. Evil thoughts come from the heart. Murderous rage comes from the heart. The roaming eye of adultery comes from the heart. The need to find acceptance and love by giving away our body to many different people through sexual immorality comes from the heart. The compulsion to take what is not ours comes from the heart. The tendency to lie, deceive, gossip, and slander comes from the heart. Harsh and critical words come from the heart.

When a Christian is pressed or squeezed by life circumstances, we should expect the fruit of the Spirit to come leaking out: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If we get pressed by life and something else comes out of our heart, we need to see it like a warning light on the dashboard of our life. Something is broken in the deep places of our soul. Something in our heart needs healing.

So, what comes out of your mouth when life squeezes you? Pay attention to anything unclean that comes up. Use it as a diagnostic tool to understand that this is a place in your heart that needs healing. Our damaging and destructive words, our foul language, our bitter gossip and biting criticism are all products of a heart that needs healed by the love of God.

Let Peace Rule

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with grace in your hearts. 

Colossians 3:15-16

We are to let the peace of Christ, the peace that “transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), rule in our hearts. The word translated as “rule” is the Greek word brabeuó. It means “to act as an umpire, making the call in a conflict between contending forces, to arbitrate.”

The idea here is that there are different things contending for your heart. Fear, anxiety, worry, doubt, chaos, criticism, hopelessness, confusion, stress, and much more are all contending for a place in our hearts. We are commanded to let peace be the guiding principle, the final word, the thing that makes the decision as to what stays and what goes. Let peace call balls and strikes. Let peace decide what is safe to stay in your heart and what gets called out. In other words, if it doesn’t line up with the peace of Christ, it doesn’t get to stay.

How do we do this?

We get some clues in the passage of Scripture that follows.

  1. Be thankful! Gratitude invites peace.
  2. Let the word of Christ (or message of Christ) dwell in us richly. Staying regularly in God’s word invites peace.
  3. Teach and admonish with wisdom. Applying wisdom to our lives invites peace.
  4. Sing to God, with grace in our hearts, all different kinds of songs, hymns, psalms and songs from the Spirit. Worship focused on the grace that’s been poured out for us invites peace.

These simple but profound spiritual disciplines establish an environment of peace in our hearts.

A Matter of the Heart

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place…

Ephesians 6:14

Having addressed the need for their lives to be enveloped in truth, Paul admonishes the Ephesians to stand firm against the enemy with the “breastplate of righteousness” in place. This body armor protects the most vital organs of the body, but especially the heart.

If you want to learn something about the heart, read through the Psalms and the Proverbs. They are chalked full of wisdom about the power and passions, evil and righteousness that can flow from the heart. The Psalms are themselves the heart-cries of the psalmists. The Proverbs are wisdom born from the heart. Here’s an example:

The path of the righteous is like the morning sun,
    shining ever brighter till the full light of day.
But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
    they do not know what makes them stumble.

My son, pay attention to what I say;
    turn your ear to my words.
Do not let them out of your sight,
    keep them within your heart;
for they are life to those who find them
    and health to one’s whole body.

Above all else, guard your heart,
    for everything you do flows from it
.

Proverbs 4:18-23

So much of our life flows out of our desires, so we must protect what influences our desires. We get the picture in this Proverb of our heart being the headwaters of a river. If we allow our heart to receive polluted influence from any and every source, we will find our whole life contaminated.

What our eyes, ears and thoughts absorb will pour directly into the headwaters of our heart. If we absorb what is good, holy, righteous and loving, we will find that same fruit in our lives downstream. If we absorb what the rest of the world absorbs, our life will look just as chaotic, angry, bitter, and harsh as everyone else’s. This is why our heart must be protected with a breastplate of righteousness. There are consequences to the condition and purity of our hearts.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God”(Matthew 5:8).

He also said, “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).

We know that God is a heart-reader not a lip-reader. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “God knows your hearts”(Luke 16:15). And we all know the famous story of how David was chosen as the next king of Israel:

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. 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

This is why God has given us armor to protect our hearts. We are to “put on” righteousness like a garment, like a breastplate. This is why Paul wrote to the Romans, “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh”(Romans 13:14). The righteousness of Christ is something we must choose to put on.

We are to filter out the things that pour into our heart, the headwaters of our life, so that downstream is full of purity, life, hope and love. Paul said it this way to the Philippians:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8