Advent 2017 - Prepare Your Heart [Receiving]
Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."
A voice cries:
"In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."
A voice says, "Cry!"
And I said, "What shall I cry?"
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.
Go on up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
"Behold your God!"
Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely,
“I am not the Messiah.”
They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ ”
Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”
leb: inner man, mind, will, heart
Original Word: לֵב Part of Speech: Noun Masculine Transliteration: leb Phonetic Spelling: (labe) Short Definition: heart
Original Word: καρδία, ας, ἡ
Part of Speech: Noun, Feminine
Phonetic Spelling: (kar-dee'-ah)
Short Definition: the heart, inner life, intention
Definition: lit: the heart; mind, character, inner self, will, intention, center
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I seriously just want to come up here today and read scripture (or continue to just read scripture). I mean tons and tons of scripture. I may be in the minority here, but there is something about reading the Bible that allows for an introspection to take place that seems rare in our times. The type of introspection that allows for the impossible to seem possible. The inner travel that propels us from the everyday mundane human existence. The type that makes for fanciful discoveries of mysteries that somehow appear vaguely familiar – like waking from a wondrous dream that allows you to momentarily grasp at a strange and wonderful land, existence, even an entire world…
“In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing…it seemed to come from all directions at once…Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful Digory could hardly bear it.”
– The Magician’s Nephew
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ ”) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.
What is it about God’s Word that allows us to travel within? Is there some skull and bones secrecy, some gnostic understanding of events, is it an intellectual pursuit and discovery reserved for the learned and highly educated? What is it about how we, as human beings, are made, that allows for the transference of thought, will, emotion, and desire into a rational state of being?
What is the heart?
Merriam Webster defines heart as such:
Definition of Heart
a hollow muscular organ of vertebrate animals that by its rhythmic contraction acts as a force pump maintaining the circulation of the blood could feel her heart pounding
a structure in an invertebrate animal functionally analogous to the vertebrate heart
BREAST, BOSOM placed his hand on his heart
something resembling a heart in shape; specifically : a stylized representation of a heart a card decorated with hearts and flowers
a playing card marked with a stylized figure of a red heart
hearts plural : the suit comprising cards marked with hearts the five of hearts
hearts plural in form but singular or plural in construction : a game in which the object is to avoid taking tricks (see 1TRICK 4) containing hearts
PERSONALITY, DISPOSITION a cold heart
obsolete : INTELLECT
the emotional or moral nature as distinguished from the intellectual nature: such as
generous disposition : COMPASSION a leader with heart
LOVE, AFFECTION won her heart
courage or enthusiasm especially when maintained during a difficult situation never lost heart
one's innermost character, feelings, or inclinations - knew it in his heart - a man after my own heart
the central or innermost part : CENTER a cabin in the heart of the forest
the essential or most vital part of something - the heart of the city - get to the heart of the matter
the younger central compact part of a leafy rosette (such as a head of lettuce or stalk of celery)
And so we are always attempting to become better, smarter, to gain more understanding (a true function of our hearts – and a desire that is a built-in-deception from our heart – more on that later). Science would tell us that our hearts are nothing more than the organ that sustains life through the process of blood circulation to the extremities and other vital organs.
If that is the case, and science wins the day, how would we then prepare our hearts?
According to healthyheart.org
You can take several steps to maintain a healthy heart:
Maintain a healthy weight.
Reduce saturated fats.
Avoid processed foods.
Try to be physically active for 2 hours and 30 minutes a week.
Limit alcohol use.
Know your numbers.
High blood pressure
So recently my wife and I have traversed into the strange world of vegans. It’s been tough. We’ve had to avoid talking incessantly about our diet, refusing invitations to go anywhere without a full-blown explanation of our situation, and since we are already pretty wonderful, it was tough to add another thing to our lives that made us even better people.
All joking aside, who knows that it is important to keep our bodies healthy? The 521 has been quite a challenge to me personally. I took a look inside myself, and my heart longed for more of God. Through our pastor, through prayer and longing, through some brokenness, my heart conjured up in my being a need. A need to find out what things were truly controlling me. Was it tobacco? Yes. Was it alcohol? Yes. But even further, was it coffee? Yes. And I’ve seen some of your Facebook posts, and some of you need to get your caffeine in check. Yet still further, was it meat? Yes. Was it sugar? Yes. Was it dairy? Yes. All things that I believe to have a mastery of, but did they actually have a mastery of me? Yes.
What is the Heart?
God’s Word paints a truer picture of the heart than science or philosophy can, not that they do not try, and not that they do not paint and accurate picture. Blood is pumped throughout our entire bodies from the heart, carrying oxygen as well. But our hearts can deceive, they can guide, they can desire, they can calm, they can hide away, they can be broken, and they can be restored.
A little spiritual side note [God breathed life into man, spirit – wind – air – pneuma (pnyoo'-mah) Greek / ruach (roo'-akh) Hebrew – and the heart delivers this to the brain, our psyche, personality, conscience, will, etc.]
Scriptural breakdown of the heart:
Thus says the Lord:
"Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit."
The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
"I the Lord search the heart
and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of his deeds."
The plans of the heart belong to man,
but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.
All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,
but the Lord weighs the spirit.
Commit your work to the Lord,
and your plans will be established.
The Lord has made everything for its purpose,
even the wicked for the day of trouble.
Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord;
be assured, he will not go unpunished.
By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for,
and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil.
When a man's ways please the Lord,
he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.
Better is a little with righteousness
than great revenues with injustice.
The heart of man plans his way,
but the Lord establishes his steps.
An oracle is on the lips of a king;
his mouth does not sin in judgment.
A just balance and scales are the Lord's;
all the weights in the bag are his work.
It is an abomination to kings to do evil,
for the throne is established by righteousness.
Righteous lips are the delight of a king,
and he loves him who speaks what is right.
A king's wrath is a messenger of death,
and a wise man will appease it.
In the light of a king's face there is life,
and his favor is like the clouds that bring the spring rain.
How much better to get wisdom than gold!
To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.
The highway of the upright turns aside from evil;
whoever guards his way preserves his life.
Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall.
It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor
than to divide the spoil with the proud.
Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good,
and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.
The wise of heart is called discerning,
and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.
Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it,
but the instruction of fools is folly.
The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious
and adds persuasiveness to his lips.
Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death.
A worker's appetite works for him;
his mouth urges him on.
A worthless man plots evil,
and his speech is like a scorching fire.
A dishonest man spreads strife,
and a whisperer separates close friends.
A man of violence entices his neighbor
and leads him in a way that is not good.
Whoever winks his eyes plans dishonest things;
he who purses his lips brings evil to pass.
Gray hair is a crown of glory;
it is gained in a righteous life.
Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
The lot is cast into the lap,
but its every decision is from the Lord.
My son, keep your father's commandment,
and forsake not your mother's teaching.
Bind them on your heart always;
tie them around your neck.
When you walk, they will lead you;
when you lie down, they will watch over you;
and when you awake, they will talk with you.
For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light,
and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life,
to preserve you from the evil woman,
from the smooth tongue of the adulteress.
Do not desire her beauty in your heart,
and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes;
for the price of a prostitute is only a loaf of bread,
but a married woman hunts down a precious life.
Can a man carry fire next to his chest
and his clothes not be burned?
Or can one walk on hot coals
and his feet not be scorched?
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
Here is the point that we ultimately come to. Who in this room has ever had a broken heart? Who has felt pain, and despair, and longing within their being? I am not talking about a superficial hurt we feel from insignificant relationships. I am talking about true loss of love, of loved ones, of utter shame and regret for actions that are not ever looked past or forgotten by others, including ourselves. Who has screwed up and hurt others? Who has done lowly and evil things to others in this room? Who has uttered words that have cut to the soul of another human being? And who has been on the receiving end of those words and actions?
A broken heart lives there. A broken heart lives right in this room. If we are all just a little bit honest today, some of us don’t know if our broken hearts will ever be fixed. That brokenness within ourselves becomes our reasoning. It becomes our deceptions, it becomes our guidance, it becomes our desires, our only calm and comfort, where we hide from the world and ourselves – broken.
And I’m here today to tell you a mystery. That is how we prepare our hearts for God. It is the only way to prepare our hearts for God. To be broken. It is here that God creates for us a new heart. And God becomes the answer to deceptions (light – spoken Word – creation – Spirit), God guides our actions and plans, God becomes our desires, our only calm and comfort, where we hide from the world and discover ourselves – restored.
I pray every morning – I guess not so much pray as contemplate, wonder, question, doubt, struggle… And I try to be receptive to God – to listen for His voice, to see him in strangers, the homeless, the neighborhoods, the sunrises (man the November sunrises – that’s reason enough to be my Facebook friend). And the other day I was driving, thinking about preaching this lesson on the heart. Right up ahead, driving in front of me was a little dirty SUV – nice dirty SUV, I was in Arcadia - and something was drawn on the rear window in the dust. Not your normal “wash” me. This was a large heart, perfectly drawn, and then next to it a VS and next to that a large broken heart. And God reached down into my brokenness, my worry and doubt and struggling (ok, whining) and he restored me – He spoke to me and nearly knocked me out.
God wants your broken heart. He wants your vulnerability. He wants you to let go of whatever you are holding onto that keeps you broken – whoever you avoid at family and social gatherings – whoever or whatever you hate or have allowed yourself to reason to hate – whatever you are trying and failing to understand – stop. Rest in Him. Be calmed in him, hide from the world and discover yourself again.
Take care of your heart by allowing your heart to be broken. And when your heart is restored in Him, don’t go back to your old broken self/heart. Move forward in a conscious vulnerability, allowing your heart to be broken for others, to share and teach them about the answer to their longing heart – their faint remembrances of a far off world, the twinkling in their eye of a near comprehended dream – Love is the answer, and God is Love. All the broken, dirty, desperate, calm, ecstatic, desirous, struggling, flourishing parts of it. A Love beyond Love is experienced through the realization that we are all broken together. Embracing that and seeing love is how we prepare ourselves for whatever Jesus’ return entails.