Let me give you a verbal map of the next 25 minutes or so.
I want to try and make the case for how the world changes through changed hearts…and hearts are changed by Christ, first…then by ua acquiring Christ honoring heart habits.
-I hope to do this with some excerpts from William Barr’s speech from last fall.
-An illustration from the famous social reformer’s life…Wilberforce
-The example of Paul in his letter to Philemon
-The words of Christ
All this to make the case…the world changes, through changed hearts…hearts are changed by the gospel and then through effort to acquire heart habits.
Then we will go to Proverbs chapter 3…look at some specific heart habits.
From a covenant relationship perspective…our choices to obey and God’s responses to those choices.
Finally…close the loop and make personal application.
- LET ME TRY TO MAKE THE CASE
I want to read some excerpts from a speech given last October by Attorney General William Barr at the Law School at Notre Dame.
Keep in mind his speech was given well before COVID and Social unrest became constant headlines
“No society can exist without some means for restraining individual rapacity.” (ru paa city)
-Aggressive greed…uncontrolled appetite.
Without individual restraint…human connected relationships, societys, cannot survive.
“But if you rely on the coercive power of the government to impose restraints, this will inevitably lead to a government that is too controlling, and you will end up with not liberty, just tyranny.”
“On the other hand, unless you have some effective restraint, you will end up with something equally dangerous—the unbridled pursuit of personal appetites at the expense of the common good. This is just another form of tyranny—where the individual is enslaved by his appetites, and the possibility of any healthy community life crumbles.”
So, two extremes…outside/in control only(tyranny)…no inside/out control at all(another kind if tyranny)…both lead to loss of freedom.
He quoted Edmund Burke (an 18th century Irish statesmen and philosopher)
“Men are qualified for civil liberty (freedom), in exact proportion to their disposition to put chains on their appetites…(freedom requires self-restraint)…society cannot exist unless a controlling power be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate (undisciplined/immoral) minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters (chains).”
The more humans press for freedom from all restraint…the more they are enslaved by their own passions.
We cannot be free, unless we have…personal discipline…heart habits.
Barr went on to say that “Christianity teaches a micro-morality. We transform the world by focusing on our own personal morality and transformation.”
He is not saying that this excludes external acts…but that real change, world change…starts with your own heart.
Barr said “The new secular religion (anti-faith movement as a faith movement…even atheists live by faith) teaches macro-morality. One’s morality is not gauged by their private conduct, but rather on their commitment to political causes and collective action to address social problems.”
So…as long as you do the “public stuff” right…doesn’t matter what happens inside of you.
This doesn’t work…no heart change means no positive, lasting world change.
Changed hearts, change the world…in lasting ways.
And besides, how many people have fallen the past couple of years…for their lack of “private character”….in spite of their public adherence to the right political causes.
I’ve been reading a biography of Wilberforce…the great British politician,…best known as the leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade.
This is something he gave his life for…the Slavery Abolition Act was passed one month after he died…at age 73.
The engine that drove his passion for social change was his heart commitment to Christ.
He was, as a young man…wealthy, famous and successful…entering politics at age 21.
He had largely abandoned his childhood faith.
Then at around age 25 he began to feel the emptiness of this life of the pursuit of success and fame.
God used a friend who shared the gospel with him in ways that were both relational and intellectual challenging…this, along with his growing sense of internal emptiness…began to draw him to Christ.
So, he faced a personal crisis…he had to choose between Christ and the world…but he wanted both.
He wanted all that Christ could offer (freedom, peace, purpose)…but he also wanted all the world could offer(acceptance, fame)
This, Jesus said, and reason tells us, is impossible…you can’t have two “Lords” two controlling loves.
He knew that if he followed Christ with all his heart, he would lose his popularity and friends and perhaps his political career.
This was 1785 (not 2020) and the Christian faith in his circles was mocked…to believe that Christ is God and the Bible is true was seen to be absurd.
This was also the trend in America at the time…At Harvard, Yale, Williams College…the first universities, initially formed to train up ministers…had become largely non-Christian…deist.
What we see around us now…is not new, it’s quite old.
In Wilberforce’s world, social setting, you could be religious…just don’t go too far with it.
In other words, live a two-story life…be “spiritual” but leave God out of the “real world”…business, politics, morality.
He wrote during this time of struggle “I was filled with sorrow. I am sure that no human creature could suffer more than I did for some months.”
He finally made the choice to follow Christ with all of his heart and life.
But then he thought that to be serious about his faith he would have to withdraw from public life…politics.
He sought out his childhood hero, John Newton…the former slave trader turned pastor…who wrote “Amazing Grace.”
Newton mentored him towards a growing faith that included a single-story life…stay engaged in politics for the glory of God and good of people.
Make Jesus Lord…then go and do what he calls you too…whatever that is.
This heart change…super charged Wilberforce for a life that led to lasting social change.
Without conversion of his heart…faith in Christ…there would have been no power, no endurance, no ability to put up with a life of attack…no willingness to sacrifice personal goals…no power to die before seeing the change he lived for.
The gospel planted the seed for the end of slavery long before men like Wilberforce…though it took some time for it to work its way out…and it didn’t end slavery in every place…just in those places where the gospel took root in individual hearts.
Not where the seed fell on rocks, or was choked by thorns…not in places where the gospel was only lived in part.
It took root in the heart soil and life of Wilberforce…and countless others who are not so well-known.
Philemon…a very short letter/NT Book…written by Paul from prison to tell a man named Philemon that he is sending his escaped slave, and new Christian, Onesimus back to him.
Paul says “I have the right to command you in this(take him back as brother)…but I appeal to you on behalf of my “son” Onesimus.”
-Paul went for Philemon’s heart.
Then he says “As I send him back to you, I am sending my very heart.”…nowhere else in his letters does Paul express this level of affection for a single person.
“Accept him back as a brother, (Paul writes) as if you were receiving me.”
In her great book, “Confronting Christianity” Rebecca Mclaughlin writes that “According to Roman law, Philemon could have branded Onesimus, deliberately broken his joints, or administered some other form of brutal punishment…”
But Paul tells him that if does not welcome Onesimus back with honor and love then he is rebelling against his most respected mentor…to reject him, Paul wrote, is to reject me.
Paul is taking the Lord’s lead in how the world is changed…so he spoke to the heart of this man…called out the gospel seed that had been planted there.
Heart change leading to world change was, after all, the Lord’s idea.
Matt 28:19,20 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
No one outranks Jesus…all authority has been given to him…so he issues this order, this commission.
Go make “disciples”…followers, learners of all people…nations…everyone…Baptize them in the name of the Triune God…teach them to obey every command I’ve given you.
This is freedom, this is life…this is the reversal of the curse of brokenness and destruction within humans and between humans.
To obey Christ…is human freedom.
John 8:31-32 “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
We get the word “discipline” from the same root.
A disciple is one who exercises discipline in order to follow Christ.
Discipline…holding to his teaching (which is to say his restraints, boundaries for our lives) is the path to freedom.
Again…don’t confuse the path to Salvation with the process of sanctification.
Salvation is to transfer trust from self to Christ alone.
Sanctification is the process of becoming like Christ over time…this is collaboration of our choices with the Holy Spirit.
The outcome of this is that we will see God glorified in our lives…whether we live or die…whatever we do…we do “unto the Lord”
So…To change the world…start with your heart…start with the hearts of others.
To change your heart…if you are not yet a follower of Christ…invite him to take up the royal throne at the center of your being.
He will change your heart and begin the long process of transforming it.
If you are a follower of Christ…what follows this surrender of your heart to Christ is that you are to “guard your heart”(Proverbs 4:23)…that is, don’t let it chase after other Lords.
You and I are to surrender to Christ as Lord…then we are to exercise personal disciple over our own lives to live within the realm of his will.
Your freedom as an individual to thrive and the freedom between you and others to thrive in relationship…flows from a heart that is forming habits that are shaped by the gospel.
The pursuit of freedom apart from the constraint of the gospel is not working.
The numbers dying by drug addiction in America each year are around 1.5 times those killed in the entire Vietnam war.
The terrible cost of children killed in Abortion, children growing up without fathers or families, soaring suicide rates…on and on it goes…you don’t need me to recount it.
All these social costs…start with hearts that are not being formed into the image of Christ.
I understand that individual cases are unique…and I’m not assigning blame to people for these terrible problems and the suffering that they bring.
*The reason Chloe and Zoe, my two year old foster grandchildren…are in foster care…is not their fault…but they are there because the gospel has not been believed and lived by the generations before them.
And the reason they are in a loving home and have thrived…is because the gospel has been believed and lived by others not their biological family.
But when we get the problem wrong…we will always get the solution wrong.
And wrong solutions mean that the innocent suffer along with the guilty.
I’ve sat through days of training and heard in person some the world’s experts on these social/personal tragedies…I don’t doubt the motives of these expert…I just disagree with some of their conclusions.
They have the problem wrong at times…so they get the solution wrong.
We need wisdom…to navigate the dangerous and complex pathways of life…and to walk in the beauty and freedom of God’s path.
We need changed hearts…that understand how to live in God’s wisdom…then we are positioned to change the world around us.
So, let’s move to the second leg of our journey this morning.
I mentioned last week that we could look almost anywhere in Proverbs to study the topic of wise habits.
It’s also true that we could look many places in Proverbs to see how heart habits impact our lives in practical and powerful ways…and in turn impact the world around us.
So, let’s look at the first 12 verses of chapter 3.
These verses show the divine/human covenant partnership.
Notice that the odd numbered verses present our obligation in this covenant relationship…our part is to watch our heart and habits.
Then the even numbered verses present God’s response in the covenant relationship he offers us…he obliges himself to bless the one who follows him.
- WISE HEART HABITS: Proverbs 3
Let’s walk through these 6 couplets together…our part and God’s promise in this covenant relationship he offers to us.
1 My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, 2 they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity.
“Do not forget” really means to obey.
It is not about “Oh, I forgot all about that.”
To forget is to fail to do, not fail to recall.
So, to keep his commands in our heart…is more than “memorizing” God’s truth…it is about “metabolizing” it.
We are to make them a part of who we are.
When we do…metabolize them…God promises long years and prosperity.
Once again, Proverbs are general statements about how life works…and this is how life works.
God’s plan for you may not be that you live to 90 or 29…but when you metabolize God’s word…when you live from the heart on line with how he designed life to work.
You will of course maximize your life potential.
There is no doubt that following the ways of God…leads directly to health benefits.
I spoke this year of the growing amount of research done on this by people like Dr. Tyler Vanderveele of Harvard and others.
“Okay, Terry, will you promise that if I learn to love God’s word in my heart of hearts…that I will live to be quite old and very prosperous?”
No, but I promise that if you learn to love God’s word in your hearts then you will be quite content with the amount of life and resources God chooses to give you.
If you don’t learn to love God from the heart…I can fairly well promise that you will be discontent with whatever God gives…even if it is old age and great wealth.
3 Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. 4 Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.
Love and faithfulness are often used to describe God’s own character.
So is this about God’s love and faithfulness expressed to us…or God’s love and faithfulness expressed to others through us.
Both…when we embed his love and faithfulness in our hearts…it will transform us and manifest in showing this love and faithfulness to others.
Clearly, those who live a love, a life of putting others first, looking out for other’s interests and not just their own will win favor in not just God’s eyes…but others will be drawn to their life as well.
This outcome, favor with God and humans, is without question and without exception an experience of people who live in and live out God’s faithfulness and love.
If we are paying attention, we have all seen this over and over either in our own lives or in the lives of others…or both.
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
Here…our part…put the full weight our confidence on the Lord not on our own mental, physical or any other of our own resources.
And then we are positioned in our hearts to realize our own great need…we are in a place where we are open to God’s power and wisdom.
Then we will live this life of “straight paths.”
Straight paths does not mean easy life…but it is a life free from unnecessary obstacles.
Many times, when we rely on our own resources…we create our own stumbling blocks.
We tend to want to hedge our bets…I will put partial weight on my faith…but I’ll keep some of my life back for myself…just in case this isn’t really real…or it’s real but I may not like what God wants.
Throw the full weight of your life on God’s mercy…see what he does with your life.
You will never know what could have been if you walk purely by sight and not by faith.
7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. 8 This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.
This is similar to 5 (Don’t trust yourself)…and again it is not a promise of exemption from all disease…but a promise of refreshment from God and maximal life health.
9 Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; 10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.
Here is where we literally put our money where our mouths are.
Giving our money is a fundamental heart check…this is where we see, in tangible ways, what we value and who we trust.
We gladly give to what we most value.
We demonstrate who and what we most trust by what we do with our money.
We will talk about this more later this year…but there is a promise in Proverbs and Scripture as a whole, of prosperity as a result of certain heart habit…choices that flow from a changed heart.
There are some very objective and practical reasons for this…certain bad lifestyle choices drain a person’s resources while living in biblical wisdom leads to practical outcomes like financial prosperity.
I had a friend who came to Christ late in life and he told he would not have to continue working so hard had he not been divorced so many times…each one drained his fortune.
But there is a spiritual side of this as well…God does, in ways that only he can track, put out his hand and bless those who trust him with their resources.
Again…this is something you have to try to experience…because the way the way he does this is unique to individual circumstances.
You won’t be able to demand that God demonstrate that he will reward your faith…before you demonstrate that you have faith.
11 My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, 12 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.
Here our part is to have a heart that doesn’t “despise” the Lord’s discipline or resent his rebuke.
When he points out we are wrong…through his word, others, or by his Spirit in our hearts…we are to learn to be enormously grateful and not resentful.
He will discipline those who are his…but what is at stake is that we can fail to see his great acts of love to us in the form of life course correction.
He is showing us love…and we often see his absence, or his anger, or his lack of interest… “Bless me Lord”
“I am…in this correction I am giving”
When we see challenging times, or correction as other than his love…we miss many of God’s greatest displays of love in our lives.
What all these covenant couplets have in common is that they are actions or activities that can and should become heart habit…they originate from the heart.
These wise heart habits…show up in life applications and then they very directly change the world around us.
So many stories…I’ll tell just one.
Several years ago, I was talking with a talented friend about a pending life decision.
He was leaning towards self-trust and self-service in his decision…but I watched him lean into trusting God instead
Fast forward to the present…and I can see virtually all, if not all, of what these 12 verses describe manifested in his life.
Important caveat…he didn’t make the choices in order that God would give him want he wanted…God was what he wanted.
This is the distinction between the false health and prosperity gospel and the true Gospel.
A gospel centric, God-loving life does most often lead to increased health and prosperity…in line with God’s will for our lives individually.
But God’s will must be our desire…because we are learning to love him…to trust him.
A gospel centric life has a heart that says with Paul “To live is Christ, to die is gain”
III. CLOSE THE LOOP: APPLY THIS TO OUR LIVES
This is where you do the thinking…applying.
What heart habits have formed in you and are forming in you?
Do they look like biblical wisdom?
What flow of information and data…is most shaping you from the inside out.
News story…or God’s story…the gospel?
A couple of ideas to spur personal reflection.
Do you move through life thinking more often of how others, the world needs to change…or how you do?
Do you intentionally engage in activities, involvement in the lives of others that might lead to them knowing and loving God?
Are you the kind of person that others will come away from time with you and desire to know the God you love?
Or just have had another round of arguing or complaining about current events?
Who do you want to be? What do you want the impact and outcome of your life to be?
Pray…then I’ll close the service.