Allen Jackson - Heart Disease - Part 1
It's good to be with you today. We've been continuing the study on "Stepping Out of the Crowd" that I wanna talk to you a little bit about the condition of your heart. You know, I would submit to you that the circumstances of your heart are more important than the conditions of your life. Our heart conditions matters more than the circumstances of our birth or our bank account, our education, or the platform we may have in the social media wherever you live with that. The reality is our heart is the wellspring of who we are, and the good news about that is you and the Lord can work that out. It's an invitation today. Grab your Bible and a notepad, but most importantly, open your heart.
We've been working on this little study around the idea of "Stepping Out of the Crowd," and it's really not complicated at all. We wanna break loose of group think. We wanna do anything we can to overcome the idea that we're Christ followers simply because we sit in a location or we join a group, or there's just some kind of a nebulous way that, you know, what I've suggested to you is it takes intentionality and a purposeful life from beginning to end; that being a Christ follower is more than just making a profession of faith. That's the entry point into the Kingdom of God, but then following that requires determination to continue to grow and live as a Christ follower.
There's a difference in knowing Jesus as your Savior and knowing Jesus as your Lord. Lordship means that he is the one who establishes priorities over every part of our lives. And we've begun to look at some practical expressions of that and I think this is the last of the lessons in the session for right now. And I wrote this one short enough that I think I can finish it, so there's actually hope. There's something that I'd like to do next, so I want is this whole thing to me is around, in this session, is about spiritual health, because I think stepping out of the crowd requires us to understand what is necessary to maintain a healthy spiritual life.
We talked in the previous session about some components that are needed to step out of the crowd, some things you'll have to believe or grapple with, or ideas that you'll have to continue to hold. There're some things you'll have to overcome. You'll have to overcome the notion that a profession of faith kind of finalizes all your God business. I'm not calling your salvation into question. I'm calling into question your idea of what means to be a Christian, to imagine that you make a profession of faith or you kneel at an altar and you have entered the Kingdom of God and it requires no further attention. I believe it's as naïve as imagining that if you join a health club, your healthy for life.
I think we all understand you would have to utilize the resources in that place in order to maintain physical health and wellbeing. And to maintain spiritual health is going to require attention and participation and cooperation with the Spirit of God. And so, that brings us to this session and I wanna make it as simple as I know how, and what I'm really gonna suggest is we wanna learn how to avoid heart disease. I've had enough birthdays now that when I go to the doctor, they wanna talk to me about that stuff and I'm like, you know, "What's your diet"? "Chocolate". You know. "Well, what's your go-to food when you're stressed"? "Chocolate". "What do you prefer for breakfast"? "Chocolate". It seems to make them tense. Don't know why, but Matthew 15, we'll start there, "Jesus called to the crowd, called the crowd to him and he said, 'Listen and understand.'"
Apparently it's possible to listen and not understand. "What goes into a man's mouth doesn't make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean.'" Pause there just a minute. It's a little blind to us 'cause we don't really live with the notion anymore that your fork makes you holy or not. But for hundreds of years, the people of God had dietary restrictions, kosher rules, and your righteousness was significantly impacted by what you ate. It was a part of their expression of worship to God. The best example of that, or maybe the most interesting example of that, is Daniel. In Daniel chapter 1, we find Daniel as a slave in Babylon and he's asking for permission not to eat the king's food. He wants to maintain some semblance of his kosher diet. And after some negotiation, he gains that privilege.
Now, we don't live with that. But Jesus is addressing his audience and he's challenging an idea that is very firmly fixed in their imagination. What goes into your mouth does not make you unclean. Now I point that out 'cause I'm challenging something that's very firmly fixed in American evangelicalism: that if you've made a profession of faith, you're just golden. You just don't have to think about it much anymore. If you ever need to return to that visit, all you have to do is say "I'm sorry," and then you just move along again. And while I believe in conversion and I believe in the grace of God, that kinda presumptive living terrifies me. I think it's extraordinarily dangerous.
And so, Jesus is challenging this deeply rooted idea, and he's doing it in very plain language: What comes out of your mouth is more important than what goes in it. "And the disciples came to him and asked, 'Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?'" Can you imagine coaching Jesus up on his situational awareness? You know, "Hey, Jesus, I know you're not good with crowds. Did you notice"? I'm thinkin' Jesus noticed. "And he replied, 'Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them, they're blind guides.'" Everybody says Jesus is all about love. Just one group hug after another rollin' down the streets of Israel. "Leave them, they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit".
Jesus's response when he said the Pharisees were offended, he said "Leave them". Wow. He didn't say go reason with them, go try to explain to them. Leave them, they're blind guides. "Well, I feel called to be a missionary amongst the blind guides". Jesus said leave them. "And then Peter said, 'Explain the parable to us.' And Jesus said, 'Are you still so dull?'" This is not the most affirming of Jesus's interactions with friends and followers. "Don't you see," and when he says "don't you see," they don't see. "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 the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean".
Jesus is revealing the source of uncleanness in our lives. And what did he say it was? He said it's our heart. It's what comes out of your heart that makes you unclean. And that's givin' expression, perhaps, in your words or your attitude or your behaviors, but the point of origin is your heart. Not the pump in the center of your being. That's your cardiac muscle. But the center of your person, for out of the heart come evil thoughts. Murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man unclean. But eating with unwashed hands does not make him unclean. I've lived in Israel. I've had a professor in school, I'll never forget, he was brilliant. We could turn in papers in seven different languages. He was orthodox. He had the sharpest wit of any professor I ever studied with. You did not talk back in class.
And I used to like to, but not there. But he washed his hands so frequently as a part of his ceremonial washing that his hands were continually chapped. Young man, brilliant man. And Jesus is saying, "Listen, unclean hands is not your problem. It's an unclean heart". And then he gave us a little sample of what comes out of that unclean heart. He said evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. So it's a combination of things. It's emotions. It's thoughts, it's feelings, it's our carnal nature. All of those things have to be surrendered to the lordship of Jesus. They hold the potential to make us unclean. Again, he's talking to his friends about this. Now, that's the New Testament, but it's a principle all through scripture.
In Proverbs 4:23, it says, "Above all else, guard your heart, for it's the wellspring of life". Above all else. So I wanna ask you a question: If you think about time and energy you spend in protecting those things that are valuable to your assets, your resources, your retirement, your home, your car, your children, your grandchildren, if you evaluated time spent on that, energy spent on that, resources spent on that, attention given to that, how would that compare into how you guard your heart? Because the counsel of scripture is above all else. The priority, the most significant thing to secure in your life, is the condition of your heart because it holds the potential to cause you to be unclean in God's sight. It seems to me we treat that pretty casually. What we listen to, what we think about, how we feel. We feel entitled to our feelings when you can't say they're wrong. "They're my feelings". I'm not saying they're not yours. I'm just saying they're not all helpful or they're not all godly.
And then Proverbs says, "Above all else, guard your heart". So I've been walking around for a few days saying, "What does that mean"? What would practical expressions of that look like for those of us in the 21st century to understand what it is to guard our hearts? And this isn't an inclusive list 'cause I don't want the series to go forever. But it is a sampling that I think will give you some ways to think about it and open some doors in your imagination. And one thing we have to guard our hearts against is the arrival of the tempter. And it's helpful for me to think of it in these terms: The temptation is not a thing. It's not really that I'm tempted by things. Temptation is rooted in a person. Big difference.
When you're conscious of temptation, rather than to think of the source of the temptation as the thing or the response or the attitude or the action, think of temptation in terms of a person. There is someone tempting you. He may be using things or responses or actions, but it's a person. Look at Matthew 4, "Jesus was led by the Spirit," by the Spirit of God, "Into the desert to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry and the tempter came to him and he said, 'If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.'" Well, Jesus is hungry. Just the aroma of bread. Ever been hungry and smelled fresh bread? I don't need much explanation from that point. "If you're hungry," he said. "If you're the Son of God," he said. He knows very well who he is.
That's why he's tempting him. He has seen Jesus in all of his glory. He knew Jesus when he himself was an archangel before he was expelled from heaven. He has seen the splendor and the majesty of Jesus. Some scholars suggest that it was Satan's pride, he wanted Jesus's place, that caused the fall anyway. So he's challenging that in Jesus's life. "If you are the Son of God". The temptation in Jesus's life wasn't about a thing or just his hunger or his physical weakness. It was centered in a person, and so is your temptation and mine. It's important, if you're gonna guard your heart, to understand that.
In Matthew 6, Jesus, when he was teaching us to pray, picked this up. It's the Lord's Prayer, you know it. "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name". Look at the last sentence in verse 13, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one". Did you know one of the categories of prayer, I understand the Lord's Prayer to be a collection of prayer categories more than it's a cohesive, it can be prayed as a prayer, but I think it's an introduction, it's like a portfolio of prayers that can be prayed. And one of the categories, one of the portfolios is prayers to deliver us from temptation. Are you in the habit on a routine basis of praying regarding those points where you know the tempter has besieged you?
See, if you're trying to overcome the tempter just in the force of your will or the strength of your personality, you're incredibly vulnerable. We're no match for him. But we come in the authority of Jesus's name and the power of his shed blood. Jesus said that we should pray that we would not be led into temptation, but be delivered from the evil one. The source of the temptation is the evil one. Look at Luke 22. Jesus is preparing the disciples for his suffering. And he said, "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you". At that point, I'm thinkin', "Wow"! It's the next line that's always troubling. "Simon, I've prayed that your faith may not fail. And when you've turned back, strengthen your brothers".
Simon doesn't understand either, 'cause he said, "Lord, I'm ready to go with you to prison and to death". And Jesus said, "No, I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you'll deny me three times". Peter protests. Jesus has more discernment, more understanding of Peter's strengths and weaknesses and points of vulnerability than Peter does. It's why we need the help of the Holy Spirit. Self-awareness is not easy. Understanding our own hearts is not easy. We have an incredible capacity for self-justification, and we need the help of the Spirit of God. But Jesus's prayer intrigues me. "Simon, I have prayed for you. Satan has asked to sift you".
It's Job-like. We just read the Book of Job together. Job makes his... I mean Satan makes his presentation before God asking for permission to sift Job and his life. And we find that repeated here in the New Testament with Jesus. "Satan has asked to sift you. I have prayed for you". See, I want the prayer to be that Satan would go and leave me alone, that there'd be no anything. I don't wanna be sifted. Right? "But I've prayed, Peter, that your faith wouldn't fail, and after you turn back, you're gonna turn away, Peter". What a gift. Jesus is giving him an amazing insight into his circumstance. Peter can't hear him. "Lord, I'm a little offended. I'd follow you anywhere. I would even follow you to death".
See, following the Lord, I would give you permission to incorporate the authenticity of your journey into your life, in your small groups with your trusted friends. We tend to walk in a pretty significant amount of pretension. That's kinda baked in sometimes to our religious relationships in our lives, and I'm not talkin' about how you interact with the more peripheral things and persons in your life, but with the people that you're making your spiritual journey with, we need to have enough integrity that we all understand we face struggles and challenges. That doesn't make you a failure as a Christ follower. It doesn't make you weak, it doesn't make you insignificant. It doesn't mean you've missed it. It simply means that you have a role of great enough significance or great enough opportunity or you've been entrusted with something that the adversary will target you.
If Jesus was tempted, if Peter was tempted, I would submit to you that you facing temptation doesn't disqualify you, it puts you in really good company. So if we live with this pretentious attitude that, "Well you know, I know people who were tempted," in order, the greatest temptation in my life is one time I was tempted to not put the top back on the toothpaste. But I overcame and got toothpaste with a flip top. I mean, sometimes we are so, we so much wanna be perceived as mature or accomplished or above that I think we lose the reality. And in those places with the people with whom you're doing life in a meaningful way, there has to be enough honesty and transparency that you can say, "We pray for one another. I pray for you, pray for me". You know, and sometimes we wanna pretend the spirituality. And Jesus isn't going that with Peter. He said, "Peter, I've prayed for you".
So the topic now is guarding your heart, and I started with this notion of the arrival of the tempter, but it's gonna lead into the rest of it because the next one is pride. And in our pride, in our spiritual pride and our spiritual arrogance, we so much want to assert that we're invulnerable, but we barely remember what it is to be tempted. Well, I hope the points of our temptation have changed as we have matured in the Lord. I hope that we've gained some momentum over things that were temptations in our past. Those would be evidence of maturity, just as we mature physically and emotionally, as we grow I hope we gain some maturity spiritually. But if Jesus was not removed from the arena of the tempter, and Peter was not, I don't think you and I should have the imagination that we will be either.
So don't stand in some foolish pride with the pretense that you don't know what it is. It's not impressive. It's not impressive to someone with any real maturity. In Proverbs 11 and verse 2, "When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom". Or Proverbs 8:13, "To fear the Lord is to hate evil". There's the correlation there. It's another lesson on the fear of the Lord, but if you accommodate evil, if you excuse evil, if you justify evil, if you lie for evil, if you wanna give evil a hug, all those things that we see so prevalent, the Bible says to do that is to have no fear of the Lord; no respect, no reverence for God. 'Cause the fear of the Lord says, "I don't want anything to do with evil," 'cause evil destroys what God loves the most. It destroys people. And then it says, "I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior, and perverse speech".
I do not wanna give myself to something that God says he hates. The root of almost every other expression of sin in the Bible is pride. Pride was the sin that caused Satan to lose his place in the heavenlies. With all the things he had access to and awareness of, pride caused him to lose his place. And religious people are uniquely vulnerable to pride. We'll be proud of the fact that we're better than somebody else. We will have pride about the translation of the Bible we read or how we worship or when we worship or how often we worship. We're vulnerable, and the tempter knows. So we have to help one another with that.
The third thing we have to guard our heart against is distractions. In fact, if you wanna ensure mediocrity, give a broad menu of opportunities. A highly optional environment almost ensures mediocrity. You're not really blessing your kids when you say they can do anything they want to. They can play every sport, they can go everywhere, they can become whatever. Sometimes the limiting of options forces you to focus on what's available to you and you'll go do the best you can with that opportunity. And I find in our faith, we are often distracted. In Matthew 24, Jesus is speaking. It's a prophetic passage. He said, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father".
It's his return to the earth. Then he gives us a description of the season that is around it. He said, "Nobody knows the day, but he describes the season. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man". Well, that should have us all leaning forward a little bit. He's about to tell us what it will be like when he comes back to the earth. "In the days before the flood, people will be eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up till the day that Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man".
That's a fascinating passage. There's a parallel passage in Luke, but we don't have to build the whole thing. The idea is available to us right here. He describes what will be happening in that ultimate generation before he returns back, and we would imagine it would be describing expressions of evil and wickedness and immorality and demonic this and demonic that. That's not what Jesus describes. He says people will be eating and drinking. They'll be marrying and giving in marriage, up until the day Noah entered the ark. Those behaviors will be present in the earth up until the moment in time when Jesus steps back into time. None of them were patently immoral. They're not ungodly.
Fact, you could argue they're necessary. So it isn't that he's calling out evil behavior. He said what was characteristic of Noah's generation is destruction was imminent. The ark is built, the animals are loaded. God has sealed Noah and his family into the ark, and the overwhelming majority of the population are completely unaware. No awareness at all. Completely distracted. What are distracted by? The routine of life.
I wanna pray with you before we go. Temptation is rooted in a person, not a thing or an invitation or a dream. It's a person. We wanna say no to the tempter. Let's pray:
Father, you taught us to pray, that we wouldn't be led into temptation, but that you would deliver us from evil, and that's my prayer today. That you would give us the authority over that tempter. In Jesus's name, amen.