Thursday, May 29, 2008

Changing the Heart

Biblically speaking the heart is the seat of all thought and mind function. From the heart, or mind, comes all thoughts and all actions. A cursory reading of the Bible makes it seem like the heart and mind are different parts of the human person. And they may overlap and not be exactly the same thing. But there are enough passages that speak of them being interchangeable that it makes sense for us to begin with thinking of them as synonymous. A few examples might help:

And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Genesis 6:5

Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought; and he cry unto the LORD against thee, and it be sin unto thee. Deuteronomy 15:9

And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the LORD searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever. 1 Chronicles 28:9

O LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, our fathers, keep this for ever in the imagination of the thoughts of the heart of thy people, and prepare their heart unto thee: 1 Chronicles 29:18

Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: 24 And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24

O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved. How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee? Jeremiah 4:14

And he entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city. 2 And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. 3 And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth. 4 And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? Matthew 9:1-4

For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, , eries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: Matthew 15:19

For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, eries, fornications, , 22 Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: 23 All these evil things come from within, and defile the man. Mark 7:21-23

(Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. Luke 2:35

And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone? 22 But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answering said unto them, What reason ye in your hearts? Luke 5:21-22

(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. 14 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: 15 Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) Romans 2:13-15

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

Some might argue that Matthew 15:19 and Mark 7:21-23 teach us that there is something different about our thoughts and our hearts because Jesus said “out of the heart” come these kinds of thoughts. But in all these other passages the heart is what is doing the thinking. And so while there might be some things, behaviors for instance, that are not the heart, they come from and spring from the heart, they are generated by the heart.

What I’m saying is that I believe that the heart is the Old Testament version or expression of what the Greek or New Testament folks called the mind. In Deuteronomy 6:4, for example, God told Israel to worship him with all their “heart, soul, and might.” In the New Testament Jesus added the mind (Mt. 22:37; Mk. 12:30; Lk. 10:27). I think this was just in case anyone missed it. The point is that God wants all of us, every fiber of our being. He doesn’t want us to be able to have anything to ourselves.

The heart is the seat of who we are as human beings. It generates our thoughts and our actions. In the New Testament there may be a subtle shift from heart to mind or there may just be a strong over lap between what the writers and readers thought of as the heart and mind. But generally speaking there is no difference between the way the word heart is being used and the way the word mind is being used.

So to ask how a person changes his heart is the same question as how does a person change his mind.

The Bible tells us that only God can see into a person’s heart. But at the same time it repeatedly tells the Israelites to circumcise their hearts. And, in those contexts what God meant was that the Israelites needed to repent. But repent means to change your mind. This again is another indicator that heart and mind are the same part that need to be changed in the person who is in rebellion against God.

How a person changes his heart is something of an enigma. It is similar to how a person is reborn. How do we do it?

Here is one way to think about it:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. Romans 12:1-2

This passage tells us that we are to present our bodies to God as living sacrifices, which is our reasonable service (or worship). And as we do this we will no longer be conformed to the way the world thinks and does things, but instead our minds will be transformed and renewed.

Okay, so I’ve summarized the passage, and haven’t really explained it. How do you present your body to God? I would say that you give it over to him to do with whatever he wants. For example, 1 Corinthians 7:4 tells us that our wives have control over our bodies and we over theirs. Who says? God says. This means that we don’t get to do just whatever pops into our heads with our bodies. We give them to God and this means that we have given them to our wives. If your wife says, stop smoking with my body, you stop smoking. If your wife tells you to stop looking at p o r n on the internet, you stop looking at p o r n on the internet. Your body doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to God; and he’s given it to your wife to take care of.

Another way to offer your body to God is to take care to put it in situations where your mind is stimulated to love and good works. In the positive way it means to take it to Bible Studies, take it to prayer meetings, don’t neglect the gathering together of the saints (Heb 10:25). Strive to take yourself to be with the saints, talk with the saints, pray with the saints, live with the saints. On the negative side it means to avoid any and all situations where your body might get itself into sin or even temptation. If you have a problem with _______ (you fill in whatever battle you are facing), avoid the places or people who tempt you to sin in that area and take your body to be with the saints. If you have a problem being alone, never be alone. But don’t just not be alone, be with folks who will edify you and build you up in the Lord.

In addition, you have spent your whole life learning how to get along in the world. You’ve learned to stimulate your mind when you are alone, you’ve learned to get along when you get into trouble, and you’ve learned to cope when things get tough. But many of these ways of dealing with the world have come from the world and so are not any real solutions at all. You need to learn to look to Jesus, fix your eyes on Jesus, run toward the goal, batter your body, train it, run the race with endurance, to throw aside any and every encumbrance that tends to slow you down. You need to saturate your mind with the things of God and choose not to remember the things of the world any more.

Do a study on how the Bible talks about self control and how it plays out in the believers’ life. The fruit of the Spirit is self control, but exercising self control is also a command of God. It is the same with changing the heart. It is something only God can give, and yet it is a command. Repent, change your mind; Circumcise your hearts, repent, change your mind.

Above all, throughout this process pray and ask God to use the working out of your salvation to change you from the inside out into a godly, holy, righteous man, father, brother, and friend. As you give yourself to God, he will transform you into the image of his son. And this change will begin and end in a transformation of your heart and mind, soul and in many cases even your body.

So the answer to changing your heart is to constantly and consistently draw near to God in sweet fellowship, to love the saints by being with them, to love your family by playing with them, and never, never, never give the devil an opportunity to cause you to stumble. God will change your heart as you obey him (Phil. 2:12-13).

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

L u s t and Desire, A Continuum

You asked about how 'desire' and 'lust' relate in last week's letter. You took Greek, I remember, I was there. 'lust' in the Bible is 'desire.' So the command is if you look on a woman to desire her for yourself or your pleasure or for your titillation, you commit a d u l t ery with her in your heart (Matt. 5:28). Desire turns to l u s t whenever it changes from a godly desire to an ungodly desire. The godly desire is to enjoy beauty, but it slides into l u s t when it changes to desire to change the created purpose of beauty into one that feeds your own selfish and idolatrous heart.

Here's a very obvious example (I hope). When I was in the Navy I knew some guys who were turned on by the idea of women having relations with horses and other large animals. They were also turned on by the idea of having these same relations with sheep and other barnyard animals. These are perverse ways to think about God's creation. These men took the good desires God gave men to have with their wives and twisted them into desires for animals. My theory is that they misunderstood that is about love and thought it was about the thrill of the chase, the thrill of the feeling, the thrill of doing what they knew they ought not to be doing, etc. The law of diminishing returns had gotten a hold of them and they went from the right way of thinking about the desire for (if they ever knew it) and when that thrill became ordinary they looked for something other than what God provided. Consequently, they went from soft p o r n, to hard p o r n, to perverse p o r n. They also made this same trek in their lives with real women and animals (I don't think they did anything h o m o u a l, but I believe this is how many "liberated" men get into h o m o u a l i t y). They went from admiring their wives to admiring any woman, to admiring, hard women, to thinking that with an animal was a good idea (I have no idea how this jump was made). But once desires get twisted, with no restraints, there is no end to the gross perversity a mind will go. The men could no longer look at anything and not turn it into something grotesque and bawdy.

This kind of thing goes from this very perverse kind of thinking down to what you do when you look at some else's daughter, or mother, or sister, or wife. You both think you can own them for your own enjoyment; if only in your own mind, and for a short period of time. But when you think about it it is perverse in the same way as my Navy buddies, it just hasn't moved down the perverse continuum quite as far. What has happened in both cases is that you guys have put yourself into the center of life and have decided that you get to pick and choose, dictating what the real purpose of the things God has created and put in front of you are. He has put them there to be enjoyed in a particular way and you have twisted that way to make yourself feel good, or to make yourself feel like you are in charge of your lives. Like Eve in the garden you see the fruit and think it will make you feel better than God's plan for you.

Here's another way to think about desires and how twisted they have become. When you look at a beautiful flower does the urge to have with it overcome you? If the flower were to come to you in the night and say, "have your way with me big boy," would you immediately think of ? Do you see a flower in the daytime and then later dream about touching and fondling it? I hope you are saying "no, that's silly." But why not? Why is it silly?

It is silly because flowers are not made to have with. There is nothing about a flower, or a mountain, or a sunset, that should make you want to grope them. But this is because you are still thinking about them in the right way. They were created to enjoy in a particular way and not in other ways. I know people who think about when they see certain kinds of flowers, but this just illustrates the perversity. The right way to think about the beauty of flowers is to see them for what they are and glorify God for his beautiful creation. Anything ual and personal is simply evil.

In the same way, other people's daughters and wives were not made for you to think about any differently than those flowers. You don't think about flowers with an eye to have with them, don't think about other women in that way either. They weren't made for you. They were made for you to enjoy, but not in that way. Desire them in the way that God has created them. Rejoice with God at their beauty, but don't desire to have them yourself. They don't belong to you. You can't have them, even for a few minutes when you are alone.

Do a bible study on self control and thought control. See what God has to say about how we are to think and what we are to think in different situations.

Again, I've been tough and straight up with you. I know it is hard to take. I'm praying that you run to God and with a mind to serve him more faithfully. He is what is all about, not me, not you.

Blessings brother. I'm ultimately on your side. I only want your best for God's glory.


The Screen is the Altar

Brother, you know this has become a kind of idol worship, don't you? You think about P o r n all the time and every time you get a chance to view it, you do. It calls to you from the other room and says, come and look at me. Indulge yourself in the fruits of my delights. If you're bored, come and give me a glance. If you're lonely, come and get an eye-full. If you need an adrenaline fix, give us a view. You have nothing to do for a few minutes, take a little time off and surf the web and see what you can come up with. I wonder what you'll find if you just type in this ___? Hey, what do you know. Hey, this isn't so bad, the censor hasn't kicked in, perhaps it isn't so bad...." And on and on it goes until you are up to your neck in the worship of a foreign idol.

The screen is the altar, the worship is the viewing, the thrill of being caught or not being caught. The culmination of the service, the Communion is the ual relief of self-stimulation. The only downside is that it is embarrassing because you have to tell others about it.

But the whole thing is idolatrous. You don't love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and might. You want to take a break here and there. What begins as a few minutes of "down time" turns into hours of filth and scum.

The idol has control, you've lost it. What you thought would give you a thrill, even though you've always known it was illicit, has become your god and it is mastering you. Oh sure, not every moment of every day, but I'll bet you that you think about it either to worship or not to worship far more often than you think about right worship of the true God. And maybe even as you seek to worship the true God there's always that nagging little voice that says, "I'm over here." "Just a few more minutes and you can be free from this Bible study stuff and then you can come and worship at my throne." "Say, maybe your wife left the censor off, maybe you'd better check. It will only take a few minutes, there's no one around. It will be okay. Just this once, and only for a few minutes. You can always go back to your theological reading later." And it has you by the throat, thrashing you around; beating you to a frazzle.

Do a Bible study on how idols work. See how they take control of a person and drag him down to Hell. Study and see what God thinks about the idols we set up in our hearts. See what he says to do about idols...And then do it! This can't go on. You can't continue to do this. You need to be set free from this . It will destroy your life, destroy the lives of your children, destroy the wife of your youth, and in the end it will kill you.

If this enemy were a person, feeding on your family, chipping away at the authority in your home, sneaking up on you, bruising your wife, causing your children's bones to be broken, and taking all your stuff, I can't imagine that you'd be as cavalier as you appear to be with this enemy lurking in your presence. If a big guy were threating to destroy your family wouldn't you fight for them? Wouldn't you lay down your life for them? Wouldn't you do everything in your power to keep anyone from destroying them? What about this? How far will you let it go? How long will you let it go?

The Bible rightly says Satan is like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. You see the lion. You see him coming from a 1,000 yards, but instead of running away, you say, "here kitty, kitty (thinking, you're beautiful, perhaps a few minutes won't hurt)." And the kitty comes and rips off your head.

One thing you should keep in mind here is that I've written some pretty strong things in this letter. I love you and want the best for you. So I wound in order to get you motivated to do what is right and to do it in a strong way. But you need to know that when things get tough people naturally go to their gods for help. Where are you tempted to run right now? What are you tempted to do right now? What would you do if the censor program weren't on your computer right now? Where would you run? If you would run to the arms of Jesus, oh, if you would run to the arms of Jesus, that would be bliss.

God bless you. I'm rooting for you. Remember that there are innumerable folks in the stands also rooting for you (Heb. 12).

In Him,