“A Religion Of The Heart”      Deuteronomy 10:12-11:1                   May 16, 2010

 

SI:  We’ve been studying Deuteronomy for several months now and I’m sure

   you’ve noticed that this is a very repetitive book. 

 

The same events in salvation history are mentioned over and over—

   God’s covenant with Abraham, the exodus from Egypt,

   the parting of the Red Sea, the giving of the Ten Commandments,

   the golden calf, the rebellion in the desert.

And the same exhortations are given over and over—

   Trust God, love God, fear God, obey God

  

The reason Deuteronomy is so repetitive is because it’s a series of sermons

   Moses is preaching to Israel before they cross over the Jordan River

   to take possession of the Promised Land.

Public speaking is always repetitive. 

   And the Hebrew way of speaking was also repetitive. 

 

But there is another reason.

   It’s not just Deuteronomy.  The whole Bible is repetitive.

There are certain truths that the Lord wants pressed home over and over again.

   Over and over we’re reminded of the great events in redemptive history.

   Over and over we hear about our sin and God’s grace.

 

So this morning we’re going to focus on something that Moses has already

   said, and in this passage he says it again, and again, and presses it home—

   the importance of loving God with all your heart.

 

How often does the Bible tell us to love God, to respond to him heart and soul?   

   Too many times to count.  It’s so important. 

   It’s a the very center of the Christian faith. 


 

INTRO:  For family devotions we’ve been reading a book called

   Forward Through the Ages.  It’s about the history of the church from

   the New Testament up to the present day.

 

One of the stories we read recently was about the Saxon ruler Otto the Great.

   He lived in the 10th century. 

In that time much of northern Europe was still pagan.

   The people worshipped the old gods.

   The Gospel had not penetrated and established a foothold.

 

Some missionary priests came to Otto’s kingdom.

   They started preaching about Christ.  And when Otto heard their message,

   he said that he wanted to become a Christian.  

So he was baptized.  And on the day he was baptized, all of his subjects were

   baptized with him.  That was the way it worked.  You followed the chief.

So overnight, everybody in Otto’s kingdom became Christians.

   Otto built churches, he asked the Pope to send priests to full them,

   and he told his subjects that they had to go to church because Christians now.

 

Otto was fighting a war against a neighboring pagan kingdom.

   And when he finally won, he told the people he had conquered—

   Two choices, you can become Christians, or you can get your head cut off.

So guess what happened?  Everybody in that kingdom met with the priests,

   and said they believed Jesus Christ is Lord, and where baptized.

And once again, overnight, they became a Christian nation,

   full of churches and baptized people. 

 

When you read Otto’s story, you don’t say: 

   Praise God!  Two kingdoms won for Jesus Christ. 

   The advance of the Gospel!  The growth of the church!

Instead you shake your head and say:  What a sad story.

   What a sad chapter in the history of the church.

 

Why?  Because you know that Christianity is a religion of the heart.

   You know that a Christian is a person who has responded in faith to Christ,

   and genuinely loves him from the inside out.

Baptism means nothing, church buildings mean nothing—if the heart is not in it.

   If you go through the motions to please your chief, or to get something from God,

   or because you’ve been coerced—it means nothing.

Otto’s subjects had a veneer of Christianity, but underneath were pagan hearts.

   After he died, that was the end of their superficial Christianity. 

By God’s grace, some of those who were baptized for the wrong reasons,

   did hear the Gospel and it went in deep, and they were truly converted.

   But that happened in spite of the heartless Christianity

 

Christianity is unique among the religions of the world as a religion of the heart.

   From the beginning to the end of the Bible we are reminded that the living God

   sees the heart, inspects the heart, judges according to what is in the heart.

A person’s faith is judged genuine, and person’s devotion to the Lord is measured,

   not by outward acts, but by the condition of his or her heart. 

 

Outwards acts are important, God commands them and expects us to do them—

   but the condition of a person’s heart determines whether those outward acts

   are pleasing to the Lord or hypocritical.

 

How is a true and right relationship with God described in Scripture?

It’s always described with the language of the inner life—

   the fear of God, love for God, desire for God, joy in God, gratitude to God.

And the only person who can see those things with absolute clarity,

   and judge them rightly is God himself.

 

So here we have Moses preaching to the children of Israel.

And what point does he drive home? 

   Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul.  Circumcise your hearts.

   Obey the Lord, keep all his commands—but do so from the heart.

This is what the Lord wants from you, he wants your heart.

 

What’s the condition of your heart?

   In the secret places of your inner being are you a lover of God?

 

Let’s look at this passage and let God’s word search us and guide us.

   Three points

   1.  Know your heart.

   2.  Guard your heart.

   3.  Tend to your heart.


 

MP#1  Know your heart

The Bible uses the word “heart” over 700 times.

   It’s the Holy Spirit’s preferred term for referring to our inner life.

The words “soul” and “spirit” are also used. 

   Sometimes they are synonymous with “heart” and other times the Bible

   uses soul and spirit in a more technical sense.

But the term most often used, and most fully developed is heart.

 

The heart is your true self.  It’s the real you.

It’s the center of your affections—your loves, your hates, your desires, your fears.

   It’s the ultimate source of everything you do.

   Every thought, word, and deed comes from your heart.

 

Solomon said:  “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

   The wellspring of life—everything bubbles up out of your heart.

The Lord Jesus was even more specific.  In Matthew 15 he said:

   “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man

   unclean.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft,

   false testimony, slander.  These are what make a man unclean . . .”

According to the Lord, everything that comes out of your mouth,

   has its origin in your heart.  It comes from the real you.

 

I remember something Paul Tripp said about this.

   Have you ever said something cruel to somebody and then said:

   “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say that.”

You got angry or frustrated with your spouse or your kids or somebody at work

   and you snapped and say something sarcastic or cutting—and then you felt bad.

   So you said:  I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say that.

Paul Tripp’s comment was that if you understood the Bible’s teaching about

   the heart you would say:  “Please forgive me for saying exactly what I meant.” 

From out of the heart, the mouth speaks.

 

The Bible also says that we hide what is in our hearts.

   We are masters at being one thing on the outside, and another thing in our hearts.

Our neighbors have had four dogs in the years we’ve lived next to them.

   And those dogs have never attempted to hide what’s in their hearts.

 

When we first moved there they had a pit bull named Rip.

   Our neighbors’ son told me that Rip would kill any male dog he could catch.

I once saw him try to do it.  He wouldn’t let go even when I hit him with a piece of

   firewood.  That was who he was.  He was Rip.  He died of old age.

Then they got another pit bull named Vicious.  I was very scared of Vicious.

   He bit a man and we complained to our neighbors and they got rid of him.

Then the got Freckles—another pit bull. 

   Freckles never did anything except bark at me and give me the evil eye. 

   But I knew her heart and never trusted her.  She died at a young age. 

And now they have Bandit.  Bandit is a Jack Russell terrier. 

   And when I walk by the fence he puts his tail between his legs, and crawls in

   the dirt and looks at me with pitiful eyes until I lean over and give him a pat.

 

My point is that animals are simple. 

   Like them or not, their inner nature and outer life are one.

But not us.  Because of sin, we are two-sided.  Our hearts lead a secret life.

   And we are often another person in our hearts than we appear to be on the outside.

We can pay someone a compliment in the most sincere voice,

   while our heart is full of jealousy or contempt.

To impress someone we can act as if we have the greatest interest in something

   or someone, when we really don’t care at all.

And we can pose as the most committed Christians while our hearts are far

   from the Lord and from true and honest worship of him.

 

But the Lord knows.  He sees your heart.  He sees the wellspring of our actions.

The prophet Samuel said:

   “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

   You can’t hide your heart from the Lord he sees everything.

 

And in God’s great mercy, he has given us new hearts. 

   When you are born again and trust Jesus Christ, you get a new heart.

Bible describes them as hearts of flesh replacing hearts of stone.

   And these new hearts have new affections—

   love what God loves, hate what God hates. 

 

And the great work of the Christian life is to know that new heart, and guard it,

   and nourish it and act on it and resist all the attempts of your old heart

   to take over and lead you down those old, selfish paths. 

Love the Lord with all your heart.  You can.  Because of the new heart he has

   given you.  But it takes work all your life long. 

   How do you do it?  Brings us to our second point.

MP#2  Guard your heart

Let’s revisit that verse from Proverbs I quoted a moment ago:

   “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

If everything that you are, and everything that you do flows from your heart—

   if it is the wellspring of your personhood—then you must guard it.

And that’s especially true if you are born again.

   Because you have the precious gift of a new heart that is able to love God.

So you must do all you can to guard against everything that will harm it.

   We’re talking about sin, of course, but this passage alludes to three sins

   in particular that will hurt your heart’s ability to love God.

 

1.  Guard your heart going through the motions of worship without a sincerity.

Don’t come to worship Sunday after Sunday, and sing the hymns, and pray

   the prayers and give your offering, if your heart is not in it.

   If you do, it will stunt your capacity to love God.

This has been a great evil that has troubled the church through the ages.

   Formalism.  Attention to the forms of worship but not the spirit.

 

It started in the Old Testament church.  The people went through all of the

   motions of worship—they sang, prayed, offered sacrifices and listened to Word—

   but they where not paying attention and it made no difference in their lives.

“These people worship me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”  

   That’s what the Lord said about the worship during Isaiah’s time.

 

Where is it in this passage?  There’s that comment from Moses that the Lord does

   not accept bribes.  That’s what insincere worship is.  It’s really an attempt to

   bribe God and he’s not interested in that kind of worship.

Where’s your mind when you worship?  Are you focusing on the Lord?  Trying?

   Does your worship life on the Lord’s day carry over to the rest of your life?

What about your language?  Do you praise the Lord on Sunday and cuss people out

   on Monday?  James says both can’t come out of the same mouth. 

Guard your heart from heartless worship, it will hurt your capacity to love God.

 

2.  Guard your heart from grieving or quenching the Holy Spirit.

That’s Paul’s language.  Moses calls it being stiff-necked.

   The stiff-necked ox or donkey resists the pressure of the yoke or bridle.

   His master starts to steer him one way, and he stiffens up and goes his own way.

When you’re born again and get a new heart, you are re-awakened to the impulses

   of the Holy Spirit.  You conscience is sensitized. 

And when the Holy Spirit says: Don’t do that—but you do it anyway—

   it has two effects.  It grieves the Holy Spirit, and sometimes he backs off.

   And it de-sensitizes your heart to his influence. 

You don’t hear him as well.  And with that comes diminished capacity to love God.

  

3.  Guard your heart from despising the lowly people in your path.

Moses says something that seems out of place.  He says:  Love the alien.

   Because God loves the alien.  He loved you when you were aliens in Egypt.

Love the poor, love the marginalized.  Be kind to them as you are able.

   And in doing so you love God, and develop a heart of love for him.

But the flip side is if you despise the alien, the poor, the lowly it will damage

   your heart.  And your capacity to love God will be harmed.

 

My mother’s grandfather was in the Klan.  He looked down on black people,

   and according to my mother, did not believe they had souls.

But fortunately for my mother, his evil beliefs did not rub off on her because

   her grandmother had very different convictions.

For years, her grandmother collected used clothing, washed and ironed it and had a

   room in her house set up like a little clothing store.  And once a week the black

   people the community would come in and shop for clothes.

(Much to the chagrin of her bedsheet-wearing husband, I’m sure.)

 

Mother said that she once asked her grandmother:  Why do you make these poor

   people pay for clothes?  Why don’t you just give them away. 

Her grandmother didn’t charge them much. 

   A dress might be a dime and a pair of pants a nickel.

   But even so, this was northern Louisiana in the 30s and 40s.

   And these black people were dirt poor.

And her grandmother’s answer was:  These people are made in the image of God.

   Paying for their own clothes, even if it’s just a nickel,

   preserves their dignity, and gives them pride of ownership. 

 

You see in that answer a great heart—love for the lowly that was not motivated by

   sentimentality or guilt, but love that flowed from and fed her love for God.

And sadly, for her husband it was the opposite. 

   His despising of the lowly people God had brought across his path

   damaged his heart and his capacity to love the Lord Jesus.

Who are the lowly people in your life?  Who are the aliens?

   Guard your heart from despising them.  

Guard your heart—it’s the wellspring of your life. 

MP#3  Tend to your heart.

When you look at believers through the ages who have had great hearts—

   who loved and feared the Lord in such a deep and real way that it came

   out for everyone to see—there is one thing they all have in common.

They all tended to their hearts in solitude.

 

They made their inner lives places of passion and purity by always seeking

   solitude and quiet for meditation and communion with the Lord.

Think of how often in the Bible God appeared to his saints when they were alone.

 

Jacob on that most troubling night of his whole life, when he crossed the

   Jabbok River so that he could be alone, in the dark, to ponder his life and future.

   It was there alone that he wrestled with the Lord and received his blessing.

 

Or what about Moses in the wilderness, the lonely shepherd, thinking about his life

   and about the Hebrew people in slavery back in Egypt, and the Lord coming to

   him in the burning bush. 

 

Or David, who wrote in Psalm 3, “When you are on your bed, search your heart and

   be silent.” and in Psalm 77 “In the night I commune with my own heart.”

 

I mentioned Amy Carmichael last week, that brave missionary who rescued

   hundreds of girls from prostitution in the Hindu temples of India.

Every day, no matter how busy, she drew apart to write poetry and hymns

   and thoughts that had come to her in meditation and prayer.

Elisabeth Elliot said in the introduction to her biography of Amy Carmichael,

   that she owes to Amy the greatest spiritual debt.  And learned from her writings

   what it really means to follow the cross.  Why were those writings powerful

   enough to inspire Elisabeth Elliot to go to South America and face the martyrdom

   of her husband with such grace?  Because they came from a great heart.

 

We could go on and on but the greatest example is Jesus Christ himself.  Who even

   as a perfect, sinless man, went without sleep many a night during the most

   exhausting times of his ministry, so that he could be along on a mountain

   praying to his Father in heaven.

And remember how he told us to do the same thing:

   “Go in to your closet, shut the door, and pray to your Father in heaven.”

 

You have to tend to your heart. 

   You have to take time in quiet to consider what’s going on in there.

You have to spent time in private reminding your inner self what you know is

   true about God and Christ and judgment day and heaven and hell. 

And you have to keep those facts front and center day after day. 

   You have to bring to mind everything that has the power to awaken

   and increase your love for Christ and the church and the lost and a pure life..

A real Christian life of beauty and power come from a heart that is tended—

   so that the thoughts and affections are kept fresh and warm.

 

Moses says circumcise your heart.

What a vivid image that is.  Circumcision was symbolic of purity.

   The cutting away of sin and the old nature.

Also the sign of God’s covenant—his claim upon his, his mark on the body.

   Our personal, saving relationship with him. 

Moses says:  That’s the work you are to do to your own heart.

   And that is work that takes place in solitude—you and the Lord.

 

A wise minister said:

   “It cannot be denied that one of the reasons why today’s Christianity does not have the rugged strength and pure beauty that it has often had in times past is because modern Christians know so little of spiritual solitude and the meditation of the heart and upon the heart which can only take place when we are alone.  We live in an age that confuses busyness with meaningful activity and motion with progress.  As a result we have neglected as a Christian people that work which can only be done in secret, alone before God, and which for that reason, with no outward or social support, requires complete concentration on our part.”

 

I don’t know about you, but that hits me right between the eyes.

   I frequently substitute busyness and motion for solitude and tending my heart.

It’s hard to be alone and focus on my heart because there are so many distractions,

   but it’s worth it. 

 

In my devotions recently I’ve been reading the old hymnbook I grew up with

   in my home church.  Last week there was a hymn that I hadn’t sung for years.

“My God How Wonderful Thou Art”

   The first part of the hymn describes the infinite greatness of God in heaven.

   It describes him as dwelling in depths of burning light,

   and as being worshiped by prostrate angelic spirits day and night.

   It describes his boundless power, is awful purity.

It’s such a transcendent picture that it seems to be a God unapproachable.

But then the last stanza goes this way:

   Yet I may love Thee, too, O Lord, Almighty as Thou art,

   For Thou hast stooped to ask of me The love of my poor heart,

   The love of my poor heart.

 

The Lord Almighty has stooped to ask for the love of our poor hearts.

To think of the God himself stooping and saying—I want your heart.

   Give me your affections.  Love what I love.  Hate what I hate.

   Fear me tenderly.  Find your joy in me.

Doesn’t that move you?  Doesn’t that warm your heart?

 

I hope it does.  And I hope that you see that when you give your heart to him,

   he gives you himself in return.  And there is no greater blessing than that.