Posts Tagged ‘hardness of the heart’

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Tomorrow has no real meaning in the world of encouragement while yesterday is too late. If I am to make a difference in a person’s demeanor or frustration, in his/her sorrow or disappointment, in a time of loss or unexpected change, it is now . . . today.

Hebrews 3:13
But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

Encouragement is a cheap price to pay for the sake of another. It doesn’t have to be particularly articulate or well thought out. I can give comfort in words or actions, or I can be present — be there, as they say. It may require a little active listening and definitely without censure, but most of all, it must be authentic.

So often, I fail in the encouragement department because I mistakenly believe it requires “advice.” I get caught up in wanting to help the person get a better perspective or help solve the problem. Some people say this is a male trait, but I confess, I am notorious for this bad behavior. I count myself a problem solver when, in actuality, my problem solving might even add to the problem.

But let me get back to the idea of immediacy. Non-judgmental, authentic encouragement is powerful in the now. The hope would be that consolation and compassion would be spontaneous and timely. We should never withhold encouragement. No matter what has happened, there is room in the moment, to give a boost, even the tiniest fragment of hope, love, and camaraderie. The message is simple: “Today, you are not alone.”

Because, it could be in this day, the world will change for that “other person.” It could be.

I can only imagine what the potential power would be if I gave a word or touch of encouragement to each and every person with whom I came into contact in a single day.

Anyone want to take on that challenge with me? Today?

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The hardening of the heart is a spiritual condition. In our culture, we think of it as someone who is cruel and unfeeling. While in scripture, the hard heart can still feel but only through the body, hence, the tendency toward violence and pain or sensuality and lasciviousness. It is the spirit encased in stone.

Ephesians 4:18-19a
They [unbelievers] are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality . . .

For teenagers, we see hardened hearts manifesting in eating disorders, cutting, and other abusive behavior because they are trying to “feel” something. When and how did their spirits lose touch with God? Youngsters usually experience a sense of God through the parents first. If they are absent, uninterested, or hardened themselves, the foundation is laid for walls of protection to rise. Our culture is another layer of bricks and stones in this process: the constant exposure to violent stories, abuse, horror, and the “objectivity” of women and men through pornography. Loss, grief, and disappointment are additional bricks. Unrelenting poverty, hunger, and deprivation can also build layers of stone, particularly in our culture where privilege, comfort, and luxury are dangled before us every day.

There is no human remedy for a hard heart. I know, because I have been there. Isolated as an immigrant family, the death of my father at an early age, a working mother who was mentally unstable, the ingredients were all there for steeling the heart. I hurt a lot, I cried a lot, I defied authority, I self-medicated, I lied, I cheated, I dabbled in the occult: all of it in the name of searching for something I did not understand.

Only God and the Spirit of Christ within can break through the hardened layers of the heart. It is a process and not a singular event. Becoming a follower of Jesus is only a starting point. At my decision, I was able to shut down some of the 3-D sensations and realize there was another way to reach Spirit.

Sensitivity to the Spirit of God is sweet and as the heart melts in God’s Presence, other “feelings” are not as powerful, there is less striving. This is the journey of peace.

A Christian can go through all the motions of being a Christian and still have a hard heart. I did that too.

It is the best work of the Holy Spirit and I am reminded this day to invite the Counselor within, to keep my heart sensitized and soft and tender towards God. Love comes from a tender heart.

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Acts 12:23
Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.

I think God was trying to reach Herod. First, God put it upon John the Baptist to declare against Herod and ultimately, to put himself in danger by discrediting Herod. John was put in Herod’s prison for some time and yet, the implication is that Herod spent time listening to John [Mark 6:20]. Something was stirring but Herod could not grab on to it.

Herod preferred making decisions and pontificating in a group. He enjoyed the adulation but I think he was a a type of chameleon who observed the people and adjusted himself accordingly. I think he was a fearful man who did not like being alone. He was wooed by the words and opinions of others. It was his fear of the people that ultimately led to the beheading of John.

Herod even met Jesus face to face… but again, in a group setting. I think Herod was afraid of Jesus but found strength in the mockeries of others. He had an opportunity to encounter the Christ … but he chose unwisely. He sent Jesus away.

I’m sure Herod knew that the miracle of Peter’s escape from the jail, was just that, a miracle. And so he ran from Judea and went to Caesarea, his father’s creation, a city to commemorate Caesar, a pagan city with “a deep sea harbor and built storerooms, markets, wide roads, baths, temples to Rome and Augustus, and imposing public buildings. Every five years the city hosted major sports competitions, gladiator games, and theatrical productions.” [wikipedia]

Herod was more comfortable here. There were few, if any, reminders of his heritage or the constant knocking of God upon his heart.

In the end, Herod could not run anymore. Under the adoration of the people there and their proclamations that he spoke like a god and not like a man, this is what Herod really wanted: to be a god. And so the one true God finally took direct action against Herod and afflicted him with some kind of parasite and Herod died, probably in agony. He ran and ran until he could not run anymore.

I wonder what would have happened if anywhere along the way, Herod had stopped running and took hold of the altar horns, metaphorically speaking, and asked for God’s mercy. What then? But like Pharaoh of old in the time of Moses, his heart was hardened.

What is God speaking into my heart today? Have I closed off his voice? No more running Lord. Speak, your servant is listening.

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Acts 10:17, 20
While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate….”So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I [God] have sent them.”

The servants of the centurion, Cornelius, were the last people that Peter would expect to see at the door of the house where he was staying in Joppa. He hadn’t even processed the meaning of the vision he had with the great sheet coming down out of heaven filled with “unclean” foods for a Jew. In the vision, he heard plainly from the Holy Spirit, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” [vs 15] And not just once did he see and hear, but three times. And right on the heels of the vision, the gentiles come a-calling.

So, who is at my door? Who is the most unexpected guest? Certainly, if a Muslim terrorist came to my door and asked to hear about Jesus, I would be shocked. How could this be? Or what about a primitive from some tribe in a third world country or a homeless man or woman? A gay man or woman? A transvestite? How did they even know to come to me? How did they even hear about Jesus at all? And who am I to do anything else but invite them in?

God touches who God touches and it may surprise us along the way. I don’t think we should assume anything. It is God who changes a heart and it is only after the heart becomes soft that a person’s choices can change.

I think we need to stop creating cookie-cutter Christians and stop looking through the peephole before we open the door. Our job is simple: open the door and tell our story.

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Acts 7:59-60a
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

Interesting that Stephen does not say, “I forgive them,” but asked, as Jesus did, that the Lord God forgive them. There is a fine line difference and it’s worth noting, I think.

I’m guessing Stephen never held anything against them in the first place. From the get-go, he was able to keep their “issues” separate from his own. But to pray to God and ask Him to forgive one’s adversaries is proof of a higher concern: that their actions would not block them from eternal things.

Hmm. I’m a long way from this place, this higher level of forgiveness. I’m still struggling with the one on one type. Maybe I should try this God forgiveness first. Would looking at the difficult relationships in my life through the eternal eyes of God give me new personal perspective? Perhaps the little irritations would be less irritating. Perhaps the memories would be less vivid. Perhaps the patterns would finally break.

Have I secretly hoped that God would take on my banner of revenge? Romans 12:19 does say that God will avenge. Have I been playing a game of extending personal forgiveness while hoping all the while that my magnanimity would heap burning coals on the heads of my “enemies?”

Oh, secret heart, look what peeling away some layers has revealed. Forgive me… and yes, forgive them… the list is long, but you know them all… my friends, my colleagues, my staff, my neighbors, my family, my customers, my classmates, my church, my students, my politicians, my leaders, my relatives, my strangers… who am I to say that my feelings, my pain, my fears, and my disappointments must be avenged? Who am I to say?

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Acts 7:51
You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!

It’s such a temptation to use a public forum like this to pontificate about the condition of the church or the condition of all the “others” who are not in God’s will or plan. But today I realize again how important it is for me to show my own heart. Oh sorrow, it is buried again beneath the layers of self-deception.

The heart is tricky because it regrows layers even after it’s been circumcised. These regrown layers may start out very thin and almost indiscernible at first, but eventually, layer upon layer forms and the heart is back to where it was before the Holy Spirit touched it. As the layers accumulate, the hardness begins to set in and although the mind and body can go through the motions of worship and service, the heart is no longer involved.

Some of the symptoms: a cavalier attitude toward corporate worship, missing times with God, a quick temper, a judgmental cattiness, overwhelming tiredness, forgetfulness, looking for change for the sake of change, putting others under the microscope, dropping responsibilities, indulging the body, resisting the Holy Spirit, just to name a few.

I don’t think I’m at the totally hardened stage yet … obviously, or I wouldn’t be writing today.

Psalm 51:17 says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” It’s really quite simple, acknowledge what is happening and be chastened by the truth of it. It goes right along with repent. It goes right along with choice.

God does not come in with a sledge hammer or a fancy butcher knife to do heart work. Instead, like a child who runs to a parent and shows the injury, God brings comfort and then gently removes the harmful effects. God cleans the layers of dirt and grime and if necessary, the scab that his holding in infection. God uses truth with love.

I don’t like being vulnerable. I don’t like placing myself in places where I might get hurt. I hide my fears with layers of humor and bravado and chameleon-esque behaviors. In this way, I can keep people out of the tender places, I can control the connections. I know how to hide.

Oh, “refiner’s fire,” come and burn away the dross. Give me courage to be transparent and authentic. Give me courage to accept my tender places.

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