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Heart of Stone: Part 2

            Our lives and hearts are racked by the ebb and flow of repetitive trying and failing.  One reason is that many of us measure growth on a scale of pass or fail.  Life as God created it and as satan interferes with it, is way more complicated. The truth is that it take years to amass a life and work experience worth slapping on a resume.  I once had a kid I was mentoring, put down his 3 hours as Trainer For a Day as experience on his resume. Really?  Experience is built one day and often one monumental, experience at a time.  Stop labeling your efforts as pass/fail or try/fail.  Let’s adapt something a little different.  How about, “try/fail/learn” then move on to “try/apply learning/succeed a little” and then eventually “try/moderate success”.  I’m not encouraging anyone to be okay living in mediocrity, but a change of perspective, makes the difference between giving up and persevering.  It can allow you to celebrate little YOUR victories instead of comparing yourself to those that are doing things “Bigger, Better…‘Perfecter?’. 

            A few new Christians and some old ones, have similar Christian walks.  They say, “I am going to try and serve God today with all my heart.”  Often times what they are really saying is “I am going to try and be perfect today, because if I sin God will be mad at me.”  When they do sin, they tell themselves how terrible they are and take on a false sense of humility by serving penance for their sins.  I say this in the nicest way possible.  There were only three crosses people, not four.  So get down off the one that you erected and submit to Jesus in true humility. 

            False humility is as self-serving as reminding someone of all the favors you’ve done for them, in expectation of their gratitude.  In false humility, we voluntarily take ourselves back to the starting line and say “I know I have failed you Lord and have come short of your glory and that I deserve all manner of punishment.  If you let me try again Lord I won’t fail you this time.  If you take everything away and force me to start over…Blah, Blah, Blah.”  My friend Sy has a great analogy as to why this just simply isn’t God’s way.  When you wreck your bike 2 miles from your house, you are not magically transported back to your house, because of the accident.  You are still, two miles away.  Solution: Get back on the bike heifer and keep peddling.  I added heifer, but you get what he means. 

            God gives grace and forgiveness to us as we work out, not work for, our salvation.  In our own strength we will always fail God, because of our sin nature.  Success is not measured by how well we look when we try to hide our sins from others.  Success is a willingness to surrender our sin to God daily.  No one who has lived in the world for more than 10 minutes is going to get everything right on day 1, 2 or 567.  We need the consistent help and intervention of Almighty God.  Each morning, the choice is yours.  Wake up, put your life in God’s hands and thank Him for another day.  Our days should never be an all out effort to get things perfect.  They are to be used to give God glory and to do His will.  Jesus met people’s needs, but His purpose in coming, was to do the will of the Father.

            When it comes to confessing our sins.  We may initially confess to one another, but after we commit the same sin for the 100th time, we fear what people will say, so we stop confessing and pride hardens our heart a little more.  That is when we hide, but it should be when we seek out help.   

            James 5:16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.  The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

            I have more diagnostic questions to ask.  “Do you have a hardened heart?”  “Are you hiding secret sin or unbelief?”  Romans 6:23 says “for the wages of sin is death…”.

            “Are you easily offended?  Proverbs 12:16 “A fool is quick-tempered, but a wise person stays calm when insulted.”

            Matthew 24:10 And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other. 12 Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold.

            “Is there someone you are mad at or have cut out of your life?”  “Is there a name that comes to mind?”  I have a friend whose older sisters have not talked with each other in 25 years.  Their children don’t know their cousins, because of their silent feud. They don’t do holidays or special occasions together.  They’ve made a life’s work of avoiding one another.  Let me ask you, Is that any way to live?  Does this sound familiar in any way to you?  It is finally time to allow God to soften your heart for that person you are angry with.  Or just like these sister, you are going to wake up one day and 25 years will have gone by. 

            Anger allows satan to keep you bound to the person who hurt you.  Holding on to anger is like taking a hit out on someone and hiring yourself as the “hit man”.  Ephesians 4:26&27 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry…  Verse 27…anger gives a foothold to the devil.              

            So after all that, it’s time to ask yourself “How did this happen to me?  How did I get a hard heart?”.  As I began to write this message one of my newer friends called and left this message.

            “In case you didn’t notice, I have a hardened heart.  I don’t want to go to church.  It’s from being hurt week after week.  I am cutting off many relationships.  I’m making a mess of things.  Everything is going down hill.  I have been forcing myself to go.  Everytime I go, I get angry.  I don’t want to talk to my friends.  I just want to be mean, especially towards the people that have hurt me.  I have forgiven them, but when I see them again the hurt floods back in.  It is a huge issue.  I can’t move forward.  If only I could chip away at the stone around my heart.  It’s doing a lot of damage.  I feel like I am changing.  I am not myself.  I’m two different people. I haven’t told anyone.  I have been avoiding everyone.  I can’t receive anything.  I can’t feel anything.” 

            After listening to the message, I thought, man this guy’s got problems.  I’m glad I’m not him.  And I knew that if he continued on in this particular path he was going to be in deep trouble.  Then I realized.  There are many churchgoers that feel that way.  They go to church and smile, shake hands and laugh, but inside they feel rotten, dark and miserable.  My friend was just being honest.  We should all be honest. 

            Hebrews 3:12 Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. 13 You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God.   

            A hard heart begins with one offense and over time the enemy makes that tiny offense a life-altering wound.  

            Let’s talk about pearls for a second.  A natural pearl begins when a foreign substance slips, like a grain of sand, slips into the oyster between the mantle and the shell.  The mantle gets irritated by this intrusion. An oyster’s natural reaction is to isolate the irritant to protect itself.  Using the same substance it uses to create the shell, the oyster covers the irritant, repeatedly.  Voila, a pearl is formed. 

            Cultured pearls are created in much the same way as natural pearls.  A pearl farmer will open the oyster shell and cut a small slit in the oyster’s mantle.  A small irritant is then inserted under the mantle.  Interestingly, in freshwater cultured pearls, the simple act of cutting the mantle is enough to induce the oyster’s pearl forming defense system.  You don’t even need to introduce an irritant.  All you have to do is WOUND the pearl.  You get where I am going?

 

            The process God created for the Oyster to enlarge it’s shell is the same process it uses to protect itself.  We do the same thing.  God gave us a heart filled with emotions that helps us grow, but when we get hurt our first reaction is to defend ourselves.  We build a “wall” against intruders.  In the oyster’s case, something beautiful is created.   In our case, when we “wall off” our pain, it festers and rots becoming a toxic substance responsible for the hardening of our hearts.   

            Just like the sand or irritant, satan works to get under your skin and prompt a response.  Satan’s goal is to destroy your life slowly; layer by layer, bit by bit.  He works to build walls that separate you from family, friends and ultimately Jesus.  1 Peter 5:8 Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. 

                                           Tune in Tomorrow for Heart of Stone, Part 3: My Grain of Sand

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