The Heart of the Problem

Years ago, I was at a church function – a picnic of sorts. I, along with another pastor, stood with an elder in our church – just chatting as we tossed a football with some church members who were twenty or more yards away. Out of nowhere, the elder made an inappropriate comment to my pastoral colleague and me about one of the young women who stood among the group at the opposite end of the field. My colleague and I were both taken aback by what the elder said and we quickly responded with “Dude, that’s inappropriate.” We expected him to immediately own his verbal fumble, but he just walked away – quickly.

My pastoral colleague and I are no strangers to verbal fumbles but we also both knew this elder and knew this wasn’t the first time he’d said something a bit over the line. In fact, he had been called on the carpet more than a few times professionally. Knowing that we talked about what we should do, and, since he – as an elder – had taken similar vows to our pastoral vows – we decided to meet with him and talk about it. A few days later, over coffee, we shared our concerns with him, hoping that there would be a good end to things. There wasn’t.

Granted, my pastoral colleague and I didn’t handle the whole thing as well as we could have but at one point the elder said, that he held all women in high regard and that we needed to know that he loved Jesus and we should simply know and trust his heart in order to understand what he meant. The thing is, I did understand his heart because I have one just like it – and so does everyone else, and therein lies the heart of the problem.

I think the elder had forgotten what the Bible has to say about the human heart. Concept of possessiveJeremiah 17:9 puts things rather bluntly. “The heart,” Jeremiah says, “is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick (wicked); who can understand it?” What’s more, Jesus said, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45 ESV).

In other words, often, what a person says or does (or leaves unsaid or undone) reveals what’s in their heart; actions and words tell everyone what they really think and believe. Sometimes that is a good thing – like when we tell people just how much we love them and why we love them. But sometimes the words we say or the things we do reveal the dark parks in our hearts. Truth be told, that’s probably more of a good thing because it can actually lead us to the throne of grace – if we handle it correctly – if we own it and deal with it. Or – if we don’t own it – it can condemn us and keep us from really coming to Jesus.

There isn’t a person alive who at one time or another hasn’t said or done something in the heat of the moment or without properly thinking it through. I’ve said and done things that the moment it was done, I regretted it. Do you know what that shows? It shows that a person is human, and it shows that there are places in that person’s heart that need to be dealt with. It shows exactly what Jeremiah and Jesus are trying to communicate. We’ve got heart issues – all of us – and that becomes evident in those moments when we say or do something that isn’t in accordance with God’s plans and purposes. But those are the moments that remind us how much we need the grace of God. And – if in those moments, we own what we’ve said or done, acknowledge it for what it is, we are on the right track to living as a follower of Jesus.

If, however, in those moments we try to deny or defend what we’ve said or done, or if we try to put the blame on someone else, or if we try to suggest we are simply misunderstood, we are far off the mark of what it means to be Christian. The first step in walking with Jesus is being able to own the fact that we have a heart problem and we are prone to blow it and we need the grace of God every moment of every day.

If that elder had simply said, man, I blew it. I shouldn’t have said that about her. It was wrong. How can I make it right? He would have been on the right track. Truth be told, both my pastoral colleague and I are human and we’ve said and done things that we shouldn’t have said or done. We know we have a heart problem. In fact, each week in our worship service we have a time of confession. And, in our daily prayers, there is a time of confession – because we know the heart is wicked and it reminds us of all that Jesus has done to set us free.

But some folks, like that elder, haven’t learned to own what’s really in their hearts and thus they are missing out on what it really means to walk with Jesus and enjoy the grace of God. That really doesn’t make a lot of sense in the end because, while a person may be able to pull the wool over everyone else’s eyes – it is God who searches the heart. There isn’t anything we can hide from him. He’s well aware of how wicked or sick the heart of humanity is. In fact, Jeremiah reminds the reader that, the heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick…the LORD search(es) the heart and test(s) the mind, to give every person according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds” (Jeremiah 17:10). That text is both an encouragement and a warning.

The simple fact is, God knows we are a mess and somehow He loves us anyway. But we can’t really experience the love of God until we are willing to admit that we have a heart problem. It is those moments when we say something or do something that isn’t right, that if we own it – we are on the right track to experiencing the grace of God through Jesus. But we’ve to own our heart problem. Trying to hide that from him and from others is simply foolish. When a person who professes to have faith in Jesus says or does something that they get called on – or they simply know in their heart that it isn’t right – they know to own it, confess it, repent of it, accept the consequences, accept what it is telling them about their hearts, and seek the grace of God through Jesus. To deny it, is to deny the need for God’s grace and what a horrible thing that would be.

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