Growing up in the country, there were LOTS of things to get into! You didn’t really have to go looking for trouble- it was always right there, ready to go with you! And one of those temptations was the veritable plethora of farm ponds around us. You couldn’t stand in my front yard and swing a dead cat without hitting a farm pond! And my mom was deathly afraid of the water- she nearly drown as a kid. So she was adamant that we were not allowed to go to any of the farm ponds without an adult. So OF COURSE- we were ALWAYS at a farm pond without an adult!
One day my brother wanted to go fishing at one of those ponds and he didn’t want to go alone, so he talked/threatened me into going! Honestly, I would rather have a pointy stick jabbed in my eye than go fishing- I am WAY too ADHD for that! So I took my GI Joe (the REAL 11½” ones, not those wussy 3¾” ones!) and went with him.
After a bit, he got tired of fishing (I TOLD you so!) and convinced me to let him tie my GI Joe to his fishing line and cast him out into the pond. That went great the first few casts. But then, on cast #5, GI Joe’s camouflage shirt came off and fell into the water! I was nearly apoplectic! “Get it! Get it! You have to GET it!” So he dove into the pond and swam out, looking for it. Sadly, there was enough “hardware” (snaps and such) on it that it sank…never to be seen again. (There is, however, a legend at that pond of a catfish that wears a camo shirt!)
At that point, my brother suddenly realized that he was IN the water, completely against mom’s direct orders. Aaawww, SNAP son! So he decided that misery loved company and encouraged me…to join him! We had a great time swimming in that muddy, algae-covered, snake-infested pond (something I wouldn’t do now on a dare!) and then climbed out and were faced with the question- how do we go home…with mom there…and NOT get caught? Well, my brother SUDDENLY remembered that he had to go work for a farmer…and left! I was suddenly like Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald- on my own! So I walked…VERY slowly…home and lingered out in the yard for a while until my clothes dried before going in the house. But to my credit, I DID tell my mom about it- when I was 42 years old! LONG after the statute of limitations ran out!
What do you do when you have allowed others to drag you down? What do when you feel your heart feels lost? In 2009, heart disease cost the US $304.6 billion. 26% of ALL deaths in the US are caused by heart disease. It is the leading cause of death among both men and women. The heart is an incredibly vital organ, and NOT just from a physical standpoint. It is also central to spiritual growth.
Tonight, we start a new sermon series called Burning Heart: The Unmistakable Fire. This series is aimed at reigniting our hearts, setting them ablaze with a fire for God. Many people have “head knowledge” about God, but they lack the “heart connection”. The distance from the head to the heart is only a few inches…and yet some never make the journey. The Greek word for “heart” is KARDIA. It certainly refers to the physical heart, but it also refers to our center, the very core of our being.
Over the course of this series, as we walk through the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, we will experience the journey the heart takes as it moves from being lost to being on fire for God. The question is- where will you find yourself on the journey?
The Book of Deuteronomy- Moses is 120 years old and about to die. But first, God wants him to write down a record of the treaty between God and the people of Israel. In the 1st 3 chapters, Moses reviews the history leading up to the treaty. In chapters 4-27, he reviews the terms of the treaty. And in chapters 28-30, he calls on the people to be faithful to the treaty.
Deuteronomy 1:21-28– It is said, “God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as God has told you. Don’t be afraid; don’t be discouraged.” Then all of you came to me and said, “Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to.” The idea seemed good to me; so I selected 12 of you, one from each tribe. They left and went into the hill country, came to the Valley of Eshcol and explored it. They reported, “It’s good land that God is giving us.” But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the command of God. You grumbled and said, “God hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us. Where can we go? Our brothers have made us lose heart.'”
Our brothers have made us lose heart. When I was in first grade, I sat next to another boy. One day, a rather large puddle appeared at his feet as he sat at his desk. His pants were wet and his face was red. The teacher came over and asked him what happened. He thought for a minute, then pointed at me and said, HE did it!” It’s SO easy to blame others. It’s also SO easy to let others to drag us down.
We are all familiar with the late great Johnny Cash. But what do you know about his life? The late 60s were very hard on him. He was in a very serious car accident. As a result of the injured sustained, he became addicted to amphetamines and his weight dropped to 140 lbs.
In his pain and his agony, Johnny Cash cried out to God. God answered him and turned his lost heart into a burning heart. He was ordained, sought out and partnered with Billy Graham and served God until he died.
Burning heart. Do you remember the two men who were on the road to Emmaus? After they had a direct experience of the risen Savior, they said, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was opening the Scriptures to us?”
Burning heart. The rock group Survivor, who owe their ENTIRE career to Sylvester Stallone and the Rocky movies, recorded The Burning Heart. The lyrics include, “Bravely hope against all hope- there is so much at stake. There’s a quest for answers, an unquenchable thirst.” The burning heart, the unmistakable fire.
Burning heart. Are you familiar with the word “Epiphany”? When it’s lower case, it means “an experience of sudden and striking realization.”. But when it is capitalized, it refers to the celebration of the Wise Men visiting Jesus. These Wise Men- the Magi- were unlikely people to follow a star- they were gentiles, they were scholars, they were learned men. But they came anyway. And between them, they presented 3 gifts to the boy King: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold was normally reserved for the king…and Jesus is the King of Kings. Frankincense was normally used by priests at the altar. Jesus is the principle recipient of our worship. Myrrh was used for embalming. Its appearance here precludes Jesus’ death and resurrection. 3 gifts- very expensive and very symbolic. But the greatest gift of all was the one that was not mentioned- the gift of themselves, “They fell down and worshipped Him.”
The reality is that there is no mention of how many Wise Men there actually was. The number 3 was chosen simply because that’s how many gifts there were. In the book “The Travels of Marco Polo”, the adventurer tells of visiting the Persian city of Saveh. He says it was the city from where the “3 Magi set out”. He also says he saw 3 tombs “of great size and beauty”. In them were 3 bodies…they even still had hair and beards. An early 6th Century Greek manuscript offers names for the Magi: Gaspar, Balthasar and Melchior. They were called by God, they allowed a king to drag them down, they realized it, they found their burning heart and they received renewed strength.
People are constantly making promises and resolutions that they can’t keep. Often they never really had any intention in keeping them. It seems to me, the BEST promise you can make if you want to become a spiritual redwood is this- make a change for the better. “Sounds great, Preacher Man, but isn’t that just so much lip service?” No. It’s do-able, and here are 3 steps that make it happen.
- Develop a more positive attitude toward your life What would it take to make your life worthwhile? Winning the lottery? Getting married? Having your kids make you proud? Getting that big promotion at work? We have this “If only” mentality in this country. “If only I could…if only they wouldn’t…if only that might…” I have to tell you that if you are waiting for ALL the little pieces to come together…it’s going to be a long wait!
- Develop a more positive attitude toward your faith United Methodist founder John Wesley once wore a bow tie with long ribbons hanging down from it. A woman who saw if came up to him and asked, “Are you open to criticism?” Wesley responded, “What do you want to criticize?” The woman said, “The ribbons on your tie are too long. That is wholly inappropriate for a man of God” She then took out a pair scissors and proceeded to cut the ribbons off. Wesley thought for a moment and then said, “May I borrow your scissors?” She handed them to him. “Are YOU open to criticism?” She warily agreed that she was. Wesley smiled and said, “Then please stick out your tongue!” People LOVE to criticize their church- they complain about always being asked for money. They complain that things are NOT the way they want them. They complain about what the music IS…or ISN’T. They complain that their church has a van…or DOESN’T have a van. Chaplain Vance Havner said, “We are not going to move the world by criticism and conformity, but only by the combustion within it of lives ignited by the Spirit of God.” The Church does not exist to meet OUR wants, but rather to enable us to better help others meet their needs. The church is a place where people can carry their burdens and drop them off. It’s a place where everyone should feel welcome. It’s risky to be that kind of church, but I for one would rather try something great for God and fail than to play it safe and succeed.
- Develop a more positive attitude toward other people Robert Schuller once said, “It would amaze us how many people we would influence for Christ if we treated more people nicely.” If we treat each other with love, then wonderful things can happen for the kingdom of God. The song says “people who need people”…but the church doesn’t just need people- it needs POSITIVE people. We need to make sure that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength.
There is nothing you will face that Jesus can’t handle, because God will not take us where His grace can’t sustain us. Determine that you are going to walk in deeper obedience with God. Why? Because the truth of the matter is that the more obedient you are – the fuller your life will be. The only one way to experience a more rewarding and satisfying life is to return your lost heart to God.
There is an Indian fable about a mouse. He had such fear of a particular cat that a local magician took pity on him and turned him into a cat. But then…he had great fear of the dog. So he turned him into a dog…and he proceeded to be afraid of the tiger. He turned him into a tiger and he was afraid of the hunter. Finally, he turned him back into a mouse. He said to him, “Regardless of what you LOOK like you have the heart of a mouse and so I can’t help you.”
So many Christians seem dissatisfied with who they are. They seem stuck in a Christian rut. And I wonder- what’s the problem? I think perhaps the problem is that they focus on their troubles and not on God’s promise. They allow others to drag them down. They have the heart of a mouse…but they WANT the heart of a tiger. They want a burning heart. Life’s short- don’t let others drag you down. Instead, make the most of every opportunity. WE want a burning heart. Worship, joy and praise are fruits of a burning heart. So here’s tonight’s burning question- “What temperature is YOUR heart?” Some people say, “Religion is boring!” And I look at them and say, “You are SO…right! ” Religion IS boring, but faith…oh my! Religion is about blind adherence to rules, while faith is about a relationship with God in the person of Jesus Christ.
Put God 1st, and you will have an AWESOME life! It will NOT be perfect. Let me repeat that- it will NOT be perfect…but it WILL be blessed! If you CHOOSE to love God, with ALL your heart, soul, mind and strength…your life will be blessed. Does that sound good? Do you think that’s a good deal? Are you ready to choose God completely? Are you ready to return your lost heart and exchange it for a burning one?
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!