Sunday, July 7, 2019

The Problem of HUNGER - (part 3)

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”

This is the advice that the writer of the proverb gives to us (Proverbs 4:23 ESV).

We have been thinking of the subject of hunger and comparing the hunger that we feel in our bodies to the hunger of our souls, or the hunger in our hearts. I have spoken of the similarities and the differences between the literal physical food that we eat, and the spiritual food that we need to feed our hearts.

The central issue of this theme is contained in the words of Moses when he summed up the forty-year lesson of the wilderness experience. The lesson was that the people should come to know that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

I also quoted Jesus, when he told the great crowd of five thousand people, “Do not work for food that perishes, but for food that endures to eternal life… I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never hunger.” (John 6:27, 35)

Jesus was speaking primarily of spiritual hunger of course, but he was not ignoring the fact that our bodies also need physical nourishment. The day before Jesus spoke the words above, when that same crowd of people had become hungry, the disciples wanted Jesus to send them away, because there was nothing to eat in that place.

The response of Jesus to the disciples concerning their proposal was, “You feed them.” 

Feeding the Orphans

I also related that this was also his response to me when I at first did not want to be involved with feeding forty-two orphans in Kenya whom the Lord had put in my life. Like the disciples, I did not want the responsibility of providing food for them. However, also like the disciples, the Lord had put me on a path of learning how it is he who will supply what is needed.

In the case of the five-thousand, they were fed when Jesus miraculously multiplied a small donation of five small loaves of bread and two fish—a boy’s lunch.

In the case of the forty-two orphans, the means of feeding them may not be so overtly miraculous, but it has also come in small increments. For two years, God has fed these children and clothed them. In addition, he has provided a safe and healthy building for them that has become their home.

Certainly there have also been many days of hunger, some days of nakedness for the smaller ones, times when the children had no shoes or could not attend school because of lack of funding, but all of us involved with this work have seen the faithful hand of God in provision.

After a year of much dysentery and disease last year, as well as maladies and malaria, faintness and famine, this year the children are mostly healthy. Each one is so thankful for what is being done for them through the work of the Lord.

The Importance of Our Heart

In the midst of all of the activity of feeding and providing for the children, it is sometimes easy to neglect the words of the opening proverb: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”

The work of providing for the physical needs of the orphans sometimes becomes so overwhelming that the heart can be neglected. The words of Jesus about working for the food that endures for eternity can be forgotten. We work to provide a healthy environment so our orphans do not succumb to sickness or disease, but infinitely more important is that their hearts remain healthy.

It is the same in our own personal lives. The work of simply living in this complicated age can easily become all-consuming—taking all of our time and energy. In every season of our lives, new sets of circumstances arise to fill up the hours of our day and the calendars on our walls. Our spiritual lives can become neglected.

We allow this to happen to our own detriment. As our bodies can languish and suffer sicknesses, so are there ailments of the heart. Our heart can become sick. 

Israel Succumbs to Heart Failure

Ancient Israel is again our example in this. After learning their lessons in the wilderness and finally being able to enter the Promised Land, the people again began to neglect the nourishment of their heart. Lessons learned earlier had been forgotten, and by the time of the prophet Isaiah, the nation had again drifted far from God.

Isaiah opens his writings with these words: 

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken:
“Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”
Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly!
They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.
Why will you still be struck down?
Why will you continue to rebel?
The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.” (Isaiah 1:2-5ESV) 

The Israelites may have been living in the land flowing with milk and honey, but their entire society had suffered moral collapse. They had forgotten the standards upon which their society had been built and had drifted far from God.

If you think hard enough, you may see a similarity with a certain nation of these days. 

Diseases of the Heart

In health, we are concerned about our physical hearts. Heart disease is the largest cause of death among Americans. In our country we have research centers and entire wings of large hospitals dedicated exclusively to studying and healing the diseases with which our hearts suffer.

Although much research still needs to be done, we have become quite proficient in identifying the conditions and the diseases that can come to our hearts. Those of the medical profession have come to learn much about diseases such as: Coronary artery disease, Ventricular tachycardia, Myocardial infarction, Ventricular fibrillation and Cardiogenic shock.

Did you notice in that list of diseases how many of them contained a form of the word cardio? The word begins with a C, and it refers to the heart. A couple of weeks ago I wrote of the Greek word kardia, spelled with a K instead of a C. It is the word from which we get our own word cardio—a word that we use to refer to the physical heart.

But in the Bible, the Greek word kardia refers only to the spiritual heart. As I had mentioned at the time I last referred to the word, it is used over 800 times in the Bible and always refers to the spiritual heart. At that time I also asked you to give yourself a Kardiagram, to find out the condition of your spiritual heart. 

Diseases of our Spiritual Heart

Our hearts can become sick. I am not speaking of our physical hearts, although of course these also are susceptible to disease. But in this case, I am speaking of our spiritual hearts. In our day and age, we are so concerned about the health of our physical hearts, that we can easily neglect the health of our spiritual hearts. A spiritual heart that is nourished and healthy today will not remain that way unless it is nourished again tomorrow.

The Bible mentions many harmful conditions of our spiritual hearts. Like a medical student might do concerning our physical heart, I myself did a little research into what I will call the “Diseases of our Spiritual Heart.”

In our physical hearts, we often have limited control over how strong our hearts are. Much of the failures of our hearts seem to be determined in great part by genetics. We may be born into a hereditary line of people with weak hearts.

It is not so with our spiritual hearts. I will not say that our background and upbringing plays no role at all in the condition of our spiritual hearts, but even with this, it always remains a fact that the health of our spiritual hearts is under our complete control. If we have a weak heart, it is in our power to change and strengthen it.

If we refuse to treat our hearts, or simply fail to do so, our hearts will reach their final stage of disease. When that comes, it is unfortunately no longer within our grasp to improve our condition. 

A Callous Heart

The first of these conditions that I will talk about is the calloused heart. Jesus said of the people of his day, “For this people’s heart has grown callous; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes” (Matthew 13:15a BSB).

When I hear the word callous, I immediately think of calloused hands. Hands that are calloused have become that way because of hard and constant labor. The body has produced an extra thick layer of skin to protect the hands from being damaged.

But this is not the meaning of the word in the Bible. It does mean to thicken, as we would use of the callouses on our hands, but not thickened from hard labor. This thickness comes from growing excessively fat.

The word used is Matthew is pachunó.[1] When the word was used in those days, it was often understood metaphorically as having become dull and stupid. This is not a condition that comes about from labor, but rather from laziness and inactivity.

When a heart is calloused, the ears have grown too lazy to hear the words of Jesus, and the eyes have closed into a constant slumber. The person is almost beyond the point of being reached by reason. They are fat and they are unresponsive.

The calloused heart does not have the sensitivity to hear the words of God. 

A Hard Heart

Being calloused is almost like another word that Paul uses in Romans. He describes the hearts of some of the people of his day as being “hard.”

“Because of your hard and unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of wrath” (Romans 2:5 BSB).

Again, this hardness does not come about from exercise, as when our bodies become firm and hard from working out, or in the case of us farmers, just our daily work. This is not the kind of hardness that Paul is talking about.

We should instead think of soil when it becomes hard. It becomes solid and impenetrable from lack of water. Nothing can break through its cruel shell, and no seed can sprout from underneath. The word is sklérotés, and it does literally mean “hard from being dry.”[2]

Hardness of heart is a serious condition. A heart that is hard has died out and refuses to be touched. It becomes, as Paul adds, “unrepentant.” 

An Unrepentant Heart

Repentance was the message of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus. His message to the people was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!”

The word “repentance” has an unfortunate connotation in our day. Many think that the word must not simply be spoken, but shouted at “the sinners,” with a fist pounding down hard on the podium. It certainly can be said in that way, and I must say that sometimes I become so tired of encountering such cold and responsive hearts that I feel like doing that. Sometimes it probably needs to be done.

But the word repentance actually means something like “change your way of thinking,” or “take a different direction in your life.” It especially means to change one’s mind after being presented with a new set of circumstances or new information.[3]

When John was preaching repentance, he was announcing to the people of his day that new revelation from God was coming that would help them to view their lives from a new perspective. That revelation was coming by means of Jesus Christ. John was telling the people that they should listen to Christ and change their way of thinking from how they thought in the past.
The heart can suffer many ailments. There are also others listed in the Bible but I will speak of only one more. It is the most severe of all diseases of the heart. I mentioned this condition a little earlier, although I did not name it. 

The Heart of Stone

With all of the previous diseases of the heart, it seems that with a change of life priorities and lifestyle, and with the help of God, we can bring about a cure. But this final ailment is beyond cure. It is when God gives up on us. It is when our hearts have turned to stone.

The prophet Zechariah writes of a time when this happened to the nation of Israel. It came just before what we have come to call the 400 years of silence—that is, the 400 year gap between the Old and New Testaments, a time in which God fell silent. He sent no message; he had nothing to say. God had given up on the people of that day.

Here is what the prophet said about the people of Israel of that period: 

They refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder; they stopped up their ears from hearing. They made their hearts like flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD of Hosts had sent by His Spirit through the earlier prophets. Therefore great anger came from the LORD of Hosts.

“Therefore just as I had called and they would not listen, so when they called I would not listen,” says the LORD of Hosts. “But I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations that they had not known, and the land was left desolate behind them so that no one could come or go. Thus they turned the pleasant land into a desolation.”  (Zechariah 7:11-14 BSB) 

That windstorm came about one hundred years later when Israel fell first to the Greeks, and ten years after that, to the Egyptians. The hearts of the people had turned to stone, and God had fallen silent. 

The Heart Transplant

The prophet Ezekiel, even though he lived about a hundred and seventy years before Zechariah, also spoke of this same windstorm that would come and scatter the people of Israel. Ezekiel became so distraught over this prospect of the future of his people, that he fell face down on the ground and cried out, “Oh, Lord GOD, will you bring the remnant of Israel to a complete end?” (Ezekiel 11:13)

Their heart was dead. It had turned to stone. What could be done?

By man, nothing could be done. Someone that is sick may be able to do certain things to help himself or herself, but someone who is dead cannot bring back life. Here is what God answered to his prophet: 

I will take you from among the nations and gather you out of all the countries, and I will bring you back into your own land. I will also sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and all your idols.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes and to carefully observe My ordinances. (Ezekiel 36:24-27) 

God spoke of a completely new heart—a heart transplant, but not merely a heart transplant of a similar heart. Rather, it will be a heart that is accompanied by his very spirit, the Spirit of God. It is the Spirit of God who would give them the desire to follow the ways of the Lord. 

What Does Your Kardiagram Tell You?

I think that there is a lesson for America in all of this talk about the ailments of the heart. Our nation is exhibiting many of the same symptoms of heart failure as the nation of Israel in the days leading up to the scattering and years of silence from God.

But I confess that right at this moment, I am mostly concerned about you. Have you given yourself an honest Kardiagram? What is the condition of your spiritual heart?

Like our physical hearts, if there actually is a problem, it does no good to ignore it. If we continue life as we always have, the condition of our spiritual hearts will also continue to deteriorate.

Perhaps the saddest verse in all of Scripture is Romans 1:28. “Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, He gave them up to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.”

In this verse, Paul is speaking about those who have rejected the work of God in their hearts for so long that God has finally given up on them. Their hearts have turned to stone. God has decided to deal with them no longer, and simply allow them to live in whatever depraved lifestyle they have chosen. Or perhaps we should call it a “deathstyle” instead of a lifestyle, for that is where it will lead them.

These have rejected even the heart of Jesus, and unlike those whose hearts of stone in the past, there is no further heart transplants available. Once they have rejected the heart of Jesus, the writer of the book of Hebrews tells us that “there remains no further sacrifice for sins, but only the fearful expectation of judgment” (10:26-27).

This is the saddest of all truths. The doctor has walked away and has said, “Nothing more can be done.”

But that is not your condition today. The very fact that you are reading these words is an indication that God is still working to bring healing to your heart, no matter how grave you think your condition is. Jesus is the Good Physician. Once he sets out to heal your heart, it will be healed. There can be no question.

Begin a healthy-heart regimen today. Whether the condition of your heart is calloused, or even if it is hardened and unrepentant, allow God to begin to heal you.

If you would like to help the children of the Log Church Orphanage of Kisii, Kenya, you may make your check out to "The Log Church" and write "Orphans" on the memo line.

Send it to:
The Log Church
PO Box 68
Tripoli, Wisconsin 54564
Every nickel given in this way will be used for only aid for the orphans. It will be used for purchasing food, clothing, schooling, and other necessities of living. Nothing is held back or diverted for any other purpose

[1] 3975 paxýnō (from paxys, "thick") – properly, thick (with excessive fat); (figuratively) having an insensitive heart, i.e. unfeeling (obtuse).
[2] 4643. sklérotés hardness (literally, "hard from being dry"), i.e. stubborn, obstinate. See 4642 (sklēros). hardness, hardness of heart, obstinacy, perverseness
[3] Ametanoétos 279from alpha (as a neg. prefix) and metanoeó 3340. Metanoeó 3340 metanoéō (from 3326 /metá, "changed after being with" and 3539 /noiéō, "think") – properly, "think differently after," "after a change of mind"; to repent (literally, "think differently afterwards").

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