Heart and Soul

Sometimes you have to get to the heart of a matter before you really understand it. Like the pastor who was frustrated because he couldn't locate a file in the drawer. "I can never find what I want in these files!" he said to his secretary in exasperation. "What system do you use?" "Well, Pastor," she said, "this IS a church office after all, so I use the Biblical system." "The Biblical system? What's that?" the pastor asked, to which she replied, "Seek and ye shall find!"

Today's Scripture readings all talk about the heart of the matter. Heart and soul-the heart and the totality. God has a particular message for us all today. God expects us to turn to the Lord with all our heart and all our soul. I love what it says in the Deuteronomy lesson. "Surely this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you…" I love it because it sounds like a bit of sarcasm that a parent would use with a child or youth who is making excuses but can't see how lame the excuses are. "Surely," a father says to his son who has been driving for 3 months and the car breaks down because the boy has not followed directions, "Surely it's not too hard to follow my directions to put oil in the car or water in a radiator?" The point I'm making is that it wasn't too hard for the youth to follow directions; he was just too lazy or distracted or didn't really think through the consequences. We are like that with regard to instructions God gives us so that we won't break down in our heart or soul. We don't follow the instructions, even as easy as they are. And if we do follow them, we so often only do it half-heartedly.

Not only do we have an instruction book to use, the Bible, but God has also planted instructions in our minds and hearts so that the instructions are in our mouths ready to be spoken. But we fail ourselves and our children, all children, because we don't always or often use the instruction book nor do we always follow what God has planted in our hearts and souls and minds.

There are lots of lame excuses for not using the Bible, the instruction book. Excuses like, "it's too hard to understand," "it's boring to read," "the language is too strange," "it all happened a long time ago across the sea in another land and doesn't relate to me" and "it seems like God is far away, somewhere up there in heaven, wherever that is."

But God says, "No," that's not true. "No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe."

It is so important for the Christian to be observant. Not in a casual way, but with all one's heart and all one's soul. If you were on guard duty in the army, you would be alert to anything and everything that seemed out of the ordinary. You would listen and recognize the familiar sounds and know when you heard an unfamiliar one. Someone who was trying to approach would have to use the right words, words you'd recognize and know were true, in order to get by.

A parent listens carefully to the sounds a child makes because it can determine if the child is ill or coming down with something. A parent listens carefully to the words of their children because it can help them determine if the youth is troubled or in trouble. You listen for the familiar in your children. It's written in your heart and mind and you know when something is not right.

Life is not something to just deal with. Life is something to explore. It's full of challenges. There's a difference between dealing with the challenges, and exploring the challenges and growing through them.

Martin Luther believed it was the duty and responsibility of every Christian to keep learning as much as one could about the Word of God. In today's Psalm the Psalmist says, "Show me your ways, O Lord, and teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusted all the day long." In Proverbs it says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge God and God will direct your paths." (Proverbs 3:5, 6)

Luther says that our very existence, our "very survival depends upon recognizing the voice of Christ among the competing voices all around us."

In one of Luther's sermons, one on "The Good Shepherd," he says, "Here is a key to Christian faith. In this life everyone is troubled by doubts. Every Christian will at some time or another experience a feeling of having been rejected or abandoned by God. Of course, Satan is always happy to encourage such thoughts and feelings….But the meaning of faith, says Luther, is that we nevertheless hold on to the promises of God's Word; we refuse to call God a liar. God has promised that the Shepherd knows His sheep."

And we his sheep must learn to recognize the Shepherd's voice. Luther says, "That's exactly how it is with a little sheep; its very life depends upon hearing. If it doesn't hear the shepherd's voice, the wolves will soon be there. Without the Shepherd's voice, all joy and assurance vanish and only fear and trembling remain. That's how it is also with a Christian: if he loses the Word, all comfort is gone; as long as he is faithful to the Word, he will behold Christ, his shepherd, and therewith everything Christ has earned and promised him…."

But we have to be alert, be aware. We have to know how to recognize the Shepherd's voice amongst all the other voices competing for our attention. And we can only be certain if we are alert with all our heart and soul. If you can't "get into" reading the Bible, then get a translation that you CAN get into. I've told you many times about "The Message." It's not a study Bible because it isn't a word for word translation, but it's accurate and reads in up to date language. It's SO readable and understandable. It's now out in both the Old and New Testaments. It's truly refreshing, truly enlightening.

We have to care, folks. We have to. You have to care not only for the sake of your OWN soul, but for the sake of your children, any children; you have to care for the sake of the soul of so many who don't know the love of Christ. But you can't do it half-heartedly. You can't do it without purpose and intent. That's what it means to do it with all your heart and with all your soul-to have a purpose and be intentional. There are always choices.

There's a really great poem that speaks of one particular choice, but it speaks to all sorts of choices, and it shows us, and each one of us will hear it differently, how we often make the choice that won't help us in our purpose and intent to know the voice of God better. Now in this poem, it relates to the TV. If you don't watch TV at all, or very little, then just think of what it is that catches your attention. The poem is entitled,

"The Bible And The T.V."

On the table side by side: the Holy Bible and the TV Guide.
One is well worn but cherished with pride
(not the Bible, but the TV Guide).
One is used daily to help folks decide;
No, it isn't the Bible; it's the TV Guide.
As pages are turned, what shall they see?
Oh what does it matter! Turn on the TV.
So they open the book in which they confide
(no, not the Bible; the TV Guide).
The Word of God is seldom read;
Maybe a verse e'er they fall into bed,
Exhausted and sleepy and tired as can be.
Not from reading the Bible; from watching TV.
So then back to the table side by side,
Is the Holy Bible and the TV Guide.
No time for prayer, no time for the Word.
The plan of salvation is seldom heard.
Forgiveness of sins so full and free
Is found in the Bible, not on TV.
             (KRISTONE CARDS)

If we're going to win the battle against Satan directing our lives and the lives our children, we're going to have to get serious about the Word. We're going to have to approach it with all our heart and all our soul. That is, you're going to have to ask, like the Psalmist, "show me your ways, O Lord, and teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me…" You're going to have to, with purpose and intent, learn more about the Word of God. It won't only come to you through the words of the Bible, but as you study God's Word, your heart is opened to all that God has already planted there and you are drawn even and ever closer in relationship with God.

I know that summer is not the time to start Bible study. We're geared toward "September starts." But I'm going to start Wednesday, August 4th after the 7pm worship, from 7:30-8:30 the first 3 Wednesdays of every month, a Bible study. I expect that the class will have at least 35 people in it each week if this congregation is going to get serious about its vision and mission. I will take one or two verses each week, verses that are usually known as hard to understand or are often misinterpreted, or often ignored or overlooked. Throughout, you can submit verses that you, yourself have difficulty with. You will be expected to bring your own Bible each time to Bible study.

If there's enough interest to have a lunch time study on Wednesdays, I will teach the same Bible study on Wednesdays from noon to 1pm as in the evenings. You can bring a sandwich and drink or snack or whatever you want at 11:30 and eat lunch first before the Bible Study. In September and October we will see about starting some other classes.

Yes, of course there are "Sign-Up Sheets." By signing you are making a commitment to some regular study. It doesn't mean you have to be present every week, but you're making a commitment to regular study. You're approaching learning about God's Word in the tradition of Martin Luther who said it is the responsibility of every Christian to learn, and to keep learning as much as possible about the Word of God.

Heart and Soul. Purpose and intent. Not then and there, but here and now.


Read more sermons by Pastor Brie