The Battle For Your HeartErwin W. Lutzer | January 6, 2013
Selected highlights from this sermon
There are three myths about today’s media culture: it’s neutral, it doesn’t affect us, and we can control it. None of these are true. Billions are spent in advertising to affect what you do. You can’t even check the news online without being confronted with a provocative image.
So what do we do?
We have to guard our hearts—and Pastor Lutzer gives us ways to do that along with a challenge to detox from the media.
I begin today with excerpts from some letters that have been sent to me.
“I’m writing to ask that you pray for my nine-year old son and his father. I’ve been divorced for several years and we are both remarried so my son goes back and forth between us. During our marriage we would play games like Magic: the Gathering or Dungeons and Dragons and other games like that. These games would consume my ex-husband. He would stay up all hours playing these games. It was as if he wasn’t there. You could talk to him, and he wouldn’t even hear you. Since that time I’ve become a Christian and I realize that my ex-husband is under the power of the occult. Demonic forces are holding him back. Now he has taught my son to play and I’ve noticed changes in my son’s attitude. In fact, he’s had to get rid of night terrors by reading the Psalms aloud every night, and his half brother, age six, is now also involved.”
Let me read another letter.
“Ever since my wife discovered the chat room on the Internet, she now connects with her friends every evening. She comes home and makes a quick dinner, and then by 7:00 p.m. she’s on the computer till about 11:00 p.m. And so it goes every day. We have no communication, no fellowship and no social life. She is consumed with the computer and her friends.”
“I discovered my husband’s pornography on the computer. He was very angry when I found it but he assured me he’d never go there again. Well, he has repeatedly. He won’t go for counseling, is angry most of the time, telling me that what he does in his spare time is none of my business. I don’t want to leave him for the sake of the kids, but even they know that something is really wrong in our home.”
The topic of these messages is Guard your Heart – Sexual Purity in a Media Culture. Could you even imagine any passage of Scripture or any idea or sermon topic that would be as relevant as this, because indeed we have a media culture that is consuming us and drawing our hearts away from God?
The Bible teaches that the heart, and it uses it frequently (hundreds of times actually), really stands for everything about us that is immaterial. It talks about our will. It includes our will. It includes our aspirations and our feelings. It’s the place where decisions are made and attitudes are developed. It is the real you because the Bible says that as a man thinks in his heart so he is.
Jesus made the interesting statement that from the goodness of a person’s heart come good things; from the corruption of the heart come evil things.
Now before we get into this I’d like to dispel some myths that all of us, I think, have accepted at one time or another. And we’d like to lay these myths out and show you why they are myths and then we’ll get to the word of God and expect changes and transformation in our lives.
First of all, myth number one is this, that technology is totally neutral. It just depends on how you use it, but it itself is neutral. Not quite! It is biased against a life of holiness, and a life of commitment. It is bent against the kind of purity that we’re going to talk about in these messages.
You can’t go online and look at the news without provocative pictures coming up alongside that you are tempted to pursue. Right there it is! I thought that it is neutral. No, it’s not. You know those computer games that lead many people in to the occult? Those aren’t neutral. In fact, I saw something on T.V. a couple of weeks ago. Very quickly, I remember it saying that there are ways that they try to program these so that you can never let go. You always have to do the next thing. The bottom line is they are after addicts, because if you are addicted you’re going to buy the next game and the next game and the next game and the next game. All of these kinds of things are geared against us. Now I know that there are some good computer games. My own grandchildren play with some computer games, carefully chosen by their parents. But when you stop to think of all that is out there, and many parents not caring (or even if they care, their kids are playing these games in other people’s homes), it’s incredible, but the media/technology is not neutral.
Neil Postman said, “A medium is not neutral. It’s not a neutral bystander in our communication. Every technology has its own inherent bias. It has a predisposition to be used in certain ways and not in others. Every media has an agenda.”
Even Facebook! I understand it’s advertised by saying, “Broadcast yourself.” Well, okay – broadcast yourself. What you’re going to do is to put the best spin on yourself that you possibly can and ignore all the things that your friends don’t want to know about you. The medium is not neutral.
Now having said that, I’m glad for modern technology. I would not want to go back to the days before e-mail. In fact, I was thinking the other day what life was like before e-mail. I mean I remember most of my life we didn’t have e-mail. In fact, you know what? This is for the younger generation. The first book that I ever wrote was written so long ago that my typist would have to type it, and then if you added something you’d have to retype the whole page, and it would spill over to the next page. And if she made a mistake she had White Out. It’s not a snowstorm. (laughter) White Out is a little bottle of white stuff that you smear over a word or letter to correct it. How many of you actually remember the White Out? (laughter) Oh my! Oh, I’m so glad that those days are gone.
And many of you run businesses that you could not possibly run without computers, but I am going to be emphasizing that if we’re going to use it for the glory of God it has to be redeemed out of the whole network of technologies that are against us and against Christian living. So it’s not neutral. We’re in a battle for sure.
The number two myth is, “Oh, I can watch whatever I like, and it doesn’t affect me.” Have you believed that lie? You know there’s a book written entitled, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill, and it has empirical proof that violence in the media, violence on television and in movies and in video games, has a direct relationship with violence in the child who actually claims anger and does all of those things. And don’t kid yourself, and if you are struggling with pornography, as many people do, you’ll discover that that has implications in terms of the breakdown of certain standards, and pretty soon you want to act out what it is that you are watching.
Don’t ever accept the notion that what you see doesn’t affect you. Think about it. Why are billions of dollars spent on advertising today if what you see on T.V. doesn’t affect what you do? The advertisers know it right well. You see it often enough. You see it advertised and pretty soon you’re out there buying it. It has a great deal to do with what you do. And remember what the Bible says. “As a man thinks in his heart so he is.” That is the real you.
A third myth is that somehow we can corral this and we can take care of it and we can institute some guidelines, and that’s the answer. No, I’m sorry, the battle is much deeper than that. In fact, after doing some study on this, and just being blown away by the impact of the media (especially in the lives of young people but also adults), I have come to the conclusion that the media basically in much of what it has is really the devil’s playground. And if you’re going to come out from under those kinds of addictions and attractions and pressures, and the need to constantly have something new, it is going to take prayer and fasting, and yieldedness and all the rest. I would rather stand on a bridge and try to convince the Mississippi River to flow the other way than try to convince somebody who is absolutely content with whom he is and rejoices in his particular addiction.
Now having said all of that, of course, I believe that there is going to be tremendous transformation as a result of these messages. I believe that finally there’s going to be a concerted prayerful investigation of our lives by the Holy Spirit, and there is going to be victory for this reason. With man it is impossible but with God all things are possible. Does anybody believe that or am I alone up here today? (applause)
So, you know, husbands, it is possible that God will change your wife. It is possible, wives, that God will actually change this guy you married. We have to believe God. We have to trust God, and we have to redeem technology out of the hands of the devil. That’s a strong statement but I really do believe that.
Well, our text today is taken from the book of Proverbs, and what an amazing book this is, and we are in chapter 4 and I’m actually in verse 20. Proverbs 4:20 says, “My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to their flesh. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flows the springs of life. Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all of your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.” What an amazing passage, and it’s desperately needed in this generation, probably more than in any other generation in all of history.
There are three responsibilities. It is a command to guard our hearts, and I see in here three responsibilities that we have.
Responsibility number one is to know your heart. The heart is the place where life makes up its mind. It is the throne room, the direct center of control of all that we do. Out of it, the Bible says, are the springs of life, like an overflowing river. What’s within comes out – that invisible part of us, and we have to know it. It’s complex. We can’t even figure it all out. We stand in amazement at ourselves and God’s creation and who we really are.
For example, one thing about the heart is it can be a place of peace. Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled,” and the Apostle Paul said, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” So you see your heart can be a place where peace is in charge, and what a beautiful heart that is.
It’s also the place where there is trust. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and don’t lean on your own understanding.” The heart can be a place where there is rejoicing. “Rejoice ye pure in heart,” we sometimes sing. It can be the wellspring of a great deal of joy. The heart can be a place where we love. “Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy mind, and with all thy soul.” Imagine that as human beings.
The heart is the place where we experience God. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” What a statement! How complex we are, but alas there’s another side to the human heart. The Bible says that the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. I don’t know of any other book in any other religion that has such an accurate description of the human heart. It is deceitful. It deceives us in terms of how good or bad we are. Most people think that we are much better than we really are, and the way in which the heart does that is it gets us to compare ourselves with others. We find somebody who is worse than we are – especially a churchgoer – and then we say, “Well, if they’re like that, I do this and I am good.” The Bible says that the way of man is pure in his own eyes, but God judges the heart, and the heart deceives us. You’re not as good as you think you are; I’m not as good as I think I am. We are deceived.
The heart also denies the dark parts of our lives. That’s why, you see, you can have somebody who is abusive, somebody who is unkind, thoughtless and all the rest, who does horrible things and hurts people and he thinks he’s actually pretty okay, thank you very much, and that the people that he steps on and hurts deserve it, and he denies how evil it is. You and I know all that we need to do is to watch the news to see how deceitful the heart really is.
You know, when you see what is done, whether it’s to children or whatever the abuse that goes on, I’m reminded of the fact that the human heart is just as bad as the Bible says it is. In fact, there have been times when you and I have heard about evil and we have gone and we have thought about that evil and we have seen it, and we’ve thought to ourselves, “This is the worst possible thing that anyone could do,” and you feel as if you’re finally in the basement. You’ve gotten to the bottom of how bad man or woman can be, and then while you are standing in the basement you notice that below you somebody is knocking under your feet and you realize that there’s another story down there, full of all kinds of serpents. The heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.
Let me ask you something. Do you think that you could live for 24 hours without a single thought that was either unkind, untrue or impure? Could you do that for 24 hours? And then after you’ve done it, would it be okay if we played it here at Moody Church on our screens, and we all came to observe? Wouldn’t we be surprised? We’d say, “Why is she so jealous of So-and So?” “We never knew that So-and So was concerned about the way in which she looked in a very unfortunate way, angry, jealous, vindictive and bitter. We didn’t know that.” And then the next night it was our turn. What would we see? The human heart has this good side, and we’ll talk about the good side, but it has the bad side. It is capable of unthinkable evil.
So the first thing is we have to know our hearts. Do we know our hearts? Are you aware of what you are capable of? Or do you simply point your finger at somebody else and think that they do this, and you hold yourself in check? Never, never think to yourself, “That’s something I could never do.” Under certain circumstances you might, especially if you thought nobody would ever know, and if you thought God didn’t know. You might be surprised at the serpents that lie coiled in the bottom of your heart and mine. We have to know our hearts.
Secondly the Bible says we should guard our hearts. Now, there are many people who would never leave their car anywhere unless their car was locked. They want to guard that car, or they want to guard their house. They would never think about such a thing as leaving the house with the door unlocked. And yet there are people today whose minds are totally unguarded. There’s no lock.
Again I read the Bible and I am so struck by its accuracy. The Scripture says in Proverbs 25:28, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into without walls.” And we’ll discover in these messages as we go through that indeed oftentimes there are no guidelines at all. There is no guarding. Whatever comes along, whatever you are tempted to do, you simply go ahead and you do it, and that’s the way in which many people live their lives. And the Bible says that it’s like a city with the walls broken down in the midst of the devastation. That’s what happens if you don’t guard your heart.
Now because this is one message in a series, I’m not going to say too much about it except to look at the text again and find out ways in which we are to guard our heart here because I think that the following verses actually explain how our hearts should be guarded. You’ll notice it says, and now I’m in verse 24, “Put away from you crooked speech and devious talk far from you.” This week notice what you say. Notice what comes out. Jesus said, “From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” so when you get bumped, what comes out? It’s all there in the human heart. Watch what you say.
Verse 25 says, “Let your eyes look directly forward and your gaze be straight before you.” And he’s talking here about what you see and the ability to concentrate with focus, instead of being distracted, looking every possible way. You know, there are some people who come to a worship service just like this with their cell phones, and while the service is going on, and maybe while this is being preached, they are looking at videos on their cell phones. The ushers have discovered that that’s the case. Or maybe they are texting on their cell phones.
Now before you become too judgmental, you have to realize, of course, that many people like my staff, for example, have on their cell phone the entire Bible, so just be assured that the person in your row has his cell phone open right now is actually looking at the text. (laughter) I’m sure that he or she is.
Do you know what also has been told? This just breaks my heart. I’ve been told that during communion there have been times in this sanctuary where, as the communion trays are being passed, somebody has to nudge the person next to him who is on a cell phone texting or looking at a video, and say, “Hey, the communion trays are now being passed.” Do you know what that indicates? It indicates such a sense of distraction. We are so distracted we can’t ever relax. It’s constant churning and churning, and that’s the way in which we live in today’s culture, and our attention span, the studies indicate, is getting shorter all the time.
Look straight ahead, the Bible says. When you are at a newsstand buying a newspaper, don’t go where your eyes go. There are some things you can’t help seeing, but don’t let your heart go there.
And then the Bible talks about where we should go. Watch our feet. So what you have here is our speech, our mouths. You have our eyes, and that’s huge, and we’ll be talking about that certainly in future messages, and then we also have, of course, very importantly, our feet and where they take us.
Now here’s the thing. I was going to mention this earlier but there’s no way that you can get out of your routine simply by choosing to say, “Okay, I’ll put these guidelines in place.” No! The hold is huge. And I want to give you an assignment. Every message in this series will have an assignment. Usually it is a verse of Scripture to memorize. This time it’s something else. I want you to detox from the media for three consecutive days. For three consecutive days - no television, no videos, and Internet only in relationship to your job. What else? Social media! You say, “Well, what about my friends?” I don’t know if you can do this because I’m not on social media, but send a general e-mail to them and simply say, “I’m going to be seeking God for three days so I’m out of pocket.” Two good things will happen. Number one, whole bunches will “unfriend” you (laughter), which probably isn’t all that bad. Secondly, quite frankly, they won’t miss much. They probably really don’t care what happened to your cat, and so what you need to do is to just get off of there. Three days of detoxing! Now just to test it I did it this past week on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I watched absolutely no television. I did some things on the Internet that I needed to investigate. I got into the car and forgot and turned on the radio for a while, but you want to cut that off too. No music – nothing! Just silence and detox!
So you know for the last three days I have no idea as to what happened in Washington. (laughter) Help me here. Did I miss anything? The fact is the world got along very well without me knowing about what was happening.
Can you do that? I’m going to do that again beginning Monday and Tuesday and then on our day of prayer and fasting on Wednesday. I’m all up on this. I think by the third day I began to enjoy the silence.
And what do you do during the silence? You meet with your family. You read Scripture. You read Psalm 139. That’s the other part of the assignment. Read where the Psalmist said very clearly, “Search me, oh God, and know my heart.” He ends the Psalm that way. He begins by saying, “Lord, you’ve searched me and you have known me.” God knows every single detail of your private thoughts, but then he says, “Search me. Tell me and show me what you see.” Are you willing to come before God and have Him search your heart like that? Three days – detox!
Of course I continued on with e-mails because that’s the way in which we communicate with our family and with our staff, but you make the decision as to where the line will be and for three days detox from the media.
Now there’s something else, and that is we must allow God to change our hearts. You can’t change your own heart, by the way. That would be like washing a dirty well with the dirty water that’s in it. The Bible indicates though that God said to Israel in the Old Testament, “A new heart I will give you. I’ll take out the heart of stone and I’ll give you a heart of flesh.” We have hearts of stone don’t we? Oh, there are some good things about us, but there are a lot of dark shadows, and things that lead us astray, and what we need to do is to receive the gift of a new heart. That’s what Jesus meant in John 3 when He said, “Except you be born again you’ll not see the kingdom of God.” Jesus was talking about a new birth, a new heart, with new desires, and if you think that’s easy for God to give us, no, it’s very difficult. It was a huge challenge, and that’s why Jesus Christ came to die on the cross for our sins so that He could stand in our stead and meet all of God’s obligations on our behalf so that then the blessed Holy Spirit of God could be given who regenerates us and changes us, thanks to faith and trust in Jesus Christ.
Before our conversion our heart is the most difficult thing we have to deal with. It’s full of anxiety, anger, bitterness, hopelessness, despair and wanting to get even. That’s before our conversion. After our conversion we still struggle with those things but we struggle from the standpoint of victory because now the peace of Christ can rule in our hearts. Now we can have joy that has been given to us by the Holy Spirit of God. It is the new birth without which you and I will not see the kingdom of God. And as we allow God to search our hearts what we’ll discover is that indeed we are sinners, and we are in need. I have no doubt that in this large congregation today, and listening audience in other ways, there are some in whose hearts God is already working to bring you to this moment, to this hour, and to this part of the sermon so that you realize that that emptiness in your heart, that frustration in your heart is a longing really for God to come to you and to give you a new heart with a love for God and an ability to overcome the dead weight of a heart cut off from God. And it’s available to you.
It says in the Scriptures, “As many received Him to those He gave the power to become the children of God, even to those who believe on His name.” That’s the beginning point. The beginning point is to have a new heart. Come to God. Ask Him to forgive you, to make you His child and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
There was once an evangelist by the name of Billy Sunday. I know that there’s also a Billy Graham, but this was Billy Sunday who used to preach in this church back in the 1920’s. He was a baseball player here in the city of Chicago, and he came out of a bar, and there were some students there that were handing out literature, telling him the Gospel that I’ve just explained to you. And Billy Sunday said, and I quote, “I staggered out of my sin into the outstretched arms of Jesus and received Him, and instantly became a new creature.” And Billy Sunday was a great evangelist for the cause of Jesus Christ.
The transformation of heart! What heart did you bring with you today - a hard heart, an indifferent heart or a skeptical heart? Come to God. He gives a new heart to all who trust His Son to save them and to transform them.
And if you will, let’s bow together in prayer.
Father, who can penetrate the human heart? Many come to a service like this with various defenses, various ideas. Would you grant them, Lord, the grace to say, “Search me, oh God, that I might see my heart and my need for You.”
And before I close this service, no matter where you are, no matter how you are listening, you can talk to God right now and say, “I receive Christ as my Savior. I need to be born again, to have a new heart implanted within me.” Would you tell Him that?
Father, we are helpless apart from Your divine intervention. Help us, Lord. Help us in this series of messages to be honest, to be realistic, to be transparent and to be obedient. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.