Welcome to Part One. You will find this section a little lengthy, but well worth the reading time. Enjoy!
Keep vigilant watch over your heart, that's where life starts (Proverbs 4:23)
Think about it: TV reality shows are very popular, with the most successful being American Idol. People come from all over to demonstrate their talent in front of three judges in the hopes of becoming the next American Idol. Jesus doesn't judge by the same standards as American Idol, but what criteria does He use to judge us?
Psychologists say our character, which is the content of our hearts, is formed by the time we are five years old. This means that no matter your age, your heart has already been set. Change can happen, but deep and lasting change will take genuine effort.
The experiences we have lived through and the choices we have made have shaped our hearts, thus creating the world we now live in. The things that happen in today's world; car wrecks, war, violence - including the Columbine tragedy, 9/11, and what you see on the news tonight - are almost totally the outcome of human choice. And since all choices come from the heart, renovation of the heart is the central issue and the only hope of a different world.
Other people's choices may have hurt you or your family has experienced some kind of tragedy. Your situation may be very painful and a comforting friend would mean a lot right now. But the key to healing and hope for the future is how you respond to what has happened to you, and that response will come from your heart according to how it has been formed. With God's help, a carefully cultivated heart will foresee, forestall, or transform a painful situation. But a heart that has not been cultivated in this way, when faced with tragedy, will probably just helplessly ask, "Why?"
The next six lessons will help you develop a good foundation for the rest of the book.
Prayer: Loving God, give us eyes to look deep inside our hearts, for that is where life begins. Take everything in us that needs changing. Transform our hearts so that we can respond to every situation in a way that reflects Your love. Come renovate our hearts, Lord. We're ready!
Lesson One: Jesus' Strategy Is Unique - He Works From The Inside Out
Revolution: A fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something; a change of paradigm.
The American Revolution was a bloody war that supposedly shaped many of the written values and beliefs of our nation. Yet many Americans today don't know what these values and beliefs are, don't care, or don't really live them out in their lives. This revolution was influential at the time, but has lost steam in the years since.
Consider the little girl who threw a temper tantrum because whe did not get her way. When her mother demanded that she sit down and take a time-out, the little girl refused. The mother then threatened to spank her, so the girl sat down. Folding her arms and letting out a big rush of air, she said, "I may be sitting down on the outside, but I am standing up on the inside." A revolution did not occur in the little girl's heart.
Jesus is a revolutionary and has a vision and plan to change the world. But, unlike the two examples above, He understands our nature and has a different strategy for encouraging our behaviors to match our hearts. He knows we live and make choices from our heart, so his revolution targets the renovation of our hearts' values, beliefs, and practices. In the world Jesus wants to bring about, the tragedies previously listed would not happen because people would choose to live differently - from the heart.
Jesus had no intent to overthrow the Roman government or to have Caesar's job. His kingdom was to be totally different. His kingdom was and is spiritual. His base of operations is not an office, but our hearts. Through our relationship with Him and other Christians, He begins to reform our beliefs, ideals, feelings, and habits of choice. This internal change governs our actions, bodily tendencies, and relationships with others. Righteous behavior flows from a heart governed by Him.
From the divinely renovated heart, social structures, such as government, will naturally be transformed so the "justice rolls down like water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (Amos 5:24). Such streams cannot flow from corrupted souls. On the flip side, a renovated heart will not cooperate or participate with public streams of unrighteousness. For example; you may experience a great deal of public pressure from friends, relatives, and others to think or act in a way that is inappropriate. A renovated heart will not bow down to this pressure and participate in words or acts that are unrighteous, even if it means being rejected.
Those of us who have Christ in our hearts are being instructed by Him so that we may "be blameless and harmless, children of God, faultless in the midst of a twisted and misguided generation, from within which they shine as lights in the world, lifting up a word of life" (Philippians 2:15-16). This is God's vision for you and for His church. The church is His primary agent of change to bring about His kingdom - not by imposing morality on others from the outside but through the power of renovated hearts, one person at a time.
Prayer: Lord, change us from the inside out. Instruct us so that we can be Your righteous children and be able to change the direction of our misguided generation. We want to shine like lights in this dark world. Cause a revolution in our hearts!
Lesson 2: Face The Facts - What's On The Inside Shows Up On The Outside
Over time, our faces take on the outward expression of what is inside us. If we wear a scowl or our mouths naturally curve down, or if we have stress lines on our foreheads, it may indicate we choose to allow ourselves to be angry or stressed about life. Likewise, if our mouths naturally curve upward, it may mean we have chosen to face life with a positive attitude. Of course, this may not always be a good indicator as the structure of our face may be genetic. But the next time you are out, without being judgmental or mean, look at peoples faces and consider what their facial structures tell you.
Oscar Wilde said our faces reflect the choices we have made over the years. Remember, choices come from our heart, so here's the dilemma. We cannot always see the deep, inner dimensions of our hearts or know why we think or feel a certain way or why we choose to do what we do. The heart is very devious and complicated at times. In order to renovate our hearts, there must be a change. This is where God comes in and helps as He sees our hearts in full color. That is why the Psalmist cries out, "Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalm 139:23-24).
Look in the mirror at your own face, the face God has given you. Some things go away, like acne, and some lines and features are not there yet. Every day you live, you make choices that will shape your face. Plastic surgery may be able to change the shape of our faces for a while, but it can't change the shape of our hearts. Only Christ can do that.
Look Deeply: As you're looking in the mirror, consider your face. Look deeply, from your face to your eyes to your inner being. Do you think your face accurately represents who you are on the inside? Are there smile lines? Forehead wrinkles? What do your eyes say? As you look at the reflection of your inner being, consider areas of your life that you want to renovate.
Lesson 3: Science Class Misses The Heart - The Spiritual Life Is The Center Of Life
Science: Such knowledge or such a system of knowledge concerned with the physical world and its phenomena.
From 1 to 10, how would you rate science class? Maybe a 5 or below? If you are a future doctor or scientist, you probably really like it. Science deals with the physical world - things we can see, smell, touch, hear, and taste. Since Jesus created everything in the physical world it is good, and gives science teachers something to talk about.
However, Jesus says science misses the heart. He said, "It takes more than bread to stay alive" (Matthew 4:4). If we want to live, it takes more than eating physical bread. We must take in the bread that feeds the soul. This spiritual bread guides how we think and feel, what we do and why, and what kind of character we will have. What is this spiritual bread? Or better, who is this spiritual bread? Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 6:35). If we constantly feast ourselves on the presence of Christ, we can live the life of the renovated heart.
Lesson 4: Jesus And Oprah Are Not Talking About The Same Thing - Renovation Doesn't Come From Human Effort Apart From God
Pick up a copy of a popular magazine or watch a few shows of Oprah, and you will probably see a good portion of time dedicated to how the physical world looks, especially our bodies. Sections of these magazines and TV episodes are focused on the development of a high-quality inner life, offering suggestions on how we have the power within ourselves to make positive changes apart from God.
Jesus would say this is attempting to accomplish the right thing (the transformation of the inner life, the heart) with the wrong tool (human ability). Consider what the Apostle Paul said: "Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain - if it really was in vain?" (Galatians 3:3-4).
Here's the deal: If we want to experience a genuine renovation of the Heart, we can't do it with our own strength. We need God's help. Jesus and Oprah are not talking about the same thing.
Prayer: Dear God, would You do an examination of our hearts? Ask us tough questions until the truth of who we really are is revealed. Help us to see beyond knowledge and human effort. Satisfy our hearts with the Bread of Life. We need Your strength to bring about real changes within us.
Lesson 5: Who Are You Wearing? - Renovation Involves Dressing Our Hearts In Christ
How people dress is a big deal. But the popular brand of clothing being worn will change quickly. Trends always do. The Bible tells us that as Christians we should pay attention to more than just our clothes. It actually says, "Dress yourselves in Christ" (Romans 13:14).
Many people have tried to dress like Christ outwardly without an inward transformation first. They dress themselves in behaviors they call Christian, and yet their hearts do not have the connection with Christ that really matters. This outward spiritual dress takes on many styles; they might wear a robe and sandals, men may keep their hair short, girls may wear dresses well below their knees, or someone may wear a W.W.J.D. bracelet or have a Christian fish decal on their car. These things are not bad in and of themselves. However, you can do all these things and still never experience what it really means to dress in Christ.
Clothing ourselves in Christ is spiritual formation. This refers to the Spirit-driven process of forming the inner part of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ Himself. As this happens, our outer lives, our spiritual clothing, becomes a natural expression of the teaching and character of Jesus because we start to look like Him on the inside.
So if you are serious about this renovation thing, it doesn't matter what brand of clothing you are wearing. If you are becoming like Christ on the inside, it will bleed through on the outside and show your true colors - that you are undeniably a child of Jesus.
Lesson 6: Jesus' Way Is Easier - Renovation Focuses On Who We Are In Our Hearts, Not On Our Hard Work To Act Like Jesus On The Outside
Say you attend a college and you have a group of friends. A new student shows up who is not good looking, dresses differently, and comes from a poor family. Your classmates make fun of them and you know it's just a matter of time before they do this to their face. You know they are doing this to build up their own weak identities. You know this because you have done it yourself from time to time.
You decide to reach out to this student, not because you care about them, but because you think it's the Christian thing to do. You risk being ridiculed and rejected by the students who currently accept you.
Two things happen. First, the other students (some of them your friends) start whispering negative things about you. Second, you weren't expecting it to be so difficult to befriend this person. They appreciate what you are doing, but they are a little weird and not much fun to be around. You feel you have made a mistake. You are angry with your friends, the new student, even yourself. You feel the future is hopeless - all because you tried to do the right thing and care about someone.
While we should always do the best we can in outward actions, if we focus only on this element, we will end up in defeat. This is because we are not in control of all the outer factors. They move on us. They usually turn out to be different from what we expected.
We will discover in the chapters to come that if we focus on our inner character and our relationship with Christ, we will be able to weather any downturn in fortune that life may throw at us. He will be the source of our love.
Trying to act loving on our own doesn't go deep enough and often fails. Instead, it is love itself - not just loving behavior - that must drive our actions. It must come from our hearts. We must begin with a genuine inner readiness and longing to secure the good of others. Jesus' strategy begins with who we are, not with what we do or how we act.
Something radically new has to take place in our hearts for true love to flow from us. We have to become loving on the inside before we'll be successful in acts of love on the outside.
Have you tried loving others and experienced the difficulty of sticking with it? Jesus' way is easier. Here's what Jesus says about the life He offers you: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30).
Prayer: Dear Lord, help us to realize that what matters is Jesus in our hearts. We want Your Spirit to change the way our hearts are dressed. We want to become people who look like Jesus and who really live like Him, too.
Wrap Up: Let's review the principles from these lessons:
* Jesus' strategy is unique - He works from the inside out
* Face the facts - What's on the inside shows up on the outside.
* Science class misses the heart - The spiritual life is the center of life.
* Jesus and Oprah are not talking about the same thing - Renovation doesn't come from human effort apart from God.
* Who are you wearing? - Renovation involves dressing our hearts in Christ.
* Jesus' way is easier - Renovation focuses on who we are in our hearts, not on our hard work to
act like Jesus on the outside.
Prayer: God, turn us inside out. Give us Your strength and Your life so we can be in the middle of the big thing You are doing in our world. Put the Jesus label on our hearts. Change our focus from doing to being. We are part of the renovation revolution!
Next week: Part 2 - Renovating The Parts Of Me