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Heart Issues

By Dan Baumgartner on
Dan Baumgartner
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Jun 29 in Musings
I’ve been reading Proverbs this month, that pithy and sometimes profound list of wisdom sayings that follows the book of Psalms.  I tripped over Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
Guard your heart.  That could mean don’t slide down the slippery slope to bitterness. If
we have been hurt by other people, betrayed in some way, it is easy to sip the cup of resentment. If we have been wronged by family, boss, company or an unjust system, we often put on the glasses of bitterness and see everything else through that lens.     

Guard your heart. It could speak to getting worn down and becoming hard-hearted.  Our city of LA is at the top of cities struggling with homelessness. Much of our urban ministry work at Hollywood Presbyterian is with our friends on the street. But when we drive around the city or the neighborhood and see the dirty tents and the garbage everywhere, it wears us down. We harden our hearts. We begin to see only problems to be solved, not people who are hurting. We use terms like “the homeless issue” or “the poor” rather than Steve or Janine or Wolf.  Our hearts grow brittle and critical.

Guard your heart.  The world is a mess. Our country has so many struggles. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, the volume of rude, selfish and narrow rhetoric is breathtaking. It is easy to think we should just insulate ourselves from all of it and watch out for #1.  We close off from neighbors, from other parts of the city, from other nations. We focus on borders and fences and walls, not gates. Isolation seems an attractive strategy for survival. Maybe it is the way to survive...but it’s not the way to thrive.

 Following Jesus prohibits all these options. Living Kingdom lives is not an invitation to bitterness or hard-heartedness or isolation. Quite the opposite, of course. But how do we avoid these pitfalls in a troubled and real world? How do our hearts thrive when there is so much that would make us cynical?

The Apostle Paul points us in a good direction in Philippians 4:7. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Maybe guarding our hearts isn’t just up to us. Maybe it has more to do with the work God is doing in us. Maybe if we lean into Christ Jesus, he will keep our hearts clear and soft and open to others.  Paul even hints at a place for us to start. In the verse before this one, he encourages thankfulness. And in other places, to give thanks in all circumstances.  It may just be possible that focusing on gratitude is a healthy way to guard our hearts. It’s certainly worth a try.
See you soon,
              Pastor Dan

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