“Judah’s sin is engraved with an iron tool,
inscribed with a flint point,
on the tablets of their hearts
and on the horns of their altars.
Even their children remember
their altars and Asherah poles
beside the spreading trees
and on the high hills.”
Jeremiah 17:1-2 (NIV)
Wendy and I were sitting in the back row in our usual spot among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. Worship was beginning when I felt a tap on my shoulder.
He stood there looking like a lost puppy. Shoulders slumped, head downcast, and his face covered in a thick veneer of shame.
“I’m drunk,” he whispered in my ear, though my olfactory senses picked up on this long before his quaking voice told me.
“I’m glad you’re here,” I responded, placing my arm around his shoulders and pulling him in tight.
I didn’t know this man’s story, but I immediately read his heart. That is a familiar script. It’s just like Hollywood, or the Hallmark Channel who tell the same story over and over again simply switching out names, settings, and actors. I didn’t need to know this man’s particulars. I sensed the story. It’s was a tragedy of life and relationships that had long ago engraved false words of defeat and shame on his heart. He had been self medicating for who knows how long. I didn’t know if he’d already hit rock bottom or if something had scared him enough to know that he was falling fast. His movie eventually ends one of two ways: a dark tragedy, or a tale of redemption.
The people whom the ancient prophet Jeremiah is addressing are not unlike a corporate version of the same storyline. In today’s chapter, Jeremiah reads the false words of defiance and rebellion on their hearts. They had been repeatedly cut-into their hearts for generations like a lost teenager cutting the words of their shame into their flesh with a razor blade. Over time the words become scar tissue that keep building up with increasing hardness.
Jeremiah had watched as King Josiah tried to impose change through institutional legal demand, but Jeremiah observed what I mentioned a week or two ago: Dictates Don’t Change Hearts. In today’s chapter, Jerry notices that it was not just the adults with sin and rebellion carved on their hearts no matter what the King said was legal or illegal. These types of internal messaging get passed down through the generations. Josiah may have destroyed the idols and burned them into ashes, but it didn’t make a lick of difference, even in the hearts of children whose parents had impressed their thoughts and behavior onto their children from the womb.
Behavior modification will never change a scarred heart.
My arm wrapped around my intoxicated friend, I asked him to look around the room as my free hand gestured across the small crowd gathered there. There are a bunch of people in that room who have found themselves a character in basically the same movie, myself included. The script is just a little different from person-to-person. In that room are addicts, ex-cons, liars, cheats, and adulterers whose hearts were hardened and scarred, but then they experienced a personal encounter with Jesus who spiritually performed a cardiac transplant described by Jeremiah’s colleague, Ezekiel:
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
Ezekiel 36:26 (NIV)
As my hand swept over the crowd and described these transplant patients to my new friend, I was aware that there are others who are still trying to do the behavior modification thing. There always will be. The human condition hasn’t changed since the days of Jeremiah. There will always be those who dress up their lives in a religious facade in hopes that no one will notice their scarred heart and the things it leads them to do in the dark when no one is looking. They are in a little bit different movie, but it’s also a well-worn storyline that’s been told a million different ways. The similarity is in the same two endings to which the story leads, tragedy or redemption, dependent on the same choice between heart transplant or not.
“Just keep coming,” I told my friend before praying over him.
The last time I ran into him he had a smile on his face. He was standing erect. There was life in his eyes and light in his countenance. As we walked together, he shared with me that there had been a change in his life, but I knew it before he said it just as I knew he was drunk that one day before he said it.
The tell-tale signs of a spiritual heart transplant were evident.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.