Steve Macchia Blog

The Caring Heart

One of my dearest friends called yesterday afternoon to say how thankful he is for our relationship. Within ten minutes of that call an email arrived from a colleague expressing heartfelt gratitude for helping her with a recent teaching opportunity. Earlier in the day we were served by a small group of beloved saints who offered their time and talent in our behalf. What did each person have in common? They cared enough to express their love in tangible and intangible ways. Their care-full-ness was and remains a gift I will treasure deeply and with all my heart.  Like the card company who coined the phrase, they too “cared enough to send the very best.” Their very best was their caring selves.

A caring heart is affectionate, helpful, and sympathetic toward someone or something that’s important to be concerned about. Those who serve in a caring profession express their care tangibly and attentively toward another, as a nurse, social worker, counselor, and/or physician might do.  They “take care” to follow up on words with actions which embody and fulfill their care-giving.  Likewise as believers, when invited to cast our cares upon God, we are urged to bring our worries, concerns, anxieties or fears to the One who desires to attend to them lovingly in our behalf. Whether by God or one of His emissaries, a caring heart is always a balm for our souls and is to be received as if they are the very arms and voice of God.  Who among us doesn’t have such a need each day?

Nestled within The Great Commandment (Matthew 22: 37: loving God with heart, soul, mind and strength) and The Great Commission (Matthew 28: 19,20: as we go, making disciples of all nations) is what some would describe as The Great Compassion. It’s found in Matthew 25: 35, 36, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

In Jesus’ understanding of a caring heart the hungry are fed, the thirsty are given drink, the stranger is welcomed, the needy are clothed, the sick are attended, and the imprisoned are visited.  Thus His admonition in Matthew 25: 40, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” A caring heart not only serves those within our reach, but more importantly to those who are less likely to be on our radar screen…the least, the lost, and the left behind.  Those who care enough to serve the impoverished are known as sheep by the Good Shepherd, but to those who ignore the needy are separated out as goats who are destined to eternal punishment.

In the gospels we read many stories of loving and caring hearts being expressed toward those in need. One of the most vivid is when a paralytic is being carried by his friends on a mat to lay him before Jesus to be healed. But when they noticed the crowd with Jesus was too large to enter the house, the stretcher bearers hoisted him up onto the roof and then proceeded to lower him on his mat through the roof tiles and into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus (Luke 5: 17-20).  Their heroism of helpfulness came forth from their helpful and caring hearts. When Jesus saw their faith, He said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven” and in that moment the presence and power of the Lord was offered to the paralytic, the faith of his friends were strengthened, and “everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, ‘We have seen remarkable things today’” (Luke 5: 26).

Blessed is the one who has a caring heart, and then acts upon it empathetically toward another. It’s one thing to consider a caring action and another thing altogether to act upon such an intuition. A caring heart both feels for a person or a principle, and then puts feet to those emotive responses with words and actions in support of another. Who around you or within your reach is in need of your caring heart? How will you express your care-full-ness today?

The Selfish Heart

A selfish-hearted person is someone who thinks first and foremost of self. Referred to as self-referencing, self-aggrandizing, or self-absorption, such a person can hardly see beyond oneself. Consumed by self-consideration, such a person can only find satisfaction when their needs are placed at the front of the line. Selfishness is defined as placing concern with oneself or one’s own interests, benefits or welfare above the well-being or regardless of the interests of others. Synonyms include egocentric, parsimonious, self-centered, self-indulgent, self-interested, self-seeking, wrapped up in oneself. It’s the opposite of unselfish, caring and kind. Narcissism is a modern form of excessive or exclusive selfishness. However, no matter the label, the manifestation isn’t pretty to all who surround such a person.

God’s opinion of selfishness is crystal clear. It is an act of the sinful nature (Galatians 5:19-21). It is present wherever disorder and evil is practiced (James 3: 16, 17). It is harbored alongside bitter envy in the heart (James 3: 13-15). It is the opposite of love and humility and contradicts the very heart of God. instead of selfishness, believers are urged by the Apostle Paul, “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2: 1-4).

Do nothing out of selfish ambition – those are strong words indeed. Nothing? Yes, nada, says God.

Imagine a life without selfishness. Is it possible? in a world filled with self-everything, can we begin to make a dent in this reality?  Only God’s Spirit can make such a crevice in our heart, separating self from godliness, beginning first in  the internal fibers of our being and extending outward into our words, attitudes, and actions. If the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) is to be evidenced in our hearts and lives, we must lean fully on the Spirit. We cannot break out of our self-centeredness without the Spirit of God residing in our hearts. The selfish heart can only be healed, restored, and redeemed by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, the only place where it’s legitimate to be selfish is in the opening up of ourselves to receive God’s Spirit. Finding the time and space to become attentive to God, noticing God, and receiving God is the largest, most looming need of the heart. Pressing the pause button of our fast-paced, me-centered lives and resting in the arms of Almighty God is the greatest comfort we can pursue. Anything less than that is an idol of our selfish heart.

So what will you do today to put your selfish heart into the hands of God, to mold and shape and transform you into a person who reflects God’s heart? Turn your heart toward home, which is the beautiful heart of God…and in prayerful trust, become God’s instrument of tenderness, compassion, and humility toward all who cross your path this and every new day.

The Thoughtful Heart

“Be careful what you think, your thoughts run your life” (Proverbs 4:23, The New Century Version).  This same verse is translated by the NIV as “Guard your heart, for it’s the wellspring of life.”  Heartfelt thoughtfulness is likened to the inner source of strength for the vitality of our livess…out of which pours forth blessing, honor, grace, peace, encouragement and love.  The Bible is replete with examples of how a thoughtful heart pleases God and empowers others. What are the thoughts which are resident deep within your heart today?

In one of his concluding admonitions, the Apostle Paul urges the Church in Philippi with this clear exhortation, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). These eight attributes of a thoughtful heart are worthy of our consideration as well.

1. True:  all that’s agreeable to the unchangeable, eternal truth, both in God’s Word and in the natural world

2. Noble:  whatever is honest, grave, or venerable in speech, in contrast to levity and frivolity that withholds integrity

3.  Right: that which is just between two individuals and in relationship between God and humankind, in opposition to injustice, violence and oppression

4.  Pure:  whatsoever is virtuous in word and deed, in agreement with the will of God and promotes holiness of heart and life

5.  Lovely:  that which cultivates and increases love, friendship, and cordiality among individuals, and which is lovely in the sight of God

6.  Admirable:  of good report, well spoken of, which leads to a name and a reputation which is precious, respectful, kind and virtuous

7. Excellent: the virtue of promoting the general good of all,  with outstanding merit, gracefulness, and godly intent

8. Praiseworthy:  deserving commendation by others due to the stewardship and generosity offered to all who cross one’s path

A thoughtful heart considers ways to fan into flame these eight attributes, all of which contribute to the health of the body and the expansion of the kingdom of God. When righteousness and holiness dominate our thoughts, then our hearts and lives are expressed in agreement with the seeds planted in our minds.  The most thoughtful people in our lives believe the best of God for the totality of our days, and pour courage into our hearts as a result. Choose thoughtfulness toward others and think about these things, letting them penetrate the deepest recesses of your spiritual mind and activate the richest charity toward others.

When the believer in Jesus Christ both practices and recommends these eight thoughtful exhortations, then the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ is fulfilled through the heart of the Church, for the sake of the heart of another, and for the expansion of the Kingdom of God here on earth.  The thoughtful heart is a true reflection of God’s heart, forever considerate of our best interests and our greatest needs. Will this become your prayer and the choice of your will as well?

The Rebellious Heart

Simply put, the rebellious heart says “No” to God. When we stiff-arm God, ignore His commandments, turn a deaf ear to His voice, and take matters into our own hands, we show forth our rebellion. One may consider a rebellious heart as only residing in a wicked person. But, in actuality, all of us experience our own form of rebellion during both the years or seasons when we turned away from or refused to acknowledge God, and in those random times when we stand fast in our prideful place and purposefully or inadvertently walk away from God in either heart, mind and/or action.

In the biblical text we see examples of the rebellious heart both in the life of the unbeliever and in the follower of God. in Isaiah we find this warning, “Woe to the obstinate children, to those who carry out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit, heaping sin upon sin” (Isaiah 30:1). He describes the rebellious with these words, “These are rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the Lord’s instruction…Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!” (Isaiah 30: 9-11).

In 1 Samuel 15 we learn about King Saul’s human condition. He was more concerned about man-pleasing than he was about serving God. He selectively obeyed some of God’s commands and manipulated others to fit his own desires. Because of his disobedient and rebellious heart, God removed his kingship. In defending his actions, Saul’s true heart was exposed by Samuel, “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams, for rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king” (1 Samuel 15: 22,23). Saul’s rebellion was paralleled to witchcraft, and his imperfections are in stark contrast to King David who was a man after God’s heart, despite his many imperfections.

Ultimately, it’s one’s rejection of the Word of God that kindles a rebellious heart. “If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable” (Proverbs 28:9). In other words, the prayers of a rebellious heart are an abomination to the Lord. This is one of the harshest words God uses to describe an action that He hates. But, consider why…if you turn your heart against God and against His Word, how would you have the audacity to pray to the very God you rebel against? Isaiah’s remedy to our rebellion? “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel says: in repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).
A rebellious heart refuses to repent. But, only in repentance and rest will a rebel find salvation. When a rebellious heart is open to God and willing to come clean before the Lord, then the loving Father welcomes that child home with a loving, eternal embrace. And that’s exactly what happens to the rebellious younger son in Luke 15. As the rebellious prodigal son comes to his senses and turns back home, the prodigal (another word for extravagant) God runs his direction to offer an embrace, a kiss, a robe, a ring, new sandals, and a party to celebrate his repentance and renewed trust in God.

“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6: 1,2). Is it time for you to reconsider the rebellious corners of your heart, where darkness and sin may reside? “Thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6: 17, 18). Confess those parts of you that reflect a rebellious heart and be set free to surrender into the fullness of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!