Guard Your Heart

(The following is a transcript of Steve Carter’s message Guard Your Heart, part two of the series Where’s God in All of This? The video is also available to you.)

We are in week two, the book of Esther, Where’s God in All of This? And we’re gonna do something a little bit different. Usually, when you kind of do a deep dive in a book, you start at the beginning of a chapter—we’re not gonna do that. I’m gonna start at the very end of the chapter, because I love movies that start at the end and, all of a sudden, you’re like, “What is going on? What is happening? Where is this movie going?” And then, all of a sudden, it just makes sense.

And I think chapter three does that. So I want to like start at the very end of chapter three and just start working back to the beginning. Now, in chapter three, it ends with an incredible sentence. It just says this: “The king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was bewildered.” Remember, from last week, the king was King Xerxes. He was this megalomaniac. Very insecure. But very, very powerful. And now he’s got this guy named Haman. And they’re sitting down to drink. And Haman is like his new right-hand man. He has risen in power and great influence. And they’re sitting down at the end of the day to drink and, yet, the capital city of Susa is bewildered. It’s perplexed. It’s in a state of confusion.

And here’s the truth. There are things that you do each and every day that bewilder people around you. There are things that you do each and every day that confuse and perplex those people that are closest to you. There are things that other people do each and every day that bewilder you. Perplex you. Confuse you. And, right now, the king and his right-hand man, Haman, are sitting down to drink, and the entire capital city is bewildered. Which makes you ask the question, “Why? Why are they in such a state of confusion?”

Look at verse thirteen. It says this: “Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews—young and old, women and children on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. A copy of the text of the edict was to be issued as law in every province and made known to the people of every nationality so they would be ready for that day.”

Why is the city bewildered? Because a decree has just been issued for mass genocide. For the Jews to be exterminated. I mean, heavy stuff. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen or felt the effects of a genocide. In the year 2000, I found myself in Rwanda. I’m walking around... and I see the effects of a genocide. Many of you know this. The U.N. reports, in one hundred days, that somewhere between 800,000 and 1,000,000 people were killed. Two tribes going at each other. And even to this day, you’ll be walking, and you’ll see people who are just missing limbs... cause of genocide.

And all throughout the Persian empire, couriers are getting on horses. They have all of the papers, and they’re bringing it from Ethiopia, to India, up to Pakistan—the entire Persian empire. And they’re making this decree that, in twelve months, all on one day, every Jewish person you see will be killed.

The city is just confused. Bewildered.

But, like, how does a genocide get decreed? How does someone ever dream up that idea?

Well, you gotta get the king’s blessing on that. So look at what happens on verse eight: “Then Haman said to King Xerxes, ‘There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them.’” Very fascinating line.

Right now, this is a fabrication of a story. And Haman is fabricating a story, trying to get the king’s appeal. And he begins to say, “There are people who are separate from you. There are people who are different from you. And there are people who do not obey you. And because of that, you don’t need to tolerate them.”

Now, “tolerate” is an interesting word... because Xerxes’ grandfather, if you remember from last week, was this king named Cyrus the Great. And everyone would say that he created the first Bill of Human rights. He was known as a very tolerant king. He would go and overtake different countries and cities, but he didn’t harm those people. He actually brought them, empowered them, freed them, in many ways, to work with him to build the Persian empire. And, all of a sudden, Haman is now telling Xerxes, “Forget about your grandfather. They are separate from you, they’re different from you, they don’t obey you—do not respect them. Do not tolerate them.” And then he says these words: “If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will give ten thousand talents of silver to the king’s administrators for the royal treasury.”

So, all of a sudden, he goes, “Hey, please, if this isn’t you, you don’t wanna deal with these people, you don’t wanna tolerate them. If it’s what you want, would you destroy all the Jews? And I’ll actually bankroll it. I will give you ten thousand silver talents from my own Chase bank account. I will give it to you.”

Now, you gotta think about this for a second. How many Jews were there? At the lowest estimate that I could find, was that there were 120,000 Jews living in exile throughout the Persian empire. Ten thousand talents means that one silver talent was worth twelve Jews. It breaks your heart. So what would cause someone to make this decree? What would cause someone to fabricate a story? You gotta get to the thing beneath the thing—you just gotta keep searching.

Look at this. Verse two, chapter three: “All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor.”

Now, everywhere Haman went, because he was the right-hand man of the king, every person in the Persian empire was commanded to kneel down and to pay honor. So you kneel like this. “To pay honor” means to lay prostrate on the ground. How awesome would that be? Everywhere you went, people are like just looking at the ground.

Except Mordecai. Mordecai doesn’t do it. Mordecai just stays standing. And this does something within Haman. Look at verse five. It says this, “Day after day—” that’s verse four; verse five says, “When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged. Yet having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes.”

Do you see what’s going on? Here. I want to explain it through a little bit of a prop. This represents a piece of fruit. And the truth is many of us in this room are fixated by fruit—bad fruit or good fruit. But God... God’s not necessarily so fixated about the fruit. The truth is there’s something that is allowing this fruit to grow. And for Haman, he fabricates a story, and he gets the king to buy that lie that there are people who are separating themselves. People who are different. People who aren’t worthy to be tolerated.

And what you begin to see with Haman, is you see, before he even fabricates this story, underneath that, to make it grow to this bad fruit, he plots, and he looks, the Scriptures say, for a way to destroy the Jewish people. But there’s something—why would he look to destroy the Jewish people? Well, the Scriptures say that he gets enraged. He finds himself just so enraged with Mordecai. And this rage makes him create this story to try and destroy and plot the Jews to fabricate a story so that a genocide can be decreed.

But there’s a thing beneath the thing beneath the thing. And it’s at a root level. And what was the root of this entire genocide decree? At the root, most basic level was the fact that Mordecai wouldn’t kneel and pay him honor. So because Mordecai won’t pay him honor and kneel down, he gets enraged, he plots to destroy the Jews, he fabricates a story, and then the king buys it, and the decree is set.

Friends, we are fixated with bad fruit. But let me tell you, God is fixated on the root. On the process that is leading us to the decisions and bearing not-the-best-kind-of fruit. And the truth is many of us in this room are like Haman.

I experienced this in the year 2008. I was leaving my grandma’s house with my wife and my eight-month-old. We’re driving in our little Honda Civic, and it’s in a bad snow storm. It’s the end of December, and I’m driving, and I’m going down this one little road on my way back to our house, when a huge chunk of ice comes flying through the sky and hits our windshield, cracks our windshield. I swerve, begin to kind of slide in our little Civic, get it straightened out. And I realize, all tense, somebody... just threw a chunk of ice at me.

And my wife is like, “Just forget about it, it’s okay. Everything’s okay.”

And I’m like, “There’s a crack in the windshield.”

And she’s like, “It’s okay, just keep going.”

I’m like, “No!” And I whip the Honda Civic around. I pull over, in a snow storm, leave my wife and my eight-month-old on the side of the road. I open up the door, and I see people running. And I’m like, “Ohhh, you’re gonna get it.” And I yell out, “I’ve called the police! You cracked my windshield! I’m coming for you!”

And so I run across two lanes of traffic. I come to an embankment. I think I can jump it. I try to jump it. Midway through, I realize I can’t jump it. I land through a patch of snow that’s just covering a whole bunch of water, and I land in water up to my waist, soaking wet, cold water. And I’m like, “Ah! You’re gonna get it! Ah.” And I’m like, “I’m gonna find you! I’m gonna chase you down. The cops are coming.” And I am running through a field that leads up to a suburban neighborhood... like a crazy person.

I finally get to the suburban neighborhood, and I’ve seen CSI, friends—I know how to do this. I walk out into the middle of the street, I close my eyes, and I just start to kind of turn, cause I’m trying to listen, do I hear a door? A garage door? A car? What is going on? I’m looking for my detective skills, when I hear... the garage door closing.

I look over. Three doors down, there it is. And I take off running. Soaking-wet pants. Huffing and puffing. I knock on that door, and a man opens it.

And I said, “Excuse me, sir. Any chance college-aged student, high-school student, came running in just a second ago?”

“No. But my sixth grader and his buddy just ran in.”

And I was like... now, just, mind you, I am a junior-high pastor at this time. And I said, “Uh, can I have a word with them?”

He’s like, “Yeah, sure. Why are your pants wet?”

“Ah, it’s a long story. Um, can you just go get them?”

All of a sudden, I see two junior-high students coming down the stairs, and they are shaking. Like puppies. Shaking and scared with every step. They can’t even look me in the eyes. And it’s at this moment I hear this profound whisper from God that just simply goes, “Who’s the crazy person?”

The father says, “Oh, here they are. Did you wanna say something?”

And I don’t know what to say. There’s part of me that just wants to scream, but I know the fool that I just made of myself. So I just look at them. And I just go, “Hey, guys, I just wanted to tell you, that was a really nice shot.” And I walk away.

And as I’m walking away, I started to think, What led me to chase down sixth graders in a snow storm and leave my wife and eight-month-old stranded on the side of the road? Maybe it’s because I’d just left my grandparents’ house, and we were on the verge of moving to California. And that was gonna be the last meal I was gonna have with them for a while. And maybe underneath that was the fact that, on my way to my grandparents’ house, the people who were supposedly buying my house backed out. And maybe, in 2008, I was feeling the effects of the big three, and nobody was moving to Michigan, and I was feeling deeply afraid and scared. And at the root of the root of the root, the thing beneath the thing... I wasn’t sure if we were gonna be able to sell the house. And I was not sure that God was gonna take care and provide. And in that moment, I was given a gift, when a piece of ice hit my windshield, that allowed me to get to the thing beneath the thing.

Think about your marriage. You ever had a moment in your relationship when someone just gave you the quiet treatment? The silent treatment? They stonewalled you. They huffed and they puffed, and every time you walked in the room, they’re like, “Ugh, no. Mm mm. Mm mm. Mm mm mm.”

And you’re like, “What did I do?”

And you think, underneath that, you realize, oh, you were asked to do one thing, one job. You had one job. And you didn’t do it. And the truth is they’ve been asking you to do that one job for four weeks. And you have not done it. You’ve made excuse after excuse after excuse. And underneath that, there’s this part of this person that’s feeling, Does my voice even matter in this marriage? And at the root level, the thing beneath the thing, is this question: “Does what I say—is it really valued? Does it really matter? Do I really matter?”

I see some of you squirming right now. Is this hitting home?

Think about you at work. You ever had a meeting, and your boss in the marketplace, comes in, takes over the meeting, just starts verbally assaulting employees, and people are like zap, zap zap—just done. They’re just laying there, and you’re like, “Man, all of the damage just is around the table.” And you’re like, “What were you thinking? I’m bewildered and confused. Why are you doing this?”

Well, maybe it’s because one of the people showed up ten minutes late to the meeting. And maybe the person who was driving the meeting wasn’t prepared to lead the meeting. And maybe, underneath that, all of the stock holders and board members have been emailing this boss saying, “Do you feel the pressure? You have to perform.” And underneath that, you have this boss who feels like it’s all on him. The thing beneath the thing is that he’s alone. It’s all on him. And he looks and goes, “Nobody gets it. Nobody wants it. I gotta do it all.” And so the bad fruit just gets lashed out.

Think about your family. You ever had that moment with your child—or maybe this is how you interacted with your parents sometimes. You’re in the car, and you’re just silent. And then finally your parent just tries to interact with you, and then you just have a moment where... you just lash out. And you say things to your mom or you say things to your dad that you never, ever meant to say, but it just comes out. And you’re like, “Wow. Why?”

Well, maybe, because they picked you up fifteen minutes late... and they said they wouldn’t. And underneath that, that’s not just the first time that they’ve picked you up late. Maybe they’ve picked you up late three times in the last two weeks. And maybe underneath that you just don’t feel like you’re that important to your parents. And maybe underneath that, the thing beneath the thing, is that work is more important to mom or dad than I am.

Maybe you’ve had this with a friend. And a friend just rages or slanders or gossips. And what they say, it just confuses and perplexes you. But underneath that, there’s a story. And underneath that, there’s a story. And deep down, it’s probably some comparison, or someone felt like they were better, and they had to take that person down. And all they wanted to be seen and noticed, but they weren’t. And, all of a sudden, it just led to this bad fruit.

Think about addictions. You see a family member, you see a friend, and they’re high again. They’re passed out again. And we just see the bad fruit. And we just see that. But God isn’t fixated on the bad fruit. God is fixated on the root. And there’s a story, and there’s a thing beneath the thing that led to that bad fruit.

And the problem is many of us don’t know how to name it. And so everything that we do, the decisions that we make, many of us are just perplexing, bewildering, and confusing people. Cause this is what roots do. Roots go out and they look to attach to something. And when they attach to something, it gives them energy, and it gives them sustenance, and it gives them life that will feed them so they can produce a certain kind of fruit. Which begs me to ask a simple question, friends:

What are you attaching to?

Are you attaching to negative emotions, negative stories? Are you attaching to things that are just filling you with all of this negative power that’s creating a story within you that is producing bad fruit—that is bewildering, confusing, and perplexing those around you?

What are you attaching to?

Friends, I think—and you might not know this, but I believe that there is a little author that lives inside of you. And whenever you attach yourself to some sense of negativity, there’s this person that just begins to feed your brain with a story about that person, about that company, about that group of people, and just says, “They’re all like that. They’re just bad. Get cynical. Lash out.”

And it just starts feeding, and many of us just hold on to this negativity, and it just keeps building and building and building, till we bear bad fruit that bewilders, confuses, and perplexes everyone around us. And it gets to the point where some of us just gotta go, “I gotta stop attaching to this.”

And Jesus spoke about this. Remember in John chapter fifteen? He’s speaking to, “What are you abiding? What are you attaching to? What are you remaining in?” And he says this, in John 15:5, “If you remain in me”—if you abide in me, if you attach yourself to me, if you make your residence, your home, in me—“and I in you, you will bear much fruit;” but apart from me, you can’t do anything. “You can do nothing.”

Do you really believe that?

What Jesus is saying is, “If you attach yourself to me, I will give you strength. I will give you power. I will ground you, and you will bear the best kind of fruit. The kind of fruit that is sustainable even in the darkest, hardest, most profound and beautiful times. But apart from me, you can’t do a thing. It’s just gonna be bad fruit. It’s not gonna be sustainable.”

What are you attaching to?

I like how Paul says it in a prayer to the church in Ephesus in chapter three of the book of Ephesians. He says, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and [how] long, how high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

What’s Paul saying here? He’s saying that “I pray that your internal world, your inner being, your heart... is attaching and rooted in the profound love of Christ. Not anything else.”

What are you attaching to?

A second question you really have to start to ask yourself centers on how are you guarding your heart? See, there’s a question about of attaching, but there’s another thing of like, “Am I actually guarding my heart?” Because my heart is basically the roots, and every day, in conversations, our heart is looking for connection, it’s looking to be seen, it’s looking to be noticed—it’s looking to attach itself. And oftentimes, I meet so many of us, who don’t know how to guard our heart.

And then we attach. And we get angst and negativity, and it builds and it builds and it builds, and we create story after story after story, and we bear bad fruit. And it bewilders and it confuses and it perplexes everyone around us.

And I just wonder, how are you guarding your heart? Proverbs 4:23 just simply says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” You gotta guard it.

How protective are you of your heart?

Everything, every decision, every choice you make, every value you uphold—everything, the Scripture says, flows from this. And if it’s not attached and holding and getting its life and energy from the goodness of God’s love, then it’s getting it from somewhere else. And everything you do, everything that you bear, will flow from that place. What are you attaching to, and how are you guarding your heart? That’s what roots do.

ave any of you ever felt unseen?

And you just start writing a story.

Have any of you ever been in a meeting, and you felt small?

And you start writing a story.

Have you ever been in a conversation and you overheard someone slandering or creating rumors about you?

And it just builds, and it writes a story.

And all of this negativity, just like roots, it builds, and we write a story, and we bear bad fruit. But I don’t want that for you. As one of your pastors, I don’t want you to have go through life spending so much heart space and head space dealing with all of this negativity within you—bearing the kind of fruit that people look at and go, “I want nothing to do with that.”

I want you to be the kind of people that have attached yourself to the goodness of God, to His love, and it just begins to flow, and you’re telling to yourself stories of who you are in Christ. And because of what Christ has done for you, and being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, and bearing such unbelievably, undeniable, good fruit that people go, “I want some of that.” That’s what our world needs.

 So how do you do it? That’s the question, right? Cause every one of us, we’ve all attached to something, gotten all worked up, told our self a story, stonewalled, lashed out, shut down, turned to something other than Christ to sooth us and tell us we’re okay. We’ve all done that. We’ve all bewildered, confused, and perplexed people.

 

But how do we live a life that compels, provokes, and inspires people by good fruit? I’m going to tell you four things. Four ways in which you can bear the best kind of fruit.

Number one, you must create space. And I know, our culture, we do not live with margin. Our schedules are packed upon packed upon packed upon packed. And so, when we have these moments, we don’t have the space to reflect, to sit in silence, to listen, to get really in tune to our inner world. We just stay busy. Just keep going. Just do, do, do. That’s what we do. And, you know what, it’s like our legend of this whole story that we’re writing is the Energizer Bunny—I just keep going and going and going. And I’ll tell you, honestly, his battery dies. You never see it on the commercial, but the battery dies. And many of you are dying on the inside. Cause you have not created the right space to sit. To breathe. To reflect. And to really get after the thing beneath the thing. You create space.

Number two. You gotta name the root. Don’t get fixated on the bad fruit. Cause some of you are so smart, you know, Oh, I got a problem with drinking? I can knock that out. And you just rip that branch off, but you never deal with the thing beneath the thing, you never get after the root. And yet that same story of addiction just doesn’t go to drinking anymore. It just goes to gambling, or some other thing that you could be addicted. In AA, they just call it a dry drunk. And many of us, who don’t name the root, and we just start ripping branches off like, “Okay, I won’t do that anymore. I’m not gonna do that anymore. I’m not gonna do that anymore.” But you never get at the root.

And the greatest disciples that I know, they have created space, and they invite God and the Spirit to show them what’s at the root. Can you name your root? What are you attaching to, other than the goodness of God’s love? What is feeding you? And what are you writing stories and telling stories to yourself that is producing the bad fruit?

 You gotta name the root.

Now, the third one’s a little unique. You create space. You name the root. But, for many of us, we find out, a little bit... that something is happening probably around here. We haven’t yet beared any bad fruit, but we know something isn’t right. And number three: You’ve gotta learn how to play it out and play it back. And what I mean by this is simply this: When you get to this point, play it out. So you’re frustrated with your spouse, or with a friend. Just play it out. You know what I’m gonna do? I’m not gonna call them back. And I’m gonna just stonewall them. And I’m gonna create distance. And then ask yourself, Is that really the best, most healthy version of yourself? No.

Play it back. What’s the most healthy version of yourself? It’s naming the root and going, “You know what? I didn’t feel seen.” Have that conversation. “I felt alone.” Have that conversation. “I didn’t feel like we were in this together as a team.” Have that conversation. “I felt like you powered up and just made me feel small.” Have that conversation. But that requires you having the discernment and the wisdom to play it out and to play it back. To create space, name the root, play it out, play it back, and number four, which is the hardest one, detach and attach.

Detach and attach. And this is it. This is at your root level. When you know that you have named your root, it’s going to require you to detach yourself from that negative feeling. From that storyline about that person, those people, they don’t get it. You have to detach yourself from that, and you have to do the very disciplined Holy-Spirit-hard-work of attaching yourself back to God’s storyline. To finding your sustenance, your energy, your life, in the love of God through Christ.

And for many of us, this, you feel. You feel worked up. You feel angry. You feel shame. You feel something. And many of us, this is that familiar feeling. And what we have to do is learn to detach and say, “That’s not my story anymore.” And choose to reattach ourselves back to God’s story.

And this, honestly, happens to me a couple times a day. Detach and attach. Play it out. Play it back. Name the root. Create space. And if you do this... I don’t think you’re going to bewilder people. I don’t think you’re going to perplex people. I don’t think you’re going to confuse people with a life filled with bad fruit. I think you’re going to compel people. Provoke people. And inspire people to what a life lived that goes deep and deep and deep... in God’s love. That’s what I want for you.

May you create space. May you name the root. May you play it out, play it back. May you learn how to detach and attach yourself. And may you get to the thing beneath the thing so that you can always bear the best kind of fruit. Amen?