Rotting the Soul and Hardening the Heart

By John J. Blanchard

Good morning everybody.  When we look at the society in which we live and we want to take the pulse of society or get the feeling for where we stand as a nation and as a people, there are certain things that we often talk about.  People look at the economy or they look at the jobs report.  There are all kinds of barometers of the economy.  What I want to talk about today is a different way of taking the pulse of society, and that is, how they spend their leisure time.

There is an old saying I want to start with that my parents used to use and I know it was a common saying in the previous generations.  That is, “idleness is the devil’s workshop.”  When we look at our personal lives and the lives of the people in general throughout our countries, there is a certain amount of time that is structured time or needed time that can’t be infringed upon.  Examples would be work, school, or sleep.  These are all obligations or necessities that we have to take care of everyday.  They are, you might say, predominant, or they reign predominant in our lives.

Then we have our personal time or our free time.  That free time is where we make our own choices of what to do with the time we have.  As we know, compared to previous generations, we have a lot more free time.  There was a time when laundry got done by hand, and all the cooking and the baking was done from scratch.  We didn’t have labor-saving devices like vacuum cleaners, washing machines, cars, and trucks.  You name it.  Life really was work from sun up to sun down for a lot of people.  There were only a few occasions during the work week where you had any time to yourself at all.  Perhaps if you were a Sunday keeper, you would take time off on Sunday, and if you were a Sabbath keeper, you would not work on the Sabbath.  But other than that, if you were one of the vast majority of the population involved with agriculture, even on the Sabbath you had to feed your animals.  You had to make sure they had water and were cared for.  Life was really full of work.  That’s not the case anymore.  People have a lot of free time.

HOW WE USE OUR FREE TIME

Analyzing what we do with that free time is like a barometer.  It is like a measuring device.  We can measure ourselves individually.  We can measure ourselves as a nation.  We often use the term “character.”  We want to measure our character growth, and we can do that through our leisure time.

I want to deviate from that just a little bit.  Of course, it involves character, but I want to specifically measure leisure time on the state of the heart and soul of us as individuals and as a nation.  You can measure the heart and the soul and the state that it’s in by what people do with their leisure time.  Let’s take a brief glimpse into the past, and I was just referring to it.

From 1900 to 1960, of course, people were very busy, but they did have some time.  For people in the big cities, in what we call the Roaring Twenties, there was a lot of money to be made.  We could go into economic reasons for that, but they were called the Roaring Twenties because people started to get somewhat degenerate with their free time.  Basically from 1900 to 1960 in the United States,Canada, and countries such as these, an interest in sports grew.  In our country, the States, we would say baseball was the national past time.  In Canada it would probably be hockey, and perhaps in Australia and other places it might be cricket or football (being soccer). But we all had our national sport, and everybody would focus on that.  That was like “the” thing that was talked about all summer long.

People would follow their sport in the box scores.  I remember my father looking in the newspaper every night to see how the Detroit Tigers were doing.  Unfortunately, if you have been following the news,Detroit has been in the news.  This is a bit of a digression, but I was born and raised in Detroit.  Yesterday I saw the headlines in the newspaper that they have now filed bankruptcy, and it is the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history, which means it might be in world history.  I don’t know.  It’s a huge bankruptcy and could be as much as $20 billion dollars in debt!  Anyway, that’s an aside, but it is a sad commentary of our time.  Perhaps it lends itself just a little bit to this sermon.

As time went on from 1900s and onward, people got into silent movies which came out.  Also people would have a radio if they were doing well.  I remember my mother and father talking about when they got a radio.  People would sit around the radio at night.  Before they went to bed, they would listen to the news or they would listen to dramas portrayed.  There were radio programs.  I can’t remember the names of them, but my parents used to talk about them from time to time.  You would sit there listening to this program on the radio for maybe half an hour, and go to bed.  That was family time.  Family time was sitting around this little squawk box in the living room—this new invention—and listening.  Eventually silent movies came and then talking movies.  People’s leisure time increased, so the use of these devices and these activities increased over the years.

As time went on, the national past time in the United States still was baseball, but football became more prominent.  I am talking about American style football.  There was also interest in wrestling and boxing, but they were to a much lesser extent than baseball.  If you were to open up a newspaper, even when I was a young lad, you could read about boxing for instance.  Wrestling wasn’t even covered unless it was Olympic wrestling, and that only came around every four years.  They would really only talk about the championship bouts.  They did not focus on every match between all these lesser lights in the boxing world or whatever.  It was when there was a big match coming up or a big championship.  They would focus on that, and it really didn’t play that big a part in the national discussion.  It was just another event.

People enjoyed following their box scores or what was a championship match coming along and that sort of thing, and people were satisfied.  That was enough because that’s really all they had time for.  There wasn’t the leisure time to devote more time to following sports or entertainment or activities.  But it was a pleasant diversion from the drudgery of life and from all the hard and laborious work that people had to do.  Basically if you saved a few dollars or if you were wealthy enough and you wanted to indulge a little more often or in a little more dramatic way, you would have to go to a stadium and watch a baseball game.  You would have to purchase the ticket and go to a stadium or go to a movie theater, especially these new movies that were coming out and were a hit.

Or if you wanted to see documentaries during the war, you would actually go to the movie theater to watch a documentary on what was happening in the war.  I remember my mother talking about that.  That’s how they would keep track of what was happening.  Of course, it was very muted.  Even their war documentaries didn’t show the violence as much as we would today, but that’s what they had to do.  That’s what people had to do if they wanted to indulge a little bit more into entertainment, the news realm, or the technology of the day.

Changes in technology rapidly started taking place in the 1950s, 1960s, and of course right down through today.  The big thing in the 1950s was television.  By the early ‘60’s, about every household in America had at least one TV, and it was black and white.  Television programs were heavily monitored by the government.  There couldn’t be a lot of violence, the gore wasn’t shown, language had to be in check, scenes that could be shown had to be very carefully orchestrated to show good morals.  I know that for a fact.  The only way people could be in a bedroom together is if they were married.  I remember in the Dick Van Dyke Show, Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke had to have separate beds in their bedroom.  You couldn’t be seen laying down, even innocently laying down next to each other.  It was all very carefully monitored to promote a wholesome family atmosphere.

Gradually as technology expanded also a relaxing of the moral codes occurred, so that more violence with more gore was gradually shown year after year.  More morals were breaking down.  I remember it was a big deal when Clark Gable in “Gone With the Wind” said, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”  That was a national thing they talked about for years that got said in a movie!  Today that would be tame.  That would be very tame indeed.

Things relaxed year by year by year, and technology also grew in various ways, so that technology made the door open to be ever entertained.  People not only had more free time, but everywhere people go today they can be entertained.  It’s literally ubiquitous.  It is constant.  Think about it for a moment because this is not normal.  This is the first time in history this has ever been the case.  On your smart phone you can watch entertainment whenever you want and wherever you want.  The same goes for your computer.  In cars now with Sirius XM radio you can listen to programs from anywhere and anytime of the day.  You can have video in your car.  Of course you have your iPad and your ear buds.  Literally TV and entertainment is everywhere.

On top of that you have these video games that can be incorporated into any device that you have, so that you can play games anytime you want.  Often these are violent games, as we have talked about before.  Or they are perverted sort of games.  It is literally everywhere.  You can go into a restaurant and see twenty TVs on at the same time.  You can be in a waiting room in a doctor’s office or getting your car repaired, and there are TVs.  At airports there are televisions.  Even at some gas stations you can be pumping your gas watching TV.  It is everywhere.

DESENSITIZING THE SOUL

Obviously with more time on our hands and more access, there is a negative to this.  We desensitize the heart and soul of the nation by desensitizing the heart and soul of the people.  The evidence is in.  I put it this way in today’s sermon:  the soul of the nation is rotting and the hearts of the people are hardening, because it is everywhere and constantly bombarding our minds, our hearts, and our souls with degrading forms of entertainment.

It is not wholesome entertainment anymore.  It is very degrading, and it rubs off on all of us, even Christians.  Even those in the Church are exposed to this constantly.  In some cases—many cases actually—people in various Christian churches are tuning in more and more.  They are no longer fighting all these things.  They have given in.  Christians are going to movies they shouldn’t go to.  They are watching programs they shouldn’t be watching and playing games they shouldn’t be playing.

God warns us about hardening of the heart.  I want to turn to some Scriptures now.  The first Scripture I want to turn to is Proverbs chapter 28, verse 14:  “Happy is the man who is always reverent, but he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.”

That is a very straight forward warning.  If you allow your heart to be hardened, calamity follows.  That’s a serious warning.  When you have enough people in the nation allowing their hearts to become hardened, you’re going to have serious calamity.  Things are going to go wrong.

If you turn to the gospel of Mark chapter 3 now, you can see Christ’s warning here of what it leads to by example with the people He was dealing with.  When Christ wanted to actually help a poor fellow on the Sabbath, we read what happens.  Mark chapter 3, verse 1:  “And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. So they watched Him closely [the Pharisees and the Sadducees], whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him.  And He said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Step forward.’  Then He said to them, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’  But they kept silent.”

That’s a very straight forward question coming from our Savior.  Can a person do good on the Sabbath?  They kept silent.  Watch what He says here further.

Verse 5:  “And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other. Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.”

You get the connection.  The hardness of their hearts robbed them or blocked their mercy and their compassion.  It led to them plotting against the Savior because He did good for a man who was suffering.  He did good on the Sabbath.  That shows you an example of where hardening of the heart and rotting of the soul leads.  It blocks the things we should be developing.  Of course it affects our character and produces wrong qualities in our character.  We are dealing with something serious when we are talking about hardening of the heart.

Turn back, if you would, to the Old Testament to Psalms.  We will read Psalms 95, verses 6-10:  “O come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.  For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.  Today, if you will hear His voice…”

Obviously He is talking to His people.  Today that would be the Church.

Continuing in verse 8 of Psalm 95:  “Do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion, as in the day of trial in the wilderness, when your fathers tested Me; they tried Me, though they saw My work.  For forty years I was grieved with that generation, and said, ‘It is a people who go astray in their hearts, and they do not know My ways.’  So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’”

Ultimately, the adult generation of Israel was not allowed to enter the Promised Land except for Joshua and Caleb because of hardened hearts.  There is a warning connected to those in the Church today quoting this very Scripture if you turn to Hebrews chapter 3.

This is speaking to God’s Church.  Read Hebrews 3:7-19.

The source of that unbelief was their hardened hearts.  We need to be concerned.  This warning is the same warning issued to ancient Israel, and it is written in our time from Christ going forward to today that we need to guard against that.  Never has Christianity faced so many ways to get our hearts hardened and our souls to decay.  Never have Christians faced the onslaught of all the things that could turn us by the deceitfulness of sin into a hardened people.  At the same time never have we had so much free time to imbibe in those things.

THE CHURCH SHOULD BE AN EXAMPLE

This is a problem for the Church and for the nation as a whole.  We need to set the example and avoid those things.  Make the right decisions with our free time, so that we don’t develop a hardened heart.  Make the right decisions, so our soul doesn’t rot within us to the point where human suffering, like in the case of the Pharisees, wouldn’t be important enough to us to do anything about.  Instead they judged them harshly.  Often the Church loves to judge others harshly without looking at themselves.

I would like to use a Scripture now in Ezekiel.  If you would, go back to there.  God shows that people who have developed a hard heart are very difficult to turn around.  They are very difficult to reach with the truth.  Turn to Ezekiel chapter 3.  This is where Ezekiel is given the commission to go and talk to the house of Israel.

Ezekiel 3, beginning in verse 1.  “Moreover He said to me, ‘Son of man, eat what you find; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.’  So I opened my mouth, and He caused me to eat that scroll.  And He said to me, ‘Son of man, feed your belly, and fill your stomach with this scroll that I give you.’  So I ate, and it was in my mouth like honey in sweetness.  Then He said to me:  ‘Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with My words to them.  For you are not sent to a people of unfamiliar speech and of hard language, but to the house of Israel, not to many people of unfamiliar speech and of hard language, whose words you cannot understand.  Surely, had I sent you to them, they would have listened to you.’”

He says, I am sending you to people who should understand this.  They should understand the Scriptures.  They should understand My voice.

Continuing in verse 7 of Ezekiel 3:  “‘But the house of Israel will not listen to you, because they will not listen to Me; for all the house of Israel are impudent and hard-hearted.  Behold, I have made your face strong against their faces, and your forehead strong against their foreheads.  Like adamant stone, harder than flint, I have made your forehead; do not be afraid of them, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house.’  Moreover He said to me:  ‘Son of man, receive into your heart all My words that I speak to you, and hear with your ears.’”

Here God says, I am going to have to make you hard in order to approach this hardened people, because their hearts are so hard.  It’s difficult to reach people with the truth when their hearts have gone hard.  The point I want to make is it’s not people in the world.  Christ said, they would grasp this.  He said, I am talking to you about My people.

So often Christians in the Church today say, it’s what everybody else in the world is doing.  It’s not us.  If you take this message as a former fulfillment and then what was told to us in Hebrews 3 as a latter fulfillment, it’s to the Church.  We are the ones who should know better.  We’re the ones who should hear the word and listen to what Jesus Christ is telling us through the Spirit, through His word, the Bible.  Because of a soft heart and a healthy soul, you might say, we respond.  But if over the years we have allowed our hearts to become hardened by letting in too much of this filth and not spending our free time wisely, it is hard to hear the voice of the shepherd.  It’s hard to change.  We need to be cognizant of that and work toward it.

There are Scriptures that tell us in the last days it is going to be hard.  Here we are at the last of the last days, so it’s as if we are the hardest of all.  It is because of the free time that we have and not the work we have.  It is the free time we have to imbibe in the things we should not.

THE CHURCH IN THE LAST DAYS

Turn to II Timothy chapter 3 where we are given a list.  We are not going to read all of II Timothy 3, but let’s read starting in verse 1.  “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:  For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power.  And from such people turn away!”

It is a fact that we are talking here now about the Church.  The Church has become hardened and often condemns those people in the world who do not understand the truth the way we do.  But we have allowed what’s going on in the world to enter the Church and therefore darken our lights, harden our hearts, and rot our souls causing us to decay spiritually.  We are supposed to be the light of the world.

I am not intending this sermon to be depressing in any way because we know that ultimately it’s all going to work.  But God will call people into the Church until He has the word ready to go out at the last days and will convert much of the world.  We will get to that in just a moment.  It is up to us to properly use our free time to do the things that would keep us tender hearted, merciful, and kind and keep our souls healthy.  We still have time to change, but let’s be careful because in very innocent ways and in ways that are so perverse and so ubiquitous, we can find ourselves becoming hardened.

For instance, I read the paper often.  I like to get a daily paper and follow the news.  I have noticed something in the last several months, and it has become a sore point for me.  When I open up the sports section like my father used to do and look at the line score, now baseball is often relegated to a smaller share of the sports section in the summer time, unless it’s the World Series or the All Star Game or something.  Often times I find huge articles and whole pages about cage fighting and mixed martial arts fighting with graphic photos of people beating each other to a pulp and bleeding.  They write about forms of fighting that used to be illegal.

There was a strange case recently with a famous football player who was a quarterback, who was caught by the police having dogs fighting.  He had to spend time in prison and restitution.  Yet people are allowed to fight like animals.  It’s getting to the point that women are now engaged in it.  It has become a big sport for this cage fighting and mixed martial arts with women. They are literally breaking each other’s arms!  I can’t believe that this is allowed!  That’s how inured society has become.  We can become inured to it, too.  There is a sermon we did not too long ago called “Becoming Inured to the Point of Our Own Detriment” (done on July 7, 2012).

I saw something the other day that to me was a new low and thoroughly disgusting.  This was in the paper the day before yesterday.  It was in USA Today the July 18th issue in the sports section.  I have the article right here in my hand.  The title is “Disabled Fighters to Meet.”  One has Down’s Syndrome and the other mild cerebral palsy.

The article starts this way:  “An amateur mixed martial arts fight set for August 3rd in Florida promises a first for its combatants and perhaps the sport at large.  Garrett Holeve and David Steffan who have Down Syndrome and mild cerebral palsy respectively are stepping into the cage for a fight at the King of the Casino event at the Seminole Immokalee Casino in Immokalee, Florida.”  It goes on to say how marvelous this is that we are even including special needs people in cage fighting!

How can people in their right mind think that this is an advance and a societal advance?  It shows you how sick and how hardened our nation is.  In the Church I have heard even minsters say they enjoy boxing and that sort of thing.  If they are watching these things, I am warning that we are rotting our soul and hardening our hearts.  We will make the same mistakes the Pharisees and the Sadducees made in the time of Christ or ancient Israel in the time of Ezekiel.

I am going to give this sobering thought.  I remember as a young person studying in school, often we would hear about the rise and fall of the Roman Empire.  They talked about how the Roman Empire fell because of the breakdown of the family, but one of the key components was the Romans had all these foreigners doing much of their servile work, so they had a lot of leisure time.  The coliseum and the games in the coliseum were something they really enjoyed.  They loved to go see people fight in a big cage!  They would fight animals and fight each other.  It became a national pastime.  It hardened their hearts until eventually their society totally broke down.

The sad thing I want to tell you is this:  I think the Romans would really be happy and really comfortable in our society today.  On your smart phone, your iPad, your TV set, or your computer, you could watch this cage fighting whenever you wanted and also strange gladiatorial conflict on television and reality TV.  It’s sick, brethren!  We can’t allow it in the Church.  We need to show people the higher road.  We need to show them God’s way.  We need to have soft hearts in a hard world and a healthy soul in a sick world.  We need to avoid these things.

HELP THE INNUMERABLE MULTITUDE

The good news is that we know we are on the verge of an innumerable multitude coming along being converted.  I want to read a Scripture that mentions tribulation, but we understand that tribulation isn’t death and destruction throughout the world.  Tribulation means pressure.  It is pressure to do what is right and pressure from Satan to do what’s wrong.

I want to go to Revelation chapter 7 as our final Scripture today where it speaks about this innumerable multitude.  They are going to look for examples of people to follow and people to give them the truth.  They had better not see us engaging in bad entertainment or viewing bad things.  They certainly shouldn’t run into people with hardened hearts and rotten souls.

Revelation 7, beginning in verse 9:  “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”

These are millions of people, billions perhaps, who are converted.  You have to live to be converted.  You can’t be dead and get converted, so the tribulation, as we will see in a moment, is pressure to do the right thing.

Verse 11 of Revelation 7:  “All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying:  ‘Amen!  Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever.  Amen.’  Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, ‘Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?’  And I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’  So he said to me, ‘These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple.  And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them.  They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”

We know that Christ is a river of life, and we become fountains of living waters if we remain true and have soft hearts, kind, merciful, and compassionate spirits.  We can be a fountain of living water to help the innumerable multitude turn away from the hardness that Satan has pushed on to the world.  They had better not look at us and see hypocrisy, because that’s what made Christ so angry when He looked at the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  He saw people whose hearts were so hard that He couldn’t use them.  We don’t want that to happen to us.

We need to stay soft and stay healthy spiritually, so that we can be part of the group that helps the innumerable multitude find its way to Christ.  There is going to be a certain amount of calamity to get these people to realize that they do need to answer the call, but it’s only a healthy pressure.  They better not look to the Church and find hypocrisy.  We don’t want to ever be involved in a three-way conversation between some of the innumerable multitude, ourselves, and Christ where they say, but they were doing this.  We didn’t see that it was wrong because they didn’t show us.  That’s the Pharisaical conversation when the resurrection takes place.  People will say, the Pharisees never showed us.  By their example, we were hard.

Now we are talking about the Church, and we are to teach the people in the world how to have soft, compassionate, and kind hearts.  One of our members here in Sault Ste. Marie was saying to me the other day they went to a local restaurant, and it seemed as if all the people coming in and out were sad and downcast.  It’s because they don’t know any better.  They imbibe with their free time in all kinds of horrible things that make them unhappy.  It makes their lives come unglued.  They should not see that in us.  In us they should see a solution to the problem.

It is very important while we have time to use our free time wisely.  Let only those things which are good and pure enter into us, so we can reflect God’s way of life to a world that so desperately needs this.  If you have not read our booklet or if you need to review it, “What Do You Mean Tribulation,” it would be a good idea.  Reread that booklet or ask for it, and see what tribulation really is.  It is only Satan working on one side to pull people the wrong way and Christ working the other way pushing people on to the straight and narrow.  That’s what tribulation is.  The world is going to go through this soon.  When Satan does get locked away on what would be the fulfillment of the Day of Atonement, they are going to say, that weight and that burden that held me back for so long is gone!

Brethren, we need to be the example and use our time wisely, so that this innumerable multitude can begin to form up.  They need our help, and we need to learn how to spend our free time wisely to show them how it’s done.

 

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