Deceitful Hearts

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” ESV Jeremiah 17:9-10

We think too highly of ourselves. We think of our hearts as basically good and positive, and we think of ourselves as generous and kind. However, Jeremiah reminds us that ultimately our hearts are desperately sick, and we often deceive even ourselves. In reality our hearts are like the broken, dead leaf in the picture above. We are self-centered, self-worshiping, self-idolizing people. We may not like this description, but it’s ultimately true.

In the following verse, God explains His role. He ultimately searches our hearts and tests our minds. In doing so, He gives to us according to our deeds, which generally means His justice demands He repay us with suffering and judgment. However, in Christ Jesus we have hope. In Christ, we have a new heart, and the Spirit of Christ indwells us. When God looks at our broken heart, He sees the light of Christ shining through (that is, if we have submitted to the Lordship of Jesus His Son through faith alone). When God looks at us, He is able to give to us according to the fruit of Jesus’ work for us. All the good of Jesus is credited to our hearts, because His light shines through us.

May you be encouraged in this way today. Yes, our hearts are deceitful and desperately sick…so sick we can’t even know them. But, through faith in Jesus Christ, His love shines in our hearts. God sees this, and rewards us with His grace. May our hearts radiate Jesus’ light and life to others. Be encouraged my friend!

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Idolizing Marriage

To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. ESV 1 Corinthians 7:8

I grew up idolizing marriage. Actually I probably was more idolizing sex, and marriage was the ticket to sex (at least in conservative Christianity). Marriage and children was the expected outcome of all good Christians. Save yourself for marriage. Marry the person God has for you. Be fruitful and multiply. Live happily ever after. Could there be any other possible outcome in life?

I’m reading a book Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes (by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien), and in the first chapter they debunk this glorification of marriage. To be sure, the Bible does hold marriage in high regard. And sexual relations should only take place in a committed marriage. But the Bible also glorifies singleness. Paul argues people should consider it a calling. Jesus (who lived single!) also indicated some are called by God to be eunuchs and taught that in the resurrection, none of us will be married. Perhaps in Christians circles, perhaps in our fear of divorce, immorality and the like, marriage has become the panacea for all problems. Unfortunately, this view ignores the strain marriage brings. Any couple that is happily married will tell you marriage takes tremendous work–work that sometimes diverts our focus from the kingdom, just as Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 7. So does the Bible make marriage out to be a bad thing? Not at all. We just need to have a balanced approach to life as the Bible does. God considers both marriage and singleness to be equally honorable calls. Many of my single friends really want to be married and many of my married friends desperately want to be single. In this conundrum, we first need to realize both callings are good. Then we can begin to discern God’s calling on our particular situation.

Are you single? Have you embraced this calling (at least for this season)? God may lead you to be married in the future, or He may lead you to remain single for a season, or lifetime. All are good options. Are you married? Why did you get married? Had you idolized marriage? What troubles has that caused for you? Once married we stay married, but we need to identify and repent of the idolization that led us to marriage. Ask God to open your eyes to these things so that you might fully embrace the lifestyle to which He has called you.

Failing Forward

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” ESV Matthew 14:28-31

Much has been said about today’s helicopter parents who constantly hover over their children to make sure nothing goes wrong for them. Psychologists have observed these kids actually are more prone to anxiety and depression because they don’t know how to handle failure in life. Perhaps that’s why Jesus was the opposite of a helicopter parent, allowing His disciples to fall…and learn from their failures.

Perhaps no better example exists than Peter–one of Jesus’ most outspoken and powerful apostles, but also one who fell a lot. In the story mentioned above, Peter’s faith and impulsiveness drive him to walk on the water to Jesus in the midst of a storm. It works for a while, but then the wind catches his attention, taking his gaze off Jesus and decimating his faith as he begins to sink. Jesus reaches out his hand and grabs him, but at the same time, uses the opportunity to teach Peter the value of faith. Had Jesus never allowed Peter to sink, or had He not taken the opportunity to challenge Peter’s faith, a valuable teaching opportunity would have been lost.

In his book, The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor speaks of “Falling Up,” or learning from our failures and growing through them. Parents who never allow their children to fail ultimately set them up for greater failure, or are forced to constantly bail their children out, even as adults. If you have parents (or direct reports, or people you mentor, or influence), make sure you allow them to fail. Then when they do, take time to address what caused the failure and help them develop a better plan for the next time around. This way they don’t keep repeating the same mistakes. Jesus took this approach and over three short years developed twelve men that changed the world. Let’s learn from Jesus and allow our children to fail forward as they thrive in Christ.

Passing the Baton

Act therefore according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to Sheol in peace. 7 But deal loyally with the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, and let them be among those who eat at your table, for with such loyalty they met me… ESV 1 Kings 2:6-7

We often live for retirement at our work, and on one level I understand. Work is hard, and it’s nice to look forward to being done. Or perhaps God is calling us to a new job, and we only have a limited time left. Regardless, at some point, all of us transition jobs, careers and callings, and how we choose to do that says a lot about our spiritual formation. Wise leaders spend time preparing their replacements and then adequately passing off their responsibilities.

As David grew older and increasingly removed from the daily life of his kingdom, cracks began to appear. Two of his sons led revolts and tried to install themselves as king. The first one created a civil war, while David averted the second through wise counsel from his closest friends. When David installed Solomon as king, he didn’t just turn him loose to reign. Instead, he spent time coaching Solomon on the important first steps he needed to take as king. Part of that included explaining to Solomon who the good and bad guys were in the kingdom. There were certain situations David hadn’t dealt with. Perhaps he had lost the will to challenge these evil people. Perhaps he felt he owed them certain things. Regardless, now that Solomon was in charge, he urged his son to sack certain people and deal loyally and faithfully with others.

While we must be careful in what we say about others, we can learn from David’s example the importance of passing our callings off to younger people. I’m forever grateful for the work of my predecessor. He candidly shared with me the joys and sorrows he had while pastoring our church, and his wisdom and insights have guided me well after his retirement. May you do the same. Don’t be afraid of the next generation. Don’t keep your knowledge to yourself. Don’t force them to learn through failure and mistakes. Like David, pass the baton of leadership by sharing everything you can to help the next generation. Then they will stand on your shoulders and thrive. That’s good leadership.

Family Worship

I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you. ESV Genesis 22:5

Sunday morning can feel like a great day to sleep in, watch the Olympics, and just bum around the house with the family. After a week of going a million directions, taking time together as a family is incredibly important. However, more important than just being together is being together in the worship of God.

Did you know the first mention of “worship” in the Bible is by Abraham as he prepares to sacrifice his son Isaac? In the verse quoted above, Abraham exercises tremendous faith, because not only is he determined to take his son and worship (which will involve sacrificing Isaac), his faith is so strong that he believes somehow God will resurrect Isaac and both he and his beloved son will return to the servants. So much truth can impact us from these verses. First, we see the importance of worship in the family. Abraham could have opted for other forms of family time. He could have taken Isaac on a father/son fishing trip, sports activity, or breakfast. Instead he opts to worship with his son. Secondly, we see Abraham’s great faith and get a glimpse into how he passed this faith to his son. When we opt to sleep in, to skip church, to make worship a low priority, we shouldn’t be surprised when our children fail to embrace our faith. Abraham led his son to a sacrifice, and saw his faith greatly rewarded in his future generations. Finally, we see Abraham’s obedience. God called him to worship and he went. God has called us to worship as well.

Yes, in my flesh, I too would rather just sleep in this morning, relax around the house, and not worry about church. However, in my spirit I sense this will be a wonderful morning of worship with my family. Will it involve sacrifice on my part? Absolutely (though nowhere near the level of sacrifice Abraham had to make). Will the results be worthwhile? Absolutely. Just imagine if my children and future grandchildren embrace worshiping the Lord Jesus. That alone is reason to take them to worship this morning. I pray you too join me in taking your family to worship Jesus Christ with your church family this morning. If you don’t have a church home, may you Google one and give it a shot. Like Abraham, you won’t regret it.

God and Ice

He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs… ESV Psalm 147:17

As a snow lover, this winter in Maryland has been quite disappointing, so I take whatever I can get. Today we got a snow/sleet/rain mix that at gave a slight white tint to the grass and put a slushy coating on the roads. Altogether, it definitely made for a great day to relax around the house. With these events, I’m always asking myself what I can learn about God through the weather.

Psalm 147 describes God’s awesome power, and part of the description involves how he hurls down His ice like crumbs. Apparently God was eating a giant loaf of iced bread, and the crumbs that dropped from His table made up our amazing display of sleet and wet snow. When you consider the amount of ice that falls, the power to make this happen is nothing short of amazing–drawing our attention to our Creator in awe. Just think about this for a minute. One inch of water on one acre of land weighs 113.31 tons. (a little over 200,000 pounds). The forecast for today calls for a little over .5 inches of rain/sleet/snow, so on my 4 acre property, God will drop 400,000 pounds of water (2,000 tons). That’s 7.7 million tons of water in my county alone (a relatively small 213 sq. mile county by the Chesapeake Bay). That’s only one of the the probably 20 counties in our area getting rainfall today. God’s “crumbs” of ice weigh over 7.7 million tons…all of which he dribbles down from the sky. Put another way, that’s the equivalent weight of 21 Empire State Buildings…all that God dropped on our county this afternoon with no effort at all. If that doesn’t amaze you, I give up.

Isn’t it amazing how God’s power is displayed all around us? If we only would stop for a moment and think (and do the math), we would find ourselves blown away by His awesome power. May you take some time today to reflect on the weather and consider how great and awesome our God is. If you don’t believe in Him, perhaps this will give you reason to reconsider. Blessings my friends.

Confessions of a Control Freak

For the love of Christ controls us, ESV 2 Corinthians 5:14

I struggle with control, and from my observations, I’m not the only one. Parents try to control their kids (I’ve seen it go so far as a father who bought a house for his son just so he could use that as leverage to control his adult child and grandchildren). We try to control illness (or lack thereof) through worry, constant cleaning/sanitizing, etc. We try to control our spouses through nagging, pressure, under our breath comments, or perhaps gifts, acts of service and flattery. We try to control our jobs by tweaking our Linked in page, kissing up to the right people, pushing our ideas and so forth. I’ve been guilty of trying to control people’s spiritual growth by thinking if I get my sermons, counseling, and teaching right, I can mold and shape people how I think they should grow.

Alas, all of this controlling really only serves to expose the idols of our hearts and mind. In reality, we are trying to be God. We think if we are in control, we will be happy. This drive for happiness compels us to control everything in our life, overwhelming us with the pressures of being God and we often end up frustrated, anxious, depressed and often failing. If only we would listen to Scripture, submit our souls to God and let Him control things, we might find the life and happiness we so desperately seek. Paul gives a mature perspective when He explains that rather than us controlling life, we should be controlled by the love of Christ. For recovering control freaks like myself, this sounds terrifying, but consider the blessings. If we can grasp how much Christ loves us and be controlled by that, we will truly be freed to live. His love for us guarantees our salvation, our forgiveness, our life. Rest in His love. If our kids don’t do exactly what we want, if our career doesn’t turn out precisely right, if our day doesn’t follow our exact plan, God loves us anyway and is working all things together for His good.

May you be controlled by the love of Christ today. May you rest in His love and let Him be God. Playing God yourself is exhausting and life-sapping. Let Him control you and enjoy the life He offers. Relinquishing control never felt so good.

Jesus: the Hope of the World

These two things shall come to you in a moment, in one day; the loss of children and widowhood shall come upon you in full measure, in spite of your many sorceries and the great power of your enchantments. ESV Isaiah 47:9

Perhaps we are growing numb to it all. How many school shootings have I lived through? It seems every few months we hear of another slaughter. The shock is gone. Now I just shake my head. What is happening to our country? Why are so many people dying? Why such violence?

God predicted this in the book of Isaiah. Speaking of Babylon, a country much like ours, He predicted the loss of children and fathers in a single day. It seems to happen on a regular basis in our day. A few verses later, He comments, “evil shall come upon you, which you will not know how to charm away; disaster shall fall upon you, for which you will not be able to atone; and ruin shall come upon you suddenly, of which you know nothing” (v. 11). Does this not perfectly describe our country? The further we stray from the gospel of Jesus, the more corrupt we become and the more disaster we endure. Could it be that God is hoping we will turn from our wickedness and embrace Him?

Let me be clear, this repentance begins with the house of God. I gathered with a few believers last night for prayer, and one of them begged us to pray for our local schools and the people in them. As Christians, we have abandoned our call to take the gospel to the world. We have failed to present people with the gospel. We have failed to be a light in the darkness. We can’t expect government programs to solve problems. We can’t argue gun laws (for or against…either side is foolish). The only hope of the world is Jesus Christ, and the only way they will hear of Jesus is through us–His followers. It’s time to stop shaking our heads, or reacting numbly and going about our way. It’s time to step up, pray fervently, build relationships and share the news that changed our life. We are sinful; sin brings death; Jesus died for sin; those who trust Him have life that begins now and lasts forever. Join me in sharing this hope to our broken world.

People Aren’t the Enemy

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. ESV Ephesians 6:12

My wife and I both had hard days yesterday. It seemed some good friends of mine really got on my nerves and I nearly lashed out and sent a nasty email challenging their love for God, spiritual life and everything else. Apparently I really got on my wife’s nerves, even as I tried to do the things I thought she wanted done. Through the Holy Spirit, she held her tongue and didn’t say anything. God’s grace allowed us to process the day yesterday evening and we both marveled at how well the enemy had pushed our buttons and tried to play us.

You see, people aren’t the enemy. They sure seem like it, but Paul reminds us that our struggle is not against flesh and blood–or living humans that we see, hear, touch, or live with. On the contrary, we are involved in a daily battle with spiritual rulers and authorities, cosmic powers over this present darkness, and spiritual forces of evil. The adversary is incredibly active, and one of his prime tactics is to convince us that other people are the problem (our spouse, our children, our neighbors, our friends). He often convinces us God is the problem (after all, He won’t answer our prayers, he allows us to suffer, etc.). In reality, the spiritual battle is fierce. Daniel’s prayers were delayed for several weeks as the angel who was to answer battled Satan to get to Daniel. The challenge I faced yesterday was with Satan working my perception of my friends. The battle wasn’t with my friends, it wasn’t with my spouse. Satan (or his minions), worked to frustrate my wife through my actions. Fortunately, God’s grace prevailed as He has opened our eyes to the spiritual world.

Consider this: your spouse is not the enemy. Your children, your boss, your neighbor, is not the enemy. The adversary is the enemy and he continues to stir up strife around you and blame it on others. This is a classic warfare technique, and He does it well. May you be aware of his tactics today. May you put on the full armor of God to stand firm. Ask the Lord to open your eyes to the spiritual battle and the victory we have in Christ. People aren’t the enemy.

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