Monthly Archives: January 2008

Heart Space for Rent


We talk about our hearts a lot.

• “I know it in my heart.”
• “She gave him her heart.”
• “They worked with all their heart.”
• “I’ve invited Jesus into my heart.”

Of course, we’re not talking about our physical hearts. That would make any of these statements bizarre and maybe a little macabre. But what exactly are we talking about?

We use “heart” as shorthand for the seat of our emotions and the place where certain types of decisions are made. It’s really part of our mind, but it operates far from the rules of logic. I’ve tried explaining the concept of the heart to children, and it’s very challenging. Before they develop the ability to think in the abstract, the idea of putting Jesus in your heart can seem very threatening.

Here’s a metaphor that helps clarify. Our hearts are places with many rooms. In these rooms, we put the people and things that are most important to us. Sometimes those people and things are good and worthy of a room in our hearts, but sometimes they aren’t. We allow our friends and our family members places in our hearts, and that’s good. We make room for things that we care deeply about, like poor children or the elderly or the homeless, and that’s good.

But sometimes, we allow things into our hearts that aren’t so good – things like a love for money or pornography or jealousy or anger and resentment. These things can become so important to us that they take up space in our hearts. If we don’t do something about it, they can become more important than the other people and things we put into our hearts. Eventually, they will steal the space in our hearts that those good people and things once occupied.

All of us are susceptible – Christians and non-Christians. The Enemy is constantly trying to rent space in our hearts. He knows that if he can get a foot in the door (so to speak), he can leverage that into a small room. Once he gets a small room, he’s going to start looking for a larger one. He won’t be satisfied until he has rented the entire place, and he’s not known for keeping up the property.

Here’s where Jesus comes in. He says in His Word:

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)

The door He’s referring to is the door to your heart. The main entrance. He knocks and waits, knocks and waits, knocks and waits. He won’t come in unless invited. There’s no door handle on the outside of your heart. You have to open it from the inside.

Sure, He could break the door down or jimmy the lock – He is all-powerful, after all. But He won’t. It’s one of the greatest paradoxes of all time. An all-powerful God who has made Himself powerless in regard to whether or not we choose to love Him. But it’s also how He shows exactly just how powerful He is. It’s the power of self-restraint.

Parents will understand. How often have we resorted to consequences or force or “Because I said so, that’s why!” when an unruly child won’t do what we want them to do? How often do you think God might have wanted to do the same thing with us as we do whatever we please whenever we please? And then consider the price Christ paid to buy us back from the Enemy. He standing at the door and knocking, and He’s brought a very expensive and precious gift. But still He waits for us to answer.

Open the door, and invite Him in, and Jesus brings the gift of forgiveness of sins and eternal life. But don’t just leave Him standing in the entryway; give Him the tour. He wants to be invited into every room in your heart. Just a quick survey of the Bible shows that ten percent of all references to “heart” are about our “whole heart,” our “undivided heart,” our “heart fully devoted,” our “singleness of heart,” or “all our heart.” When I teach kids about this, I have them memorize this rhyme:

He’s not satisfied with just a part;
Jesus wants our entire heart!

Most of us have those rooms in our heart where we haven’t invited Jesus yet. We’re not ready to let go of our gossiping or our love for the comfort in our lives or our secret judgmentalism of those around us. Again, He’s not going to knock down any doors, but Jesus will keep knocking on them. And if you let Him into those secret rooms, He’s not just going to come in to dine; He’ll redecorate.

He’ll be like Nehemiah, who threw out the evil Tobiah from the storerooms of the temple (Nehemiah 13:4-9). Nehemiah didn’t just throw out the enemy. He got out the bleach and cleansed the room, and then he filled it with the equipment of the house of God, grain offerings and incense.

When you let Jesus into one of those rooms in your heart – the ones with the stuff you didn’t really want Him to see – He gets rid of the bad stuff and replaces it with godly stuff. This should come as a relief to some of us who’ve been struggling to get rid of the evil in our hearts. We don’t have to do it – can’t do it, in fact. Jesus does it all. We just have to invite Him in.

A pastor of mine once said that though our heart is good once we’ve accepted Christ, there are still dark rooms inside. Many of us deal with that darkness by taking in a bucket and trying to shovel bucketfuls of darkness outside, but this never works long-term. When you turn around, the darkness has returned.

A better approach is to simply turn on the light. Invite Jesus into that room. Ask Him to show you what needs to go, and let Him do the heavy lifting. Then fill that room with God’s Word. The more Word you put into your heart, the less room you’ll have for darkness.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

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Filed under Religion, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality

Mr. Miyagi’s Dojo


Five years ago, my wife and I felt God was calling us to leave Texas and move to Colorado.  While the move was fun and exciting, it was a little intimidating for us, because we had grown up in Texas and lived there for over thirty years.  Our friends were there.  Our family was there.  Our church was there.  We knew nothing and no one in Colorado.  Fast forward to today, and I can say that God blessed us through that move.  We met some of our dearest friends in Colorado and grew in our faith and love for God.

Three and a half years ago, I left a corporate job with a company I had been with for fifteen years.  It was a scary move for me, because I was leaving to become an independent consultant and originally didn’t have any idea where my income would “in-come” from.  All I knew was that I felt God was calling me to step out in faith and that I was already three months past the date I had originally committed to leaving.  Fast forward to today, and I now know that God grew me through that decision and the ones that followed.  He stretched my faith and showed me how He could and would provide for my family.

Five months ago, my wife and I felt again that God was calling us to move – this time to Thailand.  The other two challenges seem so easy compared to the changes this one has required us to make.  I/we had to re-enter the corporate environment (something I hoped I would never have to do again), sell or give away 90% of our stuff, say goodbye to family members and those dear friends we met in Colorado, leave behind ministries and leadership roles we loved, enter a new culture, where English is rarely spoken, and learn to live outside the margins of our comfort zones.

The whole experience feels like an accelerated learning program taught by Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid movies.  We’re waxing the car and sanding the floor and painting the fence, but we have no idea what any of these have to do with God’s call on our lives.  We would like to think we are learning spiritual karate, but all the activity seems extracurricular and in a different direction.

But here’s where we have one up on Ralph Macchio; we already know we can trust Mr. Miyagi.  We’ve been through His beginner’s course, and we know this is how He operates.  The small steps of faith prepared us for larger steps of faith.  His dojo isn’t a gymnasium or a room with mirrored walls; it’s life.  We learn spiritual karate as we live and experience challenges and loss and pain and joy and love and relationship.

That said, we are probably still going to worry and stress about things.  The problem for Ralph and the problem for us is that Mr. Miyagi doesn’t lay out the master plan for us.  He gives us the lessons we need when we need them; other than that, He leaves us guessing.  Sometimes, we are able to look back over the lessons and realize how it all worked for our good.  But at other times, it’s a mystery. 

Maybe God will reveal the incredible efficiency of His plan when we get to heaven, but maybe He won’t.  God is God.  His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.  His ways are higher than our ways.  And anyway, I think our desire to know what He’s doing misses the point.  God sometimes gives us seemingly bizarre, difficult and confusing tasks to do, because the tasks are tests. 

Do we love Him enough…do we trust Him enough to obey even when He doesn’t “make sense?”  Even when it hurts?  Even when it’s scary?  Even when it will cause us to suffer loss?  How we do on the beginner’s test determines if we get to take the intermediate test, and how we do on the intermediate test determines whether or not we get to take the advanced test.  White belt before yellow, yellow before orange, orange before green and so on…

You can trust Mr. Miyagi.  He has a plan.  Romans 8:28 tells us that He uses ALL things for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  All the decisions, all the tasks, all the trials, all the challenges…everything.  Even our bad choices, our mistakes, our sins, our selfishness, our fear…everything.  As long as we keep showing up at His dojo and submitting to His instruction, He’s going to be steadily and mysteriously moving us toward our spiritual black belt.

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Filed under Religion, Spiritual Growth

Contents Under Pressure


My wife and I moved our family to Thailand this week.  Or maybe I should say my wife moved the family to Thailand….the closest I got them was the Bangkok airport on Sunday.  I had a flight to catch.  (I know…bad husband!  But I felt that I had a non-negotiable waiting for me in Singapore, and my wife is a wonderfully resilient person – and I hope, forgiving.)

So, here I sit in Singapore, having just finished facilitating a three-day conference for our Asia leadership team.  I’m flat.  Like a soda with no fizz left.  But that’s not surprising, because God’s been shaking me up for the past few months.  Here are the short bullets to summarize the long story of our activities over the past two weeks:

  • Got final immunizations
  • Held multiple garage sales to reduce our stuff-load
  • Offered all remaining stuff free on Craigslist
  • Held first/last meeting with realtor
  • Met with carpet person to measure house for new carpet
  • Met with people who wanted our stuff and helped them get it home
  • Cleaned parts of the house
  • Packed 600+ lbs of luggage
  • Prepared to lead a three-day seminar in Singapore
  • Made flight arrangements
  • Took four psychological exams to see if we were mentally ready to live outside the U.S. 
  • Met with counselors to get approval to go (two days before our flights)
  • Met with boss to go over counselor recommendations
  • Purchased books that counselors recommended to help us adjust
  • Conducted an in-home sleep study
  • Met with a doctor to interpret the sleep study
  • Met with a vendor to get fitted for a sleep apnea machine
  • Boxed up all our stuff that needed to be shipped
  • Bagged other stuff to give to the DAV 
  • Arranged with two shipping companies to work together to get our stuff to Bangkok
  • Left the titles for both our cars with our friends so that they could give them away
  • Attended several going away parties
  • Struggled through tearful group meetings and one-on-ones with our best friends
  • Hosted a belated birthday party for our daughter 
  • Provided shoulders for our daughter to cry on
  • Shuttled our oldest son and his best friend on a boys’-day-out to the mall
  • Sent kids every which way for sleep-overs with their friends
  • Put my laptop in with IT for a three-day overhaul
  • Met with HR Director to talk about compensation changes when we move
  • Registered for international medical benefits
  • Paid estimated state and federal taxes for four quarter
  • Paid monthly bills
  • Deposited $400 in coins we have been saving
  • Renewed prescriptions that we didn’t have time to pick up before we left
  • Cancelled utilities, trash pickup, car insurance, cable, phone, and internet service
  • Picked up a nine month supply of CPAP replacement parts
  • Weighed luggage to make sure it was compliant with airline requirements
  • Stopped automatic withdrawals from bank accounts
  • Cleaned out desk at work
  • Applied for long-term visas to Bangladesh and India
  • Attend training on new security sign-on system for my work computer
  • Met with staff member at work to discuss international visit
  • Found homes for all our dogs
  • Took family to boss’ house for dinner
  • Did all the laundry in the house
  • Resent our visa applications after they were rejected the first time
  • Made a special trip to work to pick up approved visas and passports the morning of our trip 

That’s not everything – just what I can remember right now.  Fast forward to the day we are supposed to leave the country.  Of course we weren’t ready; we don’t do ready.  We do last minute.  And we like it.  While my wife frantically tried to pack up everything we had left with the help of our neighbors, I ran errands to work, the sleep apnea doctor, my friend’s house, the bank and the typist.  I made it back home about twenty minutes before it was time to leave.

Since we were out of time, we threw everything we could into some bags and left the rest on the floor for our dear friends to pack up later.  Twenty minutes later, we unloaded at the airport, got checked in and went through security…only to end up waiting for over three hours for our flight after finding out it was delayed. 

The flight agent moved us up to the front of the plane so that we could run to our next flight, but in the end, it didn’t matter.  After we landed in L.A., we had to quick-walk twenty minutes to make it to the Thai Airlines desk.  No one was there, because the flight was already closed.  We waited for fifteen minutes for someone to come not help us, and then we made the twenty minute walk again back to the United desk so that they could not help us there, too.

While he made us wait for over a half hour while he did something in the back room, the United agent did get us two nights at the Motel 6, where my children got to see naked women on HBO as they flipped through the channels looking for something to watch.  The next day, we went to the airport four hours before our flight and waited in lines for hours to turn our standby status into real tickets.

It’s been a hard few weeks, but here’s what I learned.  People pay more attention to you when you are getting the shake-up…..especially if they know you are a Christian.  They want to see what happens when a Christian is under pressure.  How will he or she react?  Will she dissolve?  Will he lose it?  Will they act the way that we suspect that they act when no one is looking?

When God allows our contents to come under pressure, it’s a tool and a test.  A tool, because it makes us more like Him.  A test, because it reveals our character and our level of spiritual maturity.  If we handle the situation correctly, it becomes a testimony.  Everyone who sees will wonder how we kept it together, and when that happens, God gets the glory.

The shake-up is a gift.  It’s an opportunity to point others twowards Christ.  It’s also God’s invitation to join Him at a higher level of spiritual maturity.  Thank God for these opportunities to give Him the glory.

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Filed under Challenges, overcoming obstacles, Religion

The List


The List. It’s destructive. It’s offensive. It’s subjective, and it’s wrong.

I’m talking about the List that we create about which sins are okay and which sins are not. Almost all of us have a List. Even non-religious sorts. What’s funny about our individual List is that it usually allows the sins in which we are currently engaged but disallows the sins that other people are doing.

Small lies are okay. Swearing is okay if you do it on accident. Lingering over the Victoria Secret catalog is okay unless your wife catches you doing it. Then it’s very not okay. Telling gossip is okay. Having someone gossip about you is not okay. Speeding is okay, but cutting me off is not okay.

Every church I’ve ever attended has a List.  It’s not posted anywhere, but it’s communicated.  In one church my family attended, our Sunday School class had a heated argument about whether or not it was okay to wear shorts to church.  One side contended that we aren’t under the Law, and the other side countered that shorts could cause the older members of the church to stumble in their walk.  Good stuff.  Better than WWE, because these guys weren’t pulling their punches.  I think we could have split over the issue of manpris.

The List repels people from our churches.  They come to visit and realize that they are the only ones in the whole place who have a tattoo or a piercing or multi-colored hair or a second marriage or children out of wedlock or a smoking addiction, and they never want to come back again.  Or sometimes the pastor gives a sermon about “those” homosexuals or “those” liberals or “those” women who have had an abortion and reveals his bias and what will be inferred as the bias of the church.  What if “those” people are in the audience?  Or even, what if their friends or family are in the audience?  Are they going to feel like this church is a place where they can come for grace and healing?

Here’s the thing.  Sin is sin is sin is sin is sin.  From the momentary loss of temper to child molestation.  (Notice I’m revealing my own bias.)  All of it separates us from a holy God.  Our List deceives us into thinking that we’re okay where we are at…..that we don’t have that much work to do.  It gives us a smug satisfaction that at least we’re better than the guy nextdoor.  Our List is self-serving and leads to complacency in our walk, while at the same time making us unapproachable to those who are struggling.

It’s not that some sin isn’t worse that other sin.  (Child molestation IS worse than a temper flare-up.)  It’s that categorizing it doesn’t lead us or anyone else closer to God.  Let Him assign the point values.  Our arbitrary rating system doesn’t come from Him anyway.   

What would serve us and God better would be if we recognized that sin is the one thing that we all have in common.  When we meet the person who’s addicted to crystal meth, we should be able to identify, because we’ve been tricked by the Enemy, as well.  We’ve believed his lies and bought what he’s selling.  Maybe we’re not addicted to drugs, but we are addicted to our comfortable life or our pride or our money.  Ironically, the drug addict may be better off, because he at least knows what’s separating him from God.  We might be oblivious.

But if we’ve got a hidden List, it’s impossible for us to connect with the addict and serve him with our whole heart.  While we may not say that we think we are better than he is, we’ll communicate it through the things we say, the things we don’t say, how we say what we say, how we listen, how we make eye contact, what we are willing to do for him and where we draw the line…  If we really want to help him, if we want to allow him his dignity, we’ve got to stop focusing on whose sin is worse and whose sin is better. 

Can we agree to throw out the List?  Can we stop trying to prioritize sin and recognize that this game is just another diversionary tactic from the Enemy?  If he can get us inspecting and judging, he keeps us from loving our neighbor.  Forget whatever sin our neighbor has done.  He’s our neighbor!  We are called to love him no matter what.  And besides, “there but for the grace of God…”

If you’re with me on this, mentally crumple up your List of prioritized sins and toss it into the fireplace.  It won’t stay gone, unfortunately.  I know from experience that the List is a powerful paradigm, and it influences so much of how I think and what I do.  I crumple it and throw it out only to later find it where I left it.  But be persistent.  Get to really know people who struggle with “those” sins, and you’ll find that your list gets shorter.  Look for what you have in common with them, and you’ll see that we’re not so different after all. 

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Filed under Interpersonal, Relationships, Religion, sin, Spirituality