Monthly Archives: June 2008

Comp-HEART-ments


Teaching kids about their spiritual “heart” is tricky business. Kids are usually quite literal until their teenage years, so it’s easy for them to misunderstand a statement like “ask Jesus into your heart.” I’ve struggled with this for a long time in children’s ministry, but I think I’ve found a way of talking about the heart that they understand.

Your spiritual heart is different from your physical heart. Your physical heart pumps blood throughout your body and keeps you alive. It’s very important. But believe it or not, it’s not quite as important as your spiritual heart.

You can’t actually find your spiritual heart in your body. It’s part of your mind, but no one is really sure what part. Most likely, it’s a combination of parts that work together. In your spiritual heart, you store the things that are most important to you. These can be people, places and things, and each one gets its own special room.

Everyone has a door on the outside of their heart. Sometimes people decide what important things they let into their hearts through this door, but sometimes things force their way in. Anything that is very emotional for us has a way to get past the door to our heart and take over a room on the inside.

More than anything, Jesus wants to come into our hearts, but He will never force his way in. He stands outside and knocks on our door, and even though He is powerful enough to come in without our permission, He always waits to be invited. In the book of Revelation, Jesus says:

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

If we open the door to Him, He comes into the first rooms in our heart, which are the places God reserved for Eternity when He created us.

Every human being was created with these rooms in his or her heart, because God didn’t want us to be satisfied living without Him. Unfortunately, many people don’t ever answer the door when Jesus knocks. Instead, they try to fill these rooms with other things (like money, relationships and things) so that they won’t feel so empty.

But if we do allow Jesus to come into these rooms, the first thing He does is turn on the lights. This gives us hope and excitement for the things Jesus is ready and willing to do in our lives. Often, this leads us to invite Jesus into other rooms, like the one that determines who (or what) we worship.

Once Jesus enters that room, He starts to show us what we’ve been worshipping instead of Him. He starts to “rearrange the furniture” in our rooms. In other words, He evaluates what’s in there and either asks us to get rid of it (if it’s junk) or to put it in the right place (if it’s worth keeping but getting more attention than it deserves).

When those rooms are in pretty good shape, Jesus will knock on doors to other rooms. He never barges in. We have to open the door for Him.

Sometimes opening the doors is very scary for us. We worry about what Jesus will think of us when He sees what we’ve put in the rooms, and we worry that He will make us get rid of some of the things we really, really like. As a result of our fears, we don’t always let Jesus into all our rooms.

We may only let Him into a few rooms at a time, and He might have to do a lot of knocking to get into them. While He stands on the other side of the door, we sometimes have a conversation with Him that goes something like this:

JESUS: “I would like to meet your friends. Will you let me into that room?”

US: “Oh, uh, my friends? Well, some of them aren’t the kind of people you would like very much.”

JESUS: “Really? Why would you think that?”

US: “Well, they use bad language and do things they shouldn’t do sometimes.”

JESUS: “So did you before you let Me into your heart.”

US: “Hmmm… well, that makes sense. Okay, I’ll try to find a good time to introduce You.”

JESUS: “Thanks for introducing me to them. I’ve been knocking on the doors to their hearts for years, but I think they are just now starting to hear Me.”

US: “Yeah, that wasn’t so tough. I’m going to start praying for them every day.”

JESUS: “Say, what about the friends in that other room?”

US: “Oh, I can’t introduce You to them. They hate it when anyone talks about You. They make fun of Christians, and they definitely will make fun of me if they find out I’m one.”

JESUS: “Still, I would really like to meet them, and I wish you weren’t ashamed of Me around them. If they don’t like you because of Me, maybe you should find some other friends. Why don’t you introduce Me, and we’ll see how it turns out?”

US: “Okay, but that scares me to death. Please give me courage.”

US: “That wasn’t easy, but I can see now how those friends were hurting my spiritual growth. I’m glad I let You in that room.”

JESUS: “Keep praying for them. I’ve got plans for their lives, too. You’ve taken a really big step by opening that room to Me. Now let’s talk about all these other places you could open up.”

And the conversation continues, Jesus knocking, us choosing whether or not to respond to His knock. Sometimes we have a major spiritual breakthrough and start throwing many doors open to Jesus. We let Him into our family relationships, our crushes and dating relationships, how we spend our free time, how we spend our money, our habits, the things we desire for ourselves and others…

Jesus sanctifies each room (that’s a big word that means setting something aside for God). He claims each room for His purposes and begins to show us His will for those things that are so important to us. Sometimes He completely empties a room and replaces what was in it with something better, like when He introduces us to new people and helps us care for them or like when He shows us the ministry where He wants us to use our time, talents and treasure.

Room-by-room, Jesus brings light to our heart. He will go anywhere we invite Him, but He knows that some rooms will take more time for us to open. The rooms that hold our Fears, Disappointments, Hates and Hurts are particularly difficult. We didn’t invite these things; they forced their way in and claimed rooms in the deepest, darkest corners of our heart. Over the years, they have become strongholds for Satan. He uses them as his bases of operation as he leads us into sin and prevents us from becoming all that God wants us to be.

It takes incredible courage to open the doors of these rooms to Jesus. Each one is filled with so much fear and pain that the doors can only open a fraction at first. If our courage fails us, we slam them shut again, but if we release these rooms to Jesus, He enters boldly, throws the light switch and evicts the Enemy!

In the light, Jesus shows us the lies that Satan has been telling us about these rooms while we were too afraid to open them and inspect them carefully. Under His loving care, we begin to see how we can turn these Fears, Disappointments, Hates and Hurts into New Hope, New Acceptance, New Love and New Strength.

Jesus is patient, but He isn’t satisfied with only part of our heart.  He’ll keep knocking until we open every door to every room.  He’s persistent with a purpose.  Jesus wants us to know that those things we don’t release to Him end up owning us.  They lead to unhappiness and failure, and they give Satan a hold on our hearts.  It’s only the heart completely open to God that can fully shine His light.

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Filed under christianity, eternity, heart, Religion, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality, Uncategorized

Everyone A Missionary


A sea captain and his chief engineer got into an argument about which one was more important to the ship. Finally, they decided to trade places for a day. The chief went up to the bridge, and the captain went down to the engine room. After a few hours, the captain suddenly appeared on deck, covered with oil and soot. “Chief!” he yelled, wildly waving aloft a monkey wrench. “You’ll have to come down here! I can’t make her go!” “Of course not!” replied the chief. “We’re aground!”

Who’s more important?   We waste so much time having this discussion / argument.  Even in the Church.  Especially in the Church.  We haven’t learned the lesson Jesus was trying to impress upon his ambitions apostles.  Namely: “Quit arguing and start serving!”

Many in the church have a prioritized list of Christians that designates who is most important – who is serving the most.  It goes something like this (#1 is the greatest servant):

  1. Martyrs
  2. Missionaries (extra points if they live in Africa)
  3. Ministers
  4. Musicians
  5. The rest of us

Prioritization differs some, but most of us have a list like this somewhere either in our subconscious or conscious minds.  If you give your life for the call, you are the “best” Christian.  If you go overseas to do missionary work, you are a really great Christian.  Ministers are great.  Musicians are good, and so on.  Of course, that means the “rest of us” are pretty mediocre in comparison.

This type of thinking is a subtle deception from the Pit.  It sounds right to put martyrs, missionaries and ministers above the rest of us, but it has sinister implications:

  • It causes many to abdicate responsibility, i.e., “It’s my pastor’s job to save people.”
  • It creates enormous pressure on those at the top of the list to be more “holy” than the rest of us, i.e., “Did you see the way those missionaries’ kids behaved?  I expected their parents to have better control of them.”
  • It tempts those at the top of the list to be prideful about how they are serving (well, not the martyrs…they’re pretty much dead).
  • It deprecates the contribution the rest of us make.

Here’s the thing…we are ALL missionaries.  Doesn’t matter if you live in Podunk, Texas, or in Phnom Phen, Cambodia.  Wherever you are, that’s your mission field.  Everyone is a stranger in a strange land, because earth is not your home – heaven is.  Just because you speak the same language as your mission group doesn’t make your mission less worthy (or less difficult, for that matter).

There are people in your mission field that will never know about a martyr’s death.  They will never meet a “missionary,” and they may not set foot in a church before they give their hearts to Jesus.  That means you’re it!  God has entrusted that person or those people to you, and your role is every bit as important as anyone else’s in the Church.

Like the captain and the chief in the story, we all have an important job to do to keep the ship moving in the open waters.  Whether we are topside or below deck is unimportant.  Whether we are given a wrench or the helm is unimportant.  It’s what we do with what we are given that matters.

Remember that in the parable of the talents, both the servant who doubled the five talents and the servant who doubled the two talents got the same appraisal, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” The servant who received the one talent could have earned the same praise, but he made excuses instead of using the resources his master gave him.  (Matthew 25:14-30)

Bottom line: We serve wherever God has appointed us, and our obedience in that role is the measure of our “greatness.”

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Clawing Your Way Out


Put a single crab in a bucket, and it’s likely to crawl out. Experienced crab fishermen know that if you put two or more crabs in the bucket, none of them will escape.

Why?  Because whenever one of the crabs tries to escape, the other crabs will instinctively reach up and pull it back down.

People can be a lot like the crabs in the bucket.  When some people see another person trying to make something of themselves, they try to sabotage their efforts. They can’t stand to see someone else get ahead. Another person’s success reminds them of their lack of success, so they reach up and grab a foot.

When you try to improve yourself and climb up out of the bucket you’re in, you’re going to experience opposition…..guaranteed.  Many of those crabs in the bottom of the bucket (your peers, your friends, your family members…) have a vested interest in keeping you there.  If you climb out, they start to get lonely.  Remember, misery loves company.

Worse, your escape is a reminder to them that they actually have some control over their own situation.  Ironically, this is bad news, because they really don’t want to take control.  It’s much easier and much more comfortable to stay in the bottom of the bucket and complain.

From the bottom of the bucket, they can blame all the people and circumstances that are responsible for their unhappy condition.  They can criticize the efforts of the crabs who are trying to climb out of the bucket for thinking that they are better than everyone else.  They can spread gossip and negative seeds about the crabs that believe they can escape.

What a shame!  All this lose-lose behavior is such a waste.  While the crabs in the bottom do their best to hold everyone down they totally miss the fact that they could all get free if they would let the crabs who crawl out reach back and pull them up!

If you’ve made it out already, remember to lend a claw.  If you’re still in the bottom of the bucket, keep your claws to yourself!

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Walking Them Down the Aisle


My daughter is going through a crisis of belief. She’s eleven, and she made her decision for Christ a few years back. But now she’s in a new environment, and her new peer group isn’t buying the “Bible as the inerrant Word of God” stuff. At recess, they ridicule the stories from the Bible that their teacher reads to them each morning, and this has caused my daughter to wonder if what Mom and Dad said about God is really true.

This has given me some worry and anxiety over the years. “Years,” because while I knew this day was coming, I’ve had no idea what to do about it. However, this week, I was introduced to the work of an author named John Westerhoff, who has written a book called, Will Our Children Have Faith? In it, he talks about the four stages of faith. They are:

  1. Apprehension rather than comprehension
  2. Identification with the faith of their parents or peers
  3. Questioning, doubt, searching and experimentation
  4. Owned faith

Children first apprehend that there is a loving God before they understand much about Him. We could make a pretty strong case that they are born with a sense of the spiritual. Young children typically just accept it when we tell them there is an all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere God. The doubts come later, but at this stage, they take this information at face value.

A stage of identification with the faith of their parents or peers follows. If they trust us, they will trust our God. They will model our spiritual walk through prayers and church attendance. If we are focused, we can teach them many good spiritual disciplines during this time that will lay a solid foundation for the questioning stage that comes next.

This next stage of questioning and doubt can be scary. It’s a time when children have a literal crisis of belief. (This is where my daughter is right now.) With time, support and searching, this questioning and doubt can lead to ownership of their faith, and an often powerful realization of God’s love and plan for their lives. In the final stage, the child is like those brought to Christ by the Samaritan woman at the well, who said, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

God gave me a metaphor to help me explain to my daughter what she was going through. I reminded her of the times we had talked about her wedding day and asked her if she remembered my role. She did. I’m to be with her when she starts her march down the aisle, and arm-in-arm, we will slowly make our way to the front. Up to that point, I have all the responsibility for leading her there. I’m the most important man in her life. But once we reach the front, I give her to her husband, who will then become the most important man in her life.

Right now, I’m also the most important man in my daughter’s spiritual life. She looks to me to find out what to believe and how to express her faith. She trusts Jesus largely because she trusts me and believes what I’ve told her about Him. But there is coming a day very soon when it will be time for me to give her to the new, most important man in her spiritual life, and that’s Jesus. She can’t always have me in the picture, because she needs to develop a personal relationship with Him.

I’ve had the joy and the privilege of “walking her down the aisle” of faith. And somewhat like a new bride, my daughter is nervous and having her doubts before making such a big commitment. And even after she has moved to the ownership stage, my role won’t be done. I will still need to model my faith, to answer her questions, to ease her doubts, to provide advice. Just because I’m moving to the position of the #2 man in her life doesn’t mean I’ll ever stop being her dad.

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The Harvest


In the summertime, I regularly visit Texas to teach Scripture at a summer camp for abused children. We describe our work as a “ground-tilling, seed-planting ministry.” Because we work with secular and civic groups to source the children for our camp, we commit to them that we won’t do altar calls or other invitations to come to Christ. We till the soil; we plant the seeds, but we don’t harvest the crop.

Frankly, this is sometimes a bit frustrating. We only have a week with these children, and there’s no guarantee that we will ever see them again. We love them so much that we want to know for certain that they will join us in heaven. And because we are often sending them back into family situations that are less than ideal, we desperately want them to go with some spiritual protection.

A few years ago, I thought I had found a clever loophole in our agreement with the groups who help us source the children. I decided that we could do more than we were doing to win the children to Christ. We could till the soil, plant the seeds, water the seeds and bring the children to the edge of the field, where we would hand them the sickle so that they could reap the harvest themselves. In practical terms, this meant that I presented the Gospel message several times and tried to convince the children that this was the most important decision that a human being could make.

A month before camp, we started praying as a group for twelve decisions for Christ. So we were overjoyed when the first little girl approached me after the teaching time and said that she wanted to ask Jesus into her heart. (We were not allowed to invite them, but we could lead them if they initiated.) Before the end of the day, she brought two of her friends who also wanted to become Christians.

I was so excited that I fell right into the Enemy’s trap. Thinking that we should celebrate these three new believers, I invited each of them to come up on stage and share their decision with their peers. These announcements were met with thundering applause and tears of joy, hugs and encouragement.

The following day, we had conversions four and five. The next day, conversion number six. And on the final day, conversions seven through twelve! Twelve prayers for Christ! We were ecstatic!

A few weeks later, a dear friend who also volunteers at the camp invited me to breakfast. In his gracefully tactful way, he shared with me the consequences of my exuberant semi-evangelism at camp that year. One of the mothers of the children who had accepted Christ at camp was very upset with us. In fact, she was complaining to the state agency through which we sourced many of the children. She wanted to know why, when her daughter had already received Christ in her heart, we were pressuring her to make a second decision. Ironically, the child was one of the first three who had made decisions that week.

As we unpacked the events of the week and my influence on them, I realized that I had created incentives for confessing a decision for Christ – individual attention, praise and encouragement, status (they got to hold the microphone), approval, applause… This presented a troubling problem. Could we be sure that the twelve decisions for Christ were genuine? In retrospect, no. They could have all been motivated by the incentives I added to the process. These were abused children, who often lived in homes where they shared the attention of adults with as many as a dozen foster-siblings.

I was humbled and convicted. As I reflect, the main mistake I made was valuing the harvest above the processes for ground-tilling and seed-planting. All three are evangelism. No one part is less valuable than the others.

We live in a culture where we want to measure everything. Some would say, “If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist.” But that’s such an evil deception in evangelism. All parts of the process are valuable and necessary. The missionary who serves for a dozen years with no converts to Christianity hasn’t wasted her time. She has broken up the rough ground. The man who preaches the Gospel to a handful of comers under a tent in a hot and dusty Texas town hasn’t wasted his time. He has planted seeds that will grow long after he has left.

Just because a compelling message is presented that draws hundreds to the altar doesn’t mean that the evangelist deserves credit for all those souls. He has benefited from the hard work of many others. And, truth be known, none of those others deserves the credit, either. It’s the Holy Spirit who draws people to Christ. Our role is to be faithful at the part that we’ve been called to do and not to argue with each other over who will be the greatest in the Kingdom of God.

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The VIP Line


I got in line at the airport yesterday, resigned to endure the long, shuffling wait. It was an international flight, and there were several hundred people queued up waiting to check in. Most wore their boredom and/or irritation plainly on their faces, but they knew there was nothing they could do. This was how things went when you couldn’t pay premium for business or first class seats.

After some time shuffling along, I remembered my more-than-frequent flier card. It sometimes allows me to bypass the long lines and head straight for the VIP desk. But I hesitated to move for three reasons:

1. I wasn’t sure this card would work with this airline.

2. I was afraid to give up my time-earned place in line just in case I was wrong.

3. I was pretty sure I knew what all the other people would think about me if I went ahead of them by moving to the VIP line. (I’ve had a person yell at me on one occasion, but the passive-aggressive typically just make angry remarks under their breath for my benefit.)

I’m sure you would have made the switch immediately, but I had to weigh and reweigh the factors in the balance. This was a life-changing decision. “Stay – Go…..StayGoStaaayy…GO! Go now! Go! I mentally cattle-prodded my rear end and took a step. After that, the decision was made for me, as the line oozed in to fill the space where my foot had just been. There was no going back; I had forfeited my claim.

I could hear the murmurs and feel the stares as I made my way to the empty VIP line, but I kept my eyes forward and my head held high. When I reached the ticket agent, I apologetically asked, “I can’t come over here if I have one of these, can I?” But to my relief, I was in the right place! Stamp-stamp, bzzzzt-bzzzzt (the universal onomatopoeia for a ticket printer) and I was gone, shaking the cold stares off my shoulder as I headed for the gate. An hour of my life was lost but now was found! Bring the fatted calf!

With all that extra time on my hands, I began to think about how strangely familiar the event had felt. There was a time when I shuffled along in the spiritual economy line when I could have gone right to the VIP desk. It wasn’t that I had earned my VIP status. Jesus (“The” VIP) paid my membership for me. In fact, He paid it for everyone standing in economy, but most of us have learned to be helpless, and we’ve stopped looking for a better way.

We see a few people break away and head toward the VIP desk, but we doubt that it will work for us. Or we have so much invested in our “economy” lives and belief systems that we are too afraid to leave the comfort of the familiar.

What if we step away from the crowd, and we’re wrong? What if what we’ve heard about the VIP line is too good to be true? Won’t we look foolish? Won’t everyone laugh at us or get angry with us for thinking we are better than they are?

Satan knows how easy we are to keep in line. His creates the queue barriers with slender reasons for ropes, because he knows how compliant we are, how willing to follow the crowd. A little fear, a little uncertainty, and we decide “better safe than sorry” and “let’s see what everyone else does.” We take our cue (pun intended) from other people in the economy line as if they were qualified experts; “He looks smart, and he’s not moving” or “She said that she heard the VIP thing was a hoax.”

But as tragic as this deception is, it’s not nearly as bad as the deception Satan works on those who know they are VIPs but continue to walk in economy. I’m not talking about the ones who went back to convince the others to switch; I’m talking about those who are too afraid to trust what The VIP has said to be true.

Jesus has purchased first class tickets for them to lead lives of joy, promise, hope, and incredible, exciting service to Him. But because these riches are spiritual and less obvious than worldly riches, the VIPs in economy march on with the rest, hoping for an upgrade that they can see, touch and spend. They want to believe the promises of Scripture, but they lack the faith to walk in the VIP line.

If more of the VIPs were in the right line, the switch would be much less scary for those still in economy. They want to see that it’s real, that it works, before they step out. But so often they are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with VIPs whose lives are no better than their own. To them, it seems like a membership club with no benefits.

“Red Rover, Red Rover, let the VIPs come over.” Jesus paid a lot to get us our upgrade; Let’s walk in it and enjoy it enough that it looks worth having.

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Unsportsmanlike Conduct


Sara Tucholsky swung and connected.  It was a beauty!  All the way over the center-field fence!  Home run!

What made it even sweeter was that it was her first home run – ever!  And it happened at the end of a tough season in her senior year at Western Oregon University.  Prior to this swing, she had only connected three times out of 34 at-bats.  That’s at least 99 unproductive swings.  She was going to enjoy this home run, and it would give the team the numbers they needed to win the conference and go on to the playoffs.

But as Sara rounded first base, she missed the tag.  Realizing her mistake, she swung around too quickly and wrenched her knee – most likely a torn ligament.  The pain was incredible!  It was all she could do to get back to first base.  She couldn’t make it the rest of the way.

The umpire shared Sara’s options with her.  “You can call in a pinch runner, but then the home run will count as a single.  If your teammates try to help you, you’ll be called out.”

First baseman, Mallory Holtman, of the opposing team, witnessed the interaction.  Being the career home run leader in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, she sensed the injustice of the situation.  And putting aside her own team’s goals, she asked permission to help Sara around the bases.

“Nothing against it in the rules.”  the umpire said.

So, Mallory and a teammate picked Sara up and carried her to each of the bases, allowing her to touch them with her good leg before moving on.  The home run counted for three of Western Oregon’s four runs in a 4-2 victory over Central Washington University, and it put Central Washington out of the playoffs.

It’s so…what’s the word?…unsportsmanlike.  I’ve watched softball games before.  The women are often more competitive than the men.  Since when would an player give up her chance of a championship in order to help an opposing player complete a home run?  I bet her teammates couldn’t wait to give her a swirly back in the lockerroom.

But isn’t it beautiful!  What an act of grace!  Mallory intentionally gave up her season to do the right thing.  That takes courage, the willingness to stand alone and the humility to look like and be treated like a fool.

I believe that anytime you see something like this, a window of heaven has opened up, and you are getting a peek at God’s incredible love for us.  Mallory isn’t Jesus; I don’t know if she’s even Christian, but she can be used by God to reflect His Son. 

Sara Tucholsky is the Everyman.  Striking out time after time; unable to connect with the fame and success that most of us crave.  And then her big break – she knocks it out of the park in an important game!  But as she heads towards her success, the strain of the effort causes a breakdown.  It’s not within her power to get where she wants to go. 

This time, her failure is more pronounced.  Everyone is watching.  Faced with discouraging choices, she’s not sure what to do.  But at her moment of greatest need, the one she thought was her enemy becomes her friend.  None of Sara’s peers could help her; it had to be someone on another team willing to give up everything in order to get her home.

Images of God are everywhere.  We have no excuse.

 

(S – Associated Press, April 30, 2008, “Opponents Carry Injured Home-Run Hitter Around Bases)

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