Covetous Hearts at Christmas

This is supposed to be a time of giving, isn’t it? Why then does my heart just begin to erupt with a nagging desire for things. It’s not even stuff I need or really, really want.  It’s just a gut-wrenching “You would be most happy if you had…” or, “Wouldn’t your life be so much easier if you had…?” Do you have similar thoughts? How do you battle with

Here are some things I begin to do with great and purposeful intentionality:

1.  Stop your heart.  No, I don’t mean physically.  I mean, I literally say to my soul, “Stop!” This is not some legalistic, just-try-harder thing, it simply is what Paul says in 2Corinthians 10:5, “…take every thought captive…” Here’s our “way of escape” (1Corinthians 10:13) and somehow we miss it.  Don’t miss it–stop it!

2.  Start your heart.  Here’s where I begin to start my heart: the goodness and grace of God in Christ.  Begin a list and keep adding to it.  Christ has given me life itself. I breathe. That is simply because God is gracious. But there’s more–oh, so much more.  He has given me grace, mercy, righteousness, peace, adoption as an adult son, I’m an heir with Christ, grace, and did I mention grace? This is just a start–begin a list and check it every day! Keep it vertical–Christ focused.

3. Renew your heart. Here’s the other important part–the horizontal relationships that God has given.  I begin with Cindy, my wife. Oh, my, God’s goodness and grace really begins to overflow as I think of how good God has been to give me her! Then I think of my three children and now their spouses–all very dear people to me–my favorite in the world. Then, so far, three grandchildren. I can’t resist thinking about my extended family of my brothers, who are very dear to me, my dad, my in-laws, and just as I am about to burst, I think of my family in Christ. The covetous thoughts really begin to slither away by God’s good kindness.

This takes practice. The thing I like most is the worship that comes out of this as I think of what I really deserve. So much of life hovers around our view of God vs. our view of ourselves. Sin always takes root when we think more highly of ourselves than we ought. Only God is God and He alone is our satisfaction!

So, stop; start; and renew!

Have a very Merry Christmas!

Unbelief – An Often Misdiagnosed Disease

It’s tragic–very tragic. It happens to all of us. We simply don’t believe Christ–who He is, what He has done, or is doing–and we misdiagnose our unbelief as a mere trifle, a cold, or a passing headache. 
 I see unbelief in my own heart and am often shocked by how easily I go there. Any time I spend giving in to my unbelief, I am, in effect, walking down the path to a land of make-believe. I often call it “la-la land”–a land of complete desolation! It is desolate because it isn’t a place of real life–it’s make-believe. It’s a cold, lonely, and harsh land.  It’s not the place of God and His great glory.  It is simply an imaginary place that seeks to void God from all of life.  The reality, of course, is that we can’t do that to our Creator, for He is THE Ultimate Reality. (Psalm 139).

There are several paths to “la-la land.”images

1. The path of cynicism – If I  head down this path, I don’t have to really buy into things I don’t want to believe. I can just give a cynical glance to them, chuckle about them, and move on. If I am not convinced things will happen like God says they will, I can just wander down this path and gamble that maybe, just maybe they won’t really be as God says. Sometimes, cynicism brings comfort because things don’t often happen when we think they will happen, and we rush to the conclusion that they won’t ever happen and seek comfort from our misguided thoughts.  Dangerous.

2. The path of skepticism – This path is very close to cynicism, but this one is often based purely on experience. I’m skeptical because it has never happened to me. Oh, I may have heard about it happening, but I personally have never experienced it, so at the very least, I’m skeptical. Since unbelief in Christ demands my own belief system (or any belief system other than God), skepticism becomes a source of comfort since I get to decide based on my own experience and my own choices. Also dangerous!

3. The path of suppression. Now, it does get very dangerous.  I grab all troublesome thoughts and seek to diminish their impact in life. Some call this denial. I get subdued, quiet, tepid, and perhaps lifeless in reactions and responses. This is a miserable life of coiling into a fear-filled cocoon and denying truth by squelching the obvious work of God in life and minimizing any effect it may make.

4. The path of scoffing.  Unbelief shows it truest colors when it derides, ridicules, or pokes fun of truth and people who are seeking truth. The disease at this point is bringing a certain blindness of thought, a narrowness of mind that will not see things any other way. There’s a certain insecurity about unbelief that will create its own world and just insist this new world is the world that everyone must live in.  Ridiculing truth and those who believe it becomes  a game to people who go down this path.

Any of these paths, and no doubt there are others, are often diagnosed merely as ways of handling life. In a survival mentality, one doesn’t deal with truth but just seeks to persevere. Sometimes life gets that way. But refusal of the truths of all that Christ is and all that He is doing and has done is refusing to live life – real life. Christ came that we might have life in an abundant way (John 10:10). Let’s check our lives and makes sure we have not misdiagnosed a very deadly disease.


If you need electricity you just plug in somewhere, right? Right!  That is, unless you don’t have electricity in the first place.  You may have an outlet, but if there is no electricity there, you are as good as unplugged. Image

We just went through a vicious storm here that took the electricity down all across our city.  Our church building did not have electricity for almost a week.  We had a Sunday morning service and it was pretty warm.  God was good and we all made it through–including some visitors that came.

I was reminded again just how we rely on electricity.  We are people that need to be plugged in.  If there is no electricity, we find it very difficult to live our lives.  Someone asked me the question that we all ask, “How did the people survive when there was no electricity?”  I just seem to think they were in some ways much stronger people and perhaps less dependent people.  We are very dependent people and all of our “things” make it obvious.  It always reminds me of what Paul says in Romans 1:22, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools.” That is humanity, isn’t it?  Really–we claim to be so wise and all that needs to happen is for someone to pull the plug and we are sunk!

This is really a pretty clear picture of just how we really are though. Paul is speaking of unbelievers who attempt to live life as if God doesn’t exist. But even as children of God we continue to be very dependent upon God. All of our very life and existence is only because He graciously makes it possible for us to live.  We need Him more than we could ever realize.  This is not only true in a general sense, but also in a very specific sense.
1Cor. 15:19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Everyday, we need a Savior!  Everyday, by His great grace, we have a Savior.  His name is Jesus.  Blessed be His name!

A Pastor’s Check Up

I recently had my car in for an oil change and general check up. As a vehicle gets older more and more mechanical things can begin to go wrong with it. It can get quite expensive–especially if you ignore fixing them and have to do several repairs at a time. Most places that change your oil will claim at least a 24 point check list they go through just for your convenience, of course.  They always seem to find things that need fixing, don’t they–for their convenience??  The check up though is good and necessary.

The same can be said of a pastor. A good overall check up is necessary for the effective loving shepherd if he is going to continue ministering with grace and truth.  Ministry can be rough and cause damage to the key areas of life.  If it is ignored, it can get quite expensive to the whole church.  I’m not sure we should make a 24 check point list, but there are a number of key things each pastor should be sure to check. What are some of these key areas to watch for? If you are a pastor, maybe you need to begin a list.  If you are not a pastor, maybe you can be a help to your pastor by sitting down with him and encourage him by talking about some of these check points.

1.  A personal growth in love for Christ. There are many things that pull and tug at the heart of a shepherd.  Every honest pastor at some point feels that God has chosen the wrong man for the job. He knows all too well many of his own personal weaknesses and often feels like Moses who told God “I am not eloquent and slow of speech and tongue…” Ex 4:10.  It is vital then that a shepherd set aside his feelings and reorient himself around the love of God as seen through Christ. There is nothing sweeter to the soul and nothing more nourishing. A pastor must find in Christ his greatest treasure and grow in his personal love and amazement for Christ.

2.  A personal discipline to think what is true. Sin is deceitful and thrives on that which is false.  Sin delights in partial truths–even though that is clearly an oxymoron. A shepherd has to be discerning–constantly. Approving things that are excellent (Phil 1:10) is a constant rearranging priorities and seeing through the facades of life that can come as a fog into the atmosphere of ministry.  Seeing through the deceptions and getting to the root of the issue takes careful personal discipline to think what is true in every area of life and ministry. Paul understood this and told the Philippian Christians to think whatever is true (Phil 4:10). Personal discipline is a must here.  Check yourself.

3. A personal accountability and transparency. Younger pastors get this. Many older generation pastors don’t. This is unfortunate and probably is a small commentary of culture and climate of both generations. Culture aside, it is Scriptural. 1Thessalonians 1:5 Paul points specifically to this kind of transparency when he says, “…You know what kind of men we proved to be among you..” Powerful.  The truth is, people do know what kind of man their pastor is.  The question then is, “Will the pastor be open and honest with his weaknesses, fears, frailties, and doubts and set up friendships of accountability that will encourage, rebuke, grow him in grace and in knowledge of Christ? Humility and satisfaction in the perfections of Christ give us our freedom to be transparent and accountable.

4.  A personal  passion to love.  The two great commands stem from the Ten Commandments–love God and love others. Together they highlight a truth: Because God is love we too should love. We often emphasize who we are to love and fail to notice that because God is love it should be our character to love as well.  When constantly working with people in their most difficult times–when in sin, real life hurts, disagreements, or in tragedies a pastor can soon become protective of his own soul by seeking to distance himself from people. Cynicism, self protection or blindness to people and their needs often plague the heart and like a corrosive numbness, over time, genuine love grows cold in the shepherd’s heart.  This is a danger for a shepherd that will soon diminish his love for people and ultimately his love for and dependence upon God Himself.  Check yourself.  Guard your heart.

5.  A personal priority of family. No other job position has as a requirement for the position healthy family relationships. No other relationships are as difficult, tedious, overpowering, and vulnerable as family relationships. A shepherd must keep as a priority his family.  Our theology is best displayed in our families. A shepherd must not merely go home from work, but he must go home to work. He cannot actually be strong in the pulpit when his family has no regard or respect for him at home. A shepherd cannot be blind here. Time is the great tattle-tale. Time has a way of uncovering what really is lived at home.  Most young pastors don’t think enough of the Gospel to put it to work in the early years of parenting. It smacks them in the gut years later.

6.  A personal display of confessing and forsaking. At any given time, who is the biggest sinner in the room? The Gospel frees us to think as Paul when he says in 1Timothy 1:15, “…Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” His open confession of this is reassuring, isn’t it? If who Christ is and what Christ has done is really true, then why can’t the shepherd be the model of confessing sin and forsaking sin? The kindness of the grace of Christ allows us this privilege. The sheep don’t need to see someone who looks and acts like a super-christian hero–they need a glimpse of Christ who knows what to do with sin.

Time for a check up? If you are a pastor, go through the drill, but don’t wallow in your feelings.  Instead find great hope in the blessed mercy and grace in Christ alone.  If you are not a pastor, but have one, pray for him.  Encourage him and his family.  Then look to your own life and seek God’s power and presence to be the kind of sheep a shepherd finds great joy in shepherding.  They watch for your souls, you know.

Confession is Good for the Soul

I am often reminded of my own sinfulness. I live with it everyday. I wake up and immediately begin to think about me and how life needs to revolve around me. My feelings are important. What I think is more important than what anyone else thinks. My views on things are the best views because I see them, I know them, I study to bring myself to them, and frankly, I’m right.

I hate it that these thoughts are often my default. I don’t see anywhere in Scripture where Christ once had those thoughts–even for a single moment.

Here’s the good news. By Christ’s propitiating death, I am no longer bound to those thoughts. Those thoughts no longer have rule in my life. Paul says in Romans 6:18 “and, having been set free from sin, [we] have become slaves of righteousness!” What joy that brings to my heart. What hope that brings to my soul. What peace that brings to my mind! This sends my heart then to confession.

Confession is not just “good” for the soul–it is vital! It is vital for life–real abundant life that only Christ gives!

Confession is to say the same thing that God says about my sin. I can freely do this, now that I am set free. I can freely bathe myself in the showers of slavery to Christ’s righteousness. What a cleansing this is. How absolutely refreshing this is to the deepest parts of the soul! Here and only here is where the fountain of His mighty grace shows itself flowing rivers of living water.

I love the prayers from Valley of Vision. I resort to them often when I am so overwhelmed and I need words to speak to my Lord.

This one is called “Continual Repentance.” Here are some parts of it that really spoke to me this morning:

I need to repent of my repentance;

I need my tears to be washed;

I have no robe to bring to cover my sins,

no loom to weave my own righteousness;

I am always standing clothed in filthy garments,

and by grace am always receiving change of raiment,

for thou dost always justify the ungodly;

Every morning let me wear it,

every evening return in it,

go out to the day’s work in it,

enter heaven in it shining as the sun.

Grant me never to lose sight of

the exceeding sinfulness of my sin,

the exceeding righteouness of salvation,

the exceeding glory of Christ,

the exceeding beauty of holiness,

the exceeding wonder of grace!