Monday, March 31, 2014

The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart

What if I woke up one morning and noticed a puddle of water on the floor in the bedroom, and I took quick action by looking up, and there I noticed that the problem was something in the ceiling. Yep, I tell my wife, there’s a leak up there somewhere. Then I address the problem by putting a bucket on the floor, promising to be faithful to empty that bucket whenever it’s full.

That would be just plain dumb, wouldn’t it?

That would be like telling someone with an anger problem just to take a deep breath when the rage is at its peak. Or telling someone with a pornography addiction to put a better filter on his computer. Or telling someone whose marriage is failing to buy a dozen roses and a box of chocolates for his spouse. Or telling someone who is morbidly obese to start an exercise program and go on a diet. Each of those suggestions is a bucket that catches some of the leaks and keeps the mess at a minimum ... maybe. But none of those suggestions fix the problem.

The leaky roof is not solved with a bucket, but with a repair. You have to get to the source. The anger problem is not solved by behavior modification, but by heart change. Neither are any of the others. The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. And, as John Calvin said years ago, “The human heart is an idol factory . . . every one of us from our mother’s womb is an expert at inventing idols.”

One of the best books to come along in a long time to address the problem of heart idols is “Gods at War,” by Kyle Idleman. He suggests we ask ourselves the following questions to see what false gods we have raised up in our hearts.

What disappoints you? When we feel overwhelmed by disappointment, it’s a good sign that something has become far more important to us than it should be. Disproportionate disappointment reveals that we have placed intense hope and longing in something other than God.

What do you complain about the most? Ask someone close to you about your typical complaints. If you constantly complain about your financial situation, maybe money has become too important to you. If you constantly whine to your spouse about your sex life, maybe sexual pleasure has become a god. If you constantly complain about a lack of respect in the office, maybe what other people think about you matters more than it should. If you constantly complain about what kind of year your sports team is having, maybe sports has become your god.

Where do you make financial sacrifices? Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Where your money goes shows what god is winning your heart.

What worries you? It could be the idea of losing someone significant, or losing your job or your house or your talent. It could be the fear of being ridiculed. Whatever it is that wakes you — or for that matter keeps you up — has the potential to be an idol.

Where is your sanctuary? Where do you go when you’re hurting? After a terrible day at the office, where do you go when you get home? To the refrigerator for comfort food? To the phone to vent with your most trusted friend? Do you seek escape in novels or movies or video games or pornography? Where do you look for emotional rescue?

I challenge you to ask yourself these questions. It may change your life.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The 'A' has been provided

Charles Stanley likes to tell the story of how a professor in seminary showed his class in a very practical way what grace looks like. At the end of his evangelism course, the professor would distribute the final exam with the caution to read it all the way through before beginning to answer it. This caution was written on the exam as well. As the students read the test, it became unquestionably clear to each of them that they had not studied nearly enough. The further they read, the worse it became. About halfway through, audible groans could be heard throughout the lecture hall. On the last page, however, was a note that read, “You have a choice. You can either complete the exam as given or sign your name at the bottom and in so doing receive an A for this assignment.”

They sat there stunned. “Was he serious? Just sign it and get an A?” Slowly, the point dawned on them, and one by one they turned in our tests and silently filed out of the room.

When Stanley talked with the professor about it afterward, he shared some of the reactions he had received through the years. Some students began to take the exam without reading it all the way through, and they would sweat it out for the entire two hours of class time before reaching the last page.

Others read the first two pages, became angry at how ridiculously hard it was, turned the test in blank, and stormed out of the room without signing it. They never realized what was available, and as a result, they lost out totally.

One fellow, however, read the entire test, including the note at the end, but decided to take the exam anyway. He did not want any gifts; he wanted to earn his grade. And he did. He made a C+, but he could easily have had an A.

This story illustrates many people’s reaction to God’s solution to sin. Some people look at God’s standard — moral and ethical perfection — and throw their hands up in surrender. Why even try? Others are like the student who read the test through and was aware of the professor’s offer but took the test anyway. They gritted their teeth and bowed their will to the impossible task of earning an A. They were unwilling to simply receive God’s gift that had already been provided, through the sacrifice of the only One who could provide it. “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

I don’t like to read the directions for anything, and can point to a pile of rubbish in my wake that I tried to fix. Like the basketball goal with its one million parts, that only got together because Jim, my neighbor, came to my rescue. Before he showed up, I was trying to figure out how to just nail the rim up over the garage door without my wife and kids noticing. “Hey, Dad, I thought the basketball goal was going to be on the driveway. And wasn’t it the kind that we can move around and move the basket lower if we want to?”

I can look back at that story and laugh at my ineptness when it came to fixing things. Which, by the way, has not improved with age. But there’s nothing funny about the eternal mess our souls are in. The directions are clearly spelled out. You can’t plead ignorance. The “A” has been provided. Swallow your pride and start your new life.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Power comes from God

One of the younger members of our congregation, Daisy Pace, said to me last Sunday, “Papa said we didn’t lose our power. We lost our electricity. Power comes from God!”

A truer word was never spoken, and that from a 7-year old. It’s one of my favorite memories of last weekend’s ice event that left more than 50,000 of us in Alamance County without electricity, but not without power. Here are just a few stories from my little corner. You all could supply hundreds more.

Gary is a paramedic and was running calls all night when the ice was falling. In the meantime, trees were coming down in his yard, leaving a mess, as he called it, which was downright “post-apocalyptic.” Between saving lives in his ambulance, teaching classes at the community college and repairing cars on the side to help provide for his family of six, Gary knew there was no way he would be able to even think about dealing with the damage for weeks. No problem. There were 20 people who showed up the next day, and when they were done, Gary measured a stack of trees and branches that was 5-feet wide by 5-feet high, and 170-feet long! He stood up in church and gave a powerful testimony from a thankful heart, calling attention especially to Abe and his son, Cort, who were fast and fearless with their chainsaws. I couldn’t help but think about the Scripture that says, “For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.”

Dan and Mia never lost electricity, so their house became hotel central in downtown Burlington for several families and singles that showered there, ate their meals together there, and at least one couple slept there, as well. They took seriously the Scripture, “your abundance at the present time should supply their need.”

Brendan read an email about a tree down in someone’s yard, so he took his chainsaw and took care of it. Then he sent an email out to the whole church that he was available to help anyone who needed him.

Thom’s generator supplied needed energy for three houses. Dick ran a drop cord from his generator to his neighbor’s house, which allowed them to run a heater and stay warm during the cold nights. David helped his 92-year-old neighbor by keeping her refrigerator running with his generator.

Nathan stopped to help a man who ran under a limb he didn’t see and crashed his truck. The whole cab was caved in, leaving the driver bloody, but not seriously injured.

Seth is in school, and his physician assistant’s program has him currently working out of town. So he offered the use of his apartment, and his electricity, to anyone who needed a place to go for a few days.

Caleb saw that his brother’s yard was littered with fallen branches, so before Micah could get to the store and buy a chainsaw, Caleb had cut up and cleared away a lot of the damage.

Did we lose electricity last weekend? Yes, and in many cases, we lost phone and internet as well. As one brother shared Sunday at church, “Welcome to Alamance County of 1828.” Life stopped, or at least slowed way down, for many of us. For a few hours, we tasted a little of the way one-quarter of the world lives every day.

Did we lose power? Oh, no. As Daisy says, “Power comes from God.” That was on display everywhere last weekend.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Submit, woman!

Laura Kauffman of Shorthanding Sanity  
I remember the first time I was shamed for being a woman.

It was my senior year of college and I was a less-than-conservative Christian woman at a more-than-conservative Christian college. Sitting in swivel chairs in our student government conference room, a man I barely knew had waltzed in and picked a fight. Honestly, I don’t even remember what it was about. But I remember going around and around in a philosophical debate about the Bible.

A few good quips, a well-articulated argument, and three years on the high school speech team paid off, and I had painted the guy into a proverbial corner. I remember the look on his face as he turned red and sputtered “well…well…well..”

Then came the unexpected.

He regained his composure, looked coolly into my face, and said, “Well, that might make sense if you weren’t a woman. But you are. And everyone knows you women aren’t capable of coherent thought the way we men are.”

If he was attempting to get me speechless, he succeeded. His verbal sucker punch left me breathless, and ashamed, and defenseless. And for a brief moment, I was embarrassed to be a woman – which only added to my shame.

I remember the first time I studied submission.

I remember recoiling at the idea of being subservient to a man. I remember being confused at the whole concept – at why a God that I knew to be impartial and loving and validating would ask me to do something so seemingly 1950′s housewife-ish.

I equated it with being shamed for being a woman.

We carry that baggage into Ephesians 5, don’t we? We read “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”

We read that and we are confused. And we recoil.

And once again, I see that red-faced man telling me to know my role. I hear him belittling my gender in a way that is simultaneously shaming and silencing me.

But that is where the problem is, isn’t it.

His is not the face that is asking me to submit.

The Face that is asking me to submit is the Face of the One I love.

The Face that is asking me to submit is the One who was revolutionary in His counter-cultural validation of the importance of women.

The Face that is asking me to submit is the One that made me in His image and then commanded me to impartially value every single human life.

And most importantly, the Face that is asking me to submit is the One that is covered in the blood of submission, who has tasted the tears of shame, who has sacrificed every one of His legitimate rights.
When He asks me to submit, it says nothing about me. Or my husband. Or men. Or women. It says something about Him.

How can I really give myself up to the God of Submission but refuse to lovingly submit to my husband? How can I look into that broken face and tell Him that I’m not interested in being like Him?

Now, submission is a tricky word. We’ve so misused and abused it that we don’t really even know what we’re talking about. And Ephesians 5 doesn’t help. Talk about confusing. This whole passage is a veritable minefield of theological sticking points that we could literally spend hours dissecting and analyzing.

Beth Moore sums it up well when she affirms that submission does not mean (1) general masculine authority over all women, (2) gender inequality, (3) deification of spouses, or (4) unwilling slavery.

But here’s where things get sticky (because they weren’t already, right?!).

When we read this passage, it’s nice to define what submission isn’t. It’s nice (and- don’t get me wrong- important) to dispel all of the false definitions and uncomfortable twinges under the surface of those verses. It’s nice to focus on the husband’s calling in this passage to sacrificial love and selfless devotion to his wife.
But we still haven’t named what submission looks like in marriage for the wife, have we?

Here it is.

We are to die to ourselves in our marriages. 

Maybe you’ve heard that definition of love that goes something like, “Love is to continually put the best interests of another person ahead of your own.” I think that sums up submission pretty well, too.

Submission doesn’t mean being some passive, silent, opinion-less waif. Submission means that I will put my husband’s best interests ahead of my own desires, opinions, and practices.

It means that when I see a sin in his life, I will gently confront him – because I value his holiness more than I value my own unruffled exterior.

It means that when I am determined that I am right, I will give up my own smug determinations and allow the Spirit to lead my husband.

It means that I will put his best interest ahead of my own every single day of my life.

Uncomfortable yet? If you aren’t, you’re missing something.

Dying to ourselves is the most uncomfortable thing we will ever do.

Dying to ourselves in our marriage is even worse. (Darn that Eve. Maybe that whole curse business is why God specifically has to have a chat with wives about how they approach their husbands. But that’s another post for another day).

So instead of arguing about what submission isn’t or what the rights of the genders should be, maybe we are just supposed to die.

Maybe submission to our spouses doesn’t really have anything to do with our spouses. Maybe it’s just the litmus test for how much we’ve surrendered to Jesus.

So may we bleed submission as we sacrifice ourselves for one another.
41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
May we stop demanding our due and start sacrifice our image to love broken people.
15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
May we use our last moments on earth to get into the filth and dirt and crap of other people’s lives so that we might serve them.
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
May we model the One who didn’t claim His rights but humbled himself.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,2 being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
And may we die. Over and over and over.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Skip a latte, buy a Tim Keller book.

Skip a latte, buy a Tim Keller book. I can't think of a better trade! For the rest of the month of March, Tim Keller's Center Church is on sale in ebook form for just $2.99!

For the handful of you that don't already have this book (and haven't already heard of this deal on any of a thousand other blogs), your lethargy and/or reclusiveness have paid off. 

Get Center Church ebook for $2.99 on Amazon!

For the rest of you who already have it, perhaps this is your chance to buy and "gift" the book to your more torpid and hermitic friends?

(Ah, synonyms. They make even ads and announcements more fun!)

Monday, March 10, 2014

Free Ebook Alert: Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace

Just in time for Easter! Amazon is offering Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace (Kindle edition) for free for a limited time. I can honestly say this is the best (and freshest) apologetic work I've read in the past year.

The similarities between J. Warner Wallace and Lee Strobel are strong (former atheists using their professional expertise to examine the claims of Christianity) but I dare to say I enjoyed Wallace's writing and approach even better than Strobel's. There just seems to be less of an agenda behind the writing of a cold-case homicide detective than that of an investigative reporter (at some point, Strobel's skepticism/objectivity just started to feel too manufactured ).

Get the Cold-Case Christianity ebook for free on Amazon! (3/10-11 only!)
"Christianity could be defined as a “cold case”: it makes a claim about an event from the distant past for which there is little forensic evidence. In Cold-Case Christianity, J. Warner Wallace uses his nationally recognized skills as a homicide detective to look at the evidence and eyewitnesses behind Christian beliefs. Including gripping stories from his career and the visual techniques he developed in the courtroom, Wallace uses illustration to examine the powerful evidence that validates the claims of Christianity."

Follow the straight paths of the Lord

I was in the checkout line in the grocery store once and happened to glance at the tabloids beside me and noticed the headline: “Sunbather Bursts into Flame on Beach!” I did a double-take as I considered the ramifications of such an event. I mean, I’ve had some bad days. We all have. But that’s a really bad day. You’re at the beach with your chair and your book and your bottled water. You put on your Coppertone but it doesn’t occur to you to put on asbestos. Then suddenly, “Poof! Flame on!” Kids are running over to roast marshmallows. … OK, no. Didn’t happen. Just another case of bad journalism intended to titillate and trap, producing a visceral response that ends with wallet out and good money thrown away. I avoided the trap that day but the headline stays with me.

Let me tell you a story that really did happen that was worse than spontaneous combustion at Myrtle Beach. It happened on another beach, or at least in a coastal town in Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean Sea. Paul and Barnabas had traveled over land, preaching the Gospel everywhere they went, and then they came to Paphos. The governor of the province, Sergius Paulus, invited the two preachers to come and share their message with him. But Paulus had a man in his employment named Elymas who served him as a court wizard. The wizard knew he had something to lose if his boss believed in Christ. So he did his best to keep his boss from hearing the message. When Paul realized what was happening, he said to Elymas, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?”

I would make the argument that someone who is attempting to turn a person away from faith in Jesus Christ is much worse than just a misguided relativist. Notice that Paul didn’t ask Elymas to be tolerant. Nor did he prop Elymas up in his false ideas or even tell him that he admired his “courage” to stand against the traveling preachers. He told him to stop opposing the work of God. He told him he was a son of the devil. Which, by the way, is the devil’s only employment, to oppose the work of God. He told him he was full of all deceit. Which was probably a reference to the fact that Elymas cared nothing for Sergius Paulus; Elymas cared only for Elymas and his employment. You can almost always trace deception back to money and power.

I don’t know about you, but I would rather burst into flames on a beach than have the apostle Paul tell me the things he told Elymas. Others, like Sondra Maluniu, don’t feel that way. She wrote an article for wikiHow titled, “How to Persuade a Christian to Become an Atheist.” The 15-step process is supposed to be a manual for those who would attempt to make crooked the straight paths of the Lord. I had to chuckle at her fifth step: “Read their holy book cover to cover.”
Yes! Please do just that. And you might just find yourself in the company of people like Sir William Ramsey, Frank Morrison, Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell and Andre Kole, who set out to disprove Christianity and prove the Bible is “full of contradictions.” Instead, they found faith in Christ and belief in the veracity of the Scriptures.

How did it turn out for Elymas? Read Acts 13 to find out.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ashes To Ashes

Laura of Shorthanding Sanity

I sneaked into the bedroom where the toe-headed boy was hiding his toys under pillows and sheets.

Smoothing the covers and removing the toys, I was laying his head back onto the pillow when he saw the ashes.

“Mommy, what’s the matter with you? Is that a cross on your head?”

I smiled, offered a brief explanation of Ash Wednesday, and told him that nap was the time for sleeping and not playing.

But even as I tiptoed away, his question followed me. “What is the matter with you?”

It’s the ashes. They are what is wrong with me.

This year, I’ve been excited for Ash Wednesday, for Lent, for the whole Easter season. Winter has left my heart coated with a film of snow and heaviness and apathy. And as the season begins to change and the calendar marches steadily toward Spring, I ache for renewal.

Part of this season is Passover. A few years ago, about this time, our family hosted a Passover Seder dinner. Completely clueless and armed solely with Google and Girl Meets God, I studied what a Seder dinner entailed. I learned that when a Jewish woman would begin preparing for Passover, she was charged with the task of removing all yeast (a symbol of sin) from her home. She would spend weeks and weeks deeply scouring every nook and cranny, making sure everything was cleansed for Seder.

Yeah. I decided not to do that.

I mean, who has time for that? And what in my pantry doesn’t contain yeast? The army of goldfish that have fallen into the vents are literally making us breathe leaven. I decided not to try because of the inconvenience of it, the time it would take, the sheer impossibility of it all.

Today, a few years later, I sit in a freshly mopped kitchen. After an hour and a half devoted strictly to cleaning the kitchen floor, I just stepped on a crumb again. Because, as Chris always jokes, “You can clean all you want, but we still live here.”

And I can’t help but think about my stubborn heart, and that the excuses that keep my home unclean also keep my heart unclean. It’s too hard. It’ll take too long. And even if I manage to clean up this messy heart, I still live here.

But Ash Wednesday demands some spring cleaning.

So I grabbed my Moleskine and started to name them. Every single disgusting, shameful, heartbreaking sin. I handed Him the Brillo pad and asked Him to start cleaning. Every nook and cranny. Every overlooked, ignored, minimized, and forgotten stain. And I wrote them down.

There is something so vulnerable about seeing the darkest places of your heart written down in permanent ink. Something so devastating about sitting 4 inches away from the ways you break the heart of God.

The tears blurred the ink and He sang me the promises of Hebrews 12.
” ‘My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by Him. For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives.’ … He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness.”
I tugged out the page, folded up the paper, and lit a match. The symbolism of the gesture, the prickly beauty of the flames, the acrid wafts of smoke in my face – they all captured me. I watched as the words disappeared. The heat through the bowl made my fingers cringe, and the smoke in my face was close and pungent and penetrating. I didn’t want it to stop.

And just like that, they were gone.

My sins had literally been consumed by the blaze.

And He sang again the verses of Hebrews, “Our God is a consuming fire.”

Before the ashes had stopped smoldering, I plunged my hands into the bowl. I wanted to feel the heat. I wanted my forehead to tingle as I traced the cross onto my face. I longed for the heat of consummation.

So today, when my boy glances quizzically at my forehead and asks what is wrong, I know just how to answer. What is wrong, my boy? These ashes. These sins. No longer swept under a rug or hidden in a corner but displayed on my forehead. These are what is the matter with me.

And yes, son.

Yes. That is a cross.

Because once, He stooped down, grabbed a handful of dirt, and breathed life.

Then I bit the apple, claimed me for myself, and made a giant mess of it all.


In His mercy, He came as a fire and consumed it. Consumed me.

He reduced me to ashes once again. And, as in the beginning, His breath alone brings me to life.

Ashes to ashes.

What a mercy.