Got a Calloused Heart?

I play the guitar (not very well… but enough to say I play), so the fingertips on my left hand are calloused.  I remember learning to play while in college and my fingertips killed me the first few days.  The skin was thin and sensitive to the pressure required to push the strings against the fretboard, but the more I practiced the less my fingers hurt… because the skin was growing calloused and thick.

In Ephesians 4:18-20 (ESV translation) says, “They (the ungodly) are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” Paul writes about people with calloused hearts – hearts that are hard, insensitive, and unfeeling to the things of God.  The irony is that our hearts grow calloused to God’s Word by not practicing obedience while our skin grows calloused by working hard (whether it’s playing the guitar or doing other manual labor).

What’s your heart’s condition?  When you open your Bible to read it, do you hear God speaking to you?  When you pray, do you know that God is hearing your prayer?  If you don’t, then prayerfully consider whether or not you have a heart-condition and ask yourself some hard questions:

  • Are you truly seeking the Lord, or are you only looking for a solution to a problem (using God as your ‘safety net’)?
  • Is there unconfessed sin you need to bring before Jesus Christ (and repent of it!)

Maybe your heart is in the right place and God has chosen to simply remain silent for a period of time in order to strengthen your faith.

“But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 4:29)

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11–13)

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)

Desiring Great Things

Too often, Christians (and by “Christians,” I’m talking about myself!) live as if they’re convinced our desires and plans are better than God’s.  Not True!

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “Plans to proper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

May you be encouraged along with me to reconsider whether or not you’re living for big enough dreams.  Today I’ve been reminded of the following two quotes:

1) C. S. Lewis in “The Weight of Glory”

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak.

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

2) A portion of a prayer from “Valley of Vision” reads:

Help me not only to desire small things, but with holy boldness to desire great things for thy people, for myself, that they and I might live to show thy glory.

5 Suggestions for Passing Your Faith to Your Kids

As a Christian parent you know that it’s primarily your responsibility to teach your children about Jesus Christ and the Bible; but how do you actually go about doing that?  Take them to church, say grace before dinner, maybe pray with them at night before bed-time when they’re young… but what do you do when they get older and life isn’t so simple anymore?

Deuteronomy 6:6-9 says, “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

Notice that it doesn’t say “lecture your children” or “bring them to the priest so he can teach them.”  Faith is passed along from generation to generation in very simple ways – parents leading by example and talking with their kids about the importance of living a life of faith in Jesus Christ.

Here are my practical suggestions for Christian parents who want to teach their kids to love Jesus Christ, but don’t know where to begin:

  1. You love Jesus first. This is HUGE!  If your kids don’t see Christ in you, then your words will seem pretty hollow (because they are).  Make sure you kids know how you became a Christian and what difference Jesus has made in your life.  Lead by example.
  2. Talk about Jesus with your kids casually. Don’t be a preacher.  Just talk with them and ask them what they think about Jesus, the Bible, Sin, Salvation, Heaven & Hell, Death, etc.  Talk around the dinner table, in the car, on the golf course, etc.  If you have 2-3 minute conversations that are simple and honest on a semi-regular basis, I am very confident those will go farther than an intense, hour-long sit down lecture on biblical theology.  Family devotional times are great (I very highly recommend them!), but don’t let them be the only time you mention your faith.
  3. Ask more questions than you answer. All of us learn best through discovering answers, not by simply being given answers.  Ask good and tough questions, then resist the urge of simply giving your teen the answer.  Direct them into discovering the answer (in Scripture – which means you need to know your Bible… see #1 above!).
  4. Allow your teen to disagree. We all have doubts and wrestle with the Truth sometimes, and that’s ok.  Give your teen the freedom to be honest about his/her disagreements and doubts.  This doesn’t mean you should be “ok” with blasphemy or atheism or whatever, but make sure your teen knows that he/she can be honest with you and that you won’t freak out if they don’t automatically agree with what the Bible teaches.
  5. Prayerfully remember that God doesn’t have grandchildren. Just because you’re a Christian that doesn’t mean your teenager will be one too.  Loving Jesus Christ is a precious gift of God that we all pray for our children to receive.  Too often, we put that responsibility on ourselves – “If my son doesn’t love Jesus it’s because I did something wrong!”  Remember that salvation is God’s work, not yours.  You are not the Holy Spirit, but you can pray – and prayer works!  Pray daily, diligently, and specifically for your children, and trust God to do His work.

LWAYG: “We Believe: In Jesus Christ, the God-Man”

Christians are often guilty of taking Jesus for granted and neglect asking  hard questions about who Jesus Christ really is:

  • Why does the Bible talk about “God the Son” and “God the Father” if they’re equal in glory… shouldn’t that mean the “Father” is older and more important than the “Son?”
  • If Jesus was “born” in 3BC, what was God the Son doing before then?
  • Is it really that important to believe that Jesus is really fully God and fully human?

The Nicene Creed says:  “We believe… in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made.”  This is a strong (but wordy) statement teaching that Jesus Christ is God.  Some people claim that Jesus never meant to be worshipped as God and that it wasn’t until he was dead when people started saying that he was God, but take a look at what the Bible says (and keep in mind that it was all written so soon after Jesus’ death that if what was written about Jesus wasn’t accurate there would have been plenty of eye-witnesses to say “Jesus never said/did that!”).

Here are a number of Biblical passages that all clearly support and affirm that Jesus Christ is both God and man:

  • The biblical stories of Jesus’ birth (Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-21)
  • “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John. 1:1, 14)
  • “I and the Father are one.” (John. 10:30)
  • “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)
  • “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.”  (Colossians 1:15–17)
  • “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”  (Philippians 2:5–7)

The Nicene Creed says that Jesus is “of the same substance” as the Father.  That comes from the Greek word “homoousias” (pronounced: homo-oo-see-ahs), which also can mean “of the same essence.”  Jesus Christ is the Son of God, 100% God (that’s what “very God of very God” means), he was not created by God, but rather, he even participated in Creation (see John 1 & Col. 1, both referenced above).

Remember the tough question above about God the Son and God the Father?  My answer: God is referred that way because the the best analogy to their relationship that we have.  A human father has a human son, a fish father has a fish son, a panda father has a panda son… God the Father has God the Son; not because He created the Son, but because they are of the same “essence” and belong to each other.

There are two HUGE reasons why all this is extremely important for Christians to understand the Person of Christ (who Jesus is):

  • We need to know who we’re worshipping and whether or not He’s worthy! I love what Athanasius (one of the most influential theologians during the Council of Nicaea) said, “If Jesus Christ the incarnate Son is not true God from true God, then we are not saved, for it is only God who can save; but if Jesus Christ is not truly man, then salvation does not touch our human existence and condition.” If Jesus isn’t 100% God, then he didn’t have the authority to forgive our sins through the cross; but if he isn’t 100% Human then he couldn’t have been our substitute on the cross.  We need to know who we are worshipping when we worship Jesus Christ!
  • We are encouraged because Jesus really understands us! Jesus is God, but he also lived in our shoes.  As Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.”

One of my Favorite Prayers

The “Valley of Vision” is one of my favorite books to read along with my Bible for devotional purposes.  Valley of Vision is a book of Puritan prayers, so the language is very “old English” and sometimes needs a little work to translate to today’s vernacular, but the book is rich with spiritual insight and wisdom.  You can purchase your own copy at most Christian book stores, or you can order it here at CBD online.

The prayer I’ve copied below is one that I read when I first entered full-time ministry.  I have been so blessed and encouraged through this prayer – I return to it time and time again as a plea to God that He would strengthen me in faith and in life and teach me to love others as He has loved me.  There’s nothing magical about this prayer, but I hope that as you pray it you find yourself  as blessed by this prayer as I have been.

Morning Needs:

O God the author of all good, I come to Thee for the grace another day will require for its duties and events. I step out into a wicked world; I carry about with me an evil heart. I know that without Thee I can do nothing, that everything with which I shall be concerned, however harmless in itself, may prove an occasion of sin or folly, unless I am kept by Thy power. Hold Thou me up and I shall be safe.

Preserve my understanding from subtilty of error, my affections from love of idols, my character from stain of vice, my profession from every form of evil. May I engage in nothing in which I cannot implore Thy blessing, and in which I cannot invite Thy inspection. Prosper me in all lawful undertakings, or prepare me for disappointments. Give me neither poverty nor riches. Feed me with food convenient for me, lest I be full and deny Thee and say, Who is the Lord? or be poor, and steal, and take Thy name in vain.

May every creature be made good to me by prayer and Thy will. Teach me how to use the world and not abuse it, to improve my talents, to redeem my time, to walk in wisdom toward those without, and in kindness to those within, to do good to all men, and especially to my fellow Christians.  And to Thee be the glory.

LWAYG: “We Believe: In the Father Almighty”

What difference would it make to our faith if our God wasn’t the Creator and there was no explanation for life’s origins?  What if God wasn’t the creator, but looked down on Earth and fell in love with Humanity and decided to reveal Himself to us and the rest of the “Gospel-story” was true… what impact would that have on your faith-relationship with God?  Think about it…

The Nicene Creed starts out, “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.”  I believe this is absolutely essential to believe in order to have saving faith.  What’s the Bible say?

  • “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  (Gen. 1:1)
  • “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27)
  • “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.”  (Col. 1:15–17)
  • “It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts.” (Isa. 45:12)
  • There are too many passages for me to list that clearly say that God is the Creator.

How do you think about God?

Buddy Christ - Is this how we should think of God?
Should we think of God as Zeus - Distant & Terrifying

The significance of Creation by our Father Almighy:

  1. Remember he’s the “Father Almighty.” God is the Father, or “Daddy” as Jesus often called him (“Abba” means Daddy in Aramaic).  He is also the Almighty and Holy God who ought to be feared and worshipped.  We must worship God as the “Father Almighty” – the One who not only created us, but the One who loves us too!
  2. Hunger for Meaning is fulfilled through God.  Have you ever asked “What’s the meaning of life?”  God created us to worship Him and to find our pleasure through intimacy with Him (thus, our desire for joy and our obligation to worship are not at war against each other!).
  3. Hunger for Purpose is fulfilled through God.  Do you wonder what on earth you’re here for?  God created you… YOU!  He didn’t simply create humanity in general and then walk away; God made you in HIS image and He wants you to know Him and serve Him.  God has a plan for your life and He’s not trying to hide it from you – He wants you to draw close to him and to live the life He created you for (and His plans are good!).
  4. Hunger for Belonging is fulfilled through God.  We’ve all been there: In a crowd of people, yet we feel all alone.  We’re all social creatures (some moreso than others!), none of us like being alone all the time… but we just don’t always know where we fit.  The Bible calls the Church the “Body of Christ” and says that we are all parts of the body; some are hands, some are feet, etc. – the Church isn’t complete without you!

Birthday Thoughts

Today’s my 30th birthday.  I’m not really a big “birthday” person (well… not anymore, I was when I was a kid!), but I usually try to take some time on my birthday to read through Ecclesiastes and ask myself some hard questions.

Here are some verses from Ecclesiastes I like to reflect on along with questions I like to ask myself:

“Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’? It has been already in the ages before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.” (Eccl. 1:10-11, ESV)

  • Do I listen to the wisdom of those who are older than me, or am I setting myself up to learn difficult lessons the painful way?
  • Am I living in a way that tries to build a name for myself for a few generations and is then forgotten, or am I living to honor the Eternal One by devoting myself to His work on earth?

“For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.” (Eccl. 1:18, NIV)

  • Am I counting on knowledge and wisdom to protect me from sorrow, or am I relying on Christ to strengthen me in the midst of sorrow?

“Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice.” (Eccl. 4:13, ESV)

  • Do I take my position as an ordained pastor as an excuse to not listen to others?
  • Am I teachable and willing to learn from any and every person and situation?

“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.” (Eccl. 5:1-3, ESV)

  • Am I taking my relationship with Jesus Christ for granted?
  • Do I listen to the sermons on Sunday morning, assuming that I already know it all?
  • Do I say “I’ll pray for you” and then truly follow through by praying for them… or are my intentions falling to the ground?
“Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.”  (Eccl. 9:12, NIV)
  • Am I wasting time, assuming that there’s more time left for meaningful things and for spiritual conversations, or am I making the best use of time and opportunities?
  • What have I done recently that would cause me to be ashamed to face my Creator and Savior?

Eminem’s “Not Afraid”

Eminem’s always been known for his raw, in-your-face, “I’m gonna do and say whatever I want” lyrics.  His newest release falls right in line with his philosophy on music and self-expression.  In some ways I actually respect him for actually saying something through his music (even though I disagree with him 99% of the time…) rather than falling into the trap of releasing catchy music that means nothing.

The Highlights:

  • This is a catchy song.  I’ve listened to it a few times this morning while reading the lyrics along with it, and the second and third times I was listening I found myself getting drawn into the song (against my will, mind you).  It’s already  iTunes’ #1 most downloaded song, and I expect it will be all over the radio and school proms/dances this year!
  • It’s easy to identify with.  Just listen to the lyrics of the “Hook” and “Intro” and you’ll get a taste of why so many teens will be drawn to this song:

(Hook)
I’m not afraid to take a stand
Everybody come take my hand
We’ll walk this road together, through the storm
Whatever weather, cold or warm
Just let you know that, you’re not alone
Holla if you feel that you’ve been down the same road

(Intro)
Yeah, It’s been a ride…
I guess I had to go to that place to get to this one
Now some of you might still be in that place
If you’re trying to get out, just follow me
I’ll get you there

The Downfall:

  • Although the Hook & Intro revolve around universally-shared experiences, Eminem’s way of leading his listeners through the storm is totally anti-biblical.

Eminem’s way of “getting you there” out of the storm is by force, rebellion, and following a “whatever it takes” mindset.   You can read the full lyrics here and look up the song on YouTube by typing in “Eminem, Not Afraid” – but know that there’s plenty of foul language (which is why I’m not linking the song or listing the full lyrics here).

While Jesus doesn’t promise to immediately rescue you from every storm in life, he does promise to be with you through them (Matthew 28:20).  Jesus teaches us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).  Eminem’s “in your face” way of handling conflict is totally contrary to how Christ calls his children to live.  I’m not writing this at all to blast Eminem, but I am writing to warn Christians to listen to music discerningly.

In the end, I couldn’t help contrasting “Not Afraid” with Casting Crown’s song “Praise you in this Storm.”  Both songs address very similar issues, but present completely opposite and contradicting resolutions.  Here’s the video and lyrics for “Praise you in the Storm.”