How to Change Your Heart

How to Change Your HeartToday, I want to wade into a complex theological topic in about 500 words. Trying to explain desires, disconnect and why we don’t act how we should.
Here is the truth: Many of us want to live differently, but we struggle. We want to be more like Jesus, but find ourselves not living like Him. We want to be holy or righteous (to use more traditional language), but we find ourselves doing things we don’t want to do.
Paul puts it this way, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.” (Romans 7:15) So, it seems like it isn’t just us that struggle with it, but also Paul.
Here is a controversial, but true thing: The solution to this problem isn’t more knowledge or more information. Yet, this is precisely what we gravitate to when we or someone else is struggling. We try to give them more information or we listen to more sermons about “How to Change Our Lives” and decide to “try harder.” And, I’m not saying that information or sermons are bad (clearly it’s my job!), but if deciding to try harder and gaining information led directly to transformation, we would be the most transformed and healthy society with all our information
The truth is, when we encounter a gap between what we know and how we live, the problem isn’t with the knowledge. The problem is with our desires.
Jamie Smith puts it this way, “It seems we can’t think our way to holiness.”
I cannot love this quote more. It’s so simple, yet also so true. We cannot think our way to holiness. We cannot decide our way to righteousness. Because, the disconnect in our actions is not with our intellect, but with our hearts. Because our hearts are following desires that lead us away from Jesus, holiness and righteousness. Because we are not just thinking things, but loving beings or wanting creatures.
So, what does this all mean, practically?
Well, what I think it means is that when we struggle to live differently, the problem often isn’t our moral muscle, resolve or lack of knowledge. The problem is that our hearts have not been attuned to love the way of Jesus over the other competing desires in our world.
When I live less than I should, it’s because I love something more than Jesus.

So, my challenge this week is just this: When you act differently than you know you should, ask Jesus to help you shape and change your wants. Because that’s where transformation resides.

Pray and say, “Jesus, help me to want forgiveness more than revenge.”
Pray and say, “Jesus, help me to want generosity more than financial security.”
Pray and say, “Jesus, help me to want your way of love more than fear.”
Pray for your heart and wants/desires to change.
Because, it’s not just about knowing more, but loving differently.
P.S. To learn more, Jamie Smith’s book You Are What You Love is amazing.

The Main Thing

mainthing

Earlier this year, after we got up one morning, Asher asked me, “Daddy, is it school day?” I said, “No Asher, it’s church day!” And, immediately he ran around yelling “YEAH!! Thank you Daddy! It’s church day, Hudson!”

Then I asked him why he loves church so much and he said, “My class, Dad. We talk about Jesus. I love my class.”

Now, I know right off the bat that this seems like a made-up pastor’s story or that our kids are wonderfully spiritual. But, just so you know, our kids are just like your kids – not perfect. In fact, one day when we had a family over, Asher came to supper without any pants on and then yelled through grace. So, perfect we are not.

So, I mention this story not because my kids are spiritual superstars (they are just kids), but because of what Asher said. He said he loves going to church because of Jesus and, for me, this matters so much.

Because, there is a temptation in church ministry to just get people to want to come to church, regardless of why they come. But, what I truly believe is this: What you draw someone with is what you draw someone to. While it is certainly easier to draw people to church with others things, I just don’t think it’s better. Because what you draw them with is what you draw them to.

This is so important in our current culture because it’s easy to fall into the temptation of catering to consumerism – to get used to whatever is “relevant” or “cool” to get people to church, hoping that once we get people there, we can convince them of Jesus. But that switch rarely happens, and is mostly actively resisted. Because, as I’ve said, what we draw them with is what we draw them to.

So, what made me excited about Asher’s comment? He didn’t mention the amazing fun songs (which we have), the great community (which we have) or the playground (which we have). He mentioned Jesus.

While I’m certainly not against great extras in church, I am cautious that our extras don’t ever overshadow Jesus. Because, for me, Jesus is simply the main thing. Asher reminded me of that. In church, Jesus is the main thing. Certainly not the only thing, but He should always be the main thing.

Share the God You Know

simply share the god you know blogI want to talk a little bit about evangelism and apologetics. And, I want to take a bit of a different slant than normal.

Normally, we think of apologetics as seeking to convince someone of the reality of God. And, in many ways, this form of apologetics has a huge number of benefits and is really effective, especially in our modern world. It also has some drawbacks, but it is still an important area of thought in Christianity.

If we are honest, though, many of us would love to convince people of the reality of God, and their need of God, but we just don’t feel comfortable having those conversations. Maybe we feel like we’re not “smart enough,” don’t know the lines of reasoning or it’s just not our personality.

So, when it comes to apologetics and evangelism, many of us feel like that’s something for the “professionals” – the pastors, the theologians or Ravi Zacharias.

But today, I want to encourage you, because you can be part of sharing God to others, whether or not you know any apologetic argument at all. Because, in today’s postmodern world, you don’t need to talk about God. Rather, you can actually introduce people to God.

Tony Kriz puts it this way: “For the most part, we talk about God… Most people speak as if God is just an ideology: a set of concepts, arguments, guidelines and categories. God is presented as something that people need to be convinced of, as opposed to someone they can be introduced to.”

And, here is the beautiful thing: God is a person. So, if you know God, you can introduce people to Him. You can share about what He is like in your life. You can share about the difference He has made in your life. You don’t need to know every philosophical or rational argument about God. You can simply share the God you know.

My point with this short little post isn’t that apologetics or good reasoning isn’t needed. It is, and it’s incredibly valuable, deep and rich. It gives us confidence for our beliefs. And, it helps immensely with our questions and doubts.

But, my main point is that you don’t need to know every argument for God to start to share Him with people. God isn’t just a concept to know, but a person to share. And, you can do this if you know Him.

So, my challenge is to share the God you know – the God who is changing your life, the God who is active, the God who is real. Share what He is doing in your life and then, as more questions come up, that’s fine. Because, there are lots of great resources for why we believe what we believe.

But, don’t be intimidated by the idea that you need to know everything to start sharing. Because, if you know God personally, you can introduce Him to others. Right here, right now.

 

Changing Directions During Lent

changing direction blog.pngI’ve recently been convicted of something in my life by God and it’s this: I’m often tempted to use God for godly outcomes. And, here is what I mean by that…

I have noticed a consistent temptation, and even posture, of me using my relationship with God to ensure godly or good outcomes. And, that last part is important. I’m not seeking to use God for bad outcomes – sinful things – but rather for good and holy things – Kingdom things. And, here is what that might look like in the practical, tangible ways I’ve noticed in my life…

1. I spend time in prayer to ensure my preaching is good, but not to connect with God.

2. I serve to see God’s Kingdom grow, but not to find God in the serving.

3. I fast, but do it to ensure that a new project goes well, rather than as a way to sacrifice and focus on God.

4. I rely on God when I need Him, but rely on my gifting and skill at other times.

Do you see how subtle the shift is in practical, but real life ways? And, do you also see how dangerous it can be? Because prayer, serving and reliance can quietly shift from God to the ourselves or the good things God calls us to do. But, the truth is, as soon as the focus shifts from God to ourselves, we’ve lost the point.

Eugene Peterson puts it this way, “Along the way, the primacy of God and His work gives way ever so slightly to the primacy of our work in God’s Kingdom. We begin to think of ways to use God in what we’re doing. The shift is barely perceptible… We continue to believe the identical truth. We continue pursuing good goals. It usually takes a long time for the significance of the shift to show up. But, when it does, it turns out that we have not so much been worshipping God as enlisting Him as our trusted and valuable assistant.”

That last sentence is what stopped me in my tracks and caused me to really reflect on my motives, not just my actions.

And so, I write all this because this is the season of Lent – a season when we are to take a hard and reflective look at our lives, and reveal any subtle shifts that have happened. Because, they can happen and they can be hard to notice, but they need to be revealed and repented of. And, I use that word in the proper way – repentance is not about feeling bad, but about changing direction. We need to repent of our tendency to use God, and move toward worshipping, loving and appreciating Him.

So, I write this because, my bet is, I’m not alone in this temptation. But, becoming aware of it is the first step to changing it. And, it’s something worth changing. It’s subtle. It’s a small shift. But, it can change everything.

The Voice of Accusation Vs. Conviction

accusation vs conviction.png

After my sermon this past weekend (March 11/12), I got a huge amount of feedback about how helpful it was. Which is always encouraging – it was a good Sunday afternoon! Thank you!

But, I’ve also received this question a few times since then: How can you tell the difference between the voice of the accuser, and the voice of God convicting you of sin? Well, the answer is actually pretty easy…

Accuser: “You are wrong.”
God: “That choice was wrong.”

Accuser: “You are so bad.”
God: “That wasn’t right.”

Accuser: “See, you’re so worthless. Why bother trying?”
God: “You are pure, holy and blameless. You don’t need to live that way anymore.”

Are you seeing the difference? Satan accuses you – of you. God convicts you – not of you, but of sin and your calling to live into who you really are.

So, when God convicts us, it’s of our actions, not of our personal value or worth to Him. When the accuser accuses us, he takes our actions and then says that they are what determine our value and worth. 

God doesn’t guilt, He convicts. So, when you feel weighed down with guilt, shame and worthlessness, that isn’t from God. The difference is, when God convicts me of my sin (which is often), I know I’ve done something wrong. When Satan accuses me, I feel that I am intrinsically wrong.

The other thing to watch for is the outcome of the “conviction/accusation.”
With the accuser, his voice always leads to depression, shame, silence and despondency (or inaction). With God, His conviction leads to repentance, which literally means “changed behaviour” – a different way to live. With the accuser, his voice causes us to run from God – we hide (i.e. look at Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden). With God, His conviction leads to a greater reliance on Him and a desire to follow Him, knowing that He is faithful and just to cleanse us from every single wrong.

So, Satan tries to tempt us into believing our life is based on what we do (or fail to do). But, Christ has already done everything and so God’s conviction is based on living fully in that reality, not trying to earn it. 

May you hear God’s Spirit this week clearly, closely and personally, and may you not give the voice of the accuser the time of day.

Salvation – Its Not Just About You

salvation blog.png

We are currently in the season of Lent. This is a time when we would traditionally pay more attention to themes such as confession, sin and sacrifice. This is an important area of our lives because, as I’ve often even wrote here, sin kills things. That’s simply what it does. But, the flipside is that salvation heals things.

Here, though, is what I want to unpack today: Sin isn’t just what we do (actions), it’s also part of our systems and relationships (systemic).

Pentecostal theologian, Amos Yong at Fuller, puts it this way, “Sin itself is undeniably social in character. … Because all creation labors under the bondage of sin, human creatures struggle with sinful relationships, life systems and environments from their conception. But, if sin has this inextricably social dimension, then so has sanctification.”

He goes on to write that “the purification from sin and the consecration to holiness therefore inevitably have to involve the reconciling of alienated relations, the redemption and renewal of social structures, and the healing of the world.”

What this all means in theological jargon is this: Salvation isn’t just about you and your sins; it’s about everything in the world – that in and through Jesus’ death and sacrifice, He wants to save not only us from our personal bad actions, but also the broken relationships we have in the broken social structures around us.

What this means is that salvation isn’t only individual, it’s also relational and cosmic. Meaning it involves everything. And, this is really really good news.

Jesus is not just interested in saving you, but also in saving your broken relationships, and the broken systems in and around us. Jesus is about a salvation that involves all the different aspects of “us.” Sin has a social dimension to it, and so does sanctification or salvation. Jesus wants to save every area of brokenness in the world, including our relationships and systems.

I write all this to remind us of one thing at Lent: That, yes, the world is broken and we can see it all around us – we don’t need to deny it. Instead, we can work against it, because Jesus is interested in saving every bit of creation.

Of course, we should confess our sins and brokenness during Lent. We absolutely should invite Jesus to work in our lives – to convict us, heal us and transform us. But, we should also ask how we might partner with Him in the healing of the world, because salvation has never been about just “you,” but about all of “us.” Sin does have a social dimension to it, but redemption does too.

So, during Lent, as we focus in on our sin and brokenness, let us not forget the broken systems of the world and the relationships around us that need to change. Because, while we might sometimes forget this, Jesus certainly does not, so neither should we.

The Problem with Humanity

Today’s blog post might seem a bit funny at first. It’s not only completely orthodox, but also absolutely needed.
Jesus is not only the Son of God (and fully divine), He is also the Son of Man and fully human. This means that Jesus not only came to earth to demonstrate and reveal who God fully is, but also to reveal who we are to fully be as humans. Jesus demonstrates what true humanity actually looks like, feels like and, most importantly, lives like.
Marilynne Robinson writes, “It is a truism that humanity is deficient in humanity.” And, that is absolutely, unequivocally true.

When you look around the world and see evil, hurt, violence, racism, destruction and a whole host of other evils, the problem is not with “humanity” per say, but rather our lack of “humanity.” The problem is that we are not living as we actually should; that we are missing the mark (the Biblicial term for sin), and it is having disastrous consequences.
To put it positively, true humanity is seen whenever love, generosity, grace and justice flourish. Anything short of this is actually anti-human. Which brings us back to Jesus and why we need Him.
As a Christian, I fully affirm that Jesus is divine, but also that He is fully human. I believe that Jesus reveals to us the path we are to take as human beings. He reveals to us how we are called to live in this broken world. He models a life of forgiveness, grace and justice in the presence of oppressing powers. We need Jesus to not only make us more Christ-like, but also more human, not less.
So, what does this all mean practically? It means that if you want to be part of changing the world, it means embracing your humanity and especially embracing Jesus to guide you into it. Because it’s the path of Jesus that will bring healing to this world. Not just us denouncing evil, but us living differently. Us living into our full humanity. In essence, living like Jesus in and through Jesus.

“I’m Not Going to be Scared”

 

Scared.pngIf you are a young parent (or have been one), you might know this experience… Your child has a bad dream and crawls into your bed, and you get no sleep because the amount of kicking they do in their sleep is, well, unreal. We’ve had that experience with Hudson and now, as he’s grown older, we’re having it with Asher.
A few nights ago, Asher ran into our room and said, “I scared.” And, he climbed into our bed to snuggle, which usually means we let him fall asleep and then one of us gets so tired with the lack of sleep (whoever he is kneeing in the back!), we get out of bed and take him back to bed.
But, on this night, something different happened. We prayed with him about how Jesus takes away his fear, and Asher looked at us and said, “I not going be scared” and ran off to his room. By the time we got to his room to tuck him in, he was already under the covers and asleep.
It got me to thinking, what if I acted like that? What if when fear grips my heart and mind, I decide to trust so deeply in Jesus that I move forward saying, “I not going be scared.”
Because Jesus is clear that perfect love casts out fear. That fear comes from the enemy. That fear is not part of His plan for us. In fact, fear cuts down the future that God has for us.
So, I write this all as an encouragement and a challenge. The next time fear grips you, pray about it and maybe try to be a little like Asher. Say, “I not going be scared” and move forward into what Jesus has for you.
Because no matter what our fears are – monsters in the dark, bad dreams, debt, difficulty, divorce, death – Jesus’ love is greater than all our fears. So, we can trust in Him. And, these days, I’m trying to be a little more like Asher when I get scared by saying that because of Jesus, “I not going be scared.”

Do Not Fear

donotfear.pngJoy Davidman (wife of C.S. Lewis) writes this: “Fear is so much a disease, we have forgotten it is a disease.”
I couldn’t agree with this or believe in this more. Fear is a disease and it’s one that runs our world. We are constantly under the sway of fear. Of course, we don’t call it that. We call it things like: being realistic, prudent planning, worry, anxiety, stress or a whole other host of euphemisms. But often, what is really lurking under the surface is fear.
We save and save because we are fearful we don’t have enough. We try to “grab” all we can because we fear scarcity. We have “stress,” but what is it really? It’s fear of failure, fear of the future, fear of so many other things. What I am saying is that often what is driving our decisions and actions isn’t the goodness of God, but a belief that things will get worse, and that’s fear. 
And, that’s wrong.
Because, if you read the Bible, what you will see again and again is the command: “Do not fear.” Do not fear. Do not give in to fear. Fear does not run our world. Fear is not in control. Fear does not decide your fate. “Do not fear.” Because as Bruce Springsteen sings…
Fear’s a powerful thing, baby
It can turn your heart black you can trust
It’ll take your God filled soul
Fill it with devils and dust
And, that’s true. Which is why Jesus often says in the Gospels, “Do not fear.”
So, my hope today is to remind you of something I’m sure you know deep down: Don’t give in to fear. As Jesus says, “Do not fear.” As the Apostle John says, “Perfect love casts out all fear.” Or, as Joy Davidman writes, “Fear is a disease, so don’t give in to it.”
Because, God is good and God is love, and that has always been the antidote to fear.

When Being Relevant Becomes Irrelevant

Relevant.pngToday, I want to talk about a buzz word and what I believe is actually a curse on our current church culture: relevance.
What I often hear in and around the church world, and ministry in general, is the need to “be relevant” – that we need to ensure our message meets people where they are at and that it’s “relatable.” It’s then often tied to some new cultural trend that we need to “utilize to reach a new generation.”
Now obviously, at a certain level, this is both obvious and necessary. Jesus met us in our world, and it was certainly both relevant and pertinent to our lives. We need to continue to live and change with our world and where it is moving. So, in this sense, yes, we need to be relevant.
But, in another very specific sense, there is a problem with pursuing relevance in that “being relevant” has moved from the sidelines to the centre. And, whenever relevance becomes the marker of faithfulness or success, that becomes a problem. Because the church is first and foremost not called to be relevant, but rather to be faithful.
Please hear me clearly, this short little post isn’t calling church to be irrelevant. What I am trying to say is that the arbiter of success, the point of a church or the meaning of a church has never been in its relevance, but in its faithfulness. And, I believe that when a church is faithful to its calling, it is incredibly relevant to all of our lives. But, when a church is just trying to be relevant, it does not ensure that it will be faithful.
What I’m seeking to write and bring to our attention is a point about priorities. Relevance is a great thing when it follows faithfulness; it is a disaster when it drives faithfulness or function.
So, what does this mean for all of us today? It means, if you are older and don’t get social media, that’s okay. Be faithful. It means, if you are younger and know all the cool cultural trends and memes, that’s okay. Be faithful. It means, wherever you are at, the focus shouldn’t be on “being relevant,” hip or cool, rather it should always be on being faithful. And, that’s a hard thing, but it’s also the most relevant and life-changing thing.