To Understand the Heart: Understand the Treasure

To Understand the Heart: Understand the Treasure

Breaking Through the Maze to Freedom“Getting to the heart” is something we know we should do but honestly, wouldn’t you rather just clean the bathroom? I remember someone giving me a list of 14 questions to ask that “get to the heart”. Why even try? Scripture, though, tells us a simpler way.

Luke 6:45 tells us, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

If you want to get to the heart, simply define the treasure driving the person’s actions. What is it they want? The more you get to know a person, the more easily it is to discern what the various treasures are that steer their hearts toward good or evil.

One of my boys clearly treasures building and racing cars. He is actually quite skilled at it. That is his treasure with a capital “T”. This is so obvious that his siblings even sometimes joke when he is racing on Xbox… “He’s worshipping at the shrine again!” When work is not getting done, the reason usually is that his heart is being overtaken by this other, competing treasure. Getting to the heart of the matter has become a bit easier when we simply ask him, “Which treasure are you/were you seeking when you spent 2 hours playing Xbox when you should have been cleaning the kitchen?”

The interest in cars is not inherently sinful, in fact it is part of what makes him unique. God has gifted him with unusual knowledge and ability for someone his age. How God uses that will be very exciting to see. But when he seeks that treasure to such a degree that he is not doing what he is supposed to, then he knows that he has made that treasure an idol which has produced, various forms of “evil” in his actions…not doing the good he’s supposed to do.

One of the benefits of looking at the heart this way is that it helps us (especially as parents) avoid making an otherwise good thing, bad, which can be quite damaging. Sometimes, the treasure is inherently evil and it has to be declared as such. But the nature of idolatry is that it usually starts out as something good that we end up making bad when we depend on it (treasure it) to provide for us what we can only find in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thinking about the heart in terms of treasure brings clarity to what is going on in a person’s life so that corrective action can be taken.

Getting Below the Surface

Getting Below the Surface

below the surfaceSix Words Guaranteed to Get You There

“How can we pray for you?”

Asking people this simple question has several benefits:

First, this one question is often a very effective way to get a quick fix on what is really going on in someone’s life. Think of it as the “nuclear option” for getting to know people. If the things shared are of a surface nature, much can usually be discerned simply from the way they respond to that question.

Second, it is an easy question to ask! Anyone can ask it. It accomplishes the same goal as “What’s going on in your life” but without the awkwardness. Even better, it’s a question that can be asked impromptu, without the context of a deep relationship.

Third, it conveys our sincere concern for them and a desire to enter into their struggles with them. I dare say that most people—especially unbelievers—have no one who shows them that kind of concern.

Fourth, their responses are an opportunity to actually talk about spiritual things. Since prayer is a spiritual activity, it is natural to share a biblical truth that applies to their concern. I remember a neighbor (single mother) of whom I asked this question. She responded with how she was scared she’d lose her job. I was able to talk with her a little about how God can be trusted to care for us in all things, especially financial provision.

Fifth, when someone gives you something to pray about, you have an understood invitation to come back later and ask about the matter. I usually ask, “Can I come back and ask you about this in a week or so?” I’ve never been turned down. You can go deeper and most importantly, introduce them to Jesus Christ. One neighbor who we pray for regularly has shared more deeply, listened and asked more questions which over time led to a full presentation of the gospel and conversion.

Asking the simple question, “How can we pray for you?” provides a wonderful opportunity to establish a connection and begin to minister to anyone, especially our neighbors.

In Support of Pastors

In Support of Pastors

pastor support“Hello, Eric? This is Pastor Mike (not his real name). I am calling to let you know that on Sunday, I resigned from being pastor at my church.” I was shocked and saddened as he explained what had happened. In my 27 years of working with pastors, I have heard too many similar stories.

After our conversation, it occurred to me that the average church member is probably unaware of the challenges many pastors face. Satan’s plan to destroy the church is often to attack the shepherds. If he can weaken the shepherds, then the sheep are easy pickins’. In this article, I will shed some light on some of the challenges pastors face so that we can support them better.

“Obey your leaders and submit to them for they keep watch over your souls, as those who have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage for you.”
– Hebrews 13:17

Pastors will have to provide an account to Almighty God for the care they gave the sheep entrusted to their care. This care represents a very significant responsibility the weightiness of which Paul acknowledged in 2 Cor. 11:28.

Pastors know ministry is going to be hard, but many say it is harder than they ever thought it would be. The common refrain is: seminary never prepared me for this! One study found that 90% of pastors felt inadequately trained to meet ministry demands.

Pastors are usually hurt by the people they invest in the most. At issue here is not only discouragement, but the feeling of betrayal that comes when someone you have given so much to either betrays you or walks away for no good reason.

Pastors are often called upon at all hours. A pastor’s job is often 24/7/365. (And they don’t get overtime pay). Imagine what it’d be like to be called in the middle of the night to bring peace between a feuding husband and wife or parent and teen? Or to be left having to figure out who is going to teach the Sunday school class when a teacher decides she’s had enough?

A pastor carries a lot of anxiety and burdens. Pastors love and care for their sheep. Because of this, they carry not only their own personal and family burdens; they also carry the burdens of the people they shepherd. This is one reason why pastors need elders who will stand shoulder to shoulder with them to help them in the difficult but necessary work of ministering personally to the sheep!

Soccer coaches seem to have more authority than pastors. The intentionality of some parents toward their kid’s soccer coach reaches almost religious proportions. The kids will be at soccer practice, prepared and on time (regardless of the speed limit). But when a pastor suggests to a father that he read the Bible to the family or provide some form of general or personal counsel, it’s received  as advice that one can take or leave.

Ephesians 4:15 says to speak the truth in love. A pastor’s right and responsibility to make clearly biblical and therefore reasonable requests should always be seasoned with grace and love. That goes without saying. Even in so-called “grey areas”, his wisdom should be respected. But as one pastor told me, (this is a verbatim quote) “…my people don’t have to listen to me. All I can do is make suggestions.”

Our culture’s worship of autonomous individualism has greatly diminished people’s understanding of biblical authority not just as a force for good but a necessity in our lives. It seems today that any authority is often viewed with suspicion or derision. While I think many in the church know better, I fear that the culture is winning.

As the gap between culture and the church widens, we have to be comfortable with the light of God’s word shining more brightly against the backdrop of hopeless darkness. Culture does not have the authority of the Word of God in our lives. We must resist the prevailing view of authority with the same vigor that the Apostles implored the church to resist the false teachers of their day. Rejection of biblical authority, such as that of a pastor, is ultimately a rejection of God’s authority because pastors are simply under-shepherds of The Shepherd: The Lord Jesus Christ. Their authority is given by God to fulfill His divine purposes in our lives.

If you find yourself in a position where you are/have been at odds with this truth, I appeal to you to stop treating the pastor as if he has no authority to speak into your life and the life of your family. Consider that a pastor’s work is of eternal significance/advantage to you and your family! Who else is making your spiritual health their full-time concern?

Recovering the healthy partnership of the church and home that is so necessary to the daily application of the gospel in our lives requires that we honor God’s authority in our lives.

But who really stands to benefit? Our verse in Hebrews tells us that it is the church that benefits when a church leader’s job is a joy! Next time, I will address how we make a pastor’s job a joy…which will result in our own benefit… Continue reading here.

How to Make Your Pastor’s Job a Joy

How to Make Your Pastor’s Job a Joy

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. – Hebrews 13:17

Last time, I wrote about how important it is that we support our pastors, read it here. God has placed them in authority to lead, feed, protect and to equip the saints for the work of ministry. Hebrews 13:17 tells us that we should “let them do this with joy”. In this article, I want to share some thoughts on how to do that.

God’s Words: Obey and Submit

Making their job a joy begins with our disposition toward our pastors (and all church leaders, really). Our passage uses specific words, “obey” and “submit” to describe this disposition. These are strong words that our self-seeking culture detests. But God’s word commands us to submit to the civil (Rom. 13:1-7), ecclesiastical (Heb. 13:17), and domestic authorities (Eph. 5:22-23, 6:1).

It is impossible to live a God-glorifying, joyful life in God’s world without a healthy respect for and submission to these levels of God-ordained authority. Yet, it would be easy to adopt the world’s jaded attitude toward authority, including the authority of our church leaders. Biblically functioning elders are not authoritarian, but humble and gentle. And just to be clear, the command that we submit to the elders does not apply if asked to do something contrary to the clear teachings of scripture.

We Benefit When we Submit

We benefit when we submit to authority. Personally, I benefit each day that I don’t smash the accelerator as I approach a red light. I avoid all sorts of personal, legal, and moral problems when I stop and wait for the light to turn green. When I lived at home, I grew to appreciate my parents’ counsel about various life issues. Usually, things worked out well for me when I submitted to their counsel. Indeed, this is the promise to children in Ephesians 6:2-3: “Honor your father and your mother (this is the first commandment with a promise), that it may go well with you…”

Similarly, a submissive disposition toward our church leaders makes their job a joy and ultimately benefits us. The benefit is not the main reason for submission. Love is. Indeed, Jesus taught that if we love him, we will obey his commands (John 14:15), including the command to submit to our church leaders. God’s love toward us, undeserving sinners, properly understood, should create in us a love toward God and our fellow man. But God is so good! In his plan, the effect of our submission which makes their job a joy is that we benefit.

What Submission Looks Like

What does an attitude of submission look like? Following are some super-simple things we can do that demonstrate love and personal concern that form a foundation from which submission can be demonstrated.

• When we seek to be faithful in the disciplines of reading our Bibles and prayer, both privately and corporately as a family that brings a pastor great joy.

• When we are intentional about seeking counsel and then intentional about following through on that counsel, that brings a pastor joy.

• Handwriting a personal note expressing your gratitude for their service and how you have grown in Christ as a result of their ministry is something that happens very, very rarely but means a tremendous amount.

• Take them out to lunch

• Give your pastor a gift card to take his wife out for dinner. If he has children, include child care.

• Offer to help out with administrative responsibilities

• Offer to use your home for ministry like small group or simply inviting non-believing neighbors over.

• Offer to teach a class

• Probably the biggest single thing you can do is pray for your church leaders.

– Pray for their personal needs (strong marriage, believing family, adequate finances),
– Pray for them as Paul requested: that he’d be bold in preaching the gospel (Eph. 6:19-20),
– Pray that he’d be delivered from hardships (2 Cor. 1:11),
– Pray that he’d be able to help people grow in their faith (1 Thess. 3:10).
– Pray for unity among the leaders (John 17:20-21).

These are just a few specific ways to pray for your church leaders. Be sure to tell them you are praying for them and seek an update about how things are going in the areas you’re praying about.

Our church leaders, most especially our pastors, serve unique and precious purpose in our lives. Their work is of eternal worth to us. Let us seek to guard ourselves against a disposition that would discourage them.  Let us seek to make their job a joy!

Practical Thoughts On Ministering to Neighbors Part 1 of 3

Practical Thoughts On Ministering to Neighbors Part 1 of 3

Part One: The Key To Reaching Our Neighbors

“You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem…” (Acts 1:8). We are witnesses for Christ—first—right where we are. Certainly, this includes our neighbors. Does the thought of that scare you? Perhaps you don’t even know your neighbor’s names. My hope is that this mini-series on ministering to your neighbors will be of encouragement to your family.

The first point I’d like to make is that the love of Christ must compel us to reach out to our neighbors.

We Are All Busy

We are all very busy. We are often busy doing “good” things; things that seem or may in fact be necessary. But many good things we do will not survive the fire of judgement (1 Cor. 3:13) and each of us under the Holy Spirit’s direction needs to judge what we’re busy doing to make the wisest choices possible.

Because we’re busy, we often don’t want to do outreach. So, we do it under duress. We risk undermining our purpose through half-heartedness or we just plain fizzle out.

Christ’s Love is the KEY Motivation

Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:14 how important Christ’s love is as a motivation for service. The love of our Savior is seen in his death and resurrection and the glorious riches that are ours because of his finished work. Ephesians 1 and 2; and Romans 1-8 are just several of many, many excellent passages that describe what we have in Christ.

A Practical Example of Christ’s Love 

For several years now, my family has been helping one of our neighbors through stage 4 Alzheimer’s and other health issues. The help they’ve needed has been multi-dimensional and intensive. Our primary assistance has been periodic usually in response to various medical emergencies. One morning not long ago, I was tired and had too many other things to do, and frankly, I had no strength in me to do anything for them. The conversation around the breakfast table was not one I would want repeated. It was pretty sad and what’s more sad is that this was not an isolated incident.

Then the Holy Spirit, as He has done before in this situation, reminded me of 2 Corinthians 5:14. I shared it and discussed it with the family and we were able to do what needed to be done…with a joyful heart. This was no work of my own. No set of steps about how to minister could have changed my heart and moved me to action. This was the Holy Spirit alone in me, bringing the gospel to mind. I was a recipient of God’s love in Christ! What he did for me was far more difficult than what I needed to do for this couple. Because I had received God’s love, I could love, too.

If we are struggling to reach out to our neighbors, we should resist knuckling under to a sense of duty and instead, dwell on the great love that we’ve been shown in Christ (Phil. 4:8). His love for us is causative. Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Dwell on The Love of Christ!

Dwelling on his love as demonstrated in all that we’ve been given in Christ will convict us and lead us to repentance which then frees us to reach out to our neighbors.  It’s not our normal default to think about God’s love. But we must be intentional in doing this.

Continue to Part two.

What is the Key to Effective Relationships?

What is the Key to Effective Relationships?

relationshipsThe Key to Effective Relationships is…

The gospel…in particular, the regular reminder (Heb. 3:13) of who we already are in Jesus Christ because of His finished work on our behalf.

These truths (called the indicative) are powerful weapons against our heart’s daily battle with idolatry (sin).

When we act on these truths by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 1:17), not only do they defeat sin, they, at the same time, also motivate us to repentance, greater obedience (imperative) and holy living.

For example, consider Romans 6:11, that because of our union with Christ in his death and resurrection, we “are to consider ourselves dead to sin”. By faith, we are to consider ourselves dead to sin’s power and pleasure in our lives. This is a truth of which we need to be reminded.

Scripture is replete with these Identity statements, yet they don’t register in our devotional reading of scripture and we fail to use them effectively in our relationships.

Applying the gospel in our relationships requires intentionality. Faithful application will lead to what we desire most, to be more like Christ!

For a great resource we have created a booklet, “Who are You?”

Elders and heads of household: Consider how you can be more intentional in equipping those under your charge to learn and apply these simple statement to life!