A Heart Transplant

photo credit: The Spiritual Formation Bible

In my reading this morning, I ran across this quote from Dag Hammarskjold, the Swedish diplomat who served as Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1953-1961. It comes from his book, Vägmärken (Markings), a collection of his diary entries from age 20 until his death.  It was found and pubished posthumously in 1963.

“Thou who art—also within us.  May all see Thee—in me also, May I prepare the way for Thee, May I thank Thee for all that shall fall to my lot, May I also not forget the needs of others, Keep me in Thy love as Thou wouldst that all should be kept in mine. May everything in this my being be directed to Thy glory and ay I never despair for I am under Thy hand, And in Thee is all power and goodness.

Give me a pure heart—that I may see Thee, A humble heart—that I may hear Thee, A heart of love—that I may serve Thee, A heart of faith—that I may abide in Thee.”

As I read these words, my mind was drawn to the words of Scripture:

“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.” (Ezekiel 36:26, New Living Translation)

“Create in me a clean heart, O God.  Renew a loyal spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10, New Living Translation)

I can’t think of a better way to pray this morning.  Lord, give me a heart transplant.

Question: How’s your heart today?

Leave a comment.  I’d love to hear your perspective.

Let it go!

photo credit: jaylynwang.weebly.com

“And when you assume the posture of prayer, remember that it’s not all asking. If you have anything against someone, forgive—only then will your heavenly Father be inclined to also wipe your slate clean of sins.” (Mark 11:25, The Message)

One of my favorite quotes about forgiveness: “Never hold a grudge; they shed horribly.” (Jack Hayford)

As I read this passage this morning, a visual came to mind.  I had the mental picture of myself trudging into the place of prayer dragging a load of someone else’s actions.  The load is filthy and despicable. Every time I look at it, I see their dirt.  I smell their filth.  I taste the bitterness of their actions.  I hear their words repeated.  I feel the heaviness of the load I carried in.

And then I begin my time of prayer.  I ask God to bless me and guide me.  I ask Him to forgive me.  I ask Him to supply my needs.

And then I turn and look at the load of that person’s dirt that I dragged in.  I’m not ready to forgive.  So I stand up, grab the load that I brought in, and leave the place of prayer.

Whose load is it?

Based on this verse this morning, I wrote elsewhere, “If you drag someone else’s dirt into your place of prayer, let it go and leave it there. Otherwise, you will take it out as your own.”

Could it be that we are burdened in this life with loads that we simply refuse to lay down?  Do we really want to be burdened with the load of someone else’s stuff?

Question: What strategies can you think of to truly let it go and leave it there?

Leave a comment.  I’d love to hear your perspective.

Hands-on Love

photo credit: reneejacobe.com

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them.  But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.” (Mark 10:13-16, English Standard Version)

One of the things I miss most about being a pastor is the children.  Oh, I still see kids at church every Sunday.  I still engage with them in conversation and tell their parents how cute they are.  But they are not “my” kids and I’m not their pastor.  I miss the little ones who know me and come to me for hugs. The ones who hang onto my leg and want me to try to be a walking, talking jungle gym.  The ones who know I’m safe. The ones who know I love them because I touch them appropriately.

In this world of “stranger danger” we have lost many opportunities for hands-on love.  The much publicized inappropriate touches have created a wariness and hesitance toward appropriate physical expressions.  Many are advising that we (especially ministers) NEVER hug a child (or a member of the opposite sex).

While I understand the need for caution, I grieve the loss of innocence for children and the loss of the sense of acceptance that ONLY comes through appropriate hands-on love. Some current research seems to indicate that somewhere between 1-4% of the population may be pedophiles.  That is alarming and disturbing to be sure.  We absolutely must protect our children in every way that we possibly can.  But let us not forget the other side of that statistic: 96-99% of the population are NOT pedophiles. Being afraid of 100% of the population will not protect our children, and it is no way to live.

Both children and adults need to be touched appropriately.  Christ-followers must take the lead in doing it well.  Some ways occur to me:

  • Determine the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touch and teach it to our kids.
  • Determine the difference between “caution” and “fear” and teach that as well.
  • Don’t withhold the gift of hands-on love through appropriate touch.
  • Make every touch a blessing.
  • Be proactive in making use of the best resources available, such as criminal background checks for anyone who works with children and teenagers.

Question: What other ways can you think of?

Of Heart and Home

homeandheart_flickr.com

photo credit: flickr.com

 

“Home is where your heart is.”

I’ve heard that many times in my 53 years on planet Earth and found it to be true.  I also have the doubly unusual blessing of having lived in the same house for the past 24 years.  It is doubly unusual because it is unusual for anyone in our increasingly mobile culture and it is particularly unusual for those in ministry. But the truth of the matter is that I could live anywhere as long Mrs. Sweetie is with me.  She’s where my heart is. And that is by God’s design.

Genesis 2:24 (New International Version) says, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”

Having said that, I really love our physical home—our return address since 1991. We’ve had time to make it a comfortable fit for us.  We brought up two amazing kids in this home and are looking forward to making it a place where our grandchildren will want to come and visit Grandpa and Sweetie.

I was sitting in my special rocking chair this morning.  The one that I rocked those babies in so long ago.  The one that I can’t wait to introduce to my granddaughter.  Most importantly, the one where I enjoy coffee and Jesus every morning that I’m home. (I wrote about this chair in a previous post.)

While sitting this morning, I pondered this verse:

 “Jesus replied, ‘All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them.’” (John 14:23, New Living Translation)

Maybe home is where your heart is, but I want my heart to be where God feels at home. I told the Lord out loud this morning that I want Him to feel as welcomed and comfortable as I feel in my rocking chair. I never want to treat His presence as an intrusion into my agenda.  I never want to treat Him like the guest that stays a few days too long.  Metaphorically speaking, I want Him to put His clothes in the closet, His toothbrush in the bathroom, and have all His mail forwarded here.

That does not depend on Him.  That is already His desire and He has done everything necessary for it to happen.  It depends on my response.  The same is true for you.

Question: What needs to happen for you to truly know that God has made Himself at home in you?

Leave a comment.  I’d love to learn from your perspective.

Do you really believe?

photo credit: youtube.com

 

 

“All things are possible to him who believes.”  Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:23-24, New American Standard Bible)

If you read my blog yesterday, you know that I referenced those verses.  I really didn’t intend to go back to the same place again today, but the Lord orchestrated this morning’s circumstances to bring these verses back to mind from a different angle.

I will keep the story short and focus on the insight.  (That’s hard for me to do, by the way.  I love to tell stories!)  3 sources during my devotional time with the Lord impacted my thinking today:

  1. Near to the Heart of God: Meditations on 366 Best Loved Hymns (Robert J. Morgan). I am reading one meditation per day and posting a photo on Facebook and Twitter.  This morning’s was “I Am Thine, O Lord” (Fannie Crosby & William Howard Doane).
  2. “Hearing God through the Year” (Dallas Willard). I started a few days ago including one devotional per day in this book. Today’s focus was Psalm 143:10 – “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing.” (New Living Translation).
  3. A friend’s comment on the Facebook hymn post. He quoted Brennan Manning, “One question we will be asked by God when we die—‘Did you believe that I loved you?’”

For some people, the hardest thing to believe—the unbelief for which we desperately need the most help—is to believe that God truly, genuinely, passionately, recklessly loves us right now.  We have not earned His love, nor are we in the process of earning it. No amount of “righteous” actions will put us in His good graces. No amount of sin will cause Him to stop loving us.  Do we really believe this?

Here is how I meditated on Psalm 143:10 this morning and how I’m inviting you to join me: look at the phrase “you are my God” and meditate on one word at a time. (I am not going to share the results of my meditation because it was for me and I don’t want to influence what God wants to say to you.)

  • YOU are my God
  • You ARE my God
  • You are MY God
  • You are my GOD

I am not going to ask you to share what God says to you, but I am interested in what it was like for you to meditate that way.

Question: Do you really believe that God loves you?

It’s not about the “stuff”

photo credit: cnbc.com

 

“Better a poor man whose walk is blameless than a rich man whose ways are perverse.”  (Proverbs 28:6, New International Version)

In reading through the Bible one might get the impression that God has a preference for the poor over the rich.  In fact, many have come to that conclusion. I would like to respectfully suggest that it is a mistaken conclusion that may lead to some bad decisions.

Some thoughts on that:

  • God certainly cares about the rich/poor concept. A quick search (thank you Bible study software) reveals that, in the New International Version of the Bible, the word “poor” occurs 177 times, “poverty” – 20, “rich” – 98, “wealthy” – 10, “wealth” – 117, “riches” – 51, “money” – 123, “possessions” – 38. That’s 634 times the concept is mentioned, just with those 8 words.
  • While God does not have a preference for the poor, He does have a particular concern for the poor. Those with wealth are called to give special attention to the needs of the poor.
  • Rich and poor are relative terms. In some countries, a person may be considered “rich” if he or she has enough money to buy food for today and has a permanent structure to live in. In the United States, a person who is considered “poor” may still have cable TV, a cell phone, and a car to drive to work.
  • Wealth” does bring particular temptations. One may put faith in possessions rather than in God.  One may mistakenly believe that possessions are a sign of God’s favor.  One may neglect the poor, or even blame them for their condition.
  • “Poverty” may also bring some temptations. Certainly no poor person puts his faith in his poverty, but one may be tempted to steal or to see the “rich” as greedy and self-centered. He may begin a cycle of expectation that it is someone else’s responsibility to take care of him.

I could go on, but I want to get to the bottom line:  It’s not about the stuff!

Proverbs 28:6 does not say it is better to be poor than to be rich.  It says that it is better to have integrity than to be crooked.  I have observed poor people without integrity.  I have observed wealthy people with impeccable integrity. I have observed Christ-followers that have honored the Lord in both wealth and poverty.

Perhaps the greatest risk among Christ-followers is that our views on “stuff” will divide us and we will begin to accuse those with different views of being “unbiblical.”

Possessions are transitory.  They can be lost or stolen. They can be used for good or evil. We are responsible before God for how we use them.

Integrity cannot be lost or stolen.  It can only be abandoned. Integrity is what determines how we will use what God has entrusted to us.

Question: What is your view of “wealth?”

Leave a comment.  I’d love to hear your perspective.

How to receive “warm” words

photo credit: sassifiable.com

 

“Fire tests the purity of silver and gold, but a person is tested by being praised.”  (Proverbs 27:21, New Living Translation)

As a singer, preacher, entertainer, and encourager (among other things), I have had a very public life and ministry for almost 40 years.  During that time, people have said a lot of wonderful things to me and about me.  (They’ve also said some not-so-wonderful things, but that is a topic for another day).

To be honest, I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with the compliments.  They are, of course, nice to hear, but knowing how to respond has been a lifelong lesson for me.  Over 30 years ago, a good friend looked me directly in the eye and said, “You need to learn how to take a compliment.”  I’ve been working on it ever since.

So, here are some thoughts on how to respond to “warm” complimentary words of praise, encouragement, affirmation, even flattery.

First, some things to avoid:

  • Arrogance “I was good, wasn’t I!” Ok, that response is probably not a risk for most people. Where this most often shows up is failure to acknowledge the compliment.  Arrogance may not be intended, but we may give the impression that we think we are too good to speak to someone who made the effort to bring the compliment.
  • Faux Humility“Oh, it was nothing, really.” We don’t believe it was nothing, do we? If it really was nothing, why did we bother to do it? Seriously! Do we really have enough spare time on our hands to spend it doing nothing and doing nothing publicly? It was something to the person bringing the compliment.
  • Spiritualized Faux Humility“It wasn’t me, it was all God.” Here’s the truth: God could have used anyone He wanted.  He doesn’t need us.  Here’s another truth: In this circumstance, God chose to use US and He has gifted and equipped us for this moment. Do we really want to deny the work of His grace in us—and through us in the life of another person—just so we can look spiritual?
  • Self-abasement – I’m not talking about self-deprecating humor. I’m talking about a true belief that you are without any worth to God and His kingdom purposes; that just how unworthy you are is going to be found out at any moment. If you really believe that about yourself, please spend some time with a counselor who can guide you through a process of understanding who you are in Christ.

So, how should we respond?  I don’t have an easy answer for that, but here’s a good starting place: A simple “thank you.”

“Thank you for your kind words.  I am so encouraged by you.  It was a blessing for me to be here and I’m so glad you were blessed as well.”

The person has been acknowledged. The compliment, received. The blessing, returned. And God has been glorified in our attitude as well as our words.

The testing continues in what we do next.

Question: What other suggestions do you have for responding to “warm” words of affirmation?

Leave a comment.  I’d love to hear your perspective.

Embrace the Mess

messybaby_huffpost.com

photo credit: huffingtonpost.com

 

 

“Without oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest.” (Proverbs 14:4, New Living Translation)

How important is a clean and orderly stable? Each person, depending upon their own unique perspective, will answer that differently.  In my warped sense of humor this morning, I am wondering how much clean up Joseph had to do before Jesus could be born.

Mary: If you think I’m birthing the Son of God in this mess, you’ve got another think coming, carpenter boy!

Joseph (because he was a wise and godly man): Yes, dear.

There is something that happens in my neck of the woods every year that I enjoy going to (though I rarely get to actually do it): the Fort Worth Livestock Show.  There are a lot of cool exhibits, a great rodeo, and tons of unhealthy food.  My favorite part, though, is the actual livestock.  I love going through the barns and looking at these animals that are a result of superior breeding, meticulous care and grooming, and multiplied thousands of dollars of work to get ready for the show. If you are going through the animal barn, however, you need to be ready to both smell and step in some … stuff.

Two observations occur to me:

1. I have no desire to go through the animal barns when there are no animals present.  Nothing about a pristine stall appeals to me at all.  However, if cleanliness and order are what you are going for, the best guarantor of that is to make sure that no animals are ever present.  If cleanliness and order are the most important things in your life, you need to make sure that you avoid people and all the messiness they bring with them.

2. These are “show” animals.  They have not been bred to work.  All the work has been done by their owners in order to prepare the animals to make the very best impression on the judges. There’s nothing wrong with that.  In fact there is much right with that, within the context of the livestock show world. But if we build our real lives around preparing for the “show,” we will work really hard on presentation to the exclusion of lasting impact.

Real life is messy!  Hard work is good, but smart work is better.  Every mess is different. And sometimes the best response is not to try to clean up the mess, but to work in and with the mess to achieve a greater purpose than cleanliness and order.

Embrace the mess!

Question: What are the messes in your life that need a new perspective?

Leave a comment below.  I’d love to hear your perspective.

 

Choose your companions well

photo credit: mwdadvisors.com

 

 

He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.  (Proverbs 13:20, New International Version)

For the past several years, I have been part of a Facebook Bible reading group.  The 166 (currently) members of this group live all over the world and are involved in a variety of ministries.  We read a chapter a day (determined by the group moderator) and are invited to briefly share how God spoke to us through the reading.  We are also encouraged to share prayer requests with the group and encourage each other.

Often the thoughts I share on this blog and with my own Facebook group, Dr. G’s Morning Cup of Encouragement, are expansions of what I read as a part of that group reading assignment.  Since we are currently reading through Proverbs in the first group, a lot of thoughts on Proverbs are showing up here.

Actually, being a part of both these groups is an example of the truth of today’s verse.  I am actually growing wiser and stronger by intentionally hanging out with people who are also on a journey to growing wiser and stronger.

I have quoted before the phrase popularized by business leader Jim Rohn: “You become the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” I won’t take time in this post to unpack that beyond this: Make sure you are spending more time with people who are where you want to be than you are with people who are where you used to be.

Sometimes that means spending time with them in person.  Sometimes that means reading or listening to them. Sometimes that means being a part of something like the above mentioned Facebook groups or other possibilities that today’s technology provides.

For followers of Jesus, it always means spending time with Him in prayer, interaction with His word, and worship.

Question: Who are the five people who are most influencing your journey right now?

I saw two women the other day …

photo credit: khaydock.com

 

 

As I read through the book of Proverbs, I’m struck with a thought: “What is the deal with Solomon and women?”

Love wisdom like a sister; make insight a beloved member of your family.  Let them protect you from an affair with an immoral woman, from listening to the flattery of a promiscuous woman.  (Proverbs 7:4-5, New Living Translation)

Actually, that’s not my thought because I know enough of Solomon’s story to know that he should have remembered his own advice.

His early life: God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore.  Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the men of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than any other man … And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations. He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. (1 Kings 4:29-32, New International Version)

His later life: He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. (1 Kings 11:3-4, New International Version)

Makes sense now, doesn’t it.  But, just so we don’t get the impression that Solomon blames women for everything, we need to understand that, throughout Proverbs, Solomon speaks to “my son” about two women. Both wisdom and sin are personified in Proverbs (Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly). Both are attractive, but one will lead to life and blessing and the other will lead to death and destruction.

I guess he knew that some old hairy dude was not going to be much of an enticement in either direction!

photo credit: latimes.com

 

Question: Solomon portrays temptation as an alluring and promiscuous woman.  What other metaphors are helpful?

Leave a comment below.  I’d love to learn from your perspective.