Open Hearts

Hurt will cause your disciple to close off his heart from others and from God. Although counterintuitive to us, the Holy Spirit uses suffering in your disciple’s life to open up his heart to the Lord and to you. This suffering will come in two forms: the sprint and the long-distance run. Both are strenuous but each develops different faith muscles.

A sprint strains every faith fiber to the breaking point but it only lasts for a short time. It will take everything out of him but he will learn lessons from the experience that he will never forget. It is important to make yourself available to him, no matter how inconvenient, in the midst of that trial.

Marathon suffering, on the other hand, grinds on for years or maybe even for a lifetime yet it builds a strong faith on the insights gathered from years of perseverance. Just as physical endurance can only be built by running mile after mile so these faith lessons only come from the long haul. The natural inclination is to want to escape from this trial now! However at the moment that trial ends the rich insights gathered from that particular race ends with it.

Our heavenly trainer and coach is trustworthy and he knows exactly what regimen is best and what duration is optimal to conform each of his children to the image of Jesus.

In the apostle Paul’s attempt to have the disciples in Corinth open up their hearts to him, he opened up his heart to them by telling of his experience with these two forms of suffering.

“We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also.” 2 Corinthians] 6:11-13

1. First Paul’s Sprints:

“I (Paul) have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again . . . I have been constantly on the move . . . 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” 2 Corinthians 11:23-27

2. Paul’s Long Distance Run:

Later Paul tells of his ongoing torment that he begged God to remove but the Lord refused knowing what was best for the apostle. Paul then delighted in his suffering knowing that the power of the Messiah within him was a result of his perseverance.

“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

 

 

 

 

Home and the Holy Spirit

In thirty-five years of ministry I have stayed in hundreds of homes both in America and overseas. Three standout. The atmosphere was so distinct that I had to ask, “What makes your family different?” In each case I got the same response-the Holy Spirit.

The parents welcomed the Holy Spirit into their marriage and family. They were intentional to teach the children the nature of the Holy Spirit (Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control -Galatians 5:22-23) and that he lives within each member of the family.

Talking of the Holy Spirit was natural in conversation within their marriage, with their children, friends, and guests in their home. To be in their home was an encounter with the Holy Spirit.

The apostle Paul warns us that if we do not live with the help of the Holy Spirit we will “ . . . bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” Galatians 5:14.

What should be the safest place on earth can become a house of devastation. No marriage begins with the intent to devour the other nor does any parent imagine children that hate and destroy.

Here is what love looks like:

  • Joy- There is a spontaneous happiness, laughter, and delight among the family members.
  • Peace-There is harmony between the husband and wife and an absence of strife, anxiety, or dissension among the family members.
  • Patience-Each member of the family shows awareness and regard for another’s feelings and circumstances.
  • Kindness-A absence of harshness or severity. The children are kind with one another and kind to each parent. The couple is kind to one another.
  • Faithfulness-There is a steadfast fidelity to the Lord, one another, and friends.
  • Gentleness-There is an absence of bad temper or belligerence and a deliberate kindness and patience in dealing with one another.

Stephen Covey has observed: “People are very tender, very sensitive inside. I don’t believe age or experience makes much difference. Inside, even within the most toughened and calloused exteriors, are the tender feelings and emotions of the heart.”[1]

  • Self-control. The family is marked by the ability to exercise restraint or control over their feelings, emotions, and actions.

 

 

[1] Covey, Stephen “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989), p.193.

Listening: The Duty of Love

I can speak to many people at one time but I can only listen to one person at a time. Listening is what makes ministry loving and personal. As a pastor people would “connect” with me by listening to my teaching. I even had some who thought of me as their friend and yet we had never met. It was a one-way connection, which is not a friendship at all.

Paul Tillich writes, “The first duty of love is to listen,” and yet how rare it is to have anyone listen to us, even though Christianity is supposed to be marked by love. Ministries spend thousands of dollars and work long hours trying to get people to listen to them. Our seminaries, colleges, and churches teach us how to preach, how to teach, and how to share our story, but not how to listen.

Listening well to others requires inner strength because it places the listener in a vulnerable position. Whether as an extrovert or an introvert we protect ourselves from possible rejection. Extroverts are capable of creating a multilayered verbal force field, which seems friendly but in reality is self-protective. Introverts on the other hand are masters at evasive maneuvers to avoid unwanted conversations.

To love I must boldly drop my shield or bravely come out from hiding to engage others in order to listen with an intent to understand what the person is saying.

Although Jesus taught large groups there are also recorded for us one-on-one conversations that he had with individuals, Nicodemus and the woman at the well being two good examples. Both were never the same after being listened to by Jesus.

 

 

To Listen Is To Love

My heart’s condition determines my capacity to listen. To listen necessitates the same humility and self-sacrifice required to serve others. Robert Greenleaf wrote, “A true natural servant automatically responds to any problem by listening first. True listening builds strength in other people.”[1] To listen is to laydown my life for another.

The self-absorbed heart is deaf to the needs of others even when people are speaking (or shouting) directly to it. The problem is not a deaf ear but a diseased heart. A whole heart will seek to understand what is being said whereas pride sees little need to listen.

Jesus says it this way:

For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.Matthew 15:13

God listens because God is love. God asks us to pray because without two-way communication there is no loving relationship. At great cost He restored his relationship with man so that He, in part, could listen. He loves to listen because He loves much.

To follow Jesus and to be Godlike is to willingly laydown my life for others by listening well.

[1] Robert K. Greenleaf, http://www.concordiaonline.net/what-is-servant-leadership/

What Does God Look Like?

Disciples of Jesus are made by people experiencing God in relationship and not by curriculum or the transfer of information alone. To study and research about Abraham Lincoln is not the same thing as having been a friend of Lincoln.

Jesus formed his disciples into a community around him so that they could experience what it means to be loved and to belong and for us to be able to see what God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven” looks like as Jesus with his disciples lived it out.

The character that Jesus’s disciples experienced from him were:

  1. Humility. Counting the others in the group as more important than yourself.

“ . . .He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:8

  1. Servant’s Heart. To serve the practical needs of others.

“ . . .Rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.” Philippians 2:7

  1. Self-sacrifice. To willingly lay down your life for your brothers and sisters.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

John 15:13

Jesus engrafted each man into the group of twelve for a three-year period for them to experience the essence of God so that they could become like Jesus. As the disciples were conformed to be like him they would grow in their love one another and their love for one another was the proof to the world that they were followers of Jesus. Their witness was their community and their community was their witness.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35

 

Stop Worrying About Singles

The best thing you can do for your single adult son or daughter is to stop worrying about them. Worry will not solve whatever concerns you have about your single children and it harms your relationship with them. Your attitude about the future of your children reveals what you really believe about the Lord’s heart towards your children. A parent’s trust in the heavenly Father for their children’s well-being is a good gift to them and it will bring to them a sense of security.

Worry is an agitated anxiety about your children’s future that comes from focusing on the immediate circumstances. “Why can’t my daughter find a nice husband?” “Will I ever become a grandmother?” Worry wants a quick fix to the situation, whereas an appropriate perspective takes on a long-range outlook by guiding each child to trust the heavenly Father for a lifetime.

Worry is the sinister cousin of manipulation. Parents need to be careful not to use the language of worry and to avoid sending subliminal messages of worry that could be seen by your children as an attempt to manipulate them. Hints about finding a nice wife or husband and mentioning how your friend has just become a grandparent is not appropriate. Your children will know if you are worried about them.

 

Singleness and Worry

Singleness is not a justification to worry. A distinctive of all followers of Jesus is that there is no place for worry in their lives.

It is only natural for singles to wonder who will take care of them in illness and old age. For some their greatest fear is to die alone and for others it is that they will be all alone in their later years.

The heavenly Father will care for his single children in old age just as he has throughout their entire lives. Our trust cannot be in a government, a 401K, a pension, church, family members, or friends. Social Security could go broke, the economy may crash, the church may close, and family and friends may die before us. Security can only be found by trusting in the keen attentiveness and care of a loving heavenly Father. (Matthew 6:32)

In reality there is little difference between facing the future being married or single. It is presumptuous for married people to think that their mate or their children will care for them in their old age because there is no guarantee that their mate or children will live past tomorrow. It is also assuming for singles to think that “if only” they had a mate and children that they would feel secure about growing older.

Worry is a waste of time and height of assumption. As Jesus pointed out “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27)

 

 

Church Feels Unsafe For Singles

Church feels unsafe for many singles. Although congregations would say that they love singles and that they are welcome here (We even have a singles’ ministry!) there is a subliminal double message, which says, “You’re not enough.”

Marriage and having children are an unspoken rite of passage in our churches and often a qualification for ministry and so for those that have never married or have never had children there is the sense that you have not yet arrived. (In my research I have discovered couples that are unable to have children experience a similar stigma as the singles do in their churches.)

Singles also look around their churches and notice that rarely are there singles in leadership. Just today I was told of a lay leadership position in a church that was not given to a person because he is single. He was told that the church was more comfortable with a married couple in the position even though he was the most qualified person in their church to lead that particular ministry.

One question I ask singles is if their spiritual leaders have affirmed their singleness?

To date not one single that I have talked with has ever been affirmed in his or her singleness. They are loved and appreciated by leadership and their spiritual family but no one has ever pulled them aside and said, “We see your singleness as a gift from the Lord and that you are a whole person and a capable individual. Your singleness has enabled you to do ministry that a married person could never do. We are glad you are single and part of our family!”

Mythbuster: Singleness-Myth #10

Myth #10 Singles can be fickle and irresponsible.

Truth: There are singles that are trustworthy.

Nowhere else in American society are singles separated out as they are in the Protestant church. Although there are many aspects of our lives that we entrust to singles, our pilot, nurse, doctor, boss, and accountant all could be single, but when it comes to our spiritual lives we hesitate to submit ourselves to the leadership of singles. It is rare to find a single church staff member.

When we meet a single we automatically assume that something must be wrong. Yet in the first century a young single named Timothy proved himself to be trustworthy and he was able to lead others to follow Jesus.

“For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.” 1 Corinthians 4:17

“But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel”. Philippians 2:22

Not all singles are spiritually trustworthy, but just as married people will overtime establish their faithfulness to the Lord so a single can establish his or her reputation as a man or woman of God. The disciples in Timothy’s hometown of Lystra recognized his spiritual uniqueness and based on their recommendation Paul invited Timothy to minister along side of him, a partnership that lasted for 18 years.

Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek. The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him.” Acts 16:1-2

 

Mythbuster: Singleness-Myth #9

Myth #9 Singles tend to be strange.

Truth: Peculiarity is not limited to singles.

I admit that I have met some strange singles over the years but I have also known some pretty peculiar married people. Marriage does not eradicate strangeness and in some cases exasperates it.

Singles can serve as Godly role models for all believers to follow. Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, and Titus as singles served as examples for the new believers to imitate in the first century. In more recent times David Brainerd, John Stott, Amy Carmichael, and Henrietta Mears have all inspired Christianity by their example.

“You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.”

1 Thessalonians 1:6-7