Pursue the Heart

Pursuing the heart of those we’re leading, whether in ministry, or in our home can be extremely powerful and personally humbling.

From the hearts springs forth the issues of life (Prov 4:23, Mt. 12:34). Nothing that is done externally is disconnected from something internally. The heart beats, the blood flows, the body moves.

Emphasis in ministry can be put on outward fruit of those we’re leading. Every leader has created some sort of ideal. That ideal determines how much action we put forth into a situation. When someone we’re leading breaks the mold of expectation, red flags are raised and we respond with action.

Sometimes I feel like I’m scrambling to put out fires when my aim should be starting fires. A fire started for Christ in the heart of a person becomes more powerful than exerting my pastoral energy to put out their heart fires. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is much better pastor than I will ever be. A. W. Tozer said something to effect of, “When we think rightly about God 10,000 lesser problems are dealt with.” (not an exact quote)

The root of our life, as Proverbs says, is the heart. What is in the heart? The answer to 01-06-11_OldAppleTree_Hxbythat will tell you what type of fruit will be born. Scrambling to “pick off” the bad fruit from someones life can be as frustrating as picking off damaged apples from an orchard of apple trees. If the apples are diseased the root of the tree must be examined to see of what quality it is.

In the garden God called to the man and the woman saying, “Where are you?” God knew where they were. The problem was that they didn’t know where they were. They were disconnected at the heart level from the current situation. Their hearts had believed a lie, bought into deception, and acted upon it. Similarly, Jesus when restoring Peter doesn’t say to him, “Peter, don’t ever deny me again.” What does He ask?

“Peter do you love Me?”

Peter’s denial would never resurface again if his heart was deeply connected to loving Jesus. A revelation of Christ on the inside will lead to an expression of Christ on the outside.

Pray Ephesians 1:17. Pray it for yourself. Pray it for those whom you lead. Let God give us revelation of His Son at the root of our lives.

A Sip of the Ocean

Which comes first worship or the object of worship?

God is beautiful and that beauty is transcendent. Webster defines transcendent as: being beyond the limits of all possible experience or knowledge. Simply put, it is impossible to know all of God; and because of His nature it’s impossible to know Him at all unless He reveals Himself to us. And further, no matter how much he reveals there is an infinite amount more that is possible to discover.

When God reveals His beauty to us, we catch a glimpse of His nature, but it’s just that: a glimpse.

Think of the creatures that circle the throne (as depicted in Rev. 4), as far as we know, they are creatures with most worship experience. They’re before God day and night and they’re covered in lid-less eyes for gazing at the One seated on the throne. The being with the most knowledge on the beauty of God doesn’t even really know a measurable part of it. Why? Because God is infinite. Not just in His expanse and existence but, in this case, His beauty.

Think of how large the oceans of our planet are. Estimates are that 36,614,237,300,000,000,000,000 gallons of water fill the oceans, lakes, streams, and rivers on the earth. Let’s say that the water on the planet is the beauty of God. We can take sip of water, drink a gallon or 2 during 1 day, over our lifetime we can drink thousands, if not millions of gallons of water. But what is a million gallons compared to the number above? It is incredibly negligible.

Here’s where the analogy breaks down: there is no measurable number or amount to attribute the beauty of God’s nature. Even if our entire solar system and the galaxies of the universe were comprised of water it would still be measurable. God’s beauty is immeasurable.

When our hearts encounter the beauty of God revealed at that magnitude it produces something in heart of human beings, worship. Worship is a response to beauty. We don’t start with worship and hope we end up seeing beauty. Rather, we start with beauty to bring forth worship. True beauty will produce pure worship. Those that worship God most perfectly are the ones who see Him most clearly.

Seeing Others as God Sees Us

The voice on the other end of the line was saying something that I was not grasping.

“I want you to jump in with me, into Student Ministries.”

“What is that?” I replied. I had no idea what Student Ministries was or meant. The only image that filled my mind was college campus outreaches replete with super hero tracts.

“It’s youth ministry. Teen Ministry,” the voice replied. More images flooded my mind. This time it was pizza parties and sweaty roller skating. I had no intention of ever roller skating…ever, if possible.

“Bro, I don’t do pizza and roller skates.”

“Good, neither do I.”

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This was the conversation that launched my wife, our 2 kids, and I into full-time youth ministry. We uprooted from our comfy home in Fort Mill, SC and made a 16 hour journey to move back to Kansas City where I had grown up. We had recently heard the call and moved from there just 4 years earlier.

My view of teenagers, like most of yours, was rooted in a horrifying thought: myself a teenager. When I closed my eyes, I saw myself at 15: idealistic, way too confident with bad ideas, scared others opinions and ashamed of my life failures. It wasn’t until a couple years later that I realized my distaste for youth ministry was, in reality, a distaste for myself.

Every summer, the ministry I worked for ran a God-focused teen camp. Young people would come from all up and down the east coast for 2-3 weeks and trounce around our ministry facilities. Break things. Break lots of things. Say the wrong things. Mix up bible verses. Sweat. And then sweat on top of that sweat. It drove me crazy.

The way I viewed stereotypes, as far as teenagers go, was this: they’re pretty much all true.  Why is it that being around teenagers is something we see as having to endure?

After re-locating to Kansas City, I tried to get my mind around what was happening, and what was this great mystery called, “youth ministry” all about? I remember the first night heading into youth service with my wife and kids in tow. About 100 teenagers were dotted throughout a darkened room with a well-lit blue stage at the front. Cool sounding harmonies and guitar lines floated out of the speakers. One of my first thoughts was, “Wow, we have really good music.” Throughout the night we were greeted by 1 teen. I mean, we were the new guys. They no doubt were intimidated by our outrageous coolness.

The first year was a huge challenge. Not only was I learning a ton about youth ministry and trying to acclimate to an unfamiliar, albeit soundly forgotten world, but I didn’t realize I had massive adjustments to make. The difficulty ofttimes isn’t in the learning itself, it’s realizing you’re learning. Like many, I came in idealistic, thinking I had so much to offer. Which I did. But something else began to happen in that first year. Something surprising. Something that I wouldn’t have believed if you had told me.

Youth leaders are a rare breed. And they’re getting rarer. On average the American youthImage leader stays connected 18 months before moving on. Because of this (and other dynamics), the youth ministry world is in state of constant flux. Whenever I meet another youth leader that’s been in the game for longer than a year or 2 there’s kind of an unspoken understanding that passes between us. Most youth leaders are under immense pressure that derives from 2 key places: themselves and their pastors.

The youth leader can often see themselves as above those they are leading. After all, I’m older and have more life experience. What could a teenager actually teach me? If asked a question that I don’t know the answer to, I have enough lingo to fake my through it without giving substance and definitely without admitting, “I don’t know.” As a 30 or so year old, it can be difficult seeing ourselves invested long-term into youth ministry. Youth ministry can in many ways become the training ground for “real ministry” that we’ll hopefully (dear Lord, hopefully) graduate into after our time is done.

Senior pastors love the idea of having a fiery, growing youth group. Heck, that sounds awesome to me. But the way that it plays out after the youth pastor is hired and sent to shepherd the sheep is not always pretty. Reason: metric of success. What is the metric of success for the youth group? For many, the measure of success is if the youth group gets bigger from year to year and if those graduating continue to attend and tithe at the grown up’s service. It takes a little self-honesty to actually see it this way. It can be dressed up in lots of different ways, but unfortunately it can’t be re-told for what it is.

Those youth pastors “grow up” and do the same thing that was done to them. Broken fathering taught by broken fathers.

When I began youth ministry, the Lord began doing something shocking: ministering to me. What I saw as broken, what I saw as annoying, I began to see as…me. I was broken. I was in some ways more broken than those I was leading.

Because of the nature of my job (the mind and heart of teenagers) the Holy Spirit began to take me on a journey. That journey was not fame, appreciation from others, and powerful testimonies as I had imagined. It was a journey into my youth. He began to ask me:

“Isaac, when you think of yourself as a teenager, what do you see? What do you think I see?”

This process was often uncomfortable. But through it, my heart began to receive healing from the pain I had incurred over 10 years before. As this happened, the Lord gave me new eyes to see those whom I was leading. No longer was I focused solely on the outward brokenness and immaturity. I began to actually enjoy the teenagers.

I began to enjoy teenagers when I saw that God enjoyed me when I was a teenager.

In spite of my sin, self, and pride. God still took me seriously. The decisions I made to love Him and choose Him in my teenage years were so precious to the Lord. At the time I was so wracked with guilt I thought they were more along the lines of wishful thinking than earth shattering resolves.

Principle: we grow slowly, over time, making consistent decisions (rather than perceived radical ones).

I get to enjoy teenagers because God enjoys teenagers.

The power of misapplied truth

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

The power of gossip lies in the power of tongue. What cursing does to dilute the effective power of our words, gossips does to our relationships. Gossip brings a wedge into the relational dynamic of a community. Reputations can be ruined or jaded because of gossip.

Humans have a natural affinity for gossip. We like to talk about other people in a way that exposes their weaknesses. Why is this? Because it brings a perceived level of justification to the one who is gossiping or hearing gossip. Simply, it moves our flesh in a self-gratifying way.

There is an insatiable itch in the human heart to be accepted, received, and celebrated. Rather that finding that desire satisfied in the Lord, we bring that praise to ourselves in a round-a-bout way by speaking negatively (though truthfully) about those around us. When we say of someone, “They are really lacking in some areas,” aren’t we really saying, “Look at me, I’m not like them, I don’t have those flaws”?

Gossip is talking truthfully about someone when that person is not present. Scripture tells us to speak the truth in love. Over and over we see Jesus speaking the truth in love (though it can bite) in the very presence of those whom He talking about. Gossip is afraid of conflict. It cares little that a person is changed and renewed. Gossip, though speaking of someone else, is quite self-centered; it has little to do with that person, loving them, or helping them grow and mature.

We are the body of Christ. If the eye despises the hand then the body cannot operate in continuity with the mind and heart. The eye can see what the hand cannot, but the hand can remove from the eye what is ailing. Gossip is when the eye refuses to help the hand and the hand refuses to help the eye.

How then shall we live? Repent of the times that we have gossiped against our brothers and sisters. Invite the Holy Spirit into our thoughts during conversation, “Are these words pleasing to You, Lord?” Make it an aim to praise others and encourage them in their presence.

A Life of the Spirit

Salvation is a miraculous event! The Bible says that at the time of Salvation, we become a “new creation”* and receive a “new spirit.”* At the moment of Salvation, our spirit is made righteous and now we can begin living a new life towards God. This gift is given to us freely, it’s given fully and it’s given instantly.

To walk in victory over sin we must understand the great inheritance that has been given to us by God. Imagine the person who has been freely given a great inheritance of wealth but never withdraws it from the account! Yet, this is what many believers do. To “walk in the spirit,”* is to access that wealth that is available to us by the Holy Spirit.

We’re called not just to a one-time event called “salvation,” but also to walk out our salvation by living in relationship with God. In other words, we don’t just say, “No,” to sin but we say, “Yes,” to God by doing His commands*. It’s important to understand that the impulses of sin do not go away but the believer has the power to effectively challenge and resist them by the indwelling Spirit.*

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.” Rom.8:5

Here’s a simple prayer to help get you started to set your mind; throughout the day, pray, “Holy Spirit, let me see what you see and feel what you feel about… ____________” (fill in the blank with whatever subject or situation you are facing). Take time to intentionally listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying, and over time your awareness will grow as your walk in the Spirit grows. Now you’re living a life according to the Spirit, drawing from your inheritance, and renewing your mind day by day.

(*2 Cor. 5:17; *Rom. 8:11, *8:5-11, *Jn. 15:10, *Rom 6:11)

Castles and Calvary

There is a difference between resisting an enemy and defeating an enemy. Both require a great amount of strategy and work. Both require a great investment of emotional and physical strength. The most difficult enemy to face is one that cannot be ultimately defeated, though they may have set-backs they just will not go away!

When it comes to the sin of our carnal flesh, we can either suppress that sin or by the grace of God defeat it. Suppressing it is easier than defeating it. Even the Pharisees could suppress their outward sin. But as we know the Lord looks at the heart. I believe that most Christians spend a lot of time suppressing their sin. Why? Because it’s easier to build up walls of defense against an enemy compared to sharpening your sword and going out to kill the enemy. This is what I believe American Christianity has been boiled down to: “Do not touch, do not taste”.

But is there more?

Defeating sin comes at a great price. That price has been paid. That price was the precious blood of our Lord and Savior – Jesus Christ. His gift of salvation is free, but the life lived to Him afterward is not. It comes at a great cost. For Christ to defeat sin He had to leave His heavenly dwelling – His castle, if you will. He came low. He came humble. He came and dwelt among the sweat and dirt of mankind. He came as low as He possibly could, thereby, fully surrendering EVERYTHING defensible against the pain of life and the influence of the evil one.

Christ’s picture of defeat is our template for victory. No, we don’t have to die for our sins, but we must die to self. We have to surrender everything to the One who has the victory. If we want the victory we must fully embrace the Victorious One. We must, by the grace of God, fully surrender every of our lives, embrace the Lamb that we may share in HIS defeat of sin that we may truly live.

What is the cost of victory? Everything.

Some Earthly Good

Resurrected bodies, a new earth, authority in the age to come, a 1380 mile city – these are things that are on mind during this week as I remember the death and resurrection of Christ.

Unless a seed falls into the ground and dies it cannot bear fruit. Christ went into that ground. And His death, yea, His life will bear much fruit. He is the Great Forerunner, a first-fruits of mankind, a foretaste of what awaits the faithful. The death that Adam sowed into humanity Christ has defeated, AND more importantly, He has brought us life and life abundant.

What does the resurrection show us?

The Resurrection shows us that our faith is not dead and what is going to happen to us. It shows that Christ has power over eternal death, not just of the soul, but the soul and the body. He died not just to redeem the souls of mankind but the bodies. Weird.

There were some odd things that happened after the resurrection and we need not be left with the image of a glowing tomb as the finale. Namely, He was on the earth for a month and 10 days after the stone rolled away. He taught extensively on the kingdom during this time (Oh to hear that!). He appeared to many and we know there were at least 500 were eyewitnesses of His return from death. He could eat food and He could cook food. He had flesh and bones. Let me say that again: Christ NOW has flesh and bones…in heaven. He is the only One in heaven currently outfitted with a flesh and bone frame.

He was not fully spirit and He was not fully flesh; or better said, He was fully spirit and fully flesh, a Heavenly Man. There were dimensions of both supernatural and natural activities during His 40-day-stay.

What does this mean? Paul tells us what it means, John does too. It means that we will have a body like Christ’s. We won’t look exactly like Him, but we will be outfitted with a fully supernatural and natural frame. We’ll be able to walk through walls and yet eat food. Why? Because we’ll be spending eternity on a renewed earth. You’ll need that peppy upgrade to interact with heaven on earth. The spirit and the natural will be joined, forever (Eph 1:10).

Sorry, no floaty cloud for you. If you’ve always wanted to escape earth, you’d better rethink your eternal habitat.