Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Inside Out - Look Beneath the Surface

Over the years as a parent it never ceases to amaze me how certain phrases from our mouths will elicit negative reactions from our kids.  Phrases like: Eat your vegetables...they’re good for you.  Put on your jacket…it’s cold outside.  Oh, and my favorite: It’s bed time…go get your jammies on!  When we say those things, what do our kids do?  They push their plate away and stare at their veggies as if somehow their eyeballs are going to absorb them into their bodies.  It doesn't quite work that way, does it?  And if they are toddlers, and you mention the word nap or bed time, they flop themselves on the floor and roll around crying…as if that is going to convince you that they are NOT in need of rest!

It’s funny how as we get older, we appreciate rest so much more.  We love to take naps.  We live to go to sleep.  We collapse into our beds at the end of the day and when our alarms go off in the morning, we hit the snooze button fifteen times, because wish we could stay in bed a couple hours longer.  We long for more rest, don’t we?  Or do we?  Sadly, in our culture we thrive on being busy.  We hold up our calendars with all the stuff we have to do each day as a badge of honor.  We run from our work to our kids’ sports and then from our kids’ sports to a quick supper, which most of the time doesn’t have all of our family members present.  Then from supper we’re off to do homework, or other events, or in my case, back to work sometimes!

When do we ever slow down?  When do we slow down enough so that we can eat our emotional and spiritual vegetables of God’s Word?  When do we slow down enough to put on our emotional and spiritual jacket of God’s grace?  When do we slow down enough to give our souls rest, which by the way, Jesus says He is ready to give to us (Matthew 11:28)?

It’s time for us to intentionally slow down; to take a fast from our busyness and begin to learn once again what it means to truly rest with Jesus.  I invite you to begin to learn with me what it means to create space for God and let the Holy Spirit change us from the “Inside Out”.

Here’s why.  Listen to this quote: “It is not possible for a Christian to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature” (page 52, Peter Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church).  King David is a lesson from the Bible on the reality of this statement.  He was a very successful and well liked King of Israel.  He had it all.  He had power.  He had wealth.  He had success in everything he did.  David was a famous song-writer.  Do you realize that David’s songs are far more popular than Beyonce or Justin Bieber’s songs?  David wrote many psalms in the Old Testament and they have been used regularly since roughly 1000 B.C.!  Sorry Beyonce and Bieber, but you can’t compete!

From all outward appearances, David looked like he was richly blessed by God and incredibly strong in his faith!  But all was not well inside David’s heart.  Look in your Bibles at the heading of Psalm 51.  What does it say?  “For the director of music.  A psalm of David.  When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.” (Psalm 51) David committed adultery?  You mean…this hero of faith recorded in the Bible committed adultery?  Actually, what it doesn’t say, which we know from 2 Samuel 11 and 12, is that David not only committed adultery with another man’s wife, but that he brazenly used his power as king to try to cover it up by murdering the man and then taking this woman home as his wife.  All was not well on the inside of David’s heart.  He seemed to be spiritually mature, but he was emotionally immature.  He was a poser, a hypocrite.

I’m convinced that as we look at what is going on in our churches across America, the same can be said not just of people in the pews, but the leaders of our churches.  From all outward appearances, many leaders in our churches today look like they are spiritually strong, but inwardly, they are an emotional mess.  Consider these examples: 1) A person can be a dynamic, gifted speaker for God in public and yet an unloving spouse and parent at home.  2) A person can function as a great church board member and yet be unteachable, insecure and defensive.  3) A person can memorize and quote most of the Bible and yet still be unaware of his depression and anger, which is destroying his family.  My friends, Christians are not immune to these problems!  It’s time that we all stop pretending.  It’s time that we all take a good hard look inside and strive to see what Jesus sees.

The first step is to develop an awareness of what’s going on underneath the surface of our hearts.  Our hearts are a lot like an iceberg.  Icebergs really only have about 10% of their total size above the waterline.  90% is underneath.  10% of my heart is what you see me say and do.  Yet, what I say and do is often driven by the 90% of my heart you don’t see.

What’s underneath is the part that, quite honestly, I don’t want you to see.  What’s underneath the surface of your heart, also, is the part that you don’t want anyone else to see.  Like King David who tried to cover up his adultery and murder, we also, try to cover up our sins.  But instead of covering them up, we need to confess them.  God already knows all the deep dark secrets beneath our surfaces!  And you know what?  No matter how ugly they may be, He loves us anyway!

So how do we discover what’s beneath the surface?  Ask the “Why?” questions.  Jesus was always really good at asking people the “Why?” questions.  In Matthew chapter 15, Jesus challenged the Pharisees to look within and asked them why they did what they did.  Jesus always led people to look within to see the WHYs of their behavior.

And that’s not easy!  Because what I see in my heart and on the underside of my iceberg isn’t pretty.  Jesus put it clearly when He said, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts.” (Matthew 15:19)  When I look at the underside of my iceberg, there are a whole lot of ugly, painful, chunks of ice caused by my sin and the sin of others. 

When I look at all of the ugliness, then I can begin to understand WHY I act the way that I do in certain situations.  For example: Why am I always in a hurry?  Why am I so anxious?  Why am I overly concerned about what others think of me?  Why do I judge myself based on my performance at work?

For me personally, here are some of the answers I’ve come up with as I’ve answered these questions: Why am I always in a hurry?  Maybe it’s because I’m too busy trying to be everyone’s savior, instead of being with my Savior and pointing others back to Him.  Why am I concerned at times about what others think of me?  Maybe it’s because I’m trying to gain people’s approval instead of living within the joy of God’s approval that I already have because of Jesus!

Here’s the incredible paradox about who we are because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection on our behalf:  We are more sinful and flawed than we could ever dare to admit.  Yet at the same time, because of Jesus, we are more loved and forgiven than we could ever dare to hope!

That’s why David wrote what he did in verse 1 of Psalm 51.  David said, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.”  Even though David totally blew it!  What did he believe about God’s attitude toward him?  Merciful, unfailing love and compassionate!  Wow!

Look at verse 2.  David continued, “Wash away all my iniquity (We would use the word, guilt.) and cleanse me from my sin.”  Because he knew he was loved, what did David do?  He confessed his sin and asked for forgiveness! 

Like David, it’s time to look beneath the surface.  It’s time to confess our sins and admit that too often we’re too busy to have time with God.  It’s time to confess our sins and admit that because we don’t spend time with God and let His love soak into the core of our being, we too often act like posers who try to cover up our sins instead of confess them.

My friends, it’s time to flip over our icebergs and let the sunshine of God’s love melt away our insecurities, our failures and our guilt.  That’s what David asked for.  Look at verse 10, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”  The Hebrew understanding of the word heart involves our spiritual AND emotional health.  David asked for pure spiritual AND emotional health.

And you know what God’s wonderful answer to David’s prayer, as well as ours, is?  Our loving Father says, “Rest assured, my children, I have had mercy.  My love does not fail.  See, look at the cross.  Look at the empty tomb.  Look at the bread and wine that are before you in the supper my Son instituted for you.  Look and listen when I say to you: you are my beloved child, fully forgiven and headed home to heaven.

Fellow children of God, are you ready to get some rest?  Are you ready to get your spiritual AND emotional health back?  I invite you to create space for God and let the Holy Spirit heal what’s beneath your surface.

Please take a look at the “Inventory of Spiritual and Emotional Maturity”.  I encourage you to spend some time doing that inventory and see how you rank.  Then discuss it with a trusted friend or family member and pray that God helps you grow in your spiritual and emotional maturity.  And remember that no matter how you score, God loves all of you…even what’s beneath your surface!

-Pastor Chris Johnson, Outreach and Young Adult Pastor

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What has God given you that makes you happy?

The three year olds at St. Mark said, “Playing with Toys; Gummies; Mom; Dad; Grandma and Grandpa; Friends; Babies; He’s nice; the purple guy on the racing game.” The six year olds said, “God, clothes, family, cross, food, Jesus, faces on pumpkins, baby cousin, Bible, and Daddy.” One seven year old described how God worked in her life this way, “I wanted a baby sister. But I got a baby brother instead. God knew I would love him.” Cute, isn’t it? Children have an innocent, simple view of God. This view of God tends to disappear through the years as we get older. As adults we spend most of our time thinking about what needs to happen or what we don’t have yet or what’s been taken away rather than seeing all we have been given. Two close friends of Jesus knew exactly what this was like.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

You can imagine the preparations that needed to be made. Jesus and his 12 disciples came to her house – a great blessing, but more than a little stressful. If you’ve ever entertained 13 or more in your home you know it isn’t easy? It takes cooking, cleaning, and work. It’s understandable that Martha would be rather anxious – not to mention that this was her Messiah that came to her house. I can only imagine how I would run around prepping if Jesus walked through my door. More than a few things would get shoved in the closet.  ;-)

Funny that Martha had been given such a great blessing but only focused on the stress of what needed to be done and who wasn’t helping. Have you ever been there? We spend so much time with the stuff, people, jobs God has given us we can easily lose sight of why he’s really given us those things in the first place. Thankfulness and focus is replaced by stress and worry. Jesus answered an overwhelmed Martha and us with these Words:
“You are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

There is one thing needful and it will not be taken away. Reexamine your priorities and choose to follow the One who is better than what has been drawing the most of our attention. Don’t let your blessings or your challenges rob your joy but grow closer to Jesus especially at times that are rough, busy and overwhelming. Listen to Jesus’ Word’s of forgiveness, love and peace. Focus on his voice in the Bible. He has given us his very life in our place on the cross how will he not also lead us through what we face today. We are richly blessed and cared for by our loving God. Give thanks in all circumstances! 

What are you thankful for today?

-Pastor Eric Hansen, Discipleship Pastor