A Child of God’s Heart

I’ve been really thinking about the heart devoted to God.  This past Sunday I preached a lesson on David’s heart.  The selection and anointing of David as King of Israel as a

"He chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens..." - Psalm 78:70

young man had to be a crazy situation for him to go through; but even wackier for his Dad and brothers.  We talked about being children of God’s heart; the Bible says David was a man after God’s own heart.  But what qualities did he have that made him be referred to in that way?  The scripture says in I Samuel 16:7,“But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

David was probably a 11-12 year old kid at this point.  Who knows how many hours he had been shepherding in the fields all by himself.  Most folks who had any livestock probably had at least some servants.  David was not only the youngest of the sons, but he was also the son of Jesse; a man who was definitely not made out of money.  Jesse was a man of moderate means.  Like most other Jewish families of that day, he had to use the resources at his disposal.  Being the youngest brother… guess who had shepherd duty?  Countless hours on the hillside; fighting off wild animals, watching the horizon, the animals, the fields… nature.

The Bible calls David a man after God’s own heart.  But what made him that way?  What qualities did he possess that let him be described that way?

I’d say it had a lot to do with his spare time; the time on those hills watching sheep do their thing, and plenty of time to think.  Time for him to focus on what he was taught as a kid in his mother’s arms, and cultivated it through his writing; time in prayer and penning what are now known as the Psalms.  But the interesting thing about solitude and nature is that God often speaks to us loudly during those times.  Psalm 78:70-71 says,

“He chose David his servant
and took him from the sheep pens;
from tending the sheep he brought him
to be the shepherd of his people Jacob,
of Israel his inheritance.”

I made a few points from the previous readings.
•God uses hearts that are best grown sensitive to spiritual things (often through solitude).
•David’s heart was focused on God in every situation.
•He expressed himself through words; writing Psalms (songs) that revealed his heart.
•He held God high as the great Creator, Master and Lord of all things.
•He was humble but courageous, based on his trust in God’s power and blessings in his life.
For David, God’s word (the Law of Moses) gave him great comfort.  It protected him from sin, gave him a heart that learned to love truth, and made him a man of deep submission to God.  As best I can understand it, this was what made David a man after God’s heart.  Listen to some of his own words:
Psalm 19:
   The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
giving joy to the heart…
  They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the honeycomb.

"For young David, God became both companion and audience. God wants to be ours, too; although, He is often unable to get our attention because of our feverishly maintained noise levels." -Lynn Anderson, p. 8

 Psalm 145:

    18The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
he also hears their cry and saves them.

Psalm 95:

Oh come, let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!  Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!  For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods.  In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.  The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!

Psalm 101:

3 I will not look with approval
on anything that is vile.
I hate what faithless people do;
I will have no part in it.
4 The perverse of heart shall be far from me;
I will have nothing to do with what is evil.

We live in a post-modern world that no longer values scientific discovery or Baconian rationalism.  No longer do we value the financial or intellectual powers of John Locke or Albert Einstein.  OUR world values the things that really matter… skinny jeans, perfect hair, cars, shampoo, muscles, and cosmetics.  We have allowed Madonna, Britney, Justin Bieber, Brad Pitt, and Jennifer Aniston to determine what makes the value of a person – all too often.

God doesn’t see as man sees, but God looks on the heart.
  What a relief.  The last thing I need, is to think I’m displeasing to God b/c I can’t fit into skinny jeans, and don’t have money and fame.
People of God need to be shaken up.  We need to remember that we’re not perfect, but we need to value the things that make us HIS children.  His children live counter-culturally.  They live in the world, but not of it.  He may have some stylish clothes, but the clothes don’t make the man.  She may be gorgeous, but she’s most of all a princess to the great King – a child of God.  She’s humble, Godly, kind, and submissive to God.
Protect your heart.  Make it God’s.  Pray for humility, acknowledge God’s greatness, and don’t fall prey to the empty reasoning that says that it doesn’t matter.  If you’re not accustomed to thinking like a child of God, maybe it’s time.  Time to re-view your job, your roles as a son, a dad, a husband, a wife.  Time to re-view the way you work, because you work for a standard far greater than just that which your boss requires.
Time, technology, and communication standards change; but real things that matter don’t.
Be a person of God, and have real peace in your life through Christ.  Hey, David’s greatest great grandson knew better than anyone how to have God’s heart.  Emulate Jesus, and you will have the greatest peace of all.

Bird’s Eye view of My Christian Heritage

This was originally written as a response to Dr. Ted Campbell’s blog post.  You can view it HERE.  I hope you find it encouraging on some level!

As a kid who grew up in the Churches of Christ – I probably have a little different take on this (Dr. Campbell’s view on how Churches of Christ are probably right [CoC’s]) than some, given my background. I grew up in churches that were anti- or non-institutional CoC’s. Long story short; we didn’t believe it was scriptural to support orphans homes from the church treasury (treasury=scriptural?), no fellowship halls, gyms, or kitchens in the building; after all, the gospel wasn’t about being a country-club.

But your article strikes me with a freshness, Dr. Campbell.  I have been through a weird metamorphosis, b/c I have gone to a CoC graduate school, served as a deacon in the more mainstream (liberal, from where I grew up) CoC’s, and now am of the position that CoC’s are often just another denominational hierarchy, albeit without a centralized denominational structure. Sure, we don’t have the CoC headquarters per se, but there are plenty of denominational flags and trademarks.

The Stone-Campbell movement to restore NT Christianity was filtered through their OWN traditions; be it Scottish Presbyterian or otherwise Reformation Protestant. Yet there was a freshness to the idea of just doing the Bible’s description of Christianity.

Fast-Forward to today… how would Stone & Campbell view CoC’s? GENERALLY kinfolk. But I think there was a freshness to the idea of being completely non-attached to any headquarters, or any other churches by affiliation. The idea of being completely autonomous and solitary was an exciting idea to these folks. I consider myself a “Stoned-Campbellite” – meaning I grew up with a DAZED & CONFUSED view of hermeneutics, authority, discipleship, and evangelism.  Not that I didn’t know about these four things; but to keep them perfectly tied up and consistent left me in a delirium.

But it’s scary.  If you don’t believe me, just start practicing TRULY non-denominational Christianity.  One where you have your own set of shepherds, a biblical viewpoint, but then again you really couldn’t care less what other churches think of you.  Not for the sake of just being different, but for the sake of being completely authentic.  Completely free to interpret the scripture with a conscience and a deep spirit of humility.

NOT to mention the Spirit’s work in our daily lives; the empowerment of His love and strength and guidance to those who submit fully to Christ. I still remember when I got up to preach my first Sunday night sermon at the age of 16. One elder said, “You can preach on anything… except the ‘indwelling of the Holy Spirit.’” He actually WASN’T kidding. After all, the Spirit’s work was done long ago, and only in a mystical way now as we read the Scripture, by helping us understand it.  Or… so it has been traditionally maintained.

Can a church (a collective group of disciples of Christ) really practice this?  Can they really make a powerful statement of the sovereignty of Christ in today’s world?  Can we love those who are in sin, but effectively show Christ’s love in a way to penetrate their life and actions?  Perhaps they can be brought to Christ in time.  An old mentality is still out there that says, “preach the word, and if they don’t accept it, then shake the dust off your feet and move on.”  Jesus did tell his disciples that, and there is truth in it.  But we can’t be of a spirit that polarizes people, and still bring glory to God.  Jesus befriended those who were in sin, and though he didn’t take part in it, something about his love, grace, and genuineness of action brought them to him.

I just find that yours is a unique bird’s eye view, and I appreciate it. It’s easy to get frustrated with what some experience as stifling and laden with un-written creeds.

Father, help me to be real Jesus.  Not the 21st century public perception of how people THINK of Jesus, because of our hypocrisy.  Help me to always practice the realness and genuineness of faith; loving ALL others, whether in a lifestyle the Bible calls sin, or whether they are traditional, genuine-but-often-lost believers.  Help me to be the man I am called to be, and show a balanced, real view to the world, so they will see you.  NOT me.  Help me to see others how YOU see them, not as I would naturally see them the way I might be tempted to do.  Help me to share Christ with others every single day.  every.  single.  day.

Sun Tested – Etymology of the English word “sincere”

Grey (bro-in-law) & I are at the AFCA convention in Dallas right now.  This morning, we went to the FCA‘s worship service.  The speaker was Denton Bible Church’s Pastor, Tommy Nelson.  He spoke to coaches in the audience with passion from the Bible text of 2 Corinthians 1:12.

“Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace.”

And 2 Corinthians 2:17:

“Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.”

I was deeply moved by Tommy’s message about the Greek word -that is used for sincerity (sincere); εἰλικρινείας (eilikrineias).  The point he was trying to make to coaches is that our significant role in the lives of kids has been developing for a hundred or so years, since fathers first left their homes with the industrial revolution.  Coaches have often had to step into the typical role that should be held by the father, by (for good or bad) influencing hundreds of young men under their care.  Some of our players don’t have a father at home.  For those who do, our society has placed demands on a Dad’s time, and the expectations of his job and our modern world keep him away from home, and the daily influence of his son as powerfully as that relationship was 120 years ago.

The context of the message this morning was that Coaches certainly don’t replace fathers, but the role of a Coach has literally become close to that of a minister.  When this industrial revolution changed the family dynamic 120 or so years ago, Knute Rockne went before the U.S. Senate to address the role of Sport in helping train young men in the ways of real life.  In fact, football – to many coaches – most closely resembled the battles and war of real life.

In some cases, that father role can be filled by his Coach.  But before any Coach can truly teach and influence his young men, he must BE what they need to be in a man.  Maybe he can’t do all the drills, the exercises, or make the long throws.  But his life – especially that of a Christian Coach – has to be the thing that makes the impact on his players.  He must be… sine cere.

In the Greek AND Latin roots of the word sincere, the connotation of pure-ness and validity is far stronger than in the English.  In fact, the etymology of the word is best translated as “sun tested“.

In the Greco-Roman culture, if a ceramic or potter’s pot was sold, it was expected to be a quality piece of workmanship.  If you were more concerned with making money and pushing product than quality, you would quickly fire your pots in the kiln.  When they were quenched, and cooled down too quickly, they would crack.  A deceitful vendor would put wax paraffin in the cracks.  To the regular eye, it looks high in quality.  But if it were sine cere (Latin), or “sun tested,” it would be held up to the sun, and when the sun hit the pot, it would expose the cracks and show it to be a fraud.

The application from 2 Corinthians 1 & 2 is obvious.  Coaches (and all of us) must be “without wax”.  We should be “sun tested” and shown to be sincere, and true integrity shows through.  2 Corinthians 2:17 makes all the more sense when Paul explains that he and his companions: “do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.”

The challenging thing for every Christian is that our daily walk must be authentic.  The wax in our cracks has to be eliminated, and if there are cracks in our pots, we need to patch them with the true potter’s clay, and have them re-fired in the kiln.  Jesus taught in Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

That’s where the potter’s clay comes from.  Those of us who are weary and burdened have already experienced those cracks, and have tried and tried to fill it with paraffin; just can’t fix it ourselves.  Our hearts can only be filled by the fulfillment Jesus gives.  And the only way for us to be of any sincere influence to others is through keeping ourselves as finely cured pottery.

WOW, that’s difficult.  Father, I pray that you will help me to overcome my cracks, and not continue to fill them with wax so others don’t see them.  Help me to share my struggles with others, so my clay will be healed and the power of Christ will reign in me.

Christmas, Christmas time is near…

…annnnnnnd how many of you finished that title’s lyrics in your Chipmunk voices?  (time for toys and time for cheer!)

What a time of reflection this year.  For the first time in years, I watched the national sacred Mass on Christmas Eve at the national cathedral.  I just thought I’d share some thoughts, and maybe ask for yours.

Pope Benedict Christmas Eve Mass

I come from a traditionally neither catholic or protestant, “low church” background.  I was raised in what is known as the “Restoration Movement” (or Stone-Campbell Movement) in American church history.  From where I came, it was “unscriptural” to celebrate Christmas as a holy day at all; since it is nowhere in scripture labeled as that day, or outlined for our celebration.

I don’t hold that conviction at all anymore.  To me, it’s a powerful time of remembrance and celebration to acknowledge that the child who was born in Bethlehem would establish a kingdom that would never be destroyed.  A time when Jesus was poured out from his Divine nature, into the broken, fleshly, ‘created’ form as a man.

As I was watching the service, I was blown away by a couple of things.  1)  the CEREMONY of the service was so deeply traditional that I was lost trying to find meaning.  I appreciate tradition, and appreciate religious traditions that are ceremonially done.  But when I read the New Testament, I just simply never see all of the ceremony, rite, and ritual that I saw on Christmas Eve on TV.  2)  I was blown away by the reverence of the moment.  While it was ritualistic and solemn, the Catholic tradition uses that time to draw near to God through communion.

In a way, I was never MORE convicted that I was that night, that the way the Catholic church does communion/mass is not the Biblical way.  It is the Catholic way.  I try to envision the spirit that was over the apostles and disciples when Jesus had recently ascended into Heaven, and how they would have assembled.   Would it have been with pomp, and gowns, and ceremonial incense to ‘bathe’ the worship before the Lord?  Or would it have been more wooden… more common folk… more – real?

I don’t condemn the Catholic way.  But I don’t believe it’s the Biblical way, and I’ll let the Lord sort all of that out.  But was I do believe firmly is that for Christians everywhere – we have to be real and be drawn near to God by the coming of the King.  I believe in the establishment of the Kingdom, the washing of regeneration, and the table of memorial feast as we eat the supper together with other disciples.  I believe in Jesus’ prayer when he prayed, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

I also believe in the power of symbolism.  For Catholics, almost everything in the ceremony is layered with powerful symbolism.  The metaphor of the incense, the whitewashed garments, the holy bread, the holy wine, and the trans-substantiated meal at the sound of the bell (when, in Catholic tradition, the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ).  When we partake of Christ, and “feast” on him like Jesus taught us in John 7, we take in all of his teaching, his wisdom, and his character.

John 6:54-58 says:   54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

The mass on Christmas Eve repeatedly stated, “he came to give us life, and that life so that we would have peace.” – that we would have the courage to change our lives to live in a holy way.  It’s a tough choice to live separate from the world.  I can’t imagine just how tough it was for Jesus to not go crazy on the Jews for their constant ignorance of the eternal wisdom He taught.  But I know what he taught was right, because it’s HARD.  It is selfless, and it is holy, and it’s difficult to care for those who don’t deserve your kindness.

The Manna God provided for Israel in the wilderness some 4000 years ago was both symbolic and functional.  It fed them and sustained them; but it came in the form of “rain” from the sky.  The LORD provides life and peace.  Jesus taught it in more direct, practical ways than that, but he taught the same thing.

I am thankful for the experience I had Christmas eve watching the catholic Network, for helping me get a little different picture on Christmas Eve.  While I am not ready to go kiss the ring, I acknowledge the deep reverence for the King’s birth, coronation, death, and resurrection.  My prayer is that I’ll have the willpower to keep it real in my own life.  God, be merciful to me and strengthen my weak knees.  Be completely in my sights for a new-ness, a self-less devotion to your holiness, and the service that Jesus showed others.  Lord Jesus, thank you for your humility to come as a servant man, and show us how to be humble in greatness.  “Let ev’ry heart, prepare Him room” – for you as the King of our lives.

Strong in the Mind

We’re in the heat of spring workouts – preparing to get INTO spring football.  We start officially in another few weeks and we’re finally starting to get some momentum.  The basketball guys are back, we’re still missing some valuable baseball and soccer guys – but most of our core football team is working out daily.

Today we did lots of upper body stuff.  Every day though, we do “athletics” and conditioning.  7-layer-push-ups, Dive-bombers, squat-jumps, conventional push-ups, crunches… you name it; they’re hard to do for very long without rest.  One of the things we often tell the kids is to “be strong in the mind!!!”  To hang in there and push through each rep, each set, every day.  In the end, it’ll push us to greater heights, and make us tougher mentally and physically; because we know WHAT IT FEELS LIKE to not quit, but to hurt and push through the pain with the strength of champions.

Interestingly, the scriptures teach all of those principles, and have taught ’em for thousands of years.

Ecclesiastes 2:24
Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God.

3 John 2
Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.

If we are working for God, we can bring an attitude of enthusiasm and cheer to even the toughest tasks and exercises.  More to the point, even if we have a supervisor or fellow workers who are difficult to work with, the principles of working hard “for the Lord” (1 Peter 2:18-19).

Ecclesiastes 9:10
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.

Luke 16:10
He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.

These are just a few passages that teach us how to approach hard work.  They are real, and they are tough to follow; but more satisfaction comes from being faithful and pushing ourselves when we apply it on a spiritual plane; to do it as if we’re doing it directly for our Creator.  Praise God from whom all good things come!  Lord help me to apply this at every level of my life.

The Blind Side

It’s been forever since I’ve posted.  this year has been a bad one for me to keep up on the blog.  Last night, Elizabeth & I went with my brother & sis-in-law to see the Blind Side.  It’s a story about a kid – Michael Oher (pronounced Oar) – who grew up in Memphis, was admitted (somehow) to Briarcrest Christian  School, and became a part of a not-so-conventional family of well-to-do pale faces on the East side of Memphis.

The story is all about Michael’s redemption, and REALLY about the redemption of the Touhy family; a white family who has compassion for him when they see him walking the streets without a place to go when it’s raining and cold outside.  Michael’s mother was a drug addict, and he was raised to this point in his life in the downtown projects (Hurt) in Memphis.

Citing their Christian duty, the mother of the white family (played by Sandra Bullock) convinces the husband (played by Tim McGraw) and kids that they have no choice but to love and care for this kid.  He was after all, 6’6″ – about 320, and with the heart of a puppy dog.  They take in Michael, and gain custody of him through the state.  He leads Briarcrest (Wingate in the movie) to the playoffs and acquires a scholarship at Ole Miss.

I was overcome by emotion the entire movie.  Not only had we lived in Memphis for 5 years, and experienced this culture through both urban ministry and Elizabeth’s crisis intervention work, but we had also adopted a beautiful baby boy who was African American – who’s now 9.  Memphis is a large city in the mid-south that has the same struggles as the large urban ones of New York, LA, Houston, and Chicago; drugs, prostitution, violence.  They need Jesus worse than anything in their lives.

REAL Jesus.  Not fancy churches, or charitable outreach that is here today, and gone tomorrow so that others can feel like they’ve cared for the poor, clothed the naked, or housed the homeless.  What the Touhy’s did for Oher was real Jesus.  I don’t know them personally; and I know they were REALLY well off.  I hope and pray it was the real Jesus who motivated them to act on their faith with Michael Oher;  I have no doubt that is really was.  The kind of kindness that is real and experienced, taken home, and reflected on long after people are in their quiet times.

I’ve come to believe that it is impossible to minister to someone without them seeing the real meaning behind it.  If it is Christ, they will see the selflessness that is behind it.  It if is selfish, people will see it.  If you truly love someone with the love of Christ, it is infectious, and they will share it with others.

GO SEE THIS MOVIE!  It’s a great one.  The love of Christ is the most motivating pure force one can gather.  May God grant us all his grace to overcome ourselves and become the people we need to be.

Let the Little Children Come to Me

logo2Jesus said in Matthew 19:14, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” While I see his point… he was trying to show that one must transform his heart into that of a little child to come into the kingdom of Heaven, I struggle with his teaching.

I struggle b/c I know it’s hard.  I know it’s difficult to become trusting again – so innocent, so warm, so needing to be loved.  I’ve begun a new chapter in my life and I LOVE it.  I’m the Director of Instructional Technology at Prattville Christian Academy in Prattville, AL.  My job entails the vision of the technology of the school, as well as teaching a Jr. High computer class, a Sr. High computer class, and all Elementary computer from 2nd to 6th.  I also teach Sr. high Bible, which is awesome, and am a D-Line coach on the football team.  As time goes on, I’m trying to create a school-wide grid for technology, so it all connects together for a PCA education that is engulfed in technology.

The reason I struggle is b/c I came into the school year with very LITTLE experience with little kids.  I mean I’ve always loved them, but my only experience thus far has been my own kids.   I am beginning to believe the Lord worked it this way so I could begin to see what true service and ministry is all about.  I cannot express my gratitude enough for our elementary teachers (at all schools) who deal with this CRAZINESS every day.  But I’ve begun to see a change in myself.  I’m trying to be patient, show them how to do computer things, but above all to be real.  I’ve noticed kids starting to high-five me in the halls, come by and wrap their arms around my waist for a big-ol’ hug, and otherwise wave and say, “hey Coach Ellis!!”  It’s really… pretty cool.

Their smiles are so precious.  These kids are lumps of clay to be molded; some of them already have gravel, rocks, sand, and other trash in their clay.  Maybe their home lives are messed up and we teachers see it.  But I believe the Lord uses teachers – and especially teachers in Christian schools – to minister to our kids.  We must BE Christ to them, and show them how to glorify God in all things.  They don’t know how to do it; we have to mold them.PCA 2009

And most of all; Lord Jesus, help me to become like a little child,  and desire the kingdom.  Here I am bumping along – a 35 y/o who’s out of shape, balding, and needing freshness in life – help me to have a heart to forgive.  Help me to see love immediately.  Help me to draw near to those who show kindness and love, and tattle on those who do evil.  Well not really… but help me to readily see Satan’s work, call it out, and oppose it as your child.  Help me to high-five Jesus in my life when I see him.  Help me to wrap my arms around his waist and grow love for him more and more in my heart.

Lord, bless our President, our Principals, our Teachers and Coaches as we try to do your work.  Refresh us in your spirit, and help us to minister to our kids.  You alone will bless us or abandon us, and I pray that we will always be the place you are alive and well.  Father, help us to glorify you in ALL we do.