A Heart Like God’s

Acts 13.22 describes why God chose David to become king of Israel: God made David king, saying, “I have found David … to be a man after my own heart” (NLT).

The goal of a Christ follower is to have a heart like God’s.

I’ve written before about a prayer that has become part of our family’s prayer life: God, give me a heart like yours (I also wrote a follow-up post).

The phrase comes from Max Lucado’s book, Hermie, A Common Caterpillar. In fact, as I was writing this post, I asked the kids what God said to Hermie and Wormie. Sarah said, “I’m not finished with you yet. I’m giving you a heart like mine.”

So, what is God’s heart like?

Well, there’s no exhaustive list, but some qualities that come to mind when I think of God’s heart include …

  • Loving: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son …” (John 3.16)

  • Forgiving: “But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong.” (1 John 1.9)

  • Generous: “My God will meet your every need out of his riches in the glory that is found in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4.9)

  • Wise: “God’s riches, wisdom, and knowledge are so deep!”

  • Patient: “The Lord isn’t slow to keep his promise, as some think of slowness, but he is patient toward you, not wanting anyone to perish but all to change their hearts and lives.” ( Peter 3.9)

  • Persistent: “Yes, goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the Lord’s house as long as I live.” (Psalm 23.6)

What qualities would you add?

Rejoice in the Lord!

The Apostle Paul was known for encouraging followers of Jesus to rejoice. In 1 Thessalonians 5.16, he wrote, “Rejoice always.” In Philippians 3.1, he wrote, “Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord” (NRSV). Paul added in Philippians 4.4, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (NRSV).

The word “in” is important in these verses. We rejoice in the Lord—in who God is and in our relationship with God … always!

I’m slowly reading through Eugene Peterson’s Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers. In his chapter on Jesus’ story of “the Good Samaritan,” Peterson highlights what happened before the story. Jesus had sent out seventy-two followers in teams of two to do ministry. They came back rejoicing in what God had done through them.

Peterson describes the verb “rejoice” as “an exuberance we see in dance and cartwheels” (34). Rejoicing is a good thing!

But after their rejoicing, Jesus offered a word of caution …

Do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven. (Luke 10.20)

Certainly, we should find joy in serving God and bearing fruit for God’s kingdom. But our greater joy is that our “names are written in heaven.”

Peterson cautions …

There is danger that we will become overly excited at what we see going on around us and neglect the center, our heaven-inscribed identities, out of which the work develops. (34)

Getting distracted by what goes on around us and neglecting the center are very real pitfalls for Jesus followers. The temptation is always to base our joy on what is happening in our ministries, instead of our relationship with God.

Peterson concludes …

Not what we do, but who we are ‘in heaven,’ anchors the joy. (34)

So, rejoice. Rejoice always. Rejoice in the Lord always.

Where does your joy come from?

“Preach Better Sermons” Replay

Last March, Preaching Rocket conducted a free online event called Preach Better Sermons. Speakers included Andy Stanley, Jeff Foxworthy, Louie Giglio, Perry Noble, Jud Wilhite, Vanable Moody, Dr. Charles Stanley, and Dan Cathy. It was a great event. Afterward, I wrote 5 Takeaways from Preach Better Sermons.

Preaching Rocket is replaying the 3-hour online event on Wednesday, December 5, 2012 beginning at 12:00 noon EST. Click here for more information!. It’s free!

After talking to hundreds of pastors, the folks behind Preaching Rocket discovered that while preachers love preaching, preparation is often the real challenge. Preach Better Sermons is an attempt to go behind the scenes with some of today’s best communicators to find out how they bring great content week after week.

The communicators will unpack seven preaching principles

  1. Start with the Scripture.
  2. Keep it simple.
  3. Make it portable.
  4. Show it, don’t just say it.
  5. Find common ground.
  6. Finish early in the week.
  7. Preach with the end in mind.

Click here to register for Preach Better Sermons!

Preaching Rocket also offers …

a 12-month coaching program to help you become a better preacher. Over the course of 12 months, we’ll coach you on some of the most important and practical issues related to preaching.

I’ve been in the Preaching Rocket preaching program since it began last spring; in fact, I was one of the first 100 charter members. I love it, so far. It fits well with Andy Stanley’s one-point preaching approach (see my posts: One-Point Preaching and 5 Years of One-Point Preaching).

Preaching Rocket isn’t cheap, so it helps to have a strong “continuing education fund.” But it is an investment in my preaching!

A Tennessee Thanksgiving

In recent years, our holiday tradition has been to travel to Tennessee to visit my family for Thanksgiving, and to stay home, near Joleen’s family, for Christmas. Going to Tennessee gives the kids a great opportunity to spend time with Grandma and Grandpa Willis and other family members!

On Wednesday, we picked Ethan up from school and began the lengthy drive to Cleveland, Tennessee. After making a pit stop overnight, we arrived at my family’s place at 12:45 p.m., just in time for Thanksgiving dinner.

On Friday, we went to the Ocoee River, which was used for the canoe slalom during the 1996 Olympics. The water was pretty low where the visitor’s center is located. There are also a couple of bridges connecting paths on both sides of the river. We spent a lot of time walking on the rocks in the middle of the river. (We enjoy rocks; that’s one of the reasons we like going to Maine.)

On Saturday, we went to the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. It was a nice—and tiring—afternoon, seeing all kinds of (mostly underwater) creatures!

This morning, we visited the New Covenant Church of God where Joleen and I attended while we were in seminary. It was good to see a few people we knew, especially Jackie and Cheryl Johns, pastors and seminary professors. They also officiated at our wedding at New Covenant.

The family got together this afternoon and exchanged Christmas gifts.

This has been a quick trip due to the school schedule (living with a school schedule is new to us, now that Ethan is in kindergarten). Tomorrow, we head back home.

The Discipline of Giving Thanks

The Thanksgiving holiday is a good reminder to be thankful, but we need to practice the discipline of giving thanks everyday.

1 Thessalonians 5.18 says, “Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (CEB). I’m glad it says “in every situation” rather than “for every situation.” While we may not like every situation we experience, the discipline is to be thankful anyway, even if only for the promise of God’s presence!

The Psalms talk a lot about giving thanks …

  • “Let’s come before him with thanks!” (Psalm 95.2)
  • “Enter his gates with thanks.” (Psalm 100.4)
  • “Give thanks to the LORD because he is good.” (Psalm 106.1, and others)

I also love what Paul writes in Colossians …

  • “Be rooted and built up in him, be established in faith, and overflow with thanksgiving just as you were taught.” (Colossians 2.7)
  • “Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3.17)
  • “Keep on praying and guard your prayers with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4.2)

A few days ago, Jon Gordon wrote on Twitter:

Research shows you can’t be stressed and thankful at the same time. If you are feeling blessed you won’t be stressed.

We can’t control what happens to us, but we can choose how we respond. And one of the ways we respond is by being thankful. It’s a discipline worth developing!

Giving Our Whole Hearts to God

On Sunday, I handed out cards with an outline of a red heart. At the end of the sermon, I asked people to write in the percentage of their heart they wanted to give God. Of course, the hope is everyone wrote 100%!

In reality, I’m sure the percentage fluctuates and it may not even be humanly possible to give 100%. But the desire and commitment to give 100% is essential!

Last night, we used the cards in our family devotion. After explaining to the kids, Ethan (age 5) fleshed it out this way: “We can’t give God half a heart; that won’t work!” Later, during prayer time, Sarah (age 3) said something like, “We can’t give God just a piece.” Then the kids each wrote 100% on their heart cards.

How much of your heart are you giving to God?

13 Factors That Influence Clergy Health

Health and well-being has been a focus of mine over the last several months (most recently, Hitting the Wall). Today, I read that three United Methodist general agencies joined forces to focus on clergy health. The result is a report on 13 Factors That Influence Clergy Health.

The intro paragraph from the PDF states …

The Church Systems Task Force research identified 13 factors that are highly correlated with clergy health, differentiating those who are healthy from those who are unhealthy. The 13 factors identify sources of stress, challenges to maintaining physical health, obstacles to emotional health, impacts upon social health, the importance of spiritual health and the influence of finances. Individuals who are able to manage and address these factors tend to be healthier. Healthy churches and congregations foster healthy clergy and church leaders—and vice versa. These factors are relevant for church leaders—clergy and laity alike. The Wesleyan way inextricably links the health of the Church with the health of its clergy. The leadership of healthy clergy is essential for vital local churches and vibrant mission in the world.

Here is a list of the 13 Factors (the site describes them in more detail) …

  1. Job satisfaction
  2. Relationship with congregation
  3. Work/life Balance
  4. Living authentically
  5. Personal centeredness
  6. Marital and family satisfaction
  7. Stressors of the appointment process
  8. Eating habits with work that often involves food
  9. Personal finances
  10. Existential burdens of ministry
  11. Appointment changes and relocation
  12. Education and preparation for ministry
  13. Outside interests and social life

I’ve seen other lists of stressors, of course, but what I like about this list is that it’s specific to church leaders, and even more specific to pastors in The United Methodist Church.

It’s a good list to monitor one’s own health and well-being.

Francis Asbury’s Arrival in America

For a while now, I’ve been casually reading American Saint: Francis Asbury and the Methodists by John Wigger. I’m enjoying it, but I also recently began reading Asbury’s three-volume journal (Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3).

Asbury begins his journal talking about a conference that took place on August 7, 1771 where he made himself available to go preach on the American continent. Life and ministry in America is certainly what defined Asbury’s legacy.

Asbury, who received John Wesley’s blessing, wrote, “I am going to live to God, and to bring others so to do” (12).

Asbury embarked for America on September 4, 1771 and landed in Philadelphia on October 27. Upon his arrival, he reflected …

When I came near the American shore, my very heart melted within me, to think from whence I came, where I was going, and what I was going about. But I felt my mind open to the people, and my tongue loosed to speak. I feel that God is here; and find plenty of all we need. (14-15).

Once in America, Asbury was here to stay, in spite of the looming revolutionary war. At the time, Asbury didn’t know how long he would be in America. On his way to America, he noted, “If God does not acknowledge me in America, I will soon return to England” (12).

Asbury never returned to England, and he oversaw the growth of Methodism in America. In January 1772, Asbury prayed, “Lord, keep me faithful, watchful, humble, holy, and diligent to the end.”


Choose “Next Time” Over “If Only”

Earlier this week, I blogged about the The Pain of Discipline vs. the Pain of Regret. The pain of discipline is future-oriented, while the pain of regret is past-oriented.

Another way to think about it is with the two terms “next time” and if only” (this idea isn’t original with me; I just don’t remember where I heard it or read it). “If only” is the pain of regret. “If only I would have (fill in the blank).” A better course of action is to say, “Next time, I will (fill in the blank).” “Next time” lays out a path of discipline for the future.

In my experience over the last five months, I’ve certainly been tempted to think, “If only.” If only I would have rested more. If only I would have not ignored the earlier warning signs.

I remember intentionally thinking, at times, “I can’t dwell on ‘if only’; I have to focus on ‘next time.'” That’s why I came up with 3 Steps I’m Taking to Manage Stress Better in the beginning. I just needed a plan, some course of action that helped me see a light at the end of the tunnel. It wasn’t a perfect or a complete plan, but it was a start in the right direction!

You may certainly need to reflect on the past to see where you’ve missed the mark or where you’ve gone off-course. But don’t dwell on it to the point where it paralyzes you. Come up with a plan for the future, for next time.

What will you do next time? Start on it immediately. It’s the path of discipline. And remember, the pain of discipline is a lot better than the pain of regret!

Catalyst One Day Came to Pennsylvania!

Yesterday, Joleen and I attended the Catalyst One Day event in Lancaster, PA. It was a great event in which Andy Stanley and Craig Groeschel talked about creating healthy organizational cultures.

Here are some my favorite quotes from the day, most of which I posted on Twitter

“Healthy people are problem solvers, not problem creators.” (Andy Stanley)

“Healthy cultures never happen by accident. They are created.” (Craig Groeschel)

“Your culture is a product of what you value … There’s often a big difference between what we value and what we do.” (Craig Groeschel)

Groeschel suggests keeping your list of values short: “If everything is important to you, nothing is important to you … If you can’t tweet your values, they’re too long.” (Craig Groeschel)

“Lead toward your values as if your future depends on it, because it does.” (Craig Groeschel)

Leaders must constantly confront their egos: “What’s most important: creating a great organization or creating a name for yourself?” (Andy Stanley)

Leaders must guard against entitlement: “Entitlement follows success.” (Andy Stanley)

“Those who don’t know, don’t know they don’t know … We as leaders have a limitless capacity for self-deception.” (Craig Groeschel)

The danger in ministry: It’s possible to “became a full-time pastor and a part-part follower of Christ.” (Craig Groeschel)

This was a very practical event. It was also timely as it fits right in with our next steps at Centre Grove. Coming out of our year in the Matthew 28 Initiative, we’re beginning the process of clarifying our vision and values, and making sure we are creating a healthy culture!