Posted tagged ‘Ephesians’

Fighting Against A Hardening of the Heart

August 5, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              August 5, 2013

      Next month I have the wonderful experience that happens each September called “Annual Physical.” I get poked and prodded…no more explanation needed! One of the tests I undergo is one where sensors are attached to different areas on my chest and the doctor is able to see whether or not my blood is circulating adequately. My dad has had heart problems, so the test is to make sure I’m not showing some of the same symptoms that he has dealt with. Hardening of the arteries is one of those things to look out for. Knowing my tendency to savor fried foods- fried shrimp, fried chicken, fried mushrooms, fried Twinkies- it’s one thing that my doctor, a devout Episcopalian (which has nothing to do with it, except we talk about our faith every time he’s poking me), has his parental eye on.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about that spiritual condition we talk about, the  hardening of the heart. How does it happen? I can easily explain the physical hardening of the heart as being the result of my addiction to “all-you-can-eat fish fries”, but how does a spiritual hardening happen?

Paul warned the Ephesians about Gentiles that had this condition. He wrote that “they are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” (Ephesians 4:18)

      As a pastor I have a fear of my heart being hardened. It isn’t out of an absence of prayer, or people praying for me, or even a drop in dedication. My fear of a hardened heart comes as the result of life experiences. The picture that I have that best describes it is of a rock in the rapids of a river that has been become smooth over the course of time as the water continues to pummel it. At one time it had a different shape, but as the years passed the water had broken down its resistance.

The difference between a tender heart and a hardened heart is not as vast as it seems. Jesus had a tender heart, especially for those who were perceived as having minimal importance. His disciples fluctuated between mercy and insensitivity.

We are prone to reword hard heartedness into more acceptable terms like “being a strong leader” and “determined.” But really…it is what it is! Too many church squabbles, too many personality conflicts, too much war and too little peace. The rock gets smoother, and the smoother it gets the less able to help people change happens.

And before one knows it…there is no more desire, no more flame burning, no aching for God.

It could be the place where Solomon found himself at times as he penned Ecclesiastes. Hardened hearts begin to see things as meaningless. Making a difference gets replaced with making it to the next pay check. Purposeful living steps to the side so that apathy can slowly move in.

How does one fight this? By first recognizing that “the dark night of the soul” is always a possibility. Keep trusted friends close to you as you walk through it.

By being silent, seeking quite places and times. I treasure evening walks with my wife in the cooling off hours of a Colorado evening.

A friend of mine recently told me that he has a tendency to go into a shell when dark times come. For him the fighting against a hardened heart necessitates more intimate fellowship with a group of his brothers n the journey.

A third way is reading the struggles of those who have gone before us, in the Bible and saints through the ages, reading the life journeys that tell of valleys and mountaintops. We must be cautious of those who always seem to jump from one mountaintop to the next.

I know that God desires a tender heart, and I also know there is another kingdom that tempts me to be like that stone in the river.

Getting Too Cozy With God

June 4, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      June 4, 2013

Working on the staff of Young Life when I was in seminary, and then also being the Youth Minister at a couple of churches, I was trained to “earn the right to be heard’ by the students I worked with. Youth ministry was, and still is, very relational. A young guy struggling with questions about faith needs to know that there is someone he can meet at Starbucks for a chai latte and conversational counseling.

I confess! In those days there was a need to look cool and be cool. It was a part of earning the right to converse about God. Now in my final year of the fifties “cool” is a term I only use to indicate the last of heat in the house. We have more blankets folded and ready on our couch than Bed, bath, and Beyond has in the entire store. “Overheated” for our household now refers to laying on top of the electric blanket.

It seems that the emphasis with most evangelicals, myself included, is on having a personal relationship with our heavenly father who has his son be crucified on the cross out of love for us.

There is nothing incorrect about that. It’s scripturally right on. John 3:16 makes that intimately clear. The struggle is that we so often make the mystery of the holy absent from our faith. We like to snuggle up with God, like a comforter blanket. God-cozy is more to our liking than divine mystery.

One of my friends recently said that the only place we see veils anymore is on Arab women to hide their faces, and on surgeons to protect them from our germs. Veils hide, and we are people who are used to the Freedom of Information Act. We are accustomed to full disclosure.

Scripture includes a number of verses that tell us about the mystery being revealed…and the mystery that is. Paul talked about “the mystery made known to me by revelation” (Ephesians 3:3) and “the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints.” (Colossians 1:26)

But he also talked about the mystery of Christ (Ephesians 3:4, Colossians 4:3)!

The contrast of the gospel is that we can now approach the throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16), but the will not ever in this lifetime understand the ways of God. Revelation is partnered with mystery. The veil was torn away from the Holy of Holies, and yet are eyes do not fully see the moving of God.

And we shouldn’t! Mystery is what keeps drama in the story. If life was void of mystery our little ones would no longer ask the question “why?” Why questions lead them along the path of discovery.

Why do we have two ears and one nose?

I don’t know. Perhaps it has something to do with Mr. Potato Head. He would look weird with two noses and only one ear.

Why are some people scared of spiders?

Because they are…including me.

Why do women put make-up on, but men just put on deodorant?

Because men are in a hurry in the morning, and women…never mind, don’t tell Mommy I said anything about that!

Why does bacon taste so good?

Ahhhh….

The longer I walk with God the more comfortable I am with the Mystery. I also have a sense of peace knowing that I am always able to cry out to him, and he will embrace me. Perhaps that’s “cozy’, but I see it as evidence of the God who comes near.