The Critical Heart Stops Beating

Cranky three-year-olds have a lot in common with critical people. If you’ve ever tried to reason with a tired child, it’s always frustrating and sometimes hilarious. Nothing makes anything better.

Also, anything makes everything worse.

It’s because the issue causing all the ruckus is never the real problem. He’s not mad because his rocket ship was left in the living room. He’s mad because he’s tired and his sinful flesh is on full display. The rocket ship just happens to be the focus of his fussing at the moment. When you bring him the toy, he’ll shift his fussing to something else.

The critical heart beats like this as well.

Matthew 11:16-19
And Jesus said, “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,

 ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
    we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”

When Jesus was looking for a good description of the critical heart, he compared it to a bunch of fussy kids. Back in those days, young children would play wedding or funeral in the marketplace. When the kids would play wedding, they pretended to perform music and danced while the “bride and groom” said their vows. Everyone was invited.

But the fussy kids didn’t want to play that game. All they wanted to do was stew in a huff.

So, the others changed the game to funeral (a little morbid, but it was what they knew). Well, the fussy kids didn’t want to play that game, either. These religious people, with their critical hearts, were acting the same way.

Jesus revealed that this was not about him or John the Baptist. It was a heart issue. Their hearts were weary, heavy laden, and on full display. So, Jesus offered rest for their souls, but they got critical instead; making it seem like this was someone else’s fault. In short, they missed the gospel.

This can happen to all of us. If I get critical (like when I see everything else around me as the problem), then I am in the most need of rest in Christ. The answer is almost never found in what I’m criticizing anyway. You can solve that “problem” and I’ll find another one to cast my cares upon. A critical heart is nothing more than the reflection of a weary soul.

In those moments, choose your next step carefully. Instead of growing cynical, embrace being led beside still waters and take the light yoke of a burden-carrying Savior (Psalm 23, Matthew 11:29).

Then go play with the other kids.

Garth, Elvis, and the King

The smell of the Jungle Room is something people would kill to have known 40 years ago. “I went to GRACELAND!” they’d say while readjusting their layers of clunky jewelry. There was a time when the king sold out stadiums to screaming fans. People would (literally) faint at the sight of him, and I was standing in his kitchen.

We toured the grounds the morning after we saw Garth Brooks play to a packed house at the FedEx Forum. His concert, while amazing, struck me differently as I stood over Elvis’ grave that next day. There buried next to his pool was a man who knew the fame and the sound of adoring fans; nothing separating us but four decades. Yet there were fingerprints of regret on every surface of his house.

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” Matthew 16:26

Even though he had everything money and fame could offer, Elvis was an overall tortured individual. His life (coupled with Garth’s concert the night before) stood as a clear reminder that the bright and shiny things of this world don’t last very long. They will always let us down.

“All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls but the word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” 1 Peter 1:24-25

If whatever concerns you today is not something that will concern you 1,000 years from now, it’s probably not that important. So, as you read this, commit to walk in step with a King and Kingdom that will last forever (Matthew 6:33). 

And if a moment comes where this world seems brighter or shinier than the Kingdom of Heaven, just go to the musty Jungle Room and take a deep breath. 

What Our Hobbies Say About Us

Creativity is the corner where work and wonder meet. My wife finds it best in her garden. Even as she fusses over the thievery of squirrels or a sluggish tomato crop, turning over dirt and experiencing every stage of life does something unique to her soul.  As she creates and nurtures, the reflection of her nurturing Creator can be seen.

That’s why hobbies are so important.

But we need a new word for “hobbies.” Most hear it and think, “a luxury meant for people who aren’t as busy as I am.” So, let’s rewrite the definition more clearly.

Hobbies: something you do because you love it, not because you need it.

That’ll work for now. When you do something simply because you love it, the creative part of God in us shines forth. Hobbies aren’t necessary for survival per se. We don’t need music, yet there are artifacts from 6,000+ years ago of animal bones shaped into flutes by men and women.

Aeons before early humans started imagining writing or agriculture, they were crafting tools for making music…the most abstract of the arts. No one likes a hit record because it sounds like the natural world. We like music because it sounds like music – because it sounds different.

Steven Johnson
Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World

When our ancestors were huddled around a fire trying to stay warm, they also created by singing and dancing and inventing. It’s always been that way. Like a signet ring on wax, we are all stamped into the image of our Creator.

Wonder and fun and creativity are a part of the abundant life Jesus came to bring (John 10:10). Whereas some try to find their refuge within recreation itself, Christians get to experience all of creation with the Refuge Himself. Life in Christ simply brings life to everything else.

So, if life is too frantic to do (or discover) something you love, you are not being productive. You’re surviving. Productivity means producing, and that requires creativity and wonder – a hobby. Something that creates a spark in you when talking about it with other people.

What creates a spark in you?

Take roasting coffee, for example. I can bore the brains out of most people talking about the nuances and chemistry that happens when a coffee bean hits “first crack” in my drum roaster, yet it’s fascinating. A lot of my friends prefer grabbing their store-bought Keurig cups on their way out the door, but they don’t love coffee like I do. There’s a wonder to it that sparks the creative part of my heart.

Every morning, as I brew a pour-over, I imagine someone in Japan or Ethiopia or Brazil (other coffee-crazed countries) doing the same thing. In a huge world where my little life can almost feel swallowed up by insignificance, it reminds me that we are connected as people. I may not understand their language or culture, but a hot drink made with carefully burned cherry seeds shows our common humanity. One created in the image of God and redeemed by Christ. In other words, a connected life filled with significance.

I love it so much I don’t even care how ridiculous it is that I’m blogging about coffee right now (which, by definition, is basically the most Millennial thing someone can do).

You may find the same sort of wonder in golf or beekeeping or fishing or stamp collecting. Or perhaps it’s time for you to discover something new altogether. Whatever it is, don’t add it to your schedule because you need to be “well-rounded.” Do it because of the wonder and excitement it sparks in your heart. Remember, Christ came that we might have life, and have it abundantly.

What is something you do because you love it, not because you need it? I’d like to hear about it – post in the comments below!

Stress vs. Success: Do You Know the Difference?

Think about the last conversation you had with a co-worker or catching up with a relative. It probably went along these lines:

“How are things?” they ask.

“Oh man,” you reply, “busy. Non-stop.”

But that’s sort of our roundabout way of saying, “My life is successful right now.” Aware of it or not, we live in a country that places a high cultural value on busyness. Being busy, of course, is not a bad thing. Having stressful seasons is not necessarily bad either.

I’m convinced, however, that busyness is not the source of our stress (or success); it’s simply the excuse. Why is life stressful right now? We tell ourselves it’s because of our pace or circumstance or life-stage.


I adrenalized through almost ten years of ministry that way, then hit a wall, and collapsed in despair.  “I’ll never succeed in (leadership, ministry, parenting, marriage, etc.),” I’d tell myself. Success, I wrongly assumed, was only possible if I worked twice as hard as my current pace. So stress built up, and the joy in my life was pushed out.

At the end of the day, it wasn’t busyness that was killing me. It was misplaced identity. (And by “identity,” I mean, “the source of life’s purpose and value.”)

Here’s what I knew in my head was supposed to be true:
My identity and success is not tied to what I do, but what Jesus did.

Here’s what I believed in my heart and lived out in real life:
My identity and success is tied to what I do, and what others think of me.

Sure, I could tell you all the right answers (and preach the sermon and ace the paper), but I wasn’t living as if any of it were true. My level of stress and idea of success exposed the gap in my faith.

In his book Knowing God, J.I. Packer sums up the issue succinctly:

The current state of affairs certainly makes it possible to learn a great deal secondhand about the practice of Christianity…[but] you can have all the right notions in your head without ever tasting in your heart the realities to which they refer.


The Apostle Paul was a pretty impressive guy. When it came to theological education, he had the equivalent of at least one PhD and was highly networked. Then he encountered the risen Christ face-to-face and his value system transformed. This is how Paul describes it:

Philippians 3:7-8
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Paul was not saying that righteousness was bad (any more than making a difference in the world with your career is bad), but it was garbage compared to knowing Christ. Anything that society deemed “successful” was counted by him as loss when placed beside the worth of knowing Jesus.

Ask yourself, “How well do I know Jesus?”

Don’t ask, “What all do I know about Jesus?” or, “Do I know what Christians are supposed to believe?” But, instead, “How well do I actually know the risen Son of God?” Do you open His Word and listen as it reshapes you? Do you pray and ask The Holy Spirit to work in your life?


According to Jesus, success is not measured in busyness but in faithfulness (Matthew 25:23). When your value and purpose are tied to the finished work of Jesus, you can rest amidst chaotic seasons. Stress will not adrenalize you to burnout.

And, if knowing Christ is better than all things, then these realities should also be true in our lives:

  1. My career is fulfilling because I know that, though recognition may not come now, it will one day (Matthew 6:1-4).
  1. Because my success does not hinge on the opinions of people, I can receive encouragement from others without fearing their “real opinion.” I can also receive rebuke knowing that my sin is paid for and I am on a journey of being perfected by Christ. I can care what people think without being afraid of what they think.
  1. Because my identity is not tied to my career, I am able to walk away from any work and not walk away from my value as a person.
  1. Because true success comes from my relationship with Christ, everything (even minor stuff) has deep-rooted significance. “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” 1 Corinthians 10:31.Matt Perman’s book What’s Best Next? How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done was a tremendous help for me in understanding the gravity of good works in light of the glory of God. Buy it and read it.


How are things? Are they busy? Are you stressed or overwhelmed? Have you hit the wall of despair? 

The solution is not your ability to produce, but your willingness to press on. Accept the prophet Hosea’s invitation.

Hosea 6:3
Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;
his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
as the spring rains that water the earth.


Why Our Future Matters This Week

Even though they had to make it in 1989, Back to the Future (Part II) got 2015 almost exactly right. This single screenshot captures it perfectly:


How did Steven Spielberg know we’d be wearing rifle-bullet chokers and painting our faces to look like a circuit board? Self-fulfilling prophecy I guess. Either way, for Marty McFly, the future has come and gone. What was once unknown is now in history books.

The future is often different than we predict, but not always.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18
 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

If you travelled back in time to last spring, you could bet the house that Chicago would win the World Series. Even when they lost games, you wouldn’t be biting your nails like the other Cubs fans.  “Just wait,” you’d tell them.

In the same way, when our eyes are fixed on “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” we are betting on a sure thing. Our perspective changes everything. Lives fixed on “the things that are unseen” have certain, unmistakable characteristics.

Suffering is counted as light and momentary.

The most effective medicine to alleviate pain is comparison. Hurt may run deep and be intense at times, but when measured against a painless, joy-filled eternity, it is a blip.

For more, see “Stopping Storms”

Value is measured in life-transformation.

Careers and commercial success can be good things, but they have a shelf life. Those who focus on eternity care most about people (because people are the only things that will last for eternity). Their system uses a different kind of currency.

Current events are leveraged for evangelism.

The racial and political temperature in our country seems close to boiling point, and, with MLK Day falling the same week as President Trump’s inauguration, there is no shortage of social commentary about it. If you listen closely, however, everyone’s conclusion is the same: “We long for a better country.” That’s because there is a better country, but it’s a heavenly one (Hebrews 11:16). Every other place will disappoint. So, we tell them about the Kingdom of God and the good news of Jesus Christ.

Where are your eyes set today? Is life a little dizzying?  Do not lose heart. Just wait, the future is a sure thing.

Do You Pray for Ghost Stories?

Remember that lady in Acts 12 who yelled, “AGH! It’s Peter!” then didn’t open the door for him because everyone else in the house was like, “Uh-Uh, that’s a GHOST!? I’m glad they left that part in there. What makes it better is the fact that they were all praying for Peter’s release from prison, and God miraculously answered them.

But, like the ghost lady, a lot of times we don’t believe our prayers matter either. They do though. They matter a lot.

God, in His sovereignty, has chosen to limit His activity to the prayers of His people.
– Vance Pitman

Paul, on the other hand, would pray and position himself to see God move. He knew prayer changed things. In prison, he wrote this in a letter to Philemon:

Philemon 1:22
At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.

He wasn’t asking this family to mumble through some little ritual at dinner. He told them to renovate their house in faith that God would move through prayer.

What are you asking God to do that only He can take credit for?

Don’t be like the ghost people. Be like Paul. Pray because it matters.

Catch the Good Stuff

It’s easy for us to jog past some of the most underestimated statements in Scripture, especially when they are paved inside of well-known stretches of teaching. I plod right by them all the time. When my mental goal is set (three chapters before breakfast), the finish line can become more important than the process itself. This year I decided to change pace by poking through the Gospels and have already noticed phrases that escaped me before.

In the Sermon on the Mount (arguably the most famous discourse in the New Testament), Jesus was smashing legalism brick-by-brick telling people that the Kingdom of God is about a transformed heart, not just about what you do (or don’t do). It’s become one of those familiar passages, but read it again and try not running too fast.

Matthew 5:27-29
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.

Besides the fact that He just took the seventh commandment up about a thousand notches, Jesus told us something striking about the Kingdom of God. For the longest time, I got overly focused on the warning. He did, after all, talk about ripping out eyeballs and chopping limbs off. But I missed the point of His message on fighting lust:


And He said it twice! The reason Jesus called people to purity and faithfulness was because His Kingdom made everything infinitely better. Money, clothes, and even sexual thoughts had meaning beyond what we imagined. He wasn’t just restricting people but inviting them to something more. Something better.

And I almost jogged right past it.

The War on Christmas

Describing “happy holidays” as a “war on Christmas” is sort of like comparing a fight at recess to D-Day. The scope doesn’t compare. Don’t get me wrong – there is a war on Christmas. I’m just not convinced that it started in the North Pole and is funded by Macy’s.

Colossians 1:15
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

Immanuel – (Hebrew) “God is with us.”

Each December we think about this moment. My family even has little ceramic reenactments of it around the house. Nativity scenes of Joseph, Mary, and shepherds gathered around the Baby.

What you don’t see, however, is what was out in the darkness. The Ancient Serpent peering from the cold as he heard the declaration of war. He knew, more than anyone else, that the whimpers coming from the swaddled Nazarene was the same Voice that spoke the cosmos into existence. Those kicking feet, though vulnerable and small, were there to crush his head.

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come.”

These are not nostalgic words we croon into the air once a year. It is our fist-pumping battle cry to the forces of darkness. Our King has come to bring peace on Earth and war to sin.

So, don’t get swept away when the White House calls it a “Holiday Tree.” The stable at Bethlehem has more in common with the beaches of Normandy than with Christmas ornaments anyway.

The Thrill of Hope

I used to think only nerds got goosebumps during Star Wars, but even this scene from the recent Episode VII got me:

One idea unites every character in these movies – hope. The belief that there is Something More. Something with the power to make everything right again. They’re just like you and me.

It’s our shared thirst for hope (not an affinity for Star Wars geekdom) that makes everyone lean in and listen to Han Solo. Deep down – some deeper than others – we believe that hope exists. No matter how badly we want to give it up, there’s a gnatty little question that won’t leave us alone:

What if all this…
a created universe – a loving God who rules over it – a Savior – an empty tomb…what if it were all actually true?

Unlike Han Solo, the Apostle John was a real person and lived on the Earth, but (just like Han Solo) he saw and experienced Something that gave others hope.

John 1:14
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Underneath the presents and lights and family feasts, there waits Something More. A non-religious person might describe it as “the spirit of Christmas” but they are only seeing It in part. The Spirit of Christmas dwelt among us and has a name.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn

Fall on your knees
O hear the angel voices
O night divine!
O night when Christ was born

“O Holy Night”

So, lean in and listen as John tells us, “all of it…the whole thing…it’s true.”

When God Seems Distant

Some days God feels more like a dusty, old book than a nearby Father. These moments happen to all of us, and our Christian faith can find itself under interrogation.  When I experience them, a blitzkrieg of questions follows:

  • Do I really believe a Middle Eastern man rose from the dead twenty centuries ago, and his Spirit lives inside me?
  • Do I really believe God loves me and wants the best for my life?
  • Do I really believe the Bible is true?

We cannot simply repress those questions – letting them creep about in our minds – waiting for doubt to strike before popping out again. What, then, should we do in moments when God seems a universe away? How can we avert these little existential, faith crises? There is a skill that, if mastered, will keep you from spiraling into despair:

Learn how to untangle your thoughts.

Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote to the church explaining how false and deceitful thinking is a spiritual issue. We often speak of “strongholds” in light of demonic influence (and rightly so – other Scriptures affirm as much), but look carefully at how he explains it:

2 Corinthians 10:4-5
For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.

God’s divine power gives us the ability to resist Satan as well as destroy arguments raised against the knowledge of God. These opinions attack from every angle:

  • God seems distant because He’s not real.
  • God seems distant because He doesn’t love you.
  • God seems distant because The Bible is fictitious and unreliable.

We must master the ability to untangle such thoughts; demolishing them rather than submitting to their weight (or ignoring them altogether). With practice and time, you will find it becomes easier. After years of trial and error, here are three statements I hang my hat on when days of doubt or distance come:


I have, to the best of my abilities, tried to find a consistent worldview that does not require God. Atheism (or philosophical naturalism) and Buddhism were the closest I discovered and they left me wanting when asked questions like,

“Do people live as if this were actually true?”

“Is epistemology, meaning, and conscious explained in a way that seems consistent with real life?”

Some aspects were more convincing than others but, when viewed holistically, each system fell apart over time. Monotheism (belief in an all-powerful, eternal God) was the most consistent in explaining the human experience; specifically, as it related to ontology (a branch of metaphysics that focuses on being).

For anything to exist, there has to be Something with the power of being. In other words, Something has to be able to exist without having been created. That Being must also be eternal, otherwise it would have to first create Itself before anything could exist (I’ll wait for your brain cramp to subside).

Simply put, there is a reason why His name in Hebrew is Yahweh – I Am.

R.C. Sproul’s arguments on this subject convinced me further of the philosophical necessity for God’s existence. Listen to it here. However, many Jews, Muslims and, to an extent, Hindus would agree with me on this point. It becomes necessary, then, to continue untangling.


Dozens of books helped solidify my confidence in the reliability of the Christian Scriptures. I’ve written about them here and here. Enough ink has been spilled by scholars in this area to spill more now. Instead, I will quote one of them:

If God exists and we are made in His image we can have real meaning, and we can have real knowledge through what He has communicated to us. If this is taken away, we are left only with man and his finite self-expression.

Francis Schaeffer
The God Who Is There


God makes thousands of promises throughout the Bible, and cannot lie (Titus 1:2). Here are a few of them:

Matthew 11:28-29
Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Romans 10:9
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Hebrews 13:5
I will never leave you nor forsake you.

What if God still feels distant though? Perhaps you agree with the statements above, but your spiritual life seems stuck. Although He has promised to never leave us, there are various causes that hinder our communion with God. The following ones tend to show up in our lives the most:

(or lack of true repentance)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Sin can hinder our ability to see God, but Christ paved the way for us to see again. “If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

For more, see “When I Sin, Then What?”


One of the loudest reasons we stumble in our spiritual journey is not a lack of knowing God’s promises, but a lack of believing them.

For more, see “Who Do You Trust?”


We feel unlovable. Our sin is too great. Our pride is too real. Our lust is too strong. We don’t deserve grace. (Of course, grace isn’t grace if you deserve it.) Remember, the Biblical God is faithful even when you are not.

2 Corinthians 5:21
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Romans 8:1
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Does God seem distant right now? Learn to untangle your thoughts while fighting for faith. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

He’s not as far as you think.