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targeting the heart

targeting the heart

 TARGETING THE HEART WITH GRACE AND TRUTH

We need to pay close attention at all times to the motivational dynamics of the Christian life—the primary reasons (from a human perspective) why people do not see Jesus as precious, and therefore do not see the appeal of following Him with their whole hearts, are in fact motivational reasons. Specifically, the “sin beneath the sin” of all sins is idolatry—the elevation of a created thing to a place where it becomes one’s functional “Lord” and “Savior,” the ultimate object of worship and service (Romans 1). Therefore, the key to persuading people to trust and follow Jesus (grace and truth!) rests in persuading hearts that Jesus is more precious and lovely than the idols that we are all prone to worship and serve. Remember, it is the Gospel (the fantastically great news of Jesus) that alone is the power of God for salvation—it is the only power for true, heart-level transformation.

For every one look you take at your sin, take ten looks at Jesus.

– Robert Murray McCheyne

The reason I preach the Gospel to you every single week is precisely because you forget the Gospel every single week!

– Martin Luther

The first and greatest commandment is that you “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind.”

– Jesus

 

We must directly address why the Gospel does not “take” with many—idolatry is that reason.

John Calvin rightly said that the human heart is an idol factory. Our hearts will instinctively erect counterfeit gods or pseudo-saviors to whom we give our allegiance, our ultimate affections, and our obedience.

A working definition of idolatry. An idol is any person or idea, any created thing that captures the loyalties and affections of our hearts more than God Himself. An idol is anything that becomes more essential to us than Him.

An idol is anything which occupies God’s place—it is anything upon which you will base your life. It is what you look to for your sense of meaning, happiness, and validation. When something becomes your idol, you will give it your unquestioned loyalty. You will let it run your life, determine your choices, and govern the use of your money and time. You will give yourself to it effortlessly.           – Timothy Keller

We must assume that everyone is religious by nature. Every human being, whether Christian, religious, agnostic, or atheist, will worship something or someone. One of our primary tasks is to understand what is capturing the ultimate affections of people’s hearts. Ecclesiastes reminds us that God has put eternity into the heart of man (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We were created to be in relationship with God. He designed us to love, honor, adore, and obey Him. If we don’t do this, by necessity we will have to love, honor, adore, and obey something or someone else! Our idols are our “rather-than’s” that capture and sabotage our hearts’ affections that belong first to God.

 

This is part 5 of a series of articles by Scott Sauls. 

Read the rest starting here – A Jesus-like Culture Part 1

Scott Sauls, a graduate of Furman University and Covenant Seminary, is foremost a son of God and the husband of one beautiful wife (Patti), the father of two fabulous daughters (Abby and Ellie), and the primary source of love and affection for a small dog (Lulu). Professionally, Scott serves as the Senior Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Prior to Nashville, Scott was a Lead and Preaching Pastor, as well as the writer of small group studies, for Redeemer Presbyterian of New York City. Twitter: @scottsauls

Editor’s Note: Scott was a member of our WDA Campus Ministry (Next Generation Ministry) while at Furman University. We are excited to see our alumni continuing to carry a vision for discipleship!

This is a repost of A Jesus-Like Church Culture  by Scott Sauls. It appears here with the author’s permission. Website: cpcblogs.blogspot.com.

 

Sometimes when I think of the process of Christian Growth to Christlikeness, I am discouraged by my progress.  Recently, I have been part of our church’s discipleship initiative which placed a leader with three other believers in a group.  These groups met each sunday morning before our worship.  We were to discuss a topic related to the basics of the Christian Life and follow that with some basic pastoral diagnostic questions and prayer.

A+These questions related to how well we had been doing this week in our relationship with God.  How was our personal worship and time with God? To be honest, there were weeks where I dreaded going.  Why? Because I was the leader…. and I did my homework on Saturday. Personal discipline hasn’t been my strong point as a whole.  I tend to be one of those people who make a calendar and forget about it.  The immediate and urgent typically hits me and drives my calendar.  So Sunday came, I sat with these other men and felt like a looser.  Yep, the leader who can’t even string together a successful week of quiet time with God.  Did I pray? Sure.  Did I spend time with the word?  Yes.  I did those things but not every day.

What I wonder is why I tend to think of my spiritual life as performance? Why spending time with Jesus isn’t something I look forward to.  Why is does it feel like doing my algebra homework in Jr High School?

 

What is the point?

I have come to the conclusion that when I focus on Sanctification as the end or more precisely, Spiritual Disciplines as a goal I tend to fail.  My heart wants to have a way to measure its growth.  I find that I condemn myself for not doing the particulars.  But the real issue here is that I forget that the particulars are not the point to begin with!

Big fat harry deal that I missed a 20 minute quiet time on Wednesday morning.  What I need to remember is not that I “didn’t do my homework” but that I didn’t get to enjoy spending time with Jesus!  My heart wasn’t encouraged.  My spirit didn’t hear from the Holy Spirit that I am a Son of God.  I didn’t remember the gospel!  I didn’t see the forgiveness that I mine in Christ! I didn’t remember that my Father in heaven loves me!

 

Seminary Surprise

I remember a seminary class during my last year.  We get the syllabus and begin to read over it looking at what we are expected to complete.  Some of us are wondering how we can get all this new work done and also have time to look for a job after graduation.  The pressure of getting good grades and also mastering the material is important.  The professor says to the class, you already have an A.

What?  The whole class looks up from their pages!

“You already have an A.”

He took the issue of grades and performance off the table from the start!  He set the tone of the class from the beginning.  We were there to learn. Not to get an A.

That class was a lot of fun.  We laughed and we learned.  We didn’t worry about the grade.

The gospel frees me to learn, laugh, cry, relax and spend time with Jesus.

 

The Difference between Justification and Sanctification

It is worth noting that the Westminister Shorter Catechism points out the difference between Justification and Sanctification in the first phrase.

Q. 33. What is justification?

Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.

Q35. What is sanctification?

  1. A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

Note that the difference is that Justification is an ACT and Sanctification is a WORK.  Both are by the Free Grace of God.

When I remember that my relationship with God begins with an “Act of God’s Free Grace” and that act of God is based on the righteousness of Christ applied to my account freely and received by Faith alone, I then am free to walk with God as He works to make me like Christ.

Sanctification is a Work of God’s grace, where I find renewal, and am enabled!

This looks a whole lot different than doing my homework!  It becomes an adventure in grace!  Today I open my Bible and listen.   I’m not trying to get my homework done so I can get the A.  I already have one!

 

group of womenAs a counselor, I meet with people one-on-one all day long. It’s rewarding, exhausting and humbling. As much as I believe in the value of individual counseling, there is another way of helping people heal that I believe is, in many ways, more powerful.

The group.

Oh, how I love a group, in all its messiness, closeness, vulnerability and intimacy.

At WDA, our materials are designed to be used in groups. We believe in the vast restorative power of a group. We use groups for our discipleship materials and for our Restoring Your Heart materials.

There is a reason “small groups” are so popular in churches today. We all crave intimacy. We are designed for intimate relationships with each other and a healthy small group is the perfect place to “figure out” intimacy. Most of us really don’t know how to be closely connected to others because we have been hurt by others. We don’t trust, it is risky, and we would rather not take the chance. Yet, in avoiding closeness, we go against our created design. So, we get caught in an approach/avoidance relational intimacy dilemma.

With that in mind, I want to encourage you in three ways.

1.  Embrace the risk of either being in a small group or starting a small group.

No matter what the stated purpose of your small group, whether it be Bible study, fellowship, discipleship or emotional healing, no matter what materials you use or don’t use for your small group, there is an overriding transcendent goal for your group.

Cloud and Townsend, in their book Making Small Groups Work, refer to this goal as the ministry of reconciliation. In aiming for this goal, we (the group) are not supposed to be the moral police, we are supposed to be the restorer’s of life. We achieve reconciliation in a small group by combining grace, truth and time with our desire to connect with God and with others. We use a small group to be restored to God, to learn how to relate to others and to experience and practice grace and forgiveness.

And, yes, it is messy sometimes. There will be conflict. There will be unease. There will be anxiety and unsurety. But, don’t you have all of those in your life anyway? And isn’t it frequently hard to navigate those waters?

The beauty of a healthily functioning small group is that all these things can happen, but all these things can also be successfully navigated, dealt with and the group members restored to relationship with each other. There is nothing more exciting and bonding than to experience this reconciliation in a group.

2. Read Making Small Groups Work by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. 

Take notes while you are reading it and think about ways you can use these principles in your own life. This book is one of the best books available about small groups.

3. Read this Short Story.

I was leading a Restoring Your Heart (RYH) group several years ago. When leading these groups, I use one of several workbooks dealing with emotional issues that are written by WDA staff. With this particular group, I was using the Processing Pain Workbook, which deals with childhood issues and then moves into grieving and forgiveness.

The group consisted of myself, the co-leader and three other women all of whom had bi-polar disorder. (If you want to learn more about bi-polar disorder, click here.) My “starting out” goal for the group was to help these women see the impact their past had on them and move them joyfully into emotional health within the 18 week group time frame.

About three weeks into the group, I realized that my lofty goal was out the window. These women could not focus on the material or on their past long enough to gain much insight from it. They were having so many problems navigating their daily lives, largely because of their bi-polar disorder, that they were overwhelmed. Each week, one or all of them would come in with a present day crisis that needed to be discussed.

So, I readjusted my goal for the group. Once I let go of my agenda, I realized that these women were gaining much more benefit from the group just by being in a place where they were heard. So we moved through the workbook slowly and incrementally. Usually each week, we spent roughly one-third of the group time on the material, sneaking it in and out of our conversations. They all gained some small understanding of the impact of their past, and they gained a little benefit from talking about grieving and forgiveness.

But, the huge benefit they gained from the group was a chance to bond, experience intimacy and be heard. In other words, they experienced the ministry of reconciliation. Our group lasted about 6 months, much longer than the prescribed 18 weeks. During this time, I realized that the Holy Spirit was going to do a much better job of leading this group than I was and He was going to help these women experience intimacy at a more experiential level than the materials could. The group ended when one group member went to jail and another one went into the hospital. The workbook was still not completed.

Did this group challenge every aspect of my group-leading experiences and desires? Absolutely! Do I consider this one of the more successful groups I have ever lead? Definitely!  Grace, truth and time came together and created intimacy for women who rarely experience it.

And now, following the encouragement, a challenge for you.

Look for ways you can experience intimacy in a small group environment.

And,

Move towards the messiness that results in closeness and reconciliation.

 

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This morning I was fixing my travel mug of coffee hoping to get on with my morning.  I poured the cup and then looked for the lid.  “It was right here…”  I look back in the cupboard, in the dishwasher, and the other drawer full of water bottles.  I wonder, did someone put the cup one place and the lid another?  Then I begin to get a bit frustrated.  “Where did it go? It was right here.”  It was a good thing I was in the house alone, for my tendency was to call out the name of whoever is around and ask, “Does anyone know where the lid to my mug is?” If it was my wife, I tend to immediately jump to the conclusion that she must have done something with it.

The human heart is corrupted and even a heart transformed by the grace of God still has the pollution of sin.  How quickly I blame-shift.  It certainly can’t be my fault there is no lid for my coffee?  I tend to do that with most things.  I get angry at a circumstance and focus on the problem without considering my response to the problem.  Lids go missing.  Stuff happens.  It is part of life.  People will sin against me.  My wife may one day choose to go around hiding all my stuff just to make me angry.  But the truth is, even as I looked for the lid, God began to reveal my need for the gospel.  Even more fully, God was trying to show me that He, like the lid, is right in front of me.  Yes, sitting there on the stovetop, not a foot away, was the lid, right where I had placed it.

In the middle of your day, the father is right in front of you.  I tend to think like an orphan and not an adopted son of father and son handsGod.  I forget that he loves me! He has always loved me and sent Jesus to die so I can know that love.  He wants me to know that He is not out to get me.  Not even as I face the small frustrations of the day.

Psalm 139:7-12

Where shall I go from your Spirit?

Or where shall I flee from your presence? 

If I ascend to heaven, you are there!

If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! 

If I take the wings of the morning

and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 

even there your hand shall  lead me,

and your right hand shall hold me. 

If I say,  “Surely the darkness shall cover me,

and the light about me be night,” 

even the darkness is not dark to you;

the night is bright as the day,

for darkness is as light with you. 

 

Romans 8:15-17

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 

and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.