The Rocks of Our Hearts

Is the soil of your heart prepared for growth? … 

Our home rests near the top of a hill, and we’re mostly surrounded by woods. Bermuda grass thrives on the sun-soaked front and one side of our lot, but the back remains very close to its natural state – it mostly grows rocks, not grass.

We need fewer rocks and more bird seed.
Tuck surveys the rocks of our yard.

I’ve been thinking lately about investing some time into the backyard – more to make it easier to maintain than for aesthetic purposes. What’s stopping me? Well, it looks like hard work. Over the last few years, I’ve removed most of the bigger, blade buster rocks. But several areas are covered in smaller stones that seem to multiply like rabbits. I pick one up and toss it into the woods, and two more emerge in its place. If I really want more grass, however, I’ll need to remove the rocks, prepare the hard Ozark soil, put out some seed, fertilize, water and wait.

Hard work. Just like preparing the heart. If we want to grow like Jesus, we have to prepare our hearts. As pastor/author Max Lucado says, we have to pull the stumps and remove the rocks.

“God’s seed grows better if the soil of the heart is cleared,” Lucado writes in Grace for the Moment.

How do we clear it? We don’t; God does. But we allow it when we come to Him in humble confession, seeking His help with our stumps and rocks.

“Confession is the act of inviting God to walk the acreage of our hearts,” Lucado writes. And, he adds, “Confession invites the Father to work the soil of the soul.”

This is hard work. It makes us uncomfortable, and the more sins we confess, the more we seem to find. Like the rocks in my backyard, they often are hidden just beneath the surface. If we ignore them, they emerge and clutter our lives. If we give them to God, however, our hearts are prepared to grow.


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The Sins of My Writing

Spellcheck says everything’s good. But I’ve learned not to fully trust spellcheck. So, I read over it – one … last … time …

Yep, all looks good. I hit send or print or whatever pushes my writings into public view. In this particular case, it’s a blog post.

I’m never sure how many folks will read my blog, but I hope it’s well received by all who invest five minutes of their lives. I put my heart and soul into it and, frankly, I believe the content and writing is some of my better work. Perhaps it will have a positive impact. That’s always the goal – to get people to think and act in ways that help them grow like Jesus.

So off goes the post into the cyber world, released and free. And I move on to other things.

Then comes that email from a loving friend who gently points out the typo. Not just a random typo, but a typo in the lead (or, if you prefer, the lede). Sure, it’s the second paragraph, but it’s still part of the lead. First word of the first sentence in the second paragraph – standing out like a zit on the forehead of a teenager on prom night. Image should be imagine. Spellcheck won’t catch that, by the way.

I sigh. I thank my friend. I update the post on my website, although by now I suspect that everyone who will read it already has, and I’m certain that each of them snickered at the whiff. Another shot across the bow of my credibility. My insecure self whispers: See, I told you. You’re a hack. This is why you’ll never really make it as a writer.

Little things have always risen up to bite my writing in big ways, and especially spelling. I misspelled water in an elementary school spelling bee, and a high school teacher told me I’d never be a good writer because I was such a poor speller. As a cub reporter for a newspaper, one of my egregious spelling errors resulted in an editor getting chewed out. And I once misspelled a billionaire’s name in a magazine article.

But image instead of imagine wasn’t really a spelling error. I know how to spell imagine without looking it up. It was more of an oversight. It’s one of those words that this writer’s eyes – those eyes that have become all too comfortable with the content – are prone to see as correct, even when it is not. Reading it one more time seldom matters. I look at image and see imagine.

Unless you, too, write professionally or have some other form of OCD, you might think this is much ado about nothing. You’d say that chances are, very few people noticed, and those who did probably didn’t care. Maybe. But I care. And I suspect there’s something in your life – in everyone’s life – that you care deeply about doing well but that you fail at from time to time.

What then? Grace. Forgiveness. Growth.

In my experience, it’s all but impossible to grow like Jesus when I’m wallowing in self-pity that’s swimming in self-doubt. I have to remind myself that Christ died for my sins, that I am forgiven, and that I can walk and live in that forgiveness.

When Jesus encountered and confronted sinners, He never condoned their sins. He offered forgiveness and commanded them to stop their sinful behaviors. (See John 5:14 or John 8:11) So even with something as seemingly trivial as a mental error/typo/misspelling, I am compelled to admit my mistake, embrace forgiveness and try to avoid repeating that mistake.

How? I’ll be more aware of that word, but I’m also investing in a copy editor. Every writer needs one. I’ve avoided it because, well, it’s an expense – either I’m paying someone money or I’m imposing on a friendship. But I work with clients all the time who want to avoid this expense, and I always tell them that doing so is a huge mistake. Every writer needs an editor, usually more than one. It’s time to heed my own advice.

We all need others to help us walk through this broken world – someone who helps us edit our lives. That was a key point of the image/imagine post. And while we’ll never get it totally right, that type of discipleship helps us walk more comfortably in the peace and joy that come from grace and forgiveness.

(Note: My good friend and super wordsmith James Gilzow edited this piece, and I assure you it’s better now than it was when I sent it to him!)


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Father’s Day Forgiveness

Father’s Day is coming up, so I thought I’d share a gift idea. It’s something you can give to your dad even if your father, like mine, is no longer alive. The gift: Forgiveness.

My wife and I have a blended family with seven children, and all of them were adults when we married in 2010. I’ve never been hard to please when it comes to gifts, so I’m more than satisfied with a call or text from my four kids on Father’s Day. But a few weeks ago I sent them a photo of a gift idea, and I’ve included it in this blog.

Would you want this suit for Father’s Day?

It was a joke, of course. That suit just doesn’t … well … suit me.

But it got me to thinking about what I really want from my kids. And what I really want, if I’m to be totally vulnerable and transparent, is forgiveness. It costs nothing but it’s often really hard to give or to receive.

Forgiveness for what, you ask? Every father has experienced failure. Many of us come across as superheroes at times, especially when our kids are young, but we inevitably come up short. Sinners sin. And sins that disappoint the people we love are particularly painful.

But we don’t have to sin to need forgiveness. Fathers instinctively want to protect and take care of our children, and sometimes we simply can’t. Sometimes life is beyond our control and we have no words and can take no actions that will “make it better.” We might understand this intellectually, but we still feel like we’ve let them down. People pleasers, of which I’m often one, know that it’s possible to do nothing wrong, to feel totally “in the right,” and yet still feel guilty because we simply didn’t do enough. My identity is in Christ, of course, so I shouldn’t feel this guilt. But all too often I do.

Sometimes the guilt we feel isn’t based in reality – we think we’ve let them down, but they don’t really feel that way. And sometimes it’s totally based in reality. I know I disappointed my kids when my first marriage ended, but I think I disappointed them even more when I remarried – not because they don’t like my wife, but because it happened so soon after the divorce. They were still grieving the end of something, and I was celebrating an amazing and totally unexpected grace gift from God. I’m in no way advocating divorce. If that’s your struggle, surrender it to God, seek some qualified Biblical-based help, and don’t give up. But if you’ve already experienced divorce, God won’t walk away from you. I can tell you that my marriage is an incredible story of God’s redemptive grace. It is impossible to overstate what God has done in me through this marriage – how Audrey makes me a better husband, father, man, and follower of Jesus.

Over time (it’s been six-and-a-half years), I think all of my children have seen that. We’ve all moved onward. We have good relationships with each other. I know they love me, and they know I love them. But sometimes I feel a void I can’t explain, and I connect it back to my struggle with unforgiveness. It’s a “me” problem, not a “them” problem. I hold onto my guilt even when I’m not guilty and even when I’m guilty and I’ve been forgiven. Maybe it’s just me, but I think other dads do this, too. We find it very hard to forgive ourselves, to live in forgiveness. So while we work to display confidence and strength, there’s a part of us that longs to know that our kids are OK with the imperfections we’ve displayed and the disappointments we’ve caused. We long to experience forgiveness.

Yes, forgiveness is an experience. It often begins with words, but real forgiveness is reflected in attitudes and actions lived consistently over time. This is why forgiveness is redemptive. It makes things new and right. It’s liberating both to the one who gives and the one who receives. It is an expression of real love and true grace. I know, because I’ve experienced its most powerful form. Christ forgave me of my sins, past, present, and future. And He gave me a second chance at a godly marriage. I never feel more loved than when I look into the eyes of my wife, not just by her but by God, because I know how undeserving I am to have this marriage. That’s the power of forgiveness.

So whatever you get your dad – a tie, a good book, a loud suit, or anything else – you might also give him this: Help him experience forgiveness.

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Theology lessons from my coffee mug

Who Broke My Coffee Mug … And will God Restore it?

I was definitely ill and perhaps a bit delusional as I pondered two deep theological issues: One about heaven and one about blame.

It had been a rough day. As I mentioned, I was sick. And to make matters worse, I experienced an unexpected loss. As I unloaded our dishwasher that morning, my favorite Arkansas Razorbacks coffee mug fell from the cabinet shelf, shattered on the counter, and sent pieces large and small across the kitchen.

Audrey and I found this Razorback in Siena, Italy …

This led to my first theological pondering: Since we know that God makes all things new (Revelation 21:5), will I get a renewed Razorbacks mug in heaven?

I’m mourning the loss of my mug. I’d like to think God will make it whole again the way He restored my shattered life.

Then again, who can fathom the majesty of heaven? So I decided some research was in order. I Googled up an article by John Piper on this subject, and he mentions four ways God makes things new. One is “the new creation,” but – shockingly – he doesn’t address if that includes an Arkansas Razorbacks coffee mug. So for now, I’ll take comfort in the reality that I’ll either see my restored mug in heaven or something so much better that I’ll not even remember it.

My second theological issue centered on who/what broke the mug. You know, who is to blame?

I was putting other mugs into the cabinet when, weaken and delusional due to my illness, my normal near-perfect coordination went askew, causing me to nudge my Razorbacks mug off the shelf. So, obviously I didn’t break it – it didn’t break until it hit the counter; thus the counter broke it. Furthermore, any role I played should be absolved by the fact that I was, as they say, not my right self. Clearly the world owes me a new mug!

I was joking with myself, of course. But I also know that most of us are regularly guilty of blame shifting. Look around. Better yet, look in the mirror. Notice how often you make a mistake and explain it with a passive-voice sentence instead of an active-voice sentence.

Passive voice: The mug fell and broke.

Active voice: I broke the mug.

So here’s my reminder, to my delusional self, as well as to anyone else it might help: Take responsibility for your mistakes, seek forgiveness, walk in that forgiveness. Jesus can restore your shattered life. Stop worrying about broken coffee mugs. And, oh, yeah, and be more careful when you’re unloading the dishwasher!

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On the base paths to repentance

We don’t have many high-profile role models these days when it comes to genuine repentance, but I may have come across one last week thanks to a social media link shared by former Major League star Torii Hunter. The link took me to a video by Dee Gordon, one of those up-and-coming professional athletes who was riding the wave of his talent and hard work until he tripped over his own poor choices.

That’s not breaking news, of course. Celebrities (including sports stars) fall off their pedestals so frequently that we hardly notice. It’s like politicians telling lies – we don’t condone it, but we’ve come to expect it.

In this video, however, Gordon did something I rarely see from celebrities in his situation – he apologized. I’m not talking about the typical PR-driven, carefully crafted written apology that tends to admit nothing, blame others, and promise no change. I’m talking about what appears to be a real, heartfelt apology that’s born of repentance and leads to true forgiveness.

I don’t know much about Gordon. I know he plays second base for the Miami Marlins. I know he’s a really good player – a Gold Glove winner on defense who he led the National League in hitting (.333 average) and stolen bases (58) in 2015. I know he’s 28 and looks like he’s about 18. And I know he was suspended for 80 games after he tested positive for using performance-enhancing drugs.

If you dig a little deeper into his story, you find that Gordon probably just wasn’t careful enough about knowing what was in the supplements he was taking. At 185 pounds, he’s known for speed, so it’s not like he was bulking up to hit more home runs. But he didn’t make excuses or blame others. He owned the mistake.

I don’t know if he’s a follower of Jesus or if he was as sincere in his apology as he came across. But when I watched his video, I saw someone doing pretty much what Jesus told sinners to do:

Step 1 – Confess (to God and to anyone you’ve offended). “Repentance always brings a person to the point of saying, ‘I have sinned’.” – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Step 2 – Repent (turn from sin). “Repentance involves deliberate turning from sin to righteousness” – Kenneth Barker, NASB Study Bible

Step 4 – Go in sin no more. “Repenting is what happens inside of us that leads to the fruits of new behavior. Repentance is not the new deeds, but the inward change that bears the fruit of new deeds. Jesus is demanding that we experience this inward change.” – John Piper

I’ve never played professional baseball, and I’ve never been suspended from any sport for using performance enhancing drugs. But, like Gordon, I’m a sinner. We’re all sinners. The question is, how do we respond to our sins? Do we continue to live in them? Or do we grow like Jesus and live in forgiveness?

I might never feel the need to repent publicly like Gordon did, but I hope I never let my pride and ego prevent me from taking those key steps toward restored fellowship with Christ: Confess, repent, and stop sinning.

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