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Who has your heart? A Simple Answer to a Seemingly-Complex Question

March 10, 2009 Leave a comment

By Richard Zowie

(This column originally appeared in www.saworship.com)

There’s a question that had plagued me for years, the answer darting away from me like a frightened rabbit every time I tried to get near it. Some questions, such as whether or not certain celebrity marriages will last longer than the gallon of tea I just brewed, aren’t worth waiting for the answers. But the answer to this particular question was well worth the effort:

Why do so many who grow up in Christian homes forsake God once they reach adulthood? And how can some grow up in the most godless environments but turn out to become stellar Christians?

The answer to such a seemingly-complicated question is actually fairly simple, smaller question: Who has your heart?

I realize the answer now as a 33 year-old, and what truly amazes me is that I had the answer right in front of me 16 years ago. In the summer of 1990, I traveled with my church youth group and attended a youth conference at Lavon Drive Baptist Church in Garland, Texas (a Dallas suburb). On the first night of that year, Pastor Steve Roberson (then a North Carolina youth pastor who now pastors Calvary Baptist Church in Red Bank, Tenn.) preached a message titled “Who Has Your Heart?”

steve-roberson

Several years ago, my pastor gave me a cassette tape of the sermon. The tape was packed away and rediscovered when I went through some boxes during a recent move. One day, while driving and finding nothing good on the radio, I decided to listen to the tape again. When I heard it for the first time as a 17 year-old, I got the basic premise of the sermon and enjoyed the humor; now, after hearing the sermon again, I was floored by the message and how Pastor Roberson used hilarious stories to illustrate eternal truths about who has our hearts.

You spend years and years laboring over a decision, feverishly analyzing the facts and trying desperately to find an answer. The answer seems so distant from us, but sometimes—such as in this case—it really isn’t.

To find out what path a person is going in life and try to determine whether or not they’ll follow God, all we have to ask is this: who has their heart? Their parents? Their minister, youth minister or Sunday school teacher? Perhaps a Christian athlete or a Christian musician? Maybe, unfortunately, it’s a rapper known for violent, profane lyrics or an actor whose box office success is topped only by how many bed partners they’ve had. Whoever has their heart is whom they will try to emulate.

In order to ensure that our children follow faithfully in our footsteps as Christians, we have to lead them in ways where they’ll give us their heart—something I’m learning as the father of three boys and the uncle of many nephews and nieces. And as for the children who grow up in ungodly homes but develop into solid Christians, most likely there was a godly leader at their church that inspired them. Or perhaps it was a godly grandparent, aunt or uncle.

The year before Pastor Roberson had us in stitches as he told a story about playing in a high school basketball game and the sweat mixing with his hair spray and producing hilarious results. This time he told about the adventures of having an overflow of adolescent boys at youth camp one year. One of them woke up from a nightmare, started screaming and soon the entire tent was filled with screeching teens. Why were they all screaming? Because everyone else in the tent was. In life, it’s so easy to be a follower.

Two other stories, one hilarious and one tragic, further illustrated Pastor Roberson’s point. That morning, he had encountered some professional wrestlers at the Atlanta airport. One of them picked up a display sandwich and unwittingly asked a cafeteria attendant to heat it up. Kids raced up to the “rasslers” to ask for autographs and get photos taken. And then, a few weeks before in Winston-Salem, N.C., the rock band Mötley Crüe performed a concert. At the time, two of their biggest songs were “Shout at the Devil” and “Smoking in the Boys’ Room.” The group also made frequent use of the pentagram. The mostly-teenaged audience, sadly, soaked it up and loved it.

Pastor Roberson noted that much crime followed the debauchery of the concert. Even worse, kids who seem to prefer cutting up in the back of a church instead of sitting in the front and listening to the message seem more than willing to give their hearts to wrestlers and rock stars. Why? Probably because those kids feel it’s more “fun” or “cool” to give their hearts to people who ultimately turn out to be spiritual fools instead of spiritual giants.

Conversely, Pastor Roberson mentioned a young lady at his church who, despite having alcoholic parents, grew up to be a fine Christian woman who taught at the church school and—along with her husband—had a Sunday School bus route. The young lady gave her heart to her godly older sister and brother-in-law along with the other godly examples at the Christian school (where she would later teach).

“Why is it,” Pastor Roberson asked at the close of his message, “that a girl can grow up in a chronic alcoholics’ home and, at age 28, be serving God, and another kid can grow up in a preacher’s home or deacon’s home and at the age of 28 be out in the world, not even in church? Let me tell you the difference: the heart. And I beg you, just give us your heart…men who have proven themselves and women who have proven themselves, give them your heart.”

And with that, whether you are young or old, saved or unsaved, I have this question to ask: Who has your heart?

I strongly encourage you to give your heart to God and to a godly parent or to a godly mentor at a good, Bible-believing church.

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Encouragement: What If Jesus Comes Back Like That?

March 10, 2009 1 comment

By Richard Zowie

(This column was originally published in www.saworship.com)

Matthew 25:37-40:
“Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we ahungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

“When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

“Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

If we were to simplify spiritual matters, I’d say that Christians have two basic duties to mankind: to evangelize the lost and to encourage or edify other believers. However, both evangelism and encouragement can be done in a vast spectrum of ways.

Let’s take a closer look at encouragement. In a past column, I wrote about Barnabas and his role as an encourager in the book of Acts. First, he encouraged the Apostle Paul in his new faith in Christ and, second, encouraged other believers to accept Paul into their circles.

When it comes to meeting people who either don’t espouse Christianity or seem very rough in their appearance, in the past I’ve felt inclined to walk the other way or simply ignore them. About a year ago, I saw a visitor at church that caused me to do a brief double-take. He had tattoos, lots of them all along his arms. He also had earrings in both ears. But not the small stud or loop earrings you might be imagining. This man had the gauged kind of earrings, ones that looked as thick as padlock shackles. This man must be into pain, I thought, cringing since earrings, body piercing and tattoos aren’t my idea of pleasure activities.

Fifteen years ago, I would’ve turned a cold shoulder toward the man and walked away. The sooner such a person left the church, the better. After all, who needs someone with a “worldly” appearance?

This man reminded me of someone I once knew from church as a teenager growing up in South Texas. “Stanley”, a brand-new Christian, liked to ride motorcycles and came from a very rough background. He told me once that he spent about a year of his life in a coma, courtesy of a motorcycle crash where he wasn’t wearing a helmet. In church, he usually wore one of two t-shirts. One was of a tattoo parlor: it had a skull on it with the caption, “You bet it hurts!”

The other was of a man watching television while—well, I’d rather not get into the details in this type of column except to say that the caption was “New Father.” When Stanley wasn’t wearing questionable t-shirts, he would often raise his hand to ask a question during a sermon. This was just something you didn’t do in the church I grew up in. Sometimes the pastor would answer his question, and other times he would politely motion for him to wait until the sermon was over. This visitor from church recently and Stanley would be very easy for some to write off, especially if you’re a stuffy person who feels that everyone in church needs to dress just right and act just right.

Instead, the two men pose an interesting thought. As Christians, we are called to be separate from the world, but yet be in it to make an eternal difference. Some Christians may prefer to distance themselves from people who curse, drink, smoke, live immoral lifestyles and dress in inappropriate attire, but too often we forget the example set before us.

Jesus was holy and sinless, but He also spent much of his time with publicans, tax collectors, prostitutes and other undesirables in society—including a Samaritan woman. While Jesus spent much of His earthly ministry around “worldly” people, He never became part of them. He showed them that while He loved them and cared about them, He never condoned their lifestyle or partook in it. To the woman who was caught in adultery in John 8:1-11, while Jesus encouraged the one without sin to cast the first stone at her, He also told her, “Go, and sin no more.” Jesus in the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20 tells us to go into the world and evangelize. This requires not barricading ourselves at home and sealing ourselves off from the world, but going out and trying to make a difference. Our time on earth is very short, and it’s up to us to make the best of it.

At college, I had a suitemate whose father worked in Rock of Ages Prison Ministry. Tony said once in a prayer meeting that his father talked of being “insulated” rather than “isolated.”

In my life I’ve spent a lot of time around people who don’t know the Lord or those who are lapsed Christians. In the service, I knew several Wiccans, practitioners of eastern religions, those who either didn’t believe in God or who didn’t care and those who were hedonistic in their lifestyles. As I look back on my four years in the Army and years since then, I have learned that adopting an isolated, holier-than-thou attitude does nothing to win people to Christ and help those who are Christians grow in their faith. The best way to reach the lost and reach out to fellow Christians is to be an encourager. Show that you care about them; and when talking to them, make their concerns your main interest. Be an unconditional friend. One service member I knew, who was not a professing Christian, became well-thought of and popular because he was an excellent listener. As I looked at this guy, I thought that this was the direction I should pursue.

Soon, by being an encourager, friends might say something to you like, “There’s something different about you. What makes you so different?”

“I’m a Christian.”

“Really? What made you decide to become a Christian?”

By doing this and by maintaining your testimony, you can then get through doors that might normally be accessible. Perhaps you might not get a chance to directly lead many to the Lord, but you can at least plant seeds and water what’s already planted—all while remaining a Christian who encourages without asking for anything in return.

Jude 20-22: “But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost,
Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
And of some have compassion, making a difference…”
[Emphasis mine]

One important reason for encouraging comes from the Collin Raye song “What If Jesus Comes Back Like That.” The first stanza of the song deals with a hobo who drifts into town. Many are put off by this undesirable transient and work to have him driven out of town. In the chorus of the song (written by Pat Bunch and Doug Johnson), Raye sings:

On an old freight train in a hobo hat
Will we let him in or turn our back
What if Jesus comes back like that
Oh what if Jesus comes back like that

Later in the song is this poignant stanza:

Nobody said life is fair
We’ve all got a cross to bear
When it gets a little hard to care
Just think about him hanging there

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Christianity in a nutshell: The Greatest Commandment

March 10, 2009 Leave a comment

By Richard Zowie

(This column was originally published in www.saworship.com)

When some people think of Christianity, they often visualize an endless, meandering list of do’s and don’ts. You know: don’t swear, don’t drink (and don’t even use alcohol for cooking), don’t watch movies, don’t smoke, don’t gamble, don’t wear a dress that goes above the kneecap in the sitting position, don’t listen to any music that has a drum beat to it. Men shouldn’t let their hair touch their collar or their ears ladies’ hair shouldn’t be any shorter than shoulder length. Don’t let your children watch the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or The Power Rangers. If they do, make them go straight to the church altar and get right with God. They should not pass Go, nor should they collect $200.

Looking at the list, while there are some that are things all Christians would probably agree on (such as not swearing), others on the list might prompt some to think that there must be an 11th Commandment: Thou shalt not have fun.

But is that what Christianity is really all about? Hardly. Granted, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and inspired Moses to record in the first five books of the Old Testament the rules for life. Some were moral laws, which don’t change. Some were dietary laws, God’s way of protecting the Israelites from food products that would be harmful to them. Others were ceremonial laws, which were designed to teach about the meticulous details revolving around sacrifices and offerings and giving a picture of the perfect, spotless Messiah that eventually paid the debt for our sins on Calvary. I’m a supporter of Bible-based convictions, but I believe that there are personal preferences that some Christians—whether unintentional or not—try to pass off as convictions. Whenever someone gets saved or is a growing Christian, the best perspective to take is to help that person grow in Christ; as they grow, God will start to reveal to them (whether through the Bible or through sage advice) what areas of their life need to change.

This leads me to ponder something about Christianity. Legendary physicist Albert Einstein spent time trying to formulate the Theory of Everything. This theory, which modern physicists still pursue, is an attempt through theoretical physics to connect all known physical phenomena. In a loosely-comparable vein, I have wondered if Christianity can be boiled down to one single commandment instead of sifting through endless ones. As it is, I feel that these are the basics of Christianity: 1) to evangelize the lost and 2) to encourage or edify fellow believers.

But there is an even easier way of simplifying Christianity—a simple command to follow through which all of the commands in the Christian faith flow. Three of the Gospel writers mention it: Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-34 and Luke 10:25-37. In these instances, Jesus was answering questions from the religious leaders of the day. Whether it was from Pharisees, scribes, Sadducees or other “spiritual intellectuals” trying to discredit Him, Jesus answered them all handily. In short, Jesus rightfully accused the intellectuals of majoring on the minors while disobeying God on the important matters.

But then, a lawyer approached Jesus after Jesus had silenced the Sadducees regarding the debate of marriage and the resurrection. He was a seeker, and Jesus treated him as such. While Jesus divested Himself of certain attributes when taking human form, He could spot right away that this lawyer was seeking the truth rather than just trying to trip him up.

Because this story is told by three different Gospel writers, we receive three different questions this attorney asked. Matthew 22:36 states that the lawyer asked Jesus, “Master, which is the great commandment of the law”? Mark 12:28 has it this way: “…Which is the first commandment of all?” Luke 10:25 has it this way: ” Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

These answers may seem different, but they remind me of a man who is anxious about the afterlife and is eager for an answer. So, as a result, it’s entirely possible this attorney may have said to Jesus, “Master, what is the first commandment of all, the great commandment of the law? What I’m trying to find out is what I need to do to inherit eternal life.” This attorney seemed to recognize something that the Pharisees and other religious leaders didn’t: simply obeying all the laws and traditions wasn’t sufficient for salvation.

“Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” The second-greatest commandment, Jesus adds, is to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Furthermore, Jesus says in Matthew 22:40, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

In other words, all the other laws and doctrines of the Bible come from these two commandments. These two commandments represent the Doctrine of Everything, the idea that everything that comprises God’s command for us to evangelize the lost and encourage and edify fellow believers stems from these two commands. By obeying these two commands, all of God’s other instructions for us will come naturally.

To illustrate this, Jesus gives the lawyer the parable of the Good Samaritan. This parable tells of how a Jewish man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho is robbed by thieves, severely beaten and left for dead. As he lays there severely injured, both a Jewish priest and a Levite pass him and ignore him.

But along comes the unlikeliest of people, a Samaritan, who has compassion on this Jewish man. The Samaritan dresses his wounds, puts him on his own animal and takes him to an inn. After paying the innkeeper for the wounded man’s extended stay, he informs the keeper that when he returns he will pay the extra expenses incurred for taking care of the man.

Amazing compassion, when you consider the Samaritan had very little motivation for it. After all, he had to have known this man was a Jew, and the Jews at the time considered the Samaritans beneath them. Half-breeds, if you will. This reminds me somewhat of that episode of the CBS sitcom The Jeffersons where George Jefferson, an African-American dry cleaner mogul, saves the life of a racist white man who has had a heart attack.

This Good Samaritan, Jesus told the lawyer, was a man who loved his neighbor. This is the example of loving God with your heart, soul and mind and transferring that love to those around you. By transferring that love, you can show your unsaved neighbors the type of love God has for them and give them a reason to become a Christian. As for your saved neighbors, seeing the love God has for them may give them a reason to further their walk with Christ.

Hearing this, the lawyer (or scribe, as Mark calls him), answers in Mark 12:32-33: “…Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbor as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

And that is Christianity in a nutshell.

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Job and the Lesson of Faith

March 10, 2009 Leave a comment

By Richard Zowie

NOTE: This originally was published in www.saworship.com. I am re-posting it here out of a heavy burden. There have been people I’ve known in my life who were once solid Christians but are now away from God. My prayer is that this and other columns would provide them with a much-needed source of encouragement and enlightenment).

One of the great but yet simple theological truths can be found in the feel-good 1993 film Rudy. Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger is a physically and academically undersized-but nevertheless determined-young man who wants nothing more than to play football for his beloved Notre Dame. In the film, he seeks advice from a priest regarding the direction he’s supposed to go in. The priest offers this amusing but interesting observation: “Son, in 35 years of religious study, I have only come up with two hard incontrovertible facts: there is a God, and I’m not Him.”

Indeed, we are not God. This, of course, goes against the secular humanistic thinking that mankind either is God or can become Him through enough eons of successful evolution. If we were God, we’d have all the answers to the problems that plague our lives. The answers are indeed very far away, most of which won’t be answered until we enter eternity.

Our family has gone through some tough times, and I’ve been repeatedly found myself asking the question, “Why?” We do the best we can to live for the Lord, praying and reading scripture and serving in our church. Why do these frustrating things still happen?

Years ago, I woke up early one morning and found myself worried about a discouraging incident. I was upset at God that He wasn’t giving us the resources to get these things taken care of. This situation has actually been an ongoing problem for sometime, and I found myself very flustered.

As I sat down in the early morning hours, I took my Bible and turned to the Book of Psalms. Each Psalm I read emphasized the importance of entering God’s presence with praise, being thankful and recognizing the great things He has done. And then, I thought about Job. He had it all, lost it all and spent chapter after chapter wrestling with God’s sovereignty. I went over to Job and read over the last three chapters.

Job is considered by many to be the oldest book in the Bible. It’s about a godly, wealthy man who has it all: a wife, many children, servants, and lots of livestock and other possessions. God and Satan have a dialogue early in the book, and God mentions Job and what a godly man he is. Satan argues that Job’s godly ways are solely a reflection of the material wealth bestowed upon him. “Bring tragedy into his life and take away his wealth, and he’ll curse you, God,” Satan argued.

God must’ve been very impressed with Job to bring him up in the first place, and He gives Satan this order: you may take away his possessions, but do not harm him. Satan does just that, with Job’s kids and servants dying and his possessions taken from him. Job holds firm and keeps his focus on God, even in the next stage when God tells Satan that he can bring physical affliction upon Job-but still he is not allowed to kill him. Job develops boils over all his body and suffers much agony. His wife implores him to curse God and die, to which Job replies that she speaks foolishly and that it is unreasonable for us to only expect good things from God.

After that, Job and his friends have a long dialogue about why he is suffering. Job says he doesn’t understand why. His friends think he’s hiding pride or has some sort of unconfessed sin in his life that would have caused God‘s wrath. Finally, in the latter chapters, God speaks to Job from a whirlwind. Just as Job spends much of the book questioning God, the Almighty has some questions of His own for his servant:

Where were you when I created the world and the universe?
Do you know all about what’s in the deepest depths of the ocean?
(This is something marine biologists still don’t know millennia later).
Do you know all the intimate details of zoology? (There are still many species of animals and insects yet to be discovered).
Is a fallible, finite man really capable of second guessing an infallible, infinite God?

God then demonstrates His power for Job by discussing the dinosaur-like creature, the leviathan. This creature, which God created, is a very mighty creature, and the Lord details its staggering physical characteristics. God’s point is simple: He is capable of creating the earth, the heavens, the oceans and all the majestic creatures: it is therefore foolish for man-with all his physical and mental limitations-to doubt the way God does things. Instead, we must trust Him.

As I read this, I realized something. If He’d wanted to, God could’ve easily explained to Job the conversation He’d had with Satan and how Job’s afflictions were a test to prove that godly people will follow God no matter what trials are going on in their lives. But instead, God chooses to hammer this point: “Job, my son, you are not Me. I alone am God. You are not able to do the incredible things that I do. My ways are infinitely above your ways, so there is no way, at this point, for you to be able to truly grasp them. At this stage, all you can do is acknowledge My Sovereignty, have faith in Me and know that it’s all in My control-and leave it at that. Someday, perhaps later in your life or in heaven where your mind won’t have the limitations it has now, you’ll understand why these things have happened to you.”

Job confesses his lack of trust in God. As a result, God not only gives Job his wealth back, it’s also more than he had before. He also has more children, and Job 42:15 tells us that his daughters were more beautiful than any other women in the land.

And as I concluded my reading, all I could think was my sin of getting upset with God and not trusting in Him. Sure, with our obligations it can be extremely tough since we have answers that we need very soon rather than later, but ultimately it’s important to realize that everything is in God’s control. He makes no mistakes, and all things happen in His perfect timing. Romans 8:28 tells us, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”

Maybe you’re facing a hardship in your life. It could be a failed relationship, a lost job, a bad job, money, past-due bills, a church split or a death in the family. To escape the dark valley of heartache and despair, what is best for us is to pray about it, place it in God’s hands, and watch for avenues to open for us as He helps us move out of our trials. God never promises we’ll have only good times, and it’s through the tough times that He’s able to help us develop a solid foundation for a relationship with Him.

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