Guard Your Heart With Gratitude

A Healthy Heart
After a few weeks off we now refresh our “Guard Your Heart” series. We always need to be about guarding our hearts because the heart is the core or our being and doing. If our hearts are healthy our being and doing will be God glorifying, others edifying, and self-satisfying. Thus, we must continually guard them from hard heartedness brought on by onset spiritual arteriosclerosis. And this is not always easy to do. However, today, we will see how to guard our hearts against one of the worst spiritual diseases of all. Let’s turn to Psalm 73:21. Here Asaph the psalmist confesses:
When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered…
I have seen bitterness choke the spiritual life out of even the best of Christ followers. Like the virus, bitterness is a toxin that can easily spread and infect and affect everyone (Hebrews 12:15). But what was causing the psalter’s, heart to be grieved and his spirit to be embittered? He sees the prosperity and arrogance of his enemies and it drives him to envy (v3). Furthermore, he believes his enemies have “made in the shade” kinds of lives. Early in the chapter he grumbled 4-5
4 They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. 5 They are free from the burdens common to people; they are not plagued by human ills.
This lament reminds me of how Garrison Keillor used to sign off on his weekly radio show, “The Tales of Lake Wobegon”:
Where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking,
and all the children are above average.
Theodicy
They say we should never judge our personal lives on the public lives of others. To do so is a big mistake but the psalmist does so anyhow. However, in a moment of self-awareness, Asaph reasons within himself (v16).
When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me.
The longer he ponders the question, “Why do good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people?” the moodier he becomes. Try as he might he can’t understand why negative events happen to God’s people while positive things happen to pagans. One of the oldest and most enduring problems the Old Testament saints grappled with was that if God is good how can people who ignore him prosper while those who love him don’t? On top of that, the pagans that are prospering in Asaph’s world are the very ones that are making him miserable. Much like the person who takes credit for your work and ends up getting the promotion and eventually becomes your boss. None of this makes much sense especially if a loving God is up there running things.
Gratitude List
There is a strong correlation between what we think about and how we feel and how we feel and how we behave. Asaph knows that bitterness is infecting his heart. To arrest this disease he heads towards the sanctuary. There’s no better place to get some spiritual surgery done. Once there, his heart begins to change. What was the catalyst for this change? A gratitude list. Listen to Asaph’s in v23-26
23 Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Notice that Asaph’s gratitude list includes three big items:
God holds me by his right hand. God guides me with his counsel.
God takes me into glory.
Gratitude always leads to praise (v25)
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And praise always leads to greater desire for God (v25)
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
Asaph realizes that no matter what happens in life, no matter to whom it happens, and whenever it happens, it doesn’t ultimately matter because of who God is and what he has promised (v26).
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Who has the time to be bitter, or to even care whether or not the pagans prosper if one has gotten God and all the blessings and provisions that he alone supplies?
A Family Thanksgiving Tradition
Growing up my family and I had this Thanksgiving tradition whereas one couldn’t taste even one morsel of the bounty until each person gave at least one thanks for each person sitting around the table. Some years this was more of a chore than others especially if life wasn’t going really well or if one was mad at other family members. This tradition was really hard on my dad as he vowed to never eat anything on Thanksgiving Day until the turkey was ready and we always ate mid-afternoon.
Let me confess that growing up with three sisters this was not the easiest exercise. But we would slough through it and at the end of the day it was powerful to see our familial love and appreciation grow because of this one simple tradition. Can you imagine how quickly our nation would heal if we had Thanksgiving once a month? How about our families once a week? How about our relationship with God if we did a gratitude list every day?
Power of A Gratitude List
It’s true that gratitude changes everything and that everything good springs from gratitude. Therefore the best way to guard our hearts from bitterness is by practicing gratitude and the best way to do that is by developing a gratitude list. During my downtime due to surgery I have been doing this very thing. For the sake of transparency I want to admit that you will encounter a couple problems when you begin a gratitude list:
(1) Like the 1983 Lays potato chip commercial, “No one can eat just one.” No one can list just one. Once you get started you can’t stop! There’s way too many things for which to thank God. Like David said in Psalm 103:2, “Praise the Lord O my soul and forget not ALL his benefits.” And the old saint Matthew Henry after he was robbed:
1 I am thankful that he never robbed me before. 2 I am thankful that although he took my wallet, he did not take my life. 3 Although he took all I had; it was not much. And 4 I am glad that it was I who was robbed, not I who did the robbing.
(2) It doesn’t matter how you feel when you start you will be feeling groovy when you are done. The sheer writing of the gratitude list will simultaneously wipe out bitterness from your heart and fill it with joy. God will again become the “Strength of your heart.”
Conclusion: Bitter Proof Your Heart
Unfortunately, bitterness will always try to “worm” its way into our hearts. So the next time you start thinking negative and feel negatively, bitter proof your heart by getting alone with God and start working on your gratitude list. You’ll always be thankful you did!

Worship Cancelled for Sunday November 29

Dear Bay Pointers:


I hope you all had a blessed Thanksgiving and were able to joyfully connect with family and friends over tables laden with turkey, ham, and stuffing. As you know tomorrow kicks off the Advent Season. It is an exciting time in the church season whereby we celebrate both the 1st Advent of Jesus, as a child, and also anticipate his 2nd One, as the King. 
 
Unfortunately however, we will need to postpone our celebration at least one week given that this past days a few church leaders have tested positive for the virus and others have had primary exposure to it, including yours truly. 
 
We will keep you updated on how things develop as we hope to resume worship services on Sunday December 6. Until then, please pray for those infected.
 
agape,
 
Pj

Extravagant Blessings = Extravagant Thanksgiving

 

Tomorrow the families of our nation will huddle around mountains of feasts as a way to render thanks to our Creator/Redeemer/Forgiver God for the abundant provisions he has lavished upon not only creation generally, but to each of us specifically. God is the God of abundance and we thank him in two ways: (1) We delight in, and have joy over all that he has blessed us with and (2) We delight in, and have joy in him over and beyond all that he has blessed us with.

So with each slice of turkey, each nibble of the dressing/stuffing, and with each sip of hearty beverage, let our hearts be filled with merriment and our lips full of praise to our heavenly Father who has bestowed so much upon. Let his extravagant blessings demand from us an extravagant and corresponding thanksgiving.

 

Happy Thanksgiving,

 

Pj

Guard Your Heart – Its More Than A Table

Guest Speaker – Charles Rowley shares his message  “It’s More Than A Table” from the Guard Your Heart Series with us.

Guard Your Heart With Hope (Post Election Special)

Introduction: Four Years Ago
I’ll never forget the Sunday Morning after the 2016 presidential election. We were working through a series called “Songlasses” which was a survey of the various worldviews of our culture which are anti-God and anti-church. Full-disclaimer: When it comes to ministry I adopt an apolitical stance, i.e., I don’t mix politics with pulpit. If you want to know my personal views, I’ll gladly to tell you but in a different venue over hot coffee and apple pie. However, my hope is that when Christ followers vote we do so with biblical values uppermost, particularly those issues that promote and protect life.
After preaching on that particular Sunday four years ago, I introduced myself to a new guest and when I did he immediately went all nuclear on me. He began to lambast me for not being pastoral enough. You see, his candidate lost and five days later he was still agonizing over her shocking defeat. With hyper-elevated voice he told that I should have offered a pastoral message, which included comforting the voters that lost (i.e. him), a condemnation of the new president, and a commiseration how horrible everything was going to be from infinity to beyond.
Guard Your Heart Post-Election Special
As I look back on that encounter I sure as heck don’t want to be ingloriously unpastoral today. I know that elections have consequences along with heavy emotional investments, especially in our hyper polarized political environment. Therefore, I want to add a special post-election “Guard Your Heart” message. I want to address the hearts of those whose candidate won and also the hearts of those whose candidate lost.
To Those Whose Candidate Won
To those whose candidate won, congratulations! You fulfilled your patriotic privilege and duty by voting. You, along with millions of your fellow citizens, chose the winner. Hopefully, he will be able to unify the nation and usher in a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity. We should all want that. However, as hopeful as you are about the future, you still need to “guard your heart” today by not being too hopeful. Here’s why. The church I was leading in 2008 was a polling place much like Bay Point is today. I remember interacting with folks as they were coming out after voting. With some folks, I was taken aback, even frightened, when they spoke so glowingly, even messianically, about the man for whom they had voted. In worshipful terms one person radiated, “If so-and-so gets elected all of our problems will be over.” His candidate eventually did win but guess what, our nation’s problems persisted and in some ways, got worst. That’s not a knock on one of our former presidents. I respect the presidency and consider it the hardest and most complicated of all jobs. It’s just that we know that our political system is deeply flawed and is governed by deeply flawed people. I think it has something to do with the old truism raised by Sir John Dalberg-Acton, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
I may be wrong, but we always need to be wary of people who thirst for power for power’s sake. Thus, we should never put our hope in politics because, vicariously/simultaneously speaking, that is putting our hope in people. If we do, not only will we eventually be disappointed but we will also be committing the sin of idolatry. Idolatry is anything in which we place our trust, hope, and joy in more than the good Lord himself. So go ahead and continue to be excited about the vison, agendas, and policies, of the recently elected president. However, just don’t think he’s going to be ushering in the millennium before sundown. Furthermore, remember that that your citizenship is first in the KOG and secondly, the KOA. You are still obligated to “See first the KOG” (Matthew 6:33) as King Jesus taught. Furthermore, make sure your political attitude is that of David in Psalms 20:7
“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”
Or even that of American war hero, General George S. Patton who once pointed out:
For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeters, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conquerors rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: “All glory is fleeting.” “All glory is fleeting.”
So guard your heart by not putting your hope in politics or politicians!
To Those Whose Candidate Lost
Now on to those whose candidate lost. Please guard your heart from disappointment. You got your hopes up and voted for the candidate that best represented your personal, party, and policy preferences but yet, he didn’t win. It’s ok to be disappointed. If the winners of this election need to guard their hearts by not putting their hope in politics then you need to guard your by putting more hope in God. As David asked in Psalm 42:11
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
Remember also that just as there can only be one airplane pilot at a time, there can be only one president at a time so root for him to succeed. It’s probably the best way to bring healing and unity to our country. You can still put your hope in God because he is the Lord of the Nations. You can still put your hope in God because God is still on the throne and his will is still being done “on earth as it is in heaven.” You can still put your hope in God because he is still good and the future is bright. You can still put your hope in God because God has a plan and is working that plan. You can still put your hope in God because as Daniel 2:21 tells us he
Controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings.
You can still put your hope in God because the end of the world will come at the end of the world and not a second sooner. And guess what? Although it may feel like it, it’s not going to come just because your candidate didn’t win. So put more hope in God because when you do you he will lift up your “downcast soul.”
Conclusion:
It was once said that we can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only one second without hope. Weather your candidate won or lost let us guard our hearts by maintaining our hope in God. Let’s close our special post-election “Guard your Heart” message with the best hope floats scripture in the Bible, Psalm 33:20-22
20 We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. 21 In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. 22 May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you.

“Orchestration”

Scripture: Daniel 2:21
 
The Lord controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings.
 
Observation:
Like most powerful people the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar was quite the egomaniac and also quite insecure. One night he has a dream he can’t understand but senses it’s about his own eventual dethronement. He summons his astrologers, magicians, and professional dream weavers but they cannot confirm or deny the contents and meaning of the dream. They even go so far as to assert that no one on the planet really knows. Finally the king stumbles upon Daniel, an enslaved Hebrew that works as a low-level operator in his administration. With confidence, Daniel tells the king that unless he repents of his arrogance that God, the only true God, will take him down and give his kingdom to another. After all, God is the only one that determines the course of history. It is he that sets up kings and removes them in accordance to his sovereignty and plan. Nebuchadnezzar knows that Daniel correctly interpreted his dream and temporarily repents of his arrogance.
 
Application:
Today is a very important, albeit much ballyhooed day, in which our nation elects its next leader. Regardless of the results, we, as Christ followers, can take comfort in God’s overarching orchestration much the same way Daniel did. His amazing plan “goes marching on” and so will we.
 
Prayer:
Lord Over All,
As our nations furtively awaits or next leader, help us to find peace in your sovereign hand no matter what transpires. In Jesus name, Amen!

Guard Your Heart With Encouragement

Introduction: Review
Last week in our “Guard Your Heart” series we warned about the inherent dangers of spiritual arteriosclerosis, which, if left unchecked and untreated would harden our hearts and turn us away from the Living God. Just as hard heartedness, caused by chronic unbelief, costs the first generation of Israelites the Promised Land, so too will it cost us entrance into the ultimate Promised Land, heaven itself. Two of the best therapeutics to combat unbelief are: (1) Constantly fill our hearts with faith, which comes from the Word of God. (2) Ask God for a spiritual heart transplant which he is exceptionally good at according to Ezekiel 36:26
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you;
I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
 
Today we head back to anti-arteriosclerosis passage of Hebrews 3:12-13, to discover another treatment against hard-heartedness
 
12 See to it that none of you has an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.
13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
 
Fight the Good Fight of Faith In Your Mind
How many do you know that golf is a hard sport to play? Even its greatest players, like Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, are quick to point out that no one ever masters it. However, the hardest course one will ever play is not found in historic places like Augusta or Pebble Beach but the fairway between one’s ears. This means that the mental aspects of the golf are just as difficult, if not more so, than the physical ones. Clutter your brain with swing thoughts and watch your golf scores sky-rocket. Believe me, I can attest to this truth!
 
Fight the Good Fight of Faith Together
Like golf, much of our faith is lived out in that six-inch space between our ears. So when Paul talks about “Fighting the good fight of faith” (I Timothy 6:12) he means we must constantly preach to ourselves about the person and promises of God. This is one of the best remedies to prevent a bad case of spiritual arteriosclerosis and subsequent hard heartedness. Although our battle against unbelief is often fought within our squishy brain matter, not all of it is. It’s also fought in another place and that place is together.
 
Encouragement!
The pastor of the Hebrew congregation encourages his people to make sure they do one thing really, really well-
 
Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today.
 
This encouragement command is a mutually reciprocal one, which demonstrates that our faith is not to be lived out individualistically but with one another. This encouragement also echoes the fact that when Christ calls us to faith in him he simultaneously calls us into his faith community with one another. What is one of the best ways we can serve one another within our faith community? Encouragement! How often and how long are we to encourage one another? The Hebrew pastor says, “Daily” and as long as it is called “Today” meaning as long as we are on this planet, on this side of eternity, in this age before Jesus’ 2nd Coming.
 
Parakalew
The word for encouragement stems from the Greek term parakalew. It means to instill courage, to console and to comfort. In John 14:26 Jesus used an almost identical word “Paracletos” to name and describe the person and work of the HS:
 
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Encourager
to be with you forever—
 
The 3rd Person of the Trinity is first and foremost an encourager and his primary ministry is to encourage the people of God. As JD Walt puts it,
 
Encouragement is the language of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit encourages.
 
Amazingly, the Holy Spirit is not the only member of the Trinity that is committed to the ministry of encouragement. So too are the Father and Son. Listen to Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:16
 
May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us
and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope…
 
Let that sink in for a moment. If the entire Trinity is dedicated to the ministry of encouragement doesn’t that tell us necessary encouragement is and that we need it every day until the Lord’s return? The saying, “Encouragement is oxygen for the soul” may be true but it is definitely oxygen for the faith. But how do the Divine Encouragers encourage? Through the body of Christ! They encourage us so that we can encourage one another. One of the most satisfying and easiest ways to be used by God is to encourage others in their faith.
 
Encouraging Examples
The absolute necessity of a Niagara flow of encouragement in the Body of Christ prompted Paul to send Tychicus to the church of Ephesus (6:22)
 
I am sending him to you for this very purpose… that he may encourage you.
 
Because of his encouraging heart the early church leader Barnabas was nicknamed “Son of Encouragement” in Acts 4:36. Paul himself specialized in the ministry of encouragement. Listen to Acts 20:1-2
 
1 When the uproar had ended, Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said good-by and set out for Macedonia.
2 He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people…
 
Romans 15:4 tells us that one reason why God gave us the Bible in the first place was to encourage us
 
Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
 
I could go on and on but why all this encouragement? Because life is hard and living the Christian life is harder. Because the devil is always nipping at our heals. Because unbelief is always knocking on the door of our hearts and we are always susceptible to hard heartedness. Because we need it every day if we are going to be all that God wants us to be and do all that God wants us to do.
 
Conclusion: Encouragement Hotspots
One way we fulfill our vision of “Creating irresistible churches everyone enjoys” is to flood our souls with encouragement and then spread it. How do we do that? We do that by creating hotspots of encouragement! And where are those? We call these hotspots “Together” groups where we gather in various places throughout the week and encourage each other to live out our faith the best way we can. It was easier for the early church to encourage one another because they met daily in small house groups. They knew how to encourage one another because they knew each other so well. Do we? Can we really encourage one another by meeting once a week for one hour? I don’t think so. Where, and to whom, do we go to encourage and be encouraged? Who GETS way too much encouragement? Who GIVES way too much encouragement? Who loves to be AROUND encouragers? Our Together Groups, which we will be launching in December will ensure we get all the encouragement we need. More details are forthcoming.

Political Attitude

 
Unless you are Rip Van Winkle you may have heard that we are currently smack dab in the middle of a presidential election cycle and the winner will be revealed in a few short days.
 
As Christians we know that our ultimate politic is to Jesus Christ and his kingdom which he said we are to “Seek first above all things” (Matthew 6:33). That being said, we, secondarily so, are also citizens in the Kingdom of America and as such, are called to be active in our democratic republic by exercising our constitutional right to vote. Although we know that the “Kingdoms of this world” are NOT ultimate, we still need to support candidates whose policy positions resonate with, or are compatible with biblical values. I personally believe this always God’s will for us when it comes to voting.
 
Obviously, the stakes are sky high because the candidates, and the parties they represent, are so deeply contrasted and our nation is so widely polarized over these contrasts.
 
Centuries ago, John Wesley, the father of the Methodist movement, was deeply concerned that his people were being divided over politics much in the same way we are today. He believed they could model for the world and church, a sense of healing and unity even while disagreeing on whom to vote. Thus, on October 6, 1774 he penned three pieces of advice:
 
· To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy.
· To speak no evil of the person they voted against.
· To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.
 
I find the first point pretty easy to adhere to given that it is illegal to take bribes or sell our individual votes in America. Obviously, people were doing that in Wesley’s time. The second and third points are much tougher to live out: not speaking evil or sharpening our spirits (getting our meters in the red, i.e., negative and nasty) against the people that voted for the person that we might not ever vote for. Whoa, this restraint of attitude and discipline of words takes an abundance of Christ-likeness which is all the more reason we need to practice exactly what Wesley preached here.
 
So as you prepare to vote, or await the results of this election, keep these three things uppermost. And remember, regardless of which candidates wins next week we can still keep our sunny side up and our bottoms dry because Jesus is the Lord of the Nations and the future is still bright.
 
Agape,
 
Pj the Polo Pastor

Milestones

In Every Change God Faithful Will Remain
 
Recently my church and I celebrated my 30th year in ministry. Although I was very blessed by the many encouragements, cards, and gifts I couldn’t help thinking, “Wow, that sure went fast” and “I guess this constitutes something of a milestone.”
 
I remember my “calling” to go into ministry when I was ten years old. I remember the academic challenges of 12 years of post-high school education. I remember the arduous ordination exams.
 
I mostly remember, however, the many people who gave their lives to Christ for the first time or and those who rededicated themselves to him. I remember the hospital visits, funerals, and the weddings. Also the wonderful saints of God that served so faithfully and sacrificially.
 
Although aging brings its own set of challenges, physical and others wise, I can say that I am more passionate about the ministry than when I was a young hot-shot seminarian who thought he had all the answers and could solve all the problems of the church hours before sundown.
 
As a young ordinand I was once told, “If you can do anything else but ministry, do it.” My response back then is the same as it is now only with more resolve, “I can’t do anything else but ministry and I don’t want to do anything else but ministry.”
 
I suppose the next milestone will be my 40th year in ministry. My hope is, “Lord willing and creeks don’t rise” that we will be able to celebrate it together along with a myriad of others.
 
As you go about your day today remember three simple things: (1) Keep you sunny side up and your bottoms dry, (2) God is Good and the Future Is Bright, and (3) I love you and there isn’t a thing you can do about it.
 
Agape,
 
Pj, your Polo Pastor