Heart Scan – Part 1

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Steps to healing a wounded heart—that’s what we’re talking about in this series Heart Scan–dangers of a wounded heart.  If you’ve missed it, check out the messages starting with my “Confessions” talk and the last two Heart Scan messages at http://www.gatewaychurch.com/podcast/.  In the next few blogs, I want to just summarize the exercises we’ve been walking through so far that helped me find life, joy, and strength return.

Signs of a Wounded Heart

First, you must identify if there’s some place you’re unaware of that needs healing in your soul. I was totally clueless until God’s Spirit gently started pointing out some of these signs:

Loss of joy – You don’t experience that sense of wonder, awe, and beauty, celebrating the goodness of life.
Protecting yourself – You don’t have much to give, so you find yourself not wanting to initiate with people. You dread being with people because they might drain the little you have left.
Deep sadness – You may find feelings of deep sadness, like grief, well up unexpectedly. When a memory still feels sad, painful, terrifying…it’s a sign it’s still not healed.
Defensiveness – You’re easily hurt, defensive, reactive because you don’t have the reservoir of a full heart. Ask “What am I protecting or defending, and why?”
Easily Offended or Frustrated – when you carry unhealed wounds, it doesn’t take much of a jab to feel a lot of pain or anger or frustration.
Agreeing with Lies – We start to believe lies of the evil one because our wounds reinforced the lies: “You’re a bad leader,” “God’s not guiding you,” “He’s not speaking or you can’t hear His voice.” All lies, but wounds make them feel true.
Lack of Love for People – ultimately, unhealed wounds rob us of the ability to love people. People have hurt us, we still feel the hurts, so we are unable to love people because that requires proximity and vulnerability—which unhealed hearts fear.

Do you see the signs of a wounded heart? Can you see how dangerous it is for Christians, leaders especially, to ignore the signs and pretend it’s not there?  So here’s part 1 of what I did that helped. I’ll put part 2 in the next blog.

Let God Heal You

Spend time in solitude or doing things you enjoy with the Lord. Like a bottle of muddy water, your soul needs to be quiet and unshaken for an extended amount of time, otherwise the silt never settles out and it’s hard to find clarity to face reality.

Do the Grocery Store Test. If you turned down the isle in the store, and there in front of you was [fill in the blank], but he/she didn’t see you—your fist inclination would be to turn around before you had to meet eyes with them.  Don’t evaluate why, just write down that name.

List every person or event that might possibly have wounded you (or you them). I say “might possibly” because our tendency is to over-spiritualize and say “I forgave that” or “that didn’t really hurt me” and so we ignore the cumulative effect of all the “paper cuts” still oozing. So no spiritual editing—just put them all down. “Hearing from a 3rd party what someone said about me.” “When my spouse said or did…” “What my dad said…”  Make a list of people, and what they did that hurt.  Remember that Jesus also said,  “If you take your gift to the altar and remember your brother has something against you, leave your gift on the altar. Go and make right what is wrong between you and him. Then come back and give your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).  So we also need to write down relational damage we might have caused or where we might possibly have wounded another.

Start by doing this—just list all of them and write what happened. Next blog we’ll continue with what to do with the list. By the way, I thought this part of the process would take 15-20 minutes. It took me 3-4 hours! I’d love to hear comments—how does the thought of doing this strike you? What did you discover as you did it?

Wounding or Healing Our Children

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ashleyMy baby girl got engaged last night! It seems like yesterday we were driving to McDonalds, watching her bounce up and down in her car seat yelling, “Shake, Fries, Donalds—Exciiiiiiitteed!”  Now she’s yelling, “Shake, Fries, Dom (Dom is his name)—Excited!”  I am thanking God this morning that I’m excited too!

I started praying for my children’s spouses the day they were born! I know God heard me. I think about Dom’s character and the choices he’s made—God has obviously been guiding and leading him and protecting him. It’s pretty amazing. So pray for your kid’s spouse even though you don’t yet know them—God does! And time in His world isn’t linear like ours.

But here I sit on the backside of yesterday—speaking Sunday morning about father wounds, then celebrating my daughter’s engagement last night. If what I said is true, that no one comes out unharmed—how have I wounded her? Wow—that’s a tough question to ponder. In fact, I’d rather not think about it. I’d rather think about what a great parent I’ve been. I think that is true—I have been a very engaged parent in the lives of both my kids, and the payoff is that we have great relationships today. But I’ve also wounded them.

In some ways, I think this is inevitable. “All we like sheep have gone astray” (Isaiah 53).  “All sin and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). How could we think we will be the special ones who become the first perfect parents?  So what do we do with the fact that we probably have wounded our kids along the way? How do we becoming healing agents? This is the important question.

We humble ourselves and seek God’s healing. We can proudly deepen the wound or become healing agents to our children as they grow up. God has not left us to drown in our own vomit, He is in it with us rescuing and redeeming (healing and growing) us all.  So the very best thing we can do for our kids, is to become more and more self-aware by becoming God-aware.  Letting God’s Spirit and scripture be a daily mirror we hold up to our lives, asking Him, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). This keeps us from inflicting deep wounds that never heal.

Don’t over-react. Not every wound is the same depth, and every wound can heal.  The two over-reactions parents can have is to not care and do nothing (they’ll get over it), or to be so fearful you never bring discipline or allow them to suffer consequences. Discipline feels like “hurting them” but it’s not the same as “wounding them.” “Do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Hebrews 12:5-6). Letting our children feel the pain of consequences for wrong actions is not wounding them, it’s loving them (assuming love, not anger or frustration is our motivation).

Say “I’m Sorry.”  When you let God search your heart daily, you will see some place where you sinned against your kids or in front of your kids.  This is your chance to heal or wound.  Do what you make your kids do when wrong—go to them and say, “I’m sorry, I was wrong.” This heals. And if you said something damaging, admit it was wrong, and replace it with a blessing. This heals. How many adults would have found healing years ago if their proud father or critical mother had just been humble enough to do this?  Letting our kids see us humbly grow spiritually models what they will need to do to have increasingly healthy families.

Learn from the Past.  There may be seasons that are now long gone. You look back and see that it might have done some damage. As your kids get older (teens into young adults), process with them what happened. Process it from God’s perspective, not “here’s why I did this,” or “your father was just…” – excuses don’t heal.  Honesty about our own broken, wounded humanity that sometimes strays from God’s path (despite our best intentions), and helping them see why God’s will would have been better, let’s them learn from your mistakes.

I’ve had to do this with my daughter (and son) over the years.  Kathy and I did not make it out of parenting without mistakes. But we also didn’t make it through without appropriate apologies, processing the past, and learning with our kids as they’ve grown up.  I want to believe we did such a great job that my daughter will one day be the perfect parent, but she won’t (No Perfect Parents Allowed). At the same time, I do believe we can pass on a better legacy than our parents left us, and that’s my new prayer for my daughter and future son-in-law!

Love to hear your reflections and thoughts.


Posted by & filed under Freedom & Life, Leading & Developing.2 comments already!

Praying woman handsAs we wrap up this Confessions from Your Pastors series, I thought it might be smart to talk about confession.

First, I DO NOT recommend confessing stuff to 1000s of people with no feedback (or even lots of people you don’t know well)—do not try this at home!  As I’ve talked to all our teaching staff, we’ve all experienced that ‘naked’ feeling Monday morning where you think, “Wow—I just stripped emotionally in front of all those people.” So that’s how NOT to do it; we were doing it to teach (not for our own edification).

Why Confess?

Confessing struggles, temptations, and especially sins or really shameful things does not come easy for anyone.  In fact, most people will not confess because letting people in on deep secrets has wounded them in the past. They have felt betrayed, gossiped about, or likely the information got used against them. So why confess?

To Live in Grace

God’s Grace (His love demonstrated in mercy and forgiveness and full acceptance) frees us to be ourselves fully. God says through Jesus substitutionary payment, He not only paid for all our wrongs, but He paid the price for full reconstructive surgery and the cost of adoption into His family—you are His beloved child and He already sees you as perfect in His eyes (“holy and blameless in his sight” read Ephesians 1).  But here’s the thing, if I am still trying to live in pretense (acting to others like I’m better than I really am, on my own efforts), I am not living in the Light of Grace.  I am not yet free—confession frees you by forcing you to live in Grace.

“God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:5-9). When we can walk in the Light with God—being totally honest about everything—he forgives and cleanses us (he already has, we just don’t experience it without confessing to Him and turning back). But notice too, this is something we do together, “if we walk in the light…we have fellowship (a common bond) with one another.”  God wants us to experience being His new family of Grace, who don’t need to pretend because He accepts us, so we can accept one another (Romans 15:7). Only as we are fully known will we ever feel fully accepted.

To Find Healing

We all got wounded by people—family, relatives, peers, bullies, girlfriends, boyfriends—people! It may have been deep wounds of sexual or physical/verbal abuse, or it may be that little constant criticism just hardened your heart and shut you down.  Whatever it was, people wounded us.  That’s why God’s restoration plan for humanity…involves restored humans. Life by life, God forgives and adopts each willing person into His new family. And instead of the old gossiping, judging, back-biting, manipulating, mask-wearing, self-promoting ways of old, He leads His family to live in loving, confessing, accepting ways that heal each other.  “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16).

With Safe People

You need to be a safe person, and you need to find safe people for this very reason. Because God gives you the power to co-labor with Him in restoring what’s broken about humanity. You can either be a healing agent, or you can do a lot more damage (especially when people hope God’s family will be different and take a risk).  So here are a few things to become and look for in confessional community with a few Spiritual Running Partners (1-2 others who run the race of faith with you):

1) Be Confidential Always (Proverbs 11:13) – do not ever share with others, even a spouse, things confessed in trust.  Agree to confidentiality and remind each other.

2) Accept and Encourage Often (Rom 15:7, Hebrews 10:24-25).

3) Be a Listener (James 1:19) – listen more than you talk, ask questions, be curious.

4) Ask Permission to Give Advice – Jesus said don’t cast “pearls at pigs” – throwing pearls of wisdom where they’re not wanted is not helpful.

5) Correct Gently (Galatians 6:1).

Near Death Experiences and the Bible

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Near Death Experiences (NDEs) and stories of people encountering Heaven have flooded the bookstands and airways for the past forty years. The Gallup Poll estimates some 8 million Americans have had a Near Death Experience with something to report. Unfortunately, rather than seeking to reconcile these experiences with scripture, many Christians have dismissed or demonized all such accounts, partially due to so few hellish accounts reported.

Starting with the death of my father 35 years ago, I began studying these accounts to discover an amazing correlation with what the Christian scriptures promise about the life to come (both Heaven and Hell). Not every detail of every NDE correlates with the Bible as people are interpreting an out-of-this-world experience. However, I found core experiences shared by thousands clearly point to the God of the Bible and the Heaven he promises. The core of these experiences gives greater clarity to the sometimes fuzzy, boring, and unimaginative views so many Christians (and non-Christians) hold, keeping them earth-bound in focus.

I’m convinced a main reason many people (Christians and non-Christians) live materialistic, self-centered lifestyles is a poor view of the life to come. They can’t imagine Heaven, so they don’t live for it. If eternity is not worth living for in your mind and heart, you’re not going to make decisions based on eternity.  Yet all of God’s heroes of faith “were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:16).  Imagining and living for Heaven is not optional in God’s eyes—it’s the only way to live.

Imagine Heaven (the working title) will change the way Christians and skeptics view God and Heaven. Using true stories of Near Death Experiences to color in scripture’s picture of the life to come, I hope to stretch the reader’s imagination to see that “the whole earth is full of the glory of God.” If that’s true, wouldn’t God’s World be far better—not discontinuous with His fallen creation, but so much more fulfilling, and definitely worth living for today?

My goal in writing is to propel readers into an experience of Heaven that will forever change their view of the life to come and the way they live life today. I will draw from three sources: A vast array of Near Death Experiences I’ve read or personally interviewed, an in-depth study of God’s Word, and healthy imagination based on what we experience as “every good gift that comes down from the Father of Lights.”

I want to explore key questions people have about Heaven, relating to the core common experiences of NDEs that correlate to the Bible: Will I be myself? Will I see friends and loved ones? Will it be gray and boring or beautiful and exhilarating? What is God like? What will we do forever? What about children and pets? Etc. We will then expound on what scripture teaches but from a perspective that keeps readers on a journey of imaginative wonder.

I will explore questions not often addressed. What about rewards in Heaven? How does what we do in this life affect what we experience in the next? Then we will tackle why so few NDE experiences talk about judgment or Hell. I will help the reader see that these experiences are not the final destination, and why our theology of the afterlife should be based on the words of Jesus, not NDE testimony alone.

While hellish NDEs are reported infrequently, I personally know two people who have died and come back to report a hellish experience. I’ll explore more thoughts on that topic in upcoming blogs.  But I think these accounts help us see why God would allow such suffering and pain mixed with such love and beauty during this life—life is a warning of something far worse, and a beckoning toward something so much better. We truly have a choice—to choose God and love God, or to play God and reject Him.

But in Christ, we have nothing to fear—not in this life or in the life to come.  In fact, we can have assurance of the Life we long for.

Heaven is for Real

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heaven light

I was sixteen when I watched my dad slowly waste away into a bag of bones in the downstairs guest room—dying of lung cancer. Watching the man that I once saw as strong and unshakable crumble with each step left me urgently seeking a new foundation to build my life upon. I needed hope.

I took the book off my mom’s bedside table and skimmed the first chapter.  It claimed to be about those who had clinically died, but had later been resuscitated and lived to tell of how they left their bodies, watched the resuscitation attempts from above, yet felt more alive than ever before.

I was not a believer. I was skeptical about God and running from Him because I knew how I was living was wrong.  But now my father was dying.

I took the book back to my room. Sitting on my bed with my back against the wall, I finished the whole book in three hours.  I was blown away!  Modern medical technology seemed to make resuscitation from “clinical death” more common, and here were one hundred cases of those who claimed to have had a vision of the afterlife.

Some of these Near Death Experiences (NDE’s) talked about encountering a Being of Light, whose brilliance outshines the sun.  They knew that with earthly eyes, they would not even be able to look at Him, yet as they gazed on Him in their new spiritual body none wanted to leave His presence.  They were home. Loved and embraced with warmth that made them never want to leave. But they all had to return.

I don’t know how I knew, but I knew.  “That’s You, Jesus, isn’t it!?” Maybe it was that some of them said it was Jesus. Or maybe in some of my early mandatory church attendance, I remembered Paul’s encounter with the blinding light on the Damascus road: “Who are You, Lord?” Paul asked.  “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting.”  Or maybe I remembered Jesus’ own words, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).  Or maybe He just drew me and let me know Himself, but that night I said, “Jesus, if that’s You, I want to be with You when I die.”

It was one year later that I got into the small group learning what the Bible taught about God’s Grace, and I professed faith in Jesus. Along the way, I discovered so much evidence for Jesus’ claim that He was God’s self-revelation (see all my messages about it on http://www.gatewaychurch.com/foundations/).  Since that time, I have read the Bible cover to cover numerous times, studied it in depth, and got a Master’s degree in it. I’ve also read hundreds of books by people claiming to have had Near Death Experiences. Some seemed whacked, and some seemed genuine, but despite differences in interpretation (which all are interpreting an experience), I saw a core of commonalities I couldn’t ignore.

heaven is for real2Last weekend I saw the movie, Heaven is for Real, about Colton Burpo—a four-year-old who journeyed to Heaven and saw friends and Jesus, the Father, and Spirit. I had read the book (the book is MUCH better, but the movie’s worth seeing). I have had this growing sense all year long that I’m supposed to write about Heaven, and Colton’s story would be part of it. Several months ago, I sent a proposal to my publisher called, Imagine Heaven: True Stories, God’s Promises, and the Exhilarating Future That Awaits You.

They accepted it!

I’ll tell you more about it in my next post, but I’m super excited to write it. So many Christians have a negative view of Heaven, and I think that’s why we live such materialistic lives. Scripture tells us to “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:2-3). I want to help Christians and skeptics see through God’s Word, NDE testimony, and our imaginations the exhilarating future that awaits you!

If you know of people who have had Near Death Experiences, please let me know as I’d love to interview them.