Integrity & Potato Chips

Don’t be a bag of potato chips. We’ve all been there: you buy the bag, get home, then after opening it you cry out, “Where are all the chips! There’s more air in here than anything else!” Sure, the bag gave the illusion of being full. You’re disappointed, but there were enough chips to convince you to buy another bag next time you get a craving.

The word “integrity” means “full, complete, whole.” That bag of chips had no integrity. It appeared to be full, but it was not. It can be so tempting for us to present ourselves in a certain way (in the best cases, we’re trying to live into who we want to be; in the worst cases, we’re manipulating people). Sooner or later, our integrity will make itself known.

sharp potato chips poured out of the pack Continue reading

Is Jesus in my Heart?

I used to go to a Christian camp every summer when I was a kid. Almost every year I would be encouraged to “let Jesus into my heart.” I was already a Christian, so this invitation confused me. I know others who always felt pressured and guilty that maybe they sent the invitation to the wrong place or forgot the stamp? Maybe Jesus only visited their heart last year, and this year they hope he chooses to stay. It’s a confusing invitation: letting Jesus into your heart.

What’s that even mean, really? Is it a one-time invitation, and then we’re set for life? Or is it a habitual invitation that we need to keep on issueing so he doesn’t leave?

key with heart
What Does the Bible Mean by “The Heart”
Loving Jesus with your heart isn’t about having warm fuzzies about Jesus. In the Ancient Near East (Egypt, Israel, and the general Mesopotamia region), the heart was treated as the center of a person’s identity. If you want to understand what it means to have God in your heart, you need to know what the Bible means when it talks about your heart.

The heart was the center of people’s mind and thoughts.

“But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5)

“Wisdom rests in the heart of a man of understanding, but it makes itself known even in the midst of fools.” (Proverbs 14:33)

The heart drove their desires, decision-making and how they lived their lives (the will). 

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28)

“Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me.” (Exodus 25:2)

It also directed people’s feelings and emotions.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” (John 14:1)

“Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:17)

“You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace.” (Song of Songs 4:9)

To summarize: the heart is way more than butterflies in your stomach. To love Jesus with your heart is to love him with your whole being – with your mind, your desires, your feelings, and with your decisions. Feelings and emotions are not bad, but there’s a problem when they are in the driver’s seat of faith.

Whom Are You Inviting: Jesus or the Holy Spirit?
“Letting Jesus into your heart” would be a really strange idea to the apostles. Jesus Christ is God the Son, the second Person of the Trinity in human flesh. He is fully God, but since he’s also fully human, he could only be in one place at one time… that’s what Scripture means when it says he “humbled” himself and “emptied” himself in Philippians 2:6-8. How could Jesus enter someone’s heart!?

When a person places their faith in Jesus and prays for God to rescue him from sin and guide him into godliness it is not Jesus who “moves in” to the heart. God the Father sends the Holy Spirit to moves in when the heart places its faith in Jesus.

“And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:27)

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever”(John 14:15–16)

“By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” (2 Timothy 1:14)

“In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:22)

How We Should Use This Phrase (if you choose to use it at all)
When talking with nonChristians, inviting them to “let Jesus into their heart” is really confusing. It even sounds a bit creepy if you think about it. If you do use this phrase, please remember how the Bible talks about “the heart,” and resist the temptation to make this a sentimental and mushy invitation to become a Christian.

Christianity shouldn’t be built on an emotional high where we cry, pray a “sinner’s prayer,” invite Jesus into our heart, and then we move on like nothing happened. Unfortunately, that’s what often happens when people use this phrase as an explanation of what it means to be a Christian.

Instead, consider the biblical teaching about the heart, described above. Invite nonbelievers to know and experience the love and grace of God through Jesus Christ our Savior. Receiving that grace drives us to love the Lord with all our heart, because living for the glory of God changes us. Encourage new believers (and those who are considering faith, but not yet believers) to remember the call to faith is more than a call to respond to emotional moments.

When we love Jesus we will do what he says, and he will give us the Holy Spirit to strengthen us so we’re able to carry out his teachings (John 14:15-16, quoted above). We are not left on our own to figure out our faith. When we place our faith in Christ we discover that not only does God move in, he gives us a new heart!

It is not Jesus who indwells the believer, but the Holy Spirit. May we all be strengthened to remember the authority and glory of the Holy Spirit, who is active at work in the life of the Christian. May we all resist the emotionalism that sometimes comes with this phrase, and instead, embrace the incredible reality that God is actively working out his plan of salvation from the inside-out in the lives of his people.

(note: this article first appeared on my former blog in January, 2016. This version has been slightly edited to better fit here at Living Theologically.)

Playing the Long-Game in Ministry

Last night in youth group we said goodbye to our students who have graduated high school and are heading out to college this week. It’s always difficult to see them go. But it’s also a joy. Because this is when we start to see whether our ministry to students was fruitful and effective.

As a youth pastor, I’m very much aware of the reality that the long-game matter more than the short. And yet, so much of ministry (especially in youth ministry) immediate results are how we measure success (and how others measure our effectiveness). Whether you’re a youth pastor, worship pastor, senior pastor, or a faithful volunteer in your church… there are a few important questions we need to ask.

Apple Tree.jpg Continue reading

Why Seminary is Worth It

On the Facebook groups I’m a part of, this seems to be a fairly regular question: “People keep encouraging me to go to seminary. Is it worth it for youth pastors?” As someone who has studied to complete two seminary degrees (M.Div. & D.Min., both at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary), and as someone who has been in full-time youth ministry for a decade, I think I’m qualified to finally address this question on the blog. What I’ve written below is largely based off my M.Div. since that’s far more common. If you would like to discuss the benefits of a D.Min. please comment on this post and we can dialogue there.

I want to address three common objections before presenting some reasons why I believe seminary is important (not essential, but important) for anyone who is called to lifelong pastoral ministry. After those three objections, you’ll see my list of arguments for why seminary is worth pursuing.

Why Seminary? Continue reading

Theology of Christianity & Politics

Here at Living Theologically, I’m excited to offer the invitation for readers to submit questions they’d like to see addressed on the blog. If there’s a question about life, theology, or ministry that you’d like to submit, please do so HERE. Here is today’s question:

With the election approaching can Christians vote for Hillary?

So… obviously that’s a loaded question. And sorry, but I’m not going to give a yes/no answer. Instead, I want to back up and rephrase the question: How Should Christians think about politics and government? When we have a solid theology of politics, we can better discern how we should vote in elections.

Polling Station Continue reading

10 Books Every Youth Worker Should Read

With the amount of books out there today, it’s overwhelming to know what to read and what’s worth skipping. These books run the spectrum from books for youth workers to theology books that address issues youth workers should be aware of.

Since I’m giving you plenty to read below, let’s cut to the chase… here are ten books (other than the Bible, that’s obviously the #1 book for us all) I’m convinced every youth worker should read, followed by a short explanation why I think it’s so valuable.


Continue reading

Who are the “Sons of God” in Genesis 6:1-4?

This is the first post in what I hope to become a semi-regular feature here at Living Theologically… reader questions. If there’s something you’ve been wondering or confused about, please go HERE to submit your question.

Here’s today’s question:
Who are the “sons of God” & the Nephilim in Genesis 6:1-4?

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown

This is a strange passage of Scripture which has confused Jewish and Christian believers for centuries. By no means do I profess to have it all “figured out,” but after studying this passage in seminary and over the last few weeks, I’ve been reminded that we only lose when we avoid difficult portions of the Bible.

Processed with VSCO with acg preset Continue reading

Why Marriage is Worth It

Twelve years ago today, my wife, Tracy, and I got married. In that time, every single one of our friends who got married before us has gotten divorced. Others who were married after us have also gotten divorced.

Marriage is hard. But it’s also incredibly worth it. Last week I had the honor of officiating a “recommitment of vows” ceremony for a couple celebrating FIFTY years of marriage! Oh man, what a special night! Their love and respect and appreciation for each other was infectious. Tracy and I both walked away feeling a rich sense of joy over the blessing of marriage.

Sometimes I think people talk about how hard marriage is because they feel the need to counter-balance the fairytale romances we see in Disney cartoons. Life isn’t a cartoon, but some people do expect love to always be easy. So to give them a dose of reality, we remind them how much work marriage can be.

I don’t want this post to focus on how much work marriage is, and neither do I want to encourage a fairytale romance. Instead, here are some things I’ve learned through a dozen years of marriage.

Mike & Tracy Wedding Continue reading