Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Christian Life is a Love Affair of the Heart

OK. So after many delays, here is The Heart of the Family - part 3: The Christian Life is a Love Affair of the Heart....

Brent Curtis opens his book,
The Sacred Romance, with the words, “For above all else, the Christian life is a love affair of the heart” (p8). In fact, Augustine (author of Confessions, and City of God) asserted that, “the whole life of the good Christian is holy longing.” The whole of my Christian life is defined by what I long after? My entire life is defined by whom or what I love and whom or what loves me? Above all other things? In short, yes. Let me digress to help make this point.

Last May I read the book,
The Shack by Wm. Paul Young. I really enjoyed it, but for some spontaneous reason, I got the feeling that I never really finished reading it and I should do so immediately. I flipped open the book near the end and landed in chapter 14 – Verbs and other Freedoms. The subtitle of this chapter is, “God is a Verb.” God started moving.

The main character, Mack, is conversing with God and asking questions such as, “How come I am not able to tell when you’re around?” God answers, “For you to know or not has nothing at all to do with whether I am actually here or not….You will learn to hear my thoughts in yours…you will better begin to recognize my voice as we continue to grow our relationship” (p196).

A few pages later, Mack asks another question. “Why do you love me, when I have nothing to offer you?” And here comes the beginning of “God is a Verb.”

“It should be very freeing to know that you can offer us (the Triune God) nothing, at least not anything that can add or take away from who we are…That should alleviate any pressure to perform.”

This conversation chases Mack’s concern over what God expects of him after his encounter with God in the
The Shack is over, and God rebukes Mack. “When I hear language abused in favor of rules over sharing life with us, it is difficult for me to remain silent.” The abuse was the word ‘expectations.’ Mack was being admonished because he was looking for rules to live by (God’s expectations of him) and not reveling in the freedom of living in Christ. God continues…

“Those who are afraid of freedom are those who cannot trust us to live in them. Trying to keep the law is actually a declaration of independence, a way of keeping control.” The conversation continued. “Enforcing rules, especially in its more subtle expression like responsibility and expectation, are a vain attempt to create certainty out of uncertainty….I will take a verb over a noun anytime.”

Huh? What do verbs and nouns have to do with all of this? Well, if you look at the word expectation (a noun) and turn it into a verb it develops into a sense of expectancy. If you look at responsibility (a noun) and turn it into a verb, it becomes the ability to respond. God is a verb. He is, He was, and He always will be. God is the great I AM. Nouns, on the other hand, “exist because there is a created universe and physical reality, but if the universe is only a mass of nouns, it is dead. Unless I AM [really is], there are no verbs, and verbs are what makes the universe alive” (p204).

God asks us to expect Him in life (the verb) and not live by striving to meet expectations (the noun). He is asking us to respond to His love; to live in freedom (to live under grace). He is not asking us to live under the yoke of responsibility (the law…which sometimes I even expand upon and create new laws in my own house!). Can we live in that kind of freedom? Can we trust Him to go before us, and to guide us in expectancy and response? We have to. For “the degree that [we] resort to expectations and responsibilities, to that degree [we] neither know [God] or trust [Him]. And to that degree…[we] live in fear” (p206).

The truth of the gospel is intended to free us to love God and others with our whole heart. It is intended to create in us holy longings; longings not to right the world of unmet expectations, but to live in a sense of expectancy about our relationships; longings not to fulfill responsibilities to our God and others, but to respond to the love affair of our heart. To the degree that we neither know the God who is wooing our heart nor love him enough to follow after the longings of His heart, to that degree we live in fear. And there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). Whom or what do you love? And whom or what are you allowing to fall in love with you? The centrality of the Gospel is clear. God is after your heart. Is your heart after God?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Expectancy in the ER

The next edition to "The Heart of the Family" revisits the idea that God is asking us to live in expectancy and response (and not in the confines of expectations and responsibilities). Much of the text is taken from an earlier post entitled, "God is a Verb."

I say this to preface a little adventure I went on a few weeks ago. Jeff was out of town. Of course, this was the time that our littlest boy, Jack, decided to taste as many Dramamine tablets as he could stomach before getting caught. (Yes - they WERE in a child-proof container). Needless to say, he and I ended up in the ER very quickly after the taste test.

In addition to the many little miracles that occurred that night, one of them being Jack willingly eating an entire cupful of black, charcoal-laden chocolate pudding(!), was my realization that life IS better lived in expectancy.

You see, I had almost 6 straight hours with my little man...all to ourselves (save the leads and wires, and nurses, and doctors). I had absolutely ZERO expectations set upon him. I had no idea what to expect from the hospital visit, and no idea what he would do in that situation. I was living in a moment-by-moment sense of expectancy and response, and NOT by expectations and responsibilities. I was joyfully surprised every time something went 'right' (like eating the pudding, and getting a perfect EKG the very first try), and in the same breath not the least bit frustrated when we had a 'set back' (like getting charcoal pudding all over the sheet, or getting tangled up in the many wires we were wresting's that for alliteration?). I was actually enjoying myself in the ER, but more importantly, I was enjoying my relationship with Jack. Living in expectancy and response was fun, freeing, and rewarding. I wouldn't trade my time in the ER for anything, because it allowed me the chance to see Jack from a different set of eyes - eyes that looked for my chance to respond to him, and not just see the many responsibilities I have towards him. Eyes that saw the joy in living in expectancy and not the frustration of living in my unmet expectations, even of a 2 year old. God was moving that night. He was moving in my heart and giving me a glimpse of life lived in expectancy.

On the other hand, God also gave me the dubious honor of experiencing life on the opposite end of the spectrum - in the throws of expectation and responsibility. A few weeks later, our entire family came down with a nasty cold. It hit the 2 babies and parents the hardest. So needless to say, I was not at my best the morning after two babies developed croup in the middle of the night and I slept fitfully despite great hope set upon NyQuil to cure my troubles.

Jeff had returned home from his trip, but was now required at work, and I had to man the home-front alone. It was not pretty.

I started the day by setting expectations upon everyone, and not telling a soul what they were. Things like, "we will all just sit around quietly today and rest" and "without schoolwork, the children could clean their entire room." When the two little ones didn't stay quiet, and instead cried, whined, and fought their way through breakfast, a good chunk of my patience went out the door with Daddy. When the older two children complained, delayed, and negotiated their way out of cleaning their rooms, "Ugly Mommy" came out to play. As some of you Moms out there may relate - I 'lost it.' Impatient words, furled lip, and stomping feet were but the opening act to the play. The main act included barking orders, crying children (above and beyond what they brought to the breakfast table), and others running for cover. Thankfully, the closing scene was me on my knees praying the very holy prayer of, "Heeeeeeelp!!!

My expectations had been set in stone that morning. I had not shared a single one of them, and yet I held my entire family responsible for throwing them to the ground before I could even finish my first cup of (cold) coffee. I was living in the chaos and frustration of unmet expectations. I was living, in a sense, in death - for I was living in the noun: expectation. It was killing my relationships with my children, killing my hopes for today, and threatening even to kill my desire for tomorrow. Living in the nouns of life is not God's plan. He is not dead. He is alive and calling us to live in the verbs of life: to expect and not to set expectations; to respond and not to be bound in responsibilities. I'll take the ER over that breakfast table any day.

So, with that all said, I'll save the next edition for tomorrow. I've said enough today.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Home is Where the Heart Is

As a child I remember moving into a new house. I was in 8th grade and I had lived in the same house on 84th Street most of my life until that time. When we arrived in the new house, something was missing. There had been a plaque upon the kitchen cabinet that stated, “Home is Where the Heart is.” It was artistically decorated and quite lovely. But it was missing from the new house. No matter where I looked, I could not find that plaque. So I replaced it. I made a new one in my little art studio in the basement. It was not perfectly printed, nor quite so artistically decorated, but it clearly represented what I thought was missing in our new home – a declaration of fact. I needed a place to hang my heart. (p.s. The picture to the right is done by Karen A. Goodman...not me :)

Now my childhood home did not have the heartbeat of God hammering the walls. In fact, there was much strife and discontent within and without those walls. My father was an unacknowledged alcoholic, and both parents were frequently fighting. My point however, is this – home is still where the heart is. Whether the heartbeat of the home is barely recognizable, disharmonic and stress inducing, or beating after God’s own heart, the home is where the heart is. It has long been so.

“Home is not where you live but where they understand you.” - Christian Morgenstern

Where we love is home,

Home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.

– Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. Homesick in Heaven

Home is the one place in all this world where hearts are sure of each other. It is the place of confidence. It is the place where we tear off that mask of guarded and suspicious coldness which the world forces us to wear in self-defense, and where we pour out the unreserved communications of full and confiding hearts. It is the spot where expressions of tenderness gush out without any sensation of awkwardness and without any dread of ridicule.

- Frederick W. Robertson


It takes hands to build a house, but only hearts can build a home. – Author Unknown

If the home really is where the heart is, isn’t it time we learn how to protect, nurture and heal the home? Isn’t it time that we learn how to fear the Lord, and learn what those commandments are that promise to make it well with us and our children forever? If home really is where the heart is, isn’t it time we learn how to guard our heart and ensure the wellspring of life that God offers (Proverbs 4:23)?

Strangely enough, that homemade plaque is still on the wall in my parents’ house despite several consecutive moves into new homes.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Heart of the Family - Introduction

Here's the conclusion...

In fact, a third experiment showed that humans are just as affected by music. Attitudes such as hostility, fatigue, sadness and tension decreased with classical and ‘designer’ music, but those same negative attitudes dramatically increased with ‘grunge rock’[i]. What exactly is ‘grunge rock’ you ask? You know, groups like Anthrax, Nirvana, and Electric Wizard; the same groups that the online music genome project, Pandora (, categorizes as ‘Stoner/Doom Metal’. Hmmmm.

The beat of ‘grunge rock’ goes against the natural rhythms of our very own bodies. This conflicting beat triggers stress and results in feelings of hostility, fatigue, sadness and tension. No wonder the rats in the 3rd group started attacking each other. They had no break what-so-ever from this stress inducing racket! If indeed the popular motivational quote, ‘attitude is everything’ holds any truth, then music really does have a profound influence on life. It affects our very attitudes about life.

So what does all of this have to do with the family? Just this – the clamor of our world has had a significant impact on the heartbeat of today’s family. We are being bombarded by the disharmonic drum beats of a clamoring society and increasingly unable even to hear the heartbeat of God. How are we supposed to be families after God’s own heart when many families are focusing primarily on running the ‘rat race’? God himself cries out, “Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!” (Deut 5:29). In the same way it is the cry of my heart that families would have the heartbeat of God within them, that they would fear their God and keep all of His commandments always; that they may not only run the race, but that they and their families would have victory over it! And it will be well with their children forever! Will your family be a family after God’s own heart or a family struggling to survive amongst the disharmony and non-synchronized clamor of our world?

[i] “The effects of different types of music on mood, tension, and mental clarity” (McCraty, Barrios-Choplin, Atkinson, Tomassino) Alternative Therapies, Volume 4, No. 1, January 1998

Coming Up Next: Home is Where the Heart is

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Heart of the Family - Introduction

I recently had the privilege of attending a workshop led by Andrew Pudewa, founder of the Institute for Excellence in Writing ( He was giving a talk on the profound influence of music on life and referenced some very interesting scientific experiments done on lab rats.

In one of these experiments, three sets of lab rats were placed in controlled environments where the only difference between each environment was exposure to specific music. The first set of rats, the control group, listened to nothing at all. The second set was subject to sophisticated classical music. The third set listened to repetitive ‘minimalist’ music (i.e. African ritualistic drum beats). The results blew me away.

Each set of rats was placed in a maze and timed. Essentially they were running a ‘rat-race’. All three groups showed similar abilities during the initial run. But this soon changed. The rats exposed to Mozart music from before birth to 60 days old were able to learn the mazes over twice as fast as those with no music, whereas rats exposed to repetitive ‘minimalist’ music not only stopped improving their run time, they actually got worse! Their run times increased to the point of doubling and even tripling their initial timed run. Worse yet, these very same rats brought a surprising halt to the entire experiment because they started killing each other!

What in the world was going on here? Mr. Pudewa continued presenting research data that explained. In a separate experiment, he showed how mice exposed to Strauss waltzes showed increased and orderly neuron development, while those exposed to ‘disharmonic’ non-synchronized drum beats showed erratic and pathological growth of neurons . What this means is that those mice that were exposed to sophisticated, orderly music developed a sophisticated, orderly brain. On the other hand, the mice that were exposed to disharmonic non-synchronized drum beats developed a disorderly, erratic brain. In short, the first group got smarter and the second group got dumber…even to the point of developing aggression and hostility towards themselves and others....

More to come. I'll ask for feedback after the conclusion of the intro. Thanks for taking the time to read.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Heart of the Family

In early March, I mentioned a sermon about habits becoming loves, and loves becoming idols., etc. Well, I got it wrong. The real quote goes like this:
Sow a thought and you will reap word. Sow a word and you will reap an action. Sow an action and you will reap a habit...reap a character...reap a destiny...reap eternity (Desiderius Gerhard Erasmus).
Another take on this quote is that our thoughts reap words, our words reap actions, our actions reap habits and our habits REVEAL our addictions. From here our addictions REVEAL our loves and our loves REVEAL our idols.

My head spun around trying to make sense of these ideas for over a month, and the end result was a 7 page paper entitled, The Heart of the Family. I'd like to share it with you all, and get your feedback. Don't worry, I'll only post short excerpts at a time. :)

All of this writing came about because of my heartbreak. I cringe when I hear of situations where the family unit is not cherished or upheld, and is replaced by a shallow reflection of God's intention for the family. Unwed, teenage mothers are celebrating their 'new additions' while committed, stable couples are being criticized for 'irresponsibility' when they choose to be fruitful and multiply. A marriage covenant is binding only until one or another doesn't 'feel the love' anymore. And mothers everywhere, and in every walk of life, are pressured to 'do something' with their life instead of being supported to stay at home and raise the children they either 'celebrated' or 'irresponsibly' created.

I have come to the conclusion that the 'heart of the matter is a matter of the heart' (Pastor Jason, TPC). The heart of the family has been attacked, damaged, and trampled. Recovery is all a matter of the heart. It is my hope and prayer that we can somehow turn people's hearts back home. For as The Message puts it:
You're blessed when you get your inside world - your mind and heart - put right. Then you can see God in the outside world (Matthew 5:8).
Part 1 to come tomorrow...

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Desires of the Heart

Delight yourself in the LORD ; And He will give you the desires of your heart. - Psalm 37:4
I have wanted to learn to play piano for years. We had one small problem: no piano. Well next week, Sam and I both will have our very first piano lesson...on our very own piano!! Yippeeeeee.