Rules are Rules

Some of you NASCAR fans probably watched this past Sunday’s Penzoil 400 in Las Vegas. Joey Logano held on to win the race in an exciting last lap over teammate Brad Kezlowski. If you did watch the race you saw Kyle Larson penalized during a pit stop. During a stop a team is only allowed 5 men “over the wall” to help service the car … change tires, make adjustments, add fuel, clean, etc. But Larson’s team was penalized because an extra crew member leaned over the wall and put his hand on the ground, which by letter of the law is a clear violation of the rule. That may sound silly, but rules are rules.

On Monday I watched a debate between 3 commentators on the legitimacy of the penalty. Was is right? Was it fair? Did it constitute cheating? Was is necessary? Did it give Larson a competitive advantage? These and other questions were debated at length. But some of the very best comments were made by former NASCAR driver, Jeff Burton. He made a couple of great points. First, he said there’s a problem with rules; rules require more rules because people will pick them apart and look for loopholes to gain an advantage. So to counter the creative loophole maneuvering by various teams they have to continually establish more rules to make sure the existing rules are followed. But he added a second vital truth; rules are necessary and must be upheld strictly. Rules can’t be flexible and applied in one case and ignored in another case because it just seemed like a nice thing to do. If you have rule, you have to abide by them perfectly or suffer the consequences.

Preach on, Brother Jeff! These comments could have easily been made in a discussion about law and Gospel. The law is necessary … very necessary. But they also must be strictly upheld, even perfectly obeyed or else they aren’t really rules. It would be injustice to apply the rules to some and not to others, just because someone might not have gotten much of an advantage by breaking the rule. Rules are rules, law is law, and perfect obedience is required or else a penalty must be assessed to the law-breaker. But rules / law has a problem. In order to insure that the law is maintained and upheld, we need to constantly create new laws. Our fallen nature gets very creative in looking for ways to circumvent rules, to bypass laws, or justify our rule-breaking. Thus, we need more and better laws to push us toward a more certain obedience.

Thankfully our eternal destiny and relationship with God isn’t based merely on rules and laws. While these laws are vital in showing us how we should live as well as how far short we fall of obedience, the law has absolutely no power to save us. Rather, the law points us to our desperate need of a Savior.

While the Scripture does describe the Christian life as a race, we need to pause and give thanks that our finishing the race in first place hinges on the performance of our Savior, Jesus Christ. He’s won it already! He obeyed every rule perfectly and has paid the penalty for our many violations of the rules. We join Him in the eternal victory lane and enjoy the prize He has won for us.

Thank you, Dr. Kulah

For some reason, the Lord has always surrounded me with good friends who are Methodist. One of my best friends growing up in Chattahoochee was the son of a United Methodist pastor. I went to Emory University, a Methodist school, for my undergraduate studies. Many of my good friends there were Methodist, including my best friend, John Potts, another son of a United Methodist pastor. I actually interned in a United Methodist Church in Oxford, GA for a year back in the early ‘80’s and preached my very first sermon there. And though I have some basic theological differences with Methodist doctrine and church polity, I’ve found many of my Methodist friends to be very faithful and godly brothers and sisters in Christ. So though I’m not Methodist I feel a bit of a connection to them. So I’ve followed with interest the ongoing battles in the United Methodist Church (UMC) regarding theological orthodoxy.

Perhaps you’re aware that the Methodists recently held their General Conference in St. Louis. The UMC, being a worldwide communion, includes delegates from all around the world. In fact, around 43% of the delegates are from overseas, many from African nations. This particular meeting centered on the debate on human sexuality and marriage. The denomination has faced a huge push from the LBGTQ community in America to be fully inclusive, to sanction same-sex marriage, and to ordain gay and lesbian pastors.

In God’s good providence, the Conference ended with conservatives defeating the plan that would have approved of same-sex marriage and allowed churched to ordain men and women in the LBGTQ community. This was in large part due to the strength and leadership of African bishops and delegates who stood and spoke with authority to these matters. I share some selected portions of a Feb 23rd speech from Dr. Jerry P. Kulah, a UMC pastor and Dean in a Theological school from Liberia.

Friends, please hear me, we Africans are not afraid of our sisters and brothers who identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered, questioning, or queer. We love them and we hope the best for them. But we know of no compelling arguments for forsaking our church’s understanding of Scripture and the teachings of the church universal.

And then please hear me when I say as graciously as I can: we Africans are not children in need of western enlightenment when it comes to the church’s sexual ethics. We do not need to hear a progressive U.S. bishop lecture us about our need to “grow up.”

Let me assure you, we Africans, whether we have liked it or not, have had to engage in this debate for many years now. We stand with the global church, not a culturally liberal, church elite, in the U.S.

We are grounded in God’s word and the gracious and clear teachings of our church. On that we will not yield! We will not take a road that leads us from the truth! We will take the road that leads to the making of disciples of Jesus Christ for transformation of the world!

Unfortunately, some United Methodists in the U.S. have the very faulty assumption that all Africans are concerned about is U.S. financial support. Well, I am sure, being sinners like all of you, some Africans are fixated on money.

But with all due respect, a fixation on money seems more of an American problem than an African one. We get by on far less than most Americans do; we know how to do it. I’m not so sure you do. So if anyone is so naïve or condescending as to think we would sell our birth right in Jesus Christ for American dollars, then they simply do not know us.

Friends, not too long ago my country was ravaged by a terrible civil war. And then we faced the outbreak of the Ebola virus. We are keenly familiar with hardship and sorrow, but Jesus has led us through every trial. So nothing that happens over the next few days will deter us from following Him, and Him alone.

I thank God for Dr. Kulah and those in the UMC who stand with him. I pray that God will raise up many more like him in His church throughout the world. I pray for all my friends in the UMC and for this denomination as it moves forward.

I pray for our own denomination … the Presbyterian Church in America. Though we’re presently theologically orthodox, firm in our definition of marriage between one man and one woman, and not considering embracing alternative sexual orientations as legitimate, we know we’re not immune to sin or failure. We need God’s grace just as much, if not more than any other church. (It’s easy to become prideful … which most always leads to downfall.)

I also pray that American Christians like us can learn from these wise African church leaders. Let us learn to love sinners but not compromise our doctrine; let us faithfully stand on God’s Word alone; let us not be fixated on money; let us not sell our birth right in Christ for dollars or cultural acceptance; let us not assume that money is more important for church health than faithfulness to Scripture; let us learn through suffering and hardship; let us be concerned with making disciples; let us speak boldly and confidently when necessary; let us remain faithful to our God and Father even when it could be costly.

Too Distracted

Like clockwork, when I take my dog, Ossie, out to do his business, he has to run through the checklist of dealing with every single distraction that comes his way … the sounds of distant sirens, dog’s barking, hawk’s screeching, leaves rustling, frog’s croaking, cars on the road, neighborhood voices, etc … the sights of birds in the yard, cats sitting on our patio, limbs swaying in the wind, random pinecones, water flowing in the ditch, etc … the smells of other animals who’ve walked through the yard … the feel of wet grass, sweet gum balls, stray limbs, branches, or vines, etc. All I want him to do is go potty, but all he wants to do is worry about everything else. Even after sitting inside for hours, obviously needing to relieve himself, he gets overwhelmed and consumed with other things and is so easily diverted from the purpose of our trip outside.

Sounds a lot like me when I’m trying to focus on Jesus! I know my need, I know I’ve been occupied with other things for a while and desperately need to taste of Him, I know there are potential distractions and say “nothing will get in my way this time,” I know my spiritual health depends on my spending intimate time with Him, but I still get sidetracked and diverted from my purpose by even the slightest thing. “I forgot to send that email … I need to get the clothes out of the dryer … when is that basketball game coming on tonight? … I really need to work on that lesson … I wonder how my friend’s son is doing? … hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow … I think my clothes smell like the restaurant … I should probably be reading my Bible and praying … I can’t remember what I did with that receipt … that’s an interesting bird … I need to start exercising more … I can’t believe Anita’s co-worker said that … hope Seth remembers to take the trash can to the street today … yeah, I should be reading the Bible and praying right now … I think this might be a good sermon topic one day … what was that noise? … why do kids leave empty bowls and cups around the house? … that picture on the wall is crooked … wow, look at the time, I need to go or else I’ll be late … I’ll read the Bible and spend time with the Lord later on.” I really do act like my dog.

One of the first things we deal with in our Evangelize Today training is how to deal with all the background noise of life. And while I’m beginning to get a little recognition and a few pats on the back for having some success in the world of evangelism, I know my greatest struggle is still just being able to enjoy intimacy with Christ. In our evangelism training we say our goal is to “listen to hear” the unbeliever, but how effectively can I listen to and hear them when I have such a hard time hearing the Lord and resting in the joyful confidence of Him hearing and intimately knowing me?

There just aren’t any secret shortcuts that bypass the importance and need of spending time alone with the Lord. But there’s no need to live in fear or guilt. First, thank the Lord for bringing certain things to your mind (friends, needs, duties, responsibilities, projects, events, etc.) and acknowledge that it is a work of the Holy Spirit. He is prompting you to trust Him more, to acknowledge that all the matters of life (large or small, public or private, significant or seemingly meaningless, purposeful or random) are under His providential guiding hand. Sure, we absolutely need times when we should be very intentional and focused with our prayers, but don’t neglect to be thankful for those times when the Lord is taking you on what seems like a random journey. And secondly, find ways and times to read God’s Word and delight in the Gospel. The more you taste of it, the more you’ll desire it. And like high quality headphones, the Gospel will cancel out most of the background noise of life that hinders our focus on Him.

Bombarded by Temptation

You’re probably like me and often get annoyed at the never-ending stream of emails that flood your inbox, advertisements for various products or services you never asked for, seeking to lure you in to their world. I sort of understand how it works … if I ever buy tickets to a music or sporting event online then all of a sudden I’ll be offered opportunities to purchase tickets for musicians or sports of which I’ve never heard. If I purchase clothing, even browse for clothing online, then all of a sudden my purchase options are greatly multiplied with things I would never consider. The Christian online universe is no better! If I even indicate a remote interest in a Christian event, conference, book, course, etc. then I’ll be overwhelmed with information about a myriad of other Christian stuff that I have no interest in whatsoever.

As you might expect, I will at times be captivated by some flashy ad, the newest product, the latest book, the lowered price, the life-changing conference, the best service, etc. and will then actually follow up and open the email, perhaps even make a purchase. Yes, I realize this only perpetuates the situation and only invites more such unsolicited emails … but … I mean … you know … it’s not like I’m emptying my savings account, or causing my children to go hungry, or causing someone else to make a purchase.

All this sounds a lot like how sin works. Sin is unsolicited … although we do pursue sin by nature, we don’t typically go around shopping for a particular sin to commit. Sin is relentless … the inbox of my heart gets flooded with sinful temptations every single day, throughout the day. Sin is packaged very attractively … been this way since the Garden where Eve found the fruit to be good for food, beautiful, and desirable to make one wise. Sin is packaged with other sin … showing interest in one sin opens the door for other sins to gain access into your life. Sin is deceptive … we can justify a sin by thinking it’s not the worst thing in the world or that it’s not really hurting anyone else.

Temptations are going to come our way. But how do we avoid the situation where we’re giving in to every one we see? We need to remember 1 Corinthians 10:13 - “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Great verse, worthy of memorization. But don’t forget to read the verses that follow: “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry ….” Paul goes on to explain how, even through the sacrament, we deepen and strengthen our participation in Christ, in the benefits of the cross, in our fellowship with Him.

Where is the strength to fight against temptation? It’s not in yourself. God doesn’t merely flash a sign to you in the midst of temptation and give you a hint about an escape route you can pursue in your own strength. Rather, in and through Jesus Christ, He has defeated sin and gives us the opportunity, through Word and Sacrament, in faith clinging to the power of the cross and resurrection, to enjoy His strength as we encounter sin. Jesus is that way of escape!

A Very Ordinary Game

Is anyone else glad that the Super Bowl is over? Yes, it wasn’t the most exciting game of the season, but the reason I’m so very glad it’s over is because of the relentless hype and promotion over the past couple of weeks. Commentators, analysts, prognosticators, announcers, coaches, players, entertainers, musicians, friends, grandmothers, veterinarians, etc. all had to give their “expert” opinion about the upcoming game. Detailed analysis was given to every player, every coach, every matchup, every potential situation, and even every halftime show participant. Will the seasoned veteran have the advantage over the young guy? Will the exciting new coach be able to put together a game plan to defeat the old guy? Will the stout defensive line be able to hold the opponents running game in check and pressure the quarterback? Will the superstar quarterback again do spectacular things on the biggest sporting stage in the world? The hype builds and builds and builds and expectations tend to skyrocket.

After two weeks of the drudgery of wading through all this the game was finally played, and it just wasn’t that exciting. It turned out to be just another ordinary game, filled with some great plays, some poor plays, some shrewd decisions, some stupid decisions, some nail-biting situations, and some situations that caused many of us to doze off. The MVP of the game turned out to be the most ordinary guy of all - wide receiver Julian Edelman. Check out his impressive resume: no scholarship offers out of high school, quarterback at Kent State, 1 catch in college for 11 yards, did not get invited to the NFL combine after graduating college, a 7th-round NFL pick. Nothing impressive at all about this guy … except that he has become superstar Tom Brady’s security blanket, a clutch part of the New England Patriot’s dynasty, a 3 time Super Bowl champion, and now an MVP of the Super Bowl. Not bad for an undersized nobody from a town of only 6000 in California, who’s father is a mechanic, and who tore up his knee a couple of years ago.

Many Christians I encounter these days want life to be a constant Super Bowl experience … full of hype, excitement, over-analysis, high expectations, and lots of social-media coverage. But typically, the real MVP’s of God’s Kingdom are the weak, obscure, least desired, outcasts, marginalized, unexpected, servants. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but one we must learn if we want to be great in God’s Kingdom.

A Missed Forecast

The recent prediction of 2-3 inches of snow and freezing conditions that would create havoc on the roads turned out to be wrong. Many schools, businesses, daycares, churches, etc. closed all over the Birmingham area due to the forecast. Anita got a message from her boss on Sunday evening to come to work the next prepared to stay for 3 days! But, as we experienced, it was a major non-event. Lots of folks got really upset … you should go check out the mean tweets directed at James Spann, calling him all sorts of names, labeling him as incompetent, blaming him for loss of business and income, holding him responsible for disappointing children, and all sorts of other such wild stuff. Never mind the fact that it actually did snow in a few places and the forecast itself said not all places would get snow. But still, for the most part, it was a missed forecast and wrong prediction.

But would we prefer meteorologists not give us sufficient warnings of what could occur? Would we rather just go back to the days when the weather person was literally just for show, someone pretty to look at, only able to say what had already happened or what the current temperature or rainfall was? I believe anyone around B’ham who endured the 13 inches of snow back in March 1993 would rather be overly cautious. I suspect anyone who spent the night in their car, stuck on a B’ham road in the 2014 Snowpocalypse, would appreciate ample warning and be thankful for the extreme forecasts.

Every few years we get someone who proclaims with great certainty that Jesus is returning on a certain date. They point to world events, hidden Bible codes, prophecies, etc. Though these folks have obviously been wrong every time, they keep the predictions coming. Even a few nights ago I had a couple of men try to convince me about how current world events proves that Jesus is coming back in our lifetime.

Though I don’t buy into any of these claims about Jesus’ second coming, I do believe He is coming, and will come again soon … just as the New Testament writers believed He would return soon, even during their lifetime. “Soon” could be another 2000 years or more, but in the eternal scheme of things that’s soon!

I truly have no idea when He is coming but I do know the Scripture tells us to be ready.

Mark 13:32-33 - “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not now when the time will come.”

Jesus may not come today, but I am to be ready. The second coming may be years in the future, but I’m to be on guard and keep awake. My preparation and readiness for His return may cost me financially, may mean I get a little disappointed, may mean I’m viewed as an incompetent Christian fanatic, but nonetheless I’m to live each and every day looking for my Savior to come back and make all things right!! I’m actually hoping He comes today.

Mark 13:37 - Stay awake

Appearance is Deceptive

As you’ve likely noticed, the church office area and several classrooms have beautiful new flooring. It’s really nice and thanks must go out to our deacons who orchestrated the deal. In order for the flooring to be installed in my office they had to remove all the furniture … ALL the furniture, including bookcases full of books. So, it was up to me to pack them up in boxes and try to keep them organized as best I could.

As I started this task I noticed that there were many, many books that were absolutely useless; books I hadn’t looked at in 20 years; books I would have no intention of looking at in the next 20 years. So the dumpster behind the church became my friend for several hours one day as I threw away between 100-200 books. I know what you’re thinking … “Burt, why didn’t you give them to someone, or allow folks to look through them, or donate them to a thrift store?” Because these were the books that not only I didn’t want, I didn’t want anyone to have to weed through the mess of interpretation, controversy, or confusion that most of them would involve. But fear not, as I’m going through the boxes and selectively unpacking them, I’m now setting aside probably another 100-200 books that I will make available to others.

It’s not that I don’t value books anymore, rather I just don’t value the appearance of having so many books. I suspect most all of us want to be thought of as smart, wise, knowledgeable, and well-prepared for whatever we do. I certainly enjoyed it as people would come into my office, see the enormous accumulation of books, and make positive comments and expressions. But I’m admitting that many of those books were nothing more than decorations on the shelves to give the appearance of a well-read, thoughtful, knowledgeable, theologically astute, wise pastor. Of course, those of you who know me well know none of that is true, but it was fun to play the game!

If I’m honest, there are several areas in my life where the appearance is somewhat deceptive. I’ve always been told what a great faith I have … maybe, but I wrestle with fear all the time. I’ve been told what a wonderful marriage and family they see in the Boykin home … I guess we’re okay, and though my wife is absolutely wonderful, marriage is hard; and while I think all my boys are incredible, it’s not because they have such a good dad. I’ve been told I’ve modeled the Christian life well … hmmm, if you only knew the secret sins tucked away down in the hidden places in my heart. This list could go on and on and on.

A couple of points I need to make. Though appearances are deceptive, the Lord knows the real me in absolute detail and HE LOVES ME ANYWAY. This Gospel truth is what keeps me going in the face of sometimes feeling like a fraud. Second truth, I don’t think I’m the only one who realizes this about themselves. We all wrestle with this feeling. The church must be a place where it’s safe to be exposed, where our identity isn’t in appearance but rather in who we are in Christ, where forgiveness and grace characterizes everything we do, every relationship, every conversation, and every activity.

By the way, I have some books you’re welcome to come pick through!

Desensitized and Unaware

A few days ago Anita asked me if I noticed an ammonia smell in the laundry room. I told her I hadn’t, but that with my cold I really can’t smell much of anything. So we let it slide. She mentioned it again the next day and my response was the same. I did mention that I had used some ammonia for some cleaning a few days prior so she figured the smell must be from the rags I used and probably not yet washed. Well, this morning she again mentioned this ammonia smell and my response was exactly the same. Not only am I congested and can’t smell anything, our house has historically had all sorts of smells that sort of run together, creating a constant strange scent. So even if I didn’t have a cold, I seriously doubt I would have noticed the smell. Turns out, the jug of ammonia I used the other day apparently had a tiny crack in it and, sure enough, probably a quart or so of it had leaked out onto the storage cart and eventually on the floor.

How in the world can someone not immediately notice the strong smell of ammonia and fix the problem before it gets so bad? It’s actually fairly simple. First of all, the drip was small and slow. Had the jug emptied all at once it would have been very noticeable, but the tiny leak only gave a whiff of something wrong, and a whiff is fairly easy to explain away. Secondly, as I mentioned, we’ve become rather desensitized to all the smells in our house … boys, animals, fireplace, dirty clothes, food, etc. It’s just too hard to explore the reason for every smell so you just sort of accept it and move along in spite of it. And thirdly, I really do have the issue of sickness and major congestion to contend with. It hinders me from being aware of the various smells around me, both good scents and bad odors.

It hit me that this is very much a description of my life! I find myself going through a world full of good and bad to which I’ve become desensitized. I have a hard time noticing the nasty sin in my life - which often starts as just a tiny “drip” of a problem. And though I know sin is present, everything just sort of runs together and it’s too hard to explore the reason behind the sins. And, of course, the indwelling sin problem of my heart is a major issue that literally prevents me from even noticing certain sins. But it’s not only my sin I fail to notice … I fail to notice what God is doing … I fail to notice the majesty of God’s grace in life situations … I fail to observe the beauty of the image of God in others … I fail to see His good providence in everyday affairs … I fail to rejoice in the love He extends to me throughout each and every day.

Yep, my heart is hardened and unable to “smell” anything. Jeremiah 17:9 nails it - “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” So the hope of the Gospel is NOT that we’ll just make our hearts better, but rather that the Lord actually gives us new hearts, living hearts, hearts that CAN be aware and sensitive to the world around us. Ezekiel says it well in 36:26 - “I will give you a new heart, and new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” The theme of Christianity is never “let’s just do better” but rather “death and resurrection”, the old is gone and the new has come. So today let’s behold the One, Jesus, to whom we’re united to by faith. Let’s set our gaze on Him who lived the life we should have lived, who died the death we should have died, and who rose from the dead to secure for us new life!

The Agony of Defeat

Many in my generation grew up watching ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Each week the show started with Jim McKay’s narration over a montage of various video clips from various sports. Jim’s most famous phrase from the show’s opening was, “the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.” Coinciding with the audio phrase “agony of defeat” was a video clip of Yugoslavian ski jumper, Vinko Bogataj, loosing his balance toward the end of the inrun, tumbling, flipping, and ending with a spectacular crash through a light retaining fence near spectators. Most everyone in my generation has that image and phrase fixed in our minds.

This past Monday night Alabama’s football team experienced the agony of defeat … an image that also may stick in the minds of many a fan. Tuesday morning I had a couple of out-of-state friends text or email to ask if I was doing much grief counseling that day! I honestly saw most of my Alabama fan friends handle it fairly well … not too much mourning, grieving, excuse-making, or complaining. But I did notice a common theme from several of them. It was the idea that it’s actually good for Alabama to lose a game like that … that the humbling effect of the loss would prove to ultimately be a good thing.

While I absolutely agree that the character development of young men on the team is far more important that wins or losses, I also know that this comment is made only half seriously. It’s a way to help soothe the pain of losing. I say this, not to enter into a debate about college football, but rather to show the parallel of how we as Christians think about losing, pain, suffering, the agony of defeat. I suggest the average Alabama fan may be okay with losing an occasional national championship game but likely expects to be there again and win it all next year. I suggest the average Christian may be okay with experiencing some occasional suffering but likely expects God to make it soon go away, not have to experience that agony again, and start living in victory. If losing a national championship game builds character, then wouldn’t an entire losing season build even more character? If occasional suffering on the part of an American Christian builds character, then wouldn’t it be better for us to experience the intense persecution that fellow believers face in much of the world?

This is in no way an indictment of Alabama fans … every fan of every team is guilty of the same thing. Sure, I want the players on my team to have and build character, but I also want them to win! It’s just a game and we need to keep that in perspective. But I am trying to seriously address the mindset of Christians when it comes to adversity and loss. I suspect this is why the prosperity gospel message is so popular and well-received … you don’t have to factor in suffering and persecution. But authentic Christianity is full of pain, suffering, opposition, agony, loss, and trouble. Most Christians throughout history and around the world today have barely even been able to field a team, much less make it to the national championship game. The only “victory” they know is the abundance of grace they receive while in the midst of suffering.

I certainly don’t want and I’m not suggesting we ask God for more adversity. But if it does come our way, in large or small doses, we can be certain God is working to build our character and make us more like Jesus. Let’s fix our gaze on Jesus rather than desired outcomes and enjoy the abundance of grace He gives.

Exposing the Sin

As wonderful as it is to see all the Christmas decorations go up, it’s equally wonderful to put them all away and get the house back in some semblance of order. As we were storing boxes of decorations back in the attic during one of the recent rainy days, I happened to notice a section of wet wood. The water is likely coming in along an area that may require some roof repair work. Needless to say this didn’t bring immediate joy to my heart! I don’t think there’s any rotten wood yet but had I not gone up there when I did and not seen the problem until next year, it could / would have been a much more serious situation. So although my immediate reaction was disgust, it soon changed to thanksgiving!

As we begin this new year of 2019 let’s take the time to explore those parts of our hearts and lives that don’t typically get much exposure. Ask the Lord to graciously press into those secret, hidden places and allow us to see any problem, sin, iniquity, idolatry, pride, etc. that needs to be addressed before it’s allowed to deteriorate into something even worse than it is. Let’s make sure we’re making use of the ordinary means by which this grace of God is given - worship, reading/study of God’s Word, sacraments, prayer, fellowship. The immediate emotion to having our sin exposed is horror … but our ultimate response will be one of thanksgiving. May 2019 be a year of repentance and faith!

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! - Psalm 139:23-24