This coming Sunday, if the Lord should tarry and allow me to continue to have life and breath, I will turn 40 years old. The “big 4–0.” I remember celebrating my parents’ 40th birthdays, complete with a tombstone that read, “Over the hill.” And now, just moments later, I am 40.
Time and life are so quickly rushing toward eternity. Milestone birthdays lead me to reflect on the impact Christ has made in my life and the impact He has allowed me to have in the lives of others. My thirties were a good decade. I was able to disciple people, learn a new city, help put Southeastern Seminary on a stronger financial footing in the middle of one of the most severe and enduring economic downturns in our country’s history, help a church to die well and welcome a new church plant into their building which is now thriving, lead a neighbor to Christ after 8 years of prayer and effort, love and lead my own children to Jesus, grow more in the knowledge of God, serve my beautiful bride, and proclaim the gospel…a very good decade, and an incredibly blessed life.
But, something has been nagging at me since January when I went to a leadership training event for WinShape. One of the speakers asked, “What breaks your heart?”
It is a good question – a question I have not been able to get out of my mind. The answers just keep coming. So, here goes, here is what breaks my heart, and I pray, by God’s grace, that I will be able to help make a difference on some of these issues in however many more years the Lord gives me.
Issues in the church
• My heart is broken over how our culture and even some in the church view marriage. A good marriage is one in which both husband and wife give the other themselves in a Spirit-enabled selflessness that is rooted in being a team together for the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel to their children and grandchildren and to our neighbors and the nations. If your marriage is struggling under the weight of assumptions and expectations the world gives rather than thriving for the mission of God, pick up a copy of The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller and read it with your spouse.
• My heart also breaks when Christian families fail to prize the church more than anything else on earth. Now, you might wonder why I did not say Christ. And, there is a reason. Too often, people think it is possible to prize Christ and not prize a local church. The New Testament paints a very different picture. The way we pursue faithfulness to King Jesus is through a vital engagement with our brothers and sisters in the church – “the body of Christ.” To prize Christ, we must prize His church.
• A related reality that breaks my heart is when Christian parents put extracurricular activities before Christian identity. As a father and a former athlete, I understand the benefits of sports, clubs, and activities for our children. These opportunities also present a wonderful way to reach lost people with the gospel – if we deliberately think of them in that way and leverage them for the sake of Christ. However, the extracurricular must not overwhelm the essential. I have often experienced situations where children can learn the rules, players, and positions for a game, sport, club or association and “own it,” but they have very little grasp of the Scriptures by the time they graduate high school. If a child can learn basic addition and subtraction, s/he can memorize scripture. If he can pass 9th-grade English, he can study the bible for comprehension and life change. Children value what their parents value, and it breaks my heart when children do not have the opportunity to see that their parents value Jesus and living on mission for Him in community with other Christians more than anything else.
• My heart also breaks over the stronghold that the illusion of financial security has over many Christians. When consulting for a church about generous giving several years ago, a man approached me with a question several have asked me through the years, “Should I tithe on gross or net?” For him, the act of giving was not much different than it would have been for a Pharisee – making sure he "checked off the requirement" but not really understanding the spiritual purpose not of tithing but of generous and even sacrificial giving. So, I said, “Well, do you want Jesus to bless your net or gross?” He smiled really big and said, “I never thought of it like that.” Then I asked him the more serious questions: “What if what Jesus wants you to give sacrificially, so you can enlarge your capacity for enjoying His presence? What if the Bible shows we should go well beyond 10 percent as God blesses us? What if the consistent act of emptying yourself is God’s way of opening your heart to more of Him? What if true generosity is truly contagious, and it opens you up to a move of the Spirit in your life unlike anything you’ve known since you first trusted in Jesus. What if your heart follows what you are investing in, and, as you begin to invest in the Kingdom, your service and action naturally begin to follow God’s activity in the world more than the activity of the stock market?
His face went ghost white. He was terrified, and it was sort of the terrified face that says, “You just said what I know is true, but I didn’t think you would actually say it.” This man broke down, told me He was exceptionally wealthy, and said, “I knew I should be doing more. Thank you.” I can only imagine the joy he now experiences in leveraging his business for the glory of Jesus. Fortunately, he was only in his 30s, and he still has a full life ahead to grow in the grace of giving. In my personal experience and in my experience of working with people like the man I have described here, nothing short of revival occurs when we truly shed our tendency to worship money and learn the joy that comes from generous giving motivated by a desire to remain ever-dependent upon Christ.
• A final concern that breaks my heart is when people do not finish strong in the faith but falter once their children go to college. When the commitment of a couple to be at church is only “for the kids,” often neither the parents nor the kids endure in the faith. Children can see their parents’ faith was only something done at church, and parents default to a Christmas-and-Easter only sort of faith. At North Roanoke, we are praying and working to constantly improve how we reach children and students with the gospel and then train them to know, speak, and defend the gospel. But, it takes more than what the children and student ministries can offer on Sundays and Wednesdays. It also takes Christian parents or, in the case of students coming from non-Christian homes, strong and involved Christian mentors who will show kids how to live an authentic, Christian life for the glory of King Jesus – in the church, at college, in their career, in their future families, and on mission in the world.
Christian, if you are faltering in any of these areas, here’s some good news: as long as you have life and breath, it is not too late to get back in the race or to join the race for the first time if you have not yet truly surrendered your life to King Jesus.
Issues in the world
• The first thing that breaks my heart is lostness. Apart from saving faith in Christ, people will eternally suffer the just consequences for their sinful rebellion against God, and I long to see a move of God in our Valley in which people come to saving faith in Christ in droves. The lostness of our nation and of the world is also heartbreaking. My desire is that God would continue to raise up men and women from North Roanoke to take the gospel to the peoples of the world – especially people with little to no access to the gospel – nearly 2 billion of them!
• Another reality that breaks my heart is that sociologists in our country can predict with a high degree of accuracy how a child’s life will turn out based upon whether or not the child has a father in the home, whether or not someone reads to the child at an early age, household income, and a few other key variables. What further breaks my heart is that society has come to think “more money” is the solution. We have been throwing more money at generational poverty, illiteracy, and a host of other societal ills for over 50 years, and the results are very underwhelming. We should not be surprised. We cannot expect a public system of relief or intervention, a system that must not give the gospel or be grounded in the gospel, to address the heart issues that underlie so much of what is plaguing communities in our country. The answer must include an awakening of the church to these realities and a fundamental understanding that no publicly-funded program or initiative will really address the root problem. It may help kick the can down the road, but the problem will remain. We have decades of evidence that public funding is not working. A dream in my heart is that the church would take the same sociological data, apply it to the Roanoke Valley, identify children who are most at risk and provide free or significantly reduced-cost child care in a gospel-grounded environment to preschoolers – to get the gospel into their mind and hearts as early as possible, to send them school already knowing how to read, and to win the opportunity to lead their parents to Jesus in the process. I know we can give kids a real head start – the kind of head start that makes heads spin and makes them confront the truth that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation and also to motivation, meaning, purpose, better behavior, and better long-term educational outcomes. The gospel can break then chains of the statistical trends, and it will take a church or churches that are willing to spend resources in the Valley on “the least of these” in a systematic way over the long haul, trusting that God will take our crumbs (compared to what the government spends) and make an eternal difference in many lives and families. I would love to be able to look back 40 years from now and say we forever impacted the Valley by giving sacrificially and trusting that God could use early exposure to the gospel to forever change the lives of kids who were otherwise considered the most likely to fail. I can only imagine how frustrated Satan would be.
There are, of course, dozens if not hundreds of heart-breaking concerns in the world. A few more that come to mind right now:
• 58+ million abortions in the U.S. since Roe v. Wade and the moms that are represented in that number, many of whom desperately need the gospel which is the only hope they have for the guilt they bear and the depression they feel
• Parents of child(ren) with special needs who have very little time to focus on their marriage, church, etc.
• Lazy/uninvolved fathers
• The thousands of kids in foster systems across our country who need stable homes
• The marginalization, intimidation, and humiliation of Christians in the public square
• Senior adults and people with special needs who age and no longer have a parent to care for them (this one is near and dear to my wife)
• Basic ignorance in the world of the major contributions of Christians down the through the ages to the good of the world
• Sex trafficking on the rise in the U.S. and around the world
• The easy access to and pervasive use of pornography
• The opioid crisis
• And many more
How about you? What breaks your heart? What would you add to the list, and how might God lead you to leverage whatever years you have left to let Him use you to lead/serve/motivate His church to be a part of the solution?
We’ve got one shot. Let’s make it count for the glory of Christ and the good of all nations!