Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Heart of Obedience

Recently, I had a discussion with someone who was switching churches, and he alluded that the reason was that he was hungry for "black and white" teaching. He's hardly the first, or only person I've come across like this. The problem I have with such an attitude is that I can't fit things like salvation, forgiveness, or grace into a strictly black and white model, since nobody could be saved that way. Either the gospel would be so permissive that it would not actually be "set apart" from this broken world. Or it would be so strict that we would all be condemned.

These days you often see “black and white” Christians accusing other ministries for preaching an incomplete gospel. The irony of this is that these accusers are typically devoid of love. They are impatient, unkind, rude, and critical of those who don’t live up to their standards. Which leaves out a very critical part of Jesus’ gospel. Which is why they discourage more than they inspire.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” -John 13:34-35

Such people are all about definitions. Live up to that definition or lose their approval, and be subject to their forced submission via criticism. Being all about definitions they get fixated on behavior, and obedience; even if it's just whitewash. Never the heart of the issues at hand; and the sinner’s heart is often broken by this fallen world. Something a loving disciple who can see past their own nose should address when reaching out.

Consider the book of Deuteronomy. It's about God's relationship with mankind through worship and obedience. Yet it's more poetic than systematic, and it mentions the heart thirty times. There are only four other books of the Bible that mentions the heart more often. So obviously the heart is critical in producing obedience. Definitions by themselves are inadequate to produce genuine transformation. Definitions are a start, but unless we live them from the heart our holiness will be merely surface, insincere, and far from complete.

My challenge to you this week is to examine your heart, and consider why it struggles with obedience. So you may address the root, not just condemn the action.

But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. -Deuteronomy 4:29

then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. -Deuteronomy 8:14

Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. -Deuteronomy 15:10

a person with a frozen heart, unable to take action
click to enlarge

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Reminders for the heart

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the Lord your God.’”-Numbers 15:37-41 

Our hearts often want what the eyes crave, if they are not absolutely right with God yet. Which has a way of leading us astray. Yet, no matter how often our hearts get us into trouble, it doesn't always stop us from following it blindly. Hence, the need for a reminder, so we can remember to make deliberate, righteous, and reasonable choices from the heart. Instead of rash, and hasty decisions from our emotions, which we are prone to do if we assume feelings are truth.

What kind of reminders to examine your heart before acting do you implement? Or maybe you should start implementing a reminder of some sort, if you've wasted far too much time following your lustful heart blindly to disastrous results.

“Our longing for life keeps confusing us about the purpose of life.“-John Eldredge, Moving Mountains

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. -Deuteronomy 6:4-9

a person following their flying heart right over a cliff.
click to enlarge

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Fat Heart?

Doing this series on understanding the human heart, I could not help thinking back to a post I did a little over a year ago on Matthew 13:15. In it I pointed out that a literal translation from the Greek would have referred to the heart as "fat." However, most translations take a more functionally equivalent approach and substitute fat with words like calloused, hard, dull, or gross. Even very literal word for word translations like King James, and New American Standard have a hard time staying absolutely literal with this verse. All because culturally it just does not translate well. However in retrospect, I'm starting to wonder if the real problem isn't this misunderstanding of the word heart that I have been highlighting.

For example, if I used the phrase 'fat and lazy emotions' as we often apply to the word heart, it doesn't make much sense.

Yet, if we apply it as we should define the word heart, with phrases like 'fat and lethargic spirit' or 'fat and apathetic personality' it works much better.

Which begs the question, is this what Jesus was really trying to say? That some people are morbidly obese in personality and spirit, which leads to an inactive and sedentary faith. It works in context, with Jesus referring to people who were unwilling to look beyond their own nose to discern the truth in his words.

Considering how so many in the church are exuding such passivity these days. With so many Christians bypassing the complexities of the heart and only demanding intellectual explanations much like the Pharisees did two-thousand years ago. With so many so called Disciples offering only legalistic and insincere application of said explanations. Suddenly the verse, and the concept of a fat heart becomes far more relevant to me. What does it stir in you?

It was difficult finding an absolutely literal translation here, but I did find a couple. This one sounded the least wooden.

The people’s hearts have turned to flab; their ears are clogged; their eyes are shut. They will try to see, but they will not see; they will try to hear, but they will not hear; they will try to understand, but they will not comprehend. If they, with their blindness and deafness, so choose, then I will heal them.
-Matthew 13:15 VOICE

An adult wanting to be spoon fed.
click to enlarge

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Circumcised Heart?

Leviticus 26:41 is but the first of many references to the concept of the circumcised heart in scripture. However, the reference in Deuteronomy 30:6 is better for the sake of explanation.

The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.

Well what in world does this mean? A literal circumcision was an external sign that you agreed to be in a covenant type relationship with God. Yet, if the history of Israel teaches us anything, it's that this one time external action did not help one to live up to that covenant. I liken it to a virtual signature, or a letter intent if you will. As we all know, there is often a huge disconnect between intent, and what actually happens in any agreement; even when we enter it with sincerity.

This is where the heart comes in. As we have mentioned in past posts, the heart is our spiritual center Biblically speaking. Everything we do, weather it is good, bad, or indifferent is a reflection upon where our heart is at. So if we have a hard time living up to our side of the covenant, and live a holy life, it's a sign of a heart problem. So when God says he aims to circumcise our heart, it means he wants to transform our heart so that we can love him better via holiness. We will not be able to live a truly righteous life without a "circumcised" heart.

If our heart is God's focus, then it needs to be ours as well. Otherwise, we are just addressing the symptom, and not the illness. Which can be sort of like painting over rust. It looks great for awhile, but it always bleeds through in time. Just as it does when we focus only on behavior and ignore the root cause, which is the heart.

I dare say that is just what many of us are doing, focusing on the surface, keeping us perpetually immature in the spirit. So we keep having to address the same issues repeatedly, just as the ancient Hebrews did.

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. -Luke 6:45

someone fixing their heart
click to enlarge

Saturday, August 18, 2018

A heart for decision

For part two of my exploration of what the Bible reveals about the human heart we will be looking at Exodus 28. This passage takes place just after God's covenant with The Israelites is confirmed, and an order and means of worship were being established, including the priestly garments that Aaron and his sons would wear. There is definitely something worth noting when we get to the breast-piece of decisions. Two very specific things went over the heart of the priest when making choices.

The first thing was the names of the twelve sons of Israel, AKA Jacob. (Verse 29) The twelve tribes of the nation of Israel were named after Jacob's sons. So it was not just a nod to where they came from, but who they were as a people.

The second thing was the Urim and the Thummim. (Verse 30) Which were objects used in casting lots. A systematic practice used to discern the will of God.

So what is the takeaway from all this? What significance can we glean from what the priests were meant to keep near their hearts.

  • Where our heart is at is important in making Godly decisions.
  • Choices are for the benefit of all the community of believers, not just self. Those whose hearts are inclined to evil will surely be tempted to be more focused on self than community. A Godly heart is interested in the common good. Nor does it assume that what is good for self is by default good for everyone; unlike the self-centered.
  • The practice of casting lots would eliminate emotions, and self out of their decisions. Re-enforcing the idea that our western notions about the heart are not 100% accurate. (Remember last time we established that the Hebrew word for heart was not associated with emotions as it is the English word.)

You've probably heard the phrase "think with your heart" while there may be some truth in the sentiment; unfortunately, it has become a truth distorted in western culture. All because we assume that means we should  let our emotions decide for us. Let's face it, emotionally charged decisions can often be very bad and misguided choices. They are often motivated by self and pay little regard for others, which has a habit of coming back to haunt us. A very unchristian way of approaching life that hinders our path to holiness, and discipleship greatly. So clearly we need to rethink our relationship with our emotions.

Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? -Mark 2:8

Ecclesiastes 3:11
click to enlarge

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Human Heart?

If you watch the show American Pickers or Pawn Stars, you will see people buying and selling unique, historic, and valuable items. Sometimes they can make a deal, sometimes not. Usually, when they can't it's because the seller "feels" it's worth more than it really is. It doesn't usually matter what kind of experts are brought in, or what kind of facts they present them with. If they "feel" it is worth so much, then that is the reality they insist upon, despite the truth.

However, we see this dynamic on more than just cable reality shows; people are prone to treat their emotions as truth in every aspect of their lives. Emotions are not necessarily truth though, for the simple fact that we are just as prone to react emotionally to inaccurate information as fact. Plus, past traumas can cause us to react in exaggerated ways.

It was this very concept that inspired me to do a sermon on the subject. Yet, my initial research came up with some rather surprising findings. The first thing I did was to do a keyword search of the word emotion, and surprisingly there was nothing. The word emotion never appears once in the New International Version, King James Version, or the New American Standard Bible, the three most influential English translations ever. So I tried the words feel, and feelings. While there were a few instances there, none of them really defined or explained what our relationship to our emotions should be generally speaking. So I figured I could use the word heart, I knew there was hundreds of references to that word, which I thought should offer some insight into feelings. Instead of assume though, I looked up the Biblical words for heart to make sure this was an accurate way to address emotions from a scriptural stand point, and this is what I found.

In the Bible, the word heart usually designates the whole personality, instead of emotions. Scripturally speaking the heart is the center of the human person, in which the physical and spiritual life is concentrated.

Definitely not what I was expecting to find, yet in a way it was exactly the answer I was seeking. If we recognize the heart as the core of self, yet wrongfully believe that manifests through emotion alone, one will naturally assume their feelings are truth. Plus it also explains why the Bible offers no blanket insights into emotions, but addresses each one individually. If they were inherently lies or truth, it would surely say so. Yet, neither of these common extremist views hold any water Biblically speaking.

In that moment, I realized my intended message was far too big a subject to be able to tackle in a week, and do it justice. However, my research did shed light on a misperception I believe needs to be addressed. So my plan is to look up every single reference to the word heart in the Bible to see what I can glean from it. A path I plan on taking my readers on by sharing the highlights.

The natural place to start is the very first mention of the human heart in scripture. Which can be found in Genesis 6:5-8, but I suggest you also read Genesis 8:20-21 as well. Since chapter 8 concludes the narrative that began in chapter 6.

What these references reveal:
  • The heart is tied to thought. We do not often associate the heart with thought, however scripture is rather consistent in equating the heart with thought and reflection. Even Jesus made this correlation multiple times.
  • The human heart can incline towards evil. Yet another Old Testament concept confirmed by Jesus. Chapter 8 also adds that this inclination begins in childhood. But remember, this tendency is not necessarily an emotional one.
  • The human heart is a source of great concern for God. Which reminds me of the words of John Eldredge “I find it hard to believe a case must be made that the heart is. . . well, at the heart of it all. Of life. Of each person. Of God. And of Christianity.”

Indeed, the heart is a very important subject, a subject mentioned in the Bible more often than service, obedience, and even worship; probably because all these other subjects are dependent upon the state of our hearts. Hence, the heart being of great concern to God. All the more reason to seek better understanding of it, instead of rely on the casual abstract notion we all possess.

For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”
-Matthew 15:19-20

a person examining their heart under an x-ray
click to enlarge

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Warrior, Poet, and King (synopsis)

This last Father’s Day I did a sermon called Warrior, Poet, and King: the three dimensions of manhood. Unfortunately, it was to a rather small audience. While many people “liked” the message drawing I did for it on my Facebook page, nobody took the time to watch the live stream of it. So I got to wonder who really understood what I meant by man being made in the image of warrior, poet, and king. I can understand how watching an hour long sermon may seem intimidating. So I will do my best to summarize the concept here.

I first became aware of the concept during a group study on Song of Solomon. In this very poetic work, the male figure who was literally a king, is portrayed as strong and virile like a warrior. Yet, he is also portrayed as a sensitive and tender, like a poet. Ever since then I have been noticing this same patten in other prominent figures of the Bible like Solomon’s father David, God the father, and Jesus as well. Yet, in the world we live in, we seldom see this dynamic, but a very slanted and unbalanced version. Which may be why our culture portrays men as Homer Simpson; a self centered, hotheaded fool. Which is precisely why I see this teaching as an important one that we should look at closely.

Warrior (not always literal)
Our current culture has a love hate relationship with the image of a warrior in the male gender. But the fact of the matter is men need a battle to fight, he will not feel whole without something just and noble to fight for. The more our culture takes this away from him, the more he will try to scratch this itch in misguided and self-serving ways. As well as lack the passion and strength to do what is expected of him. Which is precisely what we do see.

Poet (I use the term broadly)
Men are made in the image of a creator, so it makes sense that we can honor that image by creating beauty, or at least admiring the beauty of God’s creation. For God is the original creator of beauty, poet, and artist. His son Jesus spoke his father’s truth in beautiful and poetic parables. Even David who was a fierce warrior with a reputation for conquest wrote such beautiful, poetic, and heart-wrenching psalms. Unfortunately, our society does not allow men to explore this side of himself. But with beauty lying at the heart of what drives a man, and what shapes his notions of just and noble, he will not have much to fight for without a heart of a poet.

The image of God as king is an obvious one, yet in this image we see both the warrior and the poet. God is often portrayed as a stern disciplinarian in the Bible, much like we associate with a warrior. Yet, he is also portrayed as loving and forgiving, like we often see with poets. If God were not both he would be unjust, he would either be so hard and strict we could never live up to his standards. Or he would be so permissive he would never right wrongs or punish evil. Which is often just what we see with our male leaders, one of these two unjust extremes. So if you haven’t figured it out yet, this point is not so much a separate and independent one, but what happens when these two other sides find balance in a man.

If by chance this has peaked your curiosity enough, you can watch the full message here. FB Video

The Visual PARABLEist

God confronting an unarmed warrior
click to enlarge