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
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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
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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
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Thursday, January 18, 2018

The value of works

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. -Ephesians 2:8-9

Above is a rather famous passage that distinguishes Christianity from most other world religions. In everything from Islam to Hinduism, works usually come into play in most beliefs version of salvation. Probably because it just seems to be human nature to think and believe that works or deeds are the way to manufacture righteousness and earn your way into the afterlife. So much so that people try to interject it into Christianity as well. Despite that this passage and others like it refutes our assumptions about the role of works. Even when scripture reveals no amount of work would ever truly be enough.(Galatians 2:16, Luke 18:26,27)

Yet, even for those who know and believe this verse, don’t always understand it completely. There seems to be another opposite extreme assumption about this passage. That since works have nothing to do with salvation, then works cannot possibly have any value at all. Which often becomes an excuse to not serve. That idea is completely ridiculous though. Works, deeds, and service do indeed have much value, just not for salvation. Hence, the reason for this blog entry, I will reveal the value of our works beyond salvation.

All you have to do is read the very next verse in this passage to see that works are not without value.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. -Ephesians 2:10 (As you can see, we do this passage a great disservice by leaving out verse 10.)

The implication being that works play into fulfilling our purpose. Even psychologists are noticing that people who pursue a meaningful life are more satisfied than those who merely seek a happy life. So obviously we can’t truly be fulfilled without fulfilling our purpose, which involves service and works.

Works build up the church - Ephesians 4:11-13

Service is the path to greatness in the eyes of God - Matthew 20:20-28

Deeds demonstrate repentance - Acts 26:20

Service brings blessings - John 12:26, 13:17

Good Deeds serve as an example to non-believers -1 Peter 2:12

Let us not forget that Jesus flat us called us to serve thorough works in John 13:1-17. As he indicated later in verse 14:23-24, to do as he commands is a way we express our love for God. For a true believer; that alone should be enough alone to value works, even if it doesn't bring us salvation.

Works do not save us; we serve through good deeds because we are saved. It is a subtle distinction, but an important one that should not be overlooked.

The Visual PARABLEist

a man serving the word to the least of these which gets God's approval.
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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

What the church should NOT do

I have been watching Leah Remini’s Scientology: The Aftermath, and bought her book Troublemaker. In this moment, I feel compelled to respond to what I have observed. While I always try to tell people that no matter how good and righteous a belief system may be, people are still people. They are imperfect, faulted, and prone to error. So we often see many common human failings infiltrating religious institutions, even when their theology strictly forbids it. However, it seems that this is what separates Scientology from most other world religions. Many of these human failings I allude to are part of Scientology’s doctrine. So in many ways the church of Scientology serves as a perfect example of what a religious institution should not do. Which I will go over some of the main ones for you to consider.

1. Act as if you are beyond reproach. For the faithful, questions can serve as an opportunity to educate and promote better understanding of your ideals. However, you have to be well versed yourself to do that. For the easily threatened, it serves as an excuse to criticize, hate, and shame people who question them. Just what the church of Scientology teaches it’s people to do with zeal. Behavior which most other world religions discourage in writing, if not in action. Most religions recognize that you can’t help or inspire people you are demonizing. Or labeling them a “suppressive” to use the Scientology vernacular. (Matthew 21:45-46)
2. Forced submission. People submit to authority everyday. We do this with things as simple as paying sales tax, or stopping at a red traffic light. Some choose to do this because they see value in it. Some only because they fear the consequences of not doing so. As far as the government is concerned, their main concern is order, not sincerity. So it doesn’t matter to them why the public observes the laws, just as long as people do. That is where government and religious institutions should differ, the value of sincerity. Most belief systems recognize that the heart or the spirit is the root of our actions, so they address these things in one way or another to improve the individual, which leads to better behavior. Through that process people may see value in that religions authority, and choose to submit to it; sincerely. Which is how it should work. But in humanities short sightedness we often only look at the surface and merely address evil behavior directly. This often just creates an illusion of true transformation since the root cause of heart and spirit is overlooked. Scientology’s highly systematic approach would be near impossible to skip. However, they do fail to trust in their system enough to allow people to decide for themselves, to choose Scientology or not of their own freewill. If forced submission fails, you get labeled a suppressive and all ties to the church and the people you were in relationship within it are "disconnected". A fact they hold over your head to get you to submit against your will. (Joshua 24:15)
3. Violating your own principles for the sake of the greater good. Many an evil has been committed upon these grounds. However, no religious institution worth its salt would ever condone this. The fact is, if we resort to the same evils as our enemy on the battlefield, our enemies principles ultimately prevail, even if our enemies lose the war. Many shortsighted people have a hard time recognizing the truth of this in practice, including Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard apparently. For example, one of the foundational truths in Scientology is “clearing the planet of reactive minds.” Yet, somehow they do not see their hate and shame "fair game" policies towards suppressive people, and the institution of psychology as “reactive.” Nor, does current Scientology leader David Miscavige see his infamous violent outbursts as “reactive” either. To me, these doctrinal actions would qualify as the epitome of “reactive,” or wrong by their own standards. (Romans 2:1-4)
4. Cold indifference. We live in a crazy hostile world, full of pain, suffering, and every kind of evil imaginable. Trying to care about such a world, and deal with our scars from it can be overwhelming. So our response can often lead to an “us versus them” mentality as way to shield ourselves from that misery. Which leads us to limit our love to our own people, and all else is treated with cold indifference. Yet, in Scientology their central teaching revolves around achieving a state of “clear” that seems to be nothing more than cold indifference. It is most notable in the devout followers who have family members that have left the church. There is no love lost or regret at all over these broken relationships from the “clear” who are expected to disconnect. A human tendency that has only caused good people to do nothing in the face of evil. A human failing that is rationalized by Scientology. (First John 3:16-18)
5. Money. While a necessity of civilization. A disproportionate love for it can be devastating for that culture. It not only has spoiled many a religion but art, music, literature, cinema, and many of the other good things in life as well. Creating something beautiful, important, beneficial, relevant, or meaningful often takes a back seat to making profit. Not to mention the pursuit of it can inspire crime. While the lack of money may be a symptom of a problem, the moment we look at it as a solution, it starts to become a virtual god to us. This is so blatantly obvious in Scientology and their rather expensive path to “operating thetan“ status.(First Timothy 6:10)
6. legalism. It just seems to be human nature to systematize things, including religion. The Pharisees where prime examples of this 2000 years ago. They took the very narrative, and poetic living scriptures, and turned it into thousands of lifeless do’s and don’t’s. The flaw in legalism is that it is merely external, a conditioned response, obligatory actions that are not done in the spirit, or from the heart. Which seems to be the goal of Scientology, to condition out reactive behavior. While they may be onto something with the ides that people are definitely too reactionary, which causes much conflict in the world. It’s doubtful that can be the only cause of all human suffering. Even if it were, merely teaching people to avoid it instead of indulge it, hardly constitutes dealing with it in a constructive manner. If you read through the Gospels, and Acts of the apostles, while taking note of what the Pharisee’s did, and how Jesus and the apostles called them out in their heartless surface ways. One can plainly see that many churches of today have repeated all their mistakes. It just seems that people want rigid, fixed, and easy to understand and apply answers. So many churches, including Scientology, become eager to oblige them. Even if Jesus had no love for such camouflaged and formulaic people. (Matthew 23:25 and 26)

While I am sure, these practices have served many an institution in the short-term. In the long-term they have only breed disillusion and feelings of ill will towards the institutions that utilize such faulty strategies. As former church of Scientology board member Mike Rinder has indicated, their own actions will be their undoing. Actions rationalized by their own policies. Actions the wise should steer clear of. Actions that are slowly destroying the institutions that they claim to love and serve. Don’t be one of them.

A person entirely obscured by cold armor
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