Saturday, April 27, 2019

First seek to understand, then to be understood.

The high priest then questioned Jesus about His disciples, and about His teaching. Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret. Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; they know what I said.” When He had said this, one of the officers standing nearby struck Jesus, saying, “Is that the way You answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?” So Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. -John 18:19-24 nasb

The above passage is one of the more obscure trials of Jesus. Only the gospel of John mentions Jesus being questioned by the former high priest Annas. A man who was stripped of his official authority by the Roman Empire for performing executions. Yet still maintained some unofficial authority in the eyes of the Jews. But I'm not writing today to talk about the obvious implications of Annas' role in Christ's execution. Instead, I want to look at the less obvious lesson about emotions, and what it adds to my recent writings on the subject. As I have stated earlier, the Bible never uses the word emotion, but Jesus does indirectly address the subject.

What we see happening here, is the temple officer rebuking Jesus with an emotional outburst. Jesus then essentially says, if you're accusing me of something, accuse me properly, and specifically. Obviously knowing that he can't in his state of reactionary anger.

Is that not so very indicative of human nature? When we respond when emotions are high, there is often little in the way of discernible facts, logic, or reason within it. Yet, we expect people to know what we mean, yet have the nerve to get upset when they don't. That is the danger of emotions, one can react to them without examining or even understanding them. Yet, we wonder why things don't turn out better when we indulge them thoughtlessly.

I’m sure we’ve all been in a position where we have asked people to explain themselves after an emotional outburst, but they can’t seem to find the right words, but only add more abstract expressions to their reply. A strong indication that they are only reacting hastily, instead of acting deliberately. That they have not actually examined their own feelings, they are just indulging them blindly. We have all likely been that person at some point as well. Such actions inevitably create confusion, increase animosity, and harms relationships.

Let me be clear, I'm not telling you to suppress or deny your emotions, nor am I telling you to dismiss the feelings of others. None of these common extremes are healthy. Instead, I'm encouraging you to examine your emotions carefully, because real truth lies at the roots of them. You may just find greater understanding of both yourself, and others this way. Be the master of your emotions, don’t let you emotions master you.

When you get down to it, many recent mass shootings are extreme forms of emotional outbursts. Also, many common everyday conflicts occur because we can't accept the fact that other people feel different about issues. Which leads us to try to tell people how they should feel, instead of trying to understand the origin of their feelings. Guess what, people will not change the way they feel just because you demand it of them. You also have no hope of changing a thing if you don't seek to understand what lies at the heart of the issue. Yet, if you did look closer, you may just discover it's not all about your comfort and convenience. Remember, it's very easy to apply logic and reason to other people's problems; but when it's our own situations, it all becomes very complicated by emotion. Image how different our world would be if we would only seek the truth behind our emotions before we acted.

An emotional person expecting you to know what is in their clay jar that they haven't opened.
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Sunday, March 3, 2019

The heart of a disciple.

“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

Of all the things Jesus could have said here, he used love as a qualifier. Yet, I believe what he did not say here is just as revealing as what he did say. He did not say everyone will know that you are my disciples by your doctrine, your logic, or even your holiness. The very things that the unloving put front and center I might add. I'm sure that Jesus understood that we are emotional creatures. Knowing this he realized that facts, figures, and reasonable arguments have little effect on us if they don't affirm our feelings first.

We see this concept playing out on social media continually. People are searching for and sharing data, and arguments on every issue that is convenient for them, in service of their own comfort. Yet it's all quickly dismissed without a second thought by those who feel different. Yet, the dismissing people are engaging in the same futile behavior, with identical results. Both sides expect their brand of logic to change everything, but in the end it never changes anything. Reason only has value to emotional beings if it serves our feelings first.

Jesus was trying to tell us that love can conquer and break through where logic does not. Yet, why does the church routinely forsake love for logic, reason, and doctrine? Maybe because while we all want to be loved, to love others means putting or emotions in a vulnerable position. Apparently, there is more to this qualifier of love than we give it credit for.

The Visual PARABLEist

“There is a simple reason I never listened to street preachers: they didn’t seem to care about me. It wasn’t that they were annoying. I found their passion admirable, and I appreciated people who stood up for what they believed. Rather, it was that they treated me like an object of their agenda. Did they have any idea how their message would impact my life? Did they even care? . . . Unfortunately, I have found that many Christians think of evangelism the same way, foisting Christian beliefs on strangers in chance encounters. The problem with this approach is that the gospel requires a radical life change, and not many people are about to listen to strangers telling them to change the way they live. What do they know about others’ lives? . . . Effective evangelism requires relationships, there are very few exceptions.” - Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, finding Jesus

A person facing a hole in the road right along the center live
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Saturday, February 2, 2019

Worship Wars

I've been a part of the church universal for decades now, and I've seen many shifts in worship over the years. So naturally I've encountered many strong opinions over these shifts as well. Unfortunately, many of these opinions are often based upon emotion, sentiment, and preferences instead of truth. Let's face it, when our objective is to gratify our feelings via our preferences, God is taking a backseat to self; which obviously isn't proper worship at all. So the subject warrants an objective look as things are starting to shift yet again.

One of the biggest shifts in recent decades was the contemporary worship movement that saw its peak in the 90's. For many critics of it, it was unfamiliar, which ultimately made it uncomfortable. Leading to many vague, but emotionally charged criticisms of contemporary worship. Which were sentimental reactions, not theological arguments. People who were all for it, found it emotionally up-lifting. While they may say it was actually spiritual and not emotional. However, many proponents of the contemporary worship movement are starting to admit that it in no way produced good disciples. Which is strong evidence that contemporary enthusiasts were confusing emotion for spirit.

The primary difference between contemporary and traditional worship is the music. Many argue that hymns are more doctrinally sound and convicting, where contemporary praise music is but fluff that doesn't go any deeper than what God does for us. These are but broad and blanket statements that may sometimes ring true, but not always. For example, the famous hymn, Come Thou Fount, is very much a song about God's provision, so it's very praise song like in its subject matter. Plus, it's not that there are not convicting praise songs that are challenging to us as disciples. It's just they are not the ones that become famous and popular. Which I dare say reflects more upon the people listening, than the style of music.

One good argument I have heard against contemporary worship, is that it functions mostly as an attractant. Which is a product of evangelism and not worship. While we need both, we shouldn’t forsake one to emphasize the other. (Luke 11:42) No matter how much we may need new converts right now. Because of the contemporary worship movement's failures, it has led many to bring back liturgical worship in recent days. Which is a very old style that predates what we often refer to as traditional worship. While people are offering many reasons for this change, the most common being, this is what millennials supposedly want. I dare say the real reason is that it dates to a time before the church started to lose its hold in our world. As if that is the only factor in this loss.

But just like any other shift, it’s unfamiliar and it violates peoples comfort zones. So we are already encountering resistance to it. One of the big arguments against it, is that it can become rote. However, you can make the same argument about hymns and praise songs. We often sing along without any conscious thought once they become familiar to us. It’s just that the emotive aspect of music often camouflages how rote it can really be. Anything can become rote if the individual allows it. That burden lies on the sincerity of the worshiper, not the worship style. Not that I don’t understand where they are coming from when they call it rote. It was not until I had to fill in for the absent pastor and the responsibility of leading people in liturgy fell on me, did the real gravity of our responsive readings really strike me. It was through practicing it in private where I was really able to meditate on the power of the liturgy, not in corporate worship. So I challenge you, before you dismiss liturgy, to bring it into your private worship, assuming you even set aside a time for that. This experience got me thinking about some of the few times that scripture reveals what worship looks like in heaven.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” -Isaiah 6:1-3

After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! And the one seated there looks like jasper and carnelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads. Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal. Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing, “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” -Revelation 4:1-11

These scenes definitely have the earmarks of liturgy to them. That in itself is probably the best argument for liturgical worship you will ever find. Since it’s based upon examples from scripture, and not emotion, sentiment, or personal preference.

While liturgical worship may seem like a burdensome cross to bear for many. But let me remind you that Jesus told us to deny self, take up our cross, and follow him. (Matthew 16:24) So maybe it's about time we set aside the emotion, and preferences that causes us to follow self. Then start to offer true devotion and reverence for God by revealing his glory, as proper worship should. Maybe liturgy really is an effective way to get back to the true heart of sincere worship. A method that actually educates it’s followers, not just entertain them.

A person with fangs forcing others to worship her will
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Sunday, January 13, 2019

Human Nature

For those who were following my series on the human heart might have noticed I took a break from it over the Christmas season to do an Advent project. Soon, after an opportunity to guest speak came along, which I seized the opportunity to utilize some of my new found knowledge on the subject of the heart. Which you can watch for yourself at the link below. I hope to be back to my series very soon.
Human Nature

Jesus holding open a Bible as a sculptor re-carves a heart from the image.
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