Never Follow Your Emotions

In light of the danger of Selfie Christianity we must look at the whole issue of our emotions. While our emotions are always real they aren’t always right.  God has created us in His image with the ability to experience emotions.  Unfortunately we live in a fallen world and the pollution of sin, and our immaturity can cause our emotions to go astray.   Emotions are often connected to chemicals in our brains so we must appreciate them while at the same time hold them in suspicion.

What happens when our emotions are not telling us the truth? I have had my share of both feeling and moving in my emotions that lead me away from God’s truth.  Paul said, “be angry and sin not” (Eph 4:26).  While we can experience the emotion of anger we still have to avoid sinning when we feel it.

I have had times with my family over the years (family is often the laboratory for both revelation and development of real spiritual maturity) in which I reacted with an emotion and one of my children responded, “dad Jesus doesn’t want you to act that way.”  Of course those sobering times cause the only spiritually sane response, repentance.

CS Lewis “Sensations are merely the response of your nervous system. Don’t depend on them. Otherwise when they go and you are once more emotionally flat (as you certainly will be quite soon), you might think that the real thing had gone too. But it won’t. It will be there when you can’t feel it. May even be most operative when you can feel it least.

Sometimes our emotions can be so strong it seems we can’t help ourselves.  We believe them along with the thoughts that are generated with them.  When we feel depressed we wonder if God is there or really cares about us.  When we are excited we have no doubt He does. We can sometimes feel emotional pain out of a genuine tragedy, and sometimes out of a perceived offense that may not be real.  These feelings can be momentary and other times they can be ongoing.  The thoughts that come into our mind as a result of emotions can cause us to not see straight.  We can be confused, accused, and void of hope or happiness.

 Example of David

When I think about the variations of our emotions in serving God I often think about the Psalms.  David who wrote many of them experienced strong emotions, both good and bad.  Think about his emotional life.  He was a king, poet, writer of worship songs, a warrior who killed people, and one who was betrayed by friends and relatives who sought his position and his life.   His emotional life had great extremes and the Bible doesn’t hide it.  We do get insights from the Scripture on how David handled them, both right and wrong.

Two of the psalms David wrote about emotions were instructive Psalms (Maskils Ps 42-43). These two psalms show clear challenges and solutions with emotions.   Three times in these two chapters he makes a strong statement to himself about His emotions,   “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?  Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5).  His emotions were talking to him but he was also talking to himself.  I have often said we spend way too much time listening to our emotions and too little time talking to them.  Instead of just letting his emotions speak to him David spoke to his soul.

I have often said we spend way too much time listening to our emotions and too little time talking to them.

Think about it for a moment.  If God designed our emotions He surely can help us when they are out of alignment with Him.  Each time when David asked himself the question he came up with the same logic in God …. “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

Hope in God is a clarifying statement and a command.   It is a clear God perspective that pushes back against confusing and cloudy emotions.  He reminded himself of God’s care and future.

Two clear things we can lean from David’s responses

1. Emotions can be real but also lie.  We can’t always believe our emotions. David was willing to question his.  Why do I feel this way?  We need to question our feelings.  We live in a culture in which questioning our inside feelings has almost disappeared.  If I feel a certain way then it must be true.  If you feel like the opposite gender then you must be…who would argue with your feelings…who cares if it isn’t your biological sex…you need to go with whatever gender your feelings are telling you.   Our culture mistakenly thinks that questioning your feelings somehow will betray the authentic you.   

Obedience means marching right on whether we feel like it or not. Many times we go against our feelings. Faith is one thing, feeling is another. DL Moody

This subjective way of living is not only harmful to ourselves but also harmful to others.

I have met and tried to help many people who have felt the extreme pain of their spouse moving on an errant emotion of “I have fallen out of love with you and fallen in love with someone else.  I have to follow my heart.”  NO YOU DON’T, IF YOU ARE A CHRISTIAN YOU FOLLOW JESUS!

What I have experienced is that if we go with our emotions the very thing we mistakenly think will happen as a result never happens.  Jesus said we must “deny our self (emotions) to find His life.”  When I go with an emotion that is against God’s truth it rarely produces ongoing life, joy, fulfillment, or meaning.  Most of the time when I go against those feelings and live by the word of God I end up getting what Jesus said, life, hope, peace, and joy.

2. Hope is not just a feeling but a state of looking towards the God of hope. Romans 15:13  Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Even though David was confused like we often are, he comes to an important conclusion of truth.  Either life is an absurd meaningless existence or God is the only hope we have.

When we face the challenges of life, and everyone faces them, we will tend to conclude one of two things. Life is a random array of chance happenings or there is a God who is at work (Rom 8:26-32).  One way is meaningless darkness, the other gives hope in Jesus Christ.  God is bigger than us.  It only stands to reason that our future is in the hands of the God who cares for us.

We either hope in God or head to a cycle of despair, confused thinking, and wrong decisions.  Life is too challenging, too big, too unknown to figure it out on our own.  God is bigger and has revealed His love for us through His word.  It is much more emotionally healthy to hope in Him.  We must speak to ourselves and remind ourselves to “hope in God, for I will again praise Him.”  Life is too big, too unknown and too confusing for us to figure it out on our own. God is our salvation. Our souls can find their hope in Him.

 

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Copernicus Challenge to Selfie Christianity

The first thing Jesus taught about His Kingdom while on the earth was that the foundation for Kingdom advancement in our lives is poverty of spirit.  Mt 5:2-3 He opened His mouth and began to teach the crowd,   ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they are the ones who receive the Kingdom.” In any area of our lives poverty of spirit is the first step in receiving the Kingdom (active rule of God). That is one of the reasons Jesus laid it out as the foundation of Kingdom advancement.(See Part 1 Part 2)

Poverty of spirit is the sweet root from which all other of God virtues in our life will shoot.  

As I survey the Christian landscape during the 39 years I have served Jesus it seems many Christians have come to prize opposite traits than poverty of spirit.  That is why we often see so little Kingdom fruit.  We need a renewal of something I call a “Copernicus challenge.”  I chose this name after the famed Polish astronomer Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543).  He was both a scientist and a deeply religious man.  He even held a cathedral position with the church his whole life. Even though he loved the church and was in the church, he came into great conflict with the church.  What was his conflict?  Up until that time science believed that the earth was the center of the universe.  Through his research he determined that the sun, not the earth, was the center.  What a shock! How dare he say that “our planet” was not the center of all God’s creation.  This caused so much conflict with the church that at one point he was placed under arrest for heresy and his books banned.  His work proving his theory was not able to be published until after his death.

We are facing a similar conflict today, not just with culture, but like Copernicus, with the church.   The rise of the consumer driven therapeutic gospel of self esteem over the past 50 years has caused God’s people to buy into a selfie Christianity.  It is a similar challenge to what Copernicus faced in the Scientific realm.  In the gospel of self esteem we become the center of God’s universe.  God and every other created thing (including the church) exists to revolve around our lives and make us better.  Instead of our lives revolving around the Son, everything about Him and others revolves around us. We, not He becomes the center of God’s story.  A Copernicus challenge bumps up against this.

The consumer driven therapeutic gospel of self esteem goes something like this.  God was kind of lonely and needed people to fill His emotional needs so He created these wonderful beings called humans. We are so great and full of potential it was only reasonable that God would need us.  He is crazy about us.  Like a doting parent He exists to make us happy and fulfill every spontaneous whim we have.  We are the center of His story.

From that posture we force the Bible and God to revolve around our lives.  Everything we pray about and read from His word is twisted to put us, and our desires at the center.  God and all His creation revolves around us.  They exist to make “our story” fulfilled.  Every teaching, command, and everything God asks of us is simply suggestions for our personal betterment.  If we don’t like it, no worry, it’s all about our happiness.

Sola Scriptura or Selfie Sciptura

The Protestant Reformation had a fresh rediscovery that the Bible is the sole basis of our faith and practice.  The Latin phrase “Sola Scriptura” (God’s word is the objective guide for our faith) became a battle cry.  Today instead of the Bible being the basis of our faith and practice self is. Instead of Sola Scriptura it becomes Selfie Scriptura. Everything in the Bible is interpreted with us at the center.  Scripture is interpreted through the interpreter’s ideas, opinions, attitudes, feelings, experiences, beliefs, and impressions.  Instead of what God intends His word to say, whatever makes us feel better, happier, and more fulfilled according to our definition is perceived as truth.

The revelation that He loves us deeply does not point to our intrinsic greatness, but His. 

What about all the Scriptures in which God indicated He is crazy about us and we are full of potential? Before we start cherry picking passages and stringing them together in a selfie package let’s set God’s framework.  The revelation that He loves us deeply does not point to our intrinsic greatness, but His.  His love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and long suffering points to His glory not ours.  Salvation is about His greatness.  If we don’t see this we will always look at God’s word with our smiling selfie in the center of it.

“My Shepherd” or His sheep

A great example of this is seen one of the most quoted chapters in the Bible, Psalms 23.  If quoted and applied with Selfie Sciptura it has a different trajectory.  “The Lord is My Shepherd” (almost like He owes us and we own Him).   “I shall not be in need” (My Shepherd exist to fulfill all my needs and desires).  “He lets me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters” (He always gives me things).    “He restores my soul and leads me in the best paths of righteousness” (I deserve the best and that is how He leads me).  If we stop there with a Narcigeses (Narcissistic self interprets scripture) instead of an Exegeses (sound interpretation of Scripture) we will forget the most important part of God’s motive in this passage.  He “lead’s me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Psalms 23:3).

Poverty of spirit will cause someone, like the Apostle Paul, to realize that the only thing they can boast about is that they have nothing to boast about except Jesus (2 Corinthians 12:5-9).

All the good things of God reveal His greatness not ours.  If we don’t keep this perspective we end up making self an idol in which God’s universe revolves around.  If we understand that it is about His glory then we keep self in its proper place.  In 20 of the 25 times Jesus calls people to “follow Him” in the gospels the first step is to deny self.  I remember the shock of Selfie Scriptura when we were trying to help someone avoid abandoning his wife and family (which he unfortunately did).  A friend tried to get Him to consider what the Bible says about faithfulness and marriage.  His crazy selfie scriptura reply, “I know the Bible says I shouldn’t do this but it also says He wants me to be happy so He is okay with it!

 

Consider just a few of the many Bible truths that show us the important foundation of His glory.

  • God chose His people and created us for his glory Eph 4:1-6, Is 43:6-7, Isa 49:3, Jer 13:11.
  • God rescued Israel from Egypt for His glory Ps 106:7-8.
  • God defeated Pharaoh at the Red Sea to show His glory Ex 14:4, 18.
  • God spared Israel in the wilderness for the glory of His name Ezek 20:14
  • God gave Israel victory in Canaan for the glory of His name 2 Sam 7:23
  • Jesus and Peter told us to do good works so that God gets glory Mt 5:16, 1 Pet 2:12
  • Jesus warned that not seeking God’s glory makes faith impossible Jn 5:44
  • God answers prayer that He would be glorified Jn 14:13
  • God forgives our sins for his own sake Isa 43:25, Ps 25:11
  • Jesus receives us into his fellowship for the glory of God Rom 15:7.
  • The ministry of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Jesus Jn 16:14
  • God instructs us to do everything for His glory 1 Cor 10:31
  • God tells us to serve in a way that will glorify Him 1 Pet 4:11.
  • Jesus will fill us with fruits of righteousness for God’s glory Phil 1:9, 11.
  • All sin causes us to fall short of the glory of God Rom 3:23.
  • He will return of the Lord will cause Him to be glorified in His people 2 Thes 1:9-10.
  • God’s plan is to fill the earth with the knowledge of his glory Hab 2:14, Eph 3:10-11
  • Everything good that happens comes from Him, though Him, and to Him for His glory Rom 11:36, Col 1:13-18.

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Continual First Step of Kingdom Advancement Part 2

I remember reading a story of a young American student who visited the Beethoven Museum in Bonn, Germany. The student became fascinated by Beethoven’s piano that was on display there.

It was a thrill to think that Beethoven had composed some of his greatest works on that piano! The student who fancied herself a good pianist who had played for years asked the museum guard if she might play a few notes on it. She offered him a little money on the side to let her play.  He agreed and the girl sat and played a tune.  As she finished she asked the guard, “I suppose all the great pianists who come here want to play on that piano.” To her surpise he said, “Paderewski, the famous Polish pianist was here a few years ago, and he said he wasn’t worthy to touch it.”  This story highlights  an important issue in God’s kingdom, humility (poverty of spirit).

As I wrote in my last post the idea of the “Kingdom of God” centers around His active rulership.  The best thing that can happen to any person on the face of the earth is for more of God’s loving rulership (Kingdom) taking over more of their life.  As that happens His Kingdom continually advances in and though our lives (Mat 13:31-32, Mk 4:30-32,  Luk 13:18-19).

“If you are wrapped up in yourself you will be a very small package.” Benjamin Franklin

The initial step, and continuing steps of receiving His Kingdom in any area of our lives is humility (poverty of spirit). When we abandon poverty of spirit we will prohibit the Kingdom from advancing in our lives.

It usually goes something like this; we become aware of an area of our lives, an attitude, or a reaction that is not under His rule.  As we are challenged about it by the Spirit, the Word, and often through His people, we are faced with a decision.  We humble ourselves (poverty of spirit), confess our sin, repent (turn away from it), and freshly yield ourselves to Jesus.  His restoration follows.

The opposite of poverty of spirit (pride) keeps us from this process.  That is why poverty of spirit is the first step, and continual first step of receiving His Kingdom.  I like what the great saint Augustine said about it, “It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility (poverty of spirit) that makes men as angels.”

Poverty of spirit is that sweet root from which all of God’s virtues will shoot.

Sheep and Goats

One of the analogies Jesus used about those who continually receive His kingdom and those who don’t are sheep and goats.  Sheep humbly receive;  goats proudly resist. Goats are famous for butting others.  That resistance is part of their nature.  We have all exhibited qualities of goats when we resist/butt others who are trying to help us receive His kingdom in various areas of our lives.

Here is a cue that we are acting more like a goat.  When we find ourselves resisting truth about our attitudes or actions by using the word “but”… but you don’t understand…but you did this…but I was having a bad day…but who are you etc., it should be a wake up call.  Sheep respond with yes Lord, while goats respond by butting.

Judas goat

Another problem with goats is their destructive influence on others.  Shepherds sometimes train a goat to associate with sheep to lead them to specific destinations, like to be corralled or slaughtered.  The name they aptly give for this goat is the Judas goat after the Biblical character.  Isn’t that an accurate spiritual metaphor of what happens with goats among sheep?  Goats possess a stubborn streak and resist directions they don’t like and God clearly shows us He doesn’t like it (Zechariah 10:3, Matthew 25:31-33).  They always end up leading sheep astray from God’s kingdom not just in what they say but in attitudes and actions.

When our desires, ideas, and will crosses His, we are faced with the issue “Who is in charge here?” Is Jesus ruling or are we?  Is His way the right way or ours?”  The poor in spirit yield; the goats resist.  Poverty of spirit is what makes us able to walk with God and the imperfect people He joins us to.

Here is a good poverty of spirit test:  

  • Do I live with a constant awareness that I am dependent on God, or do I think I have enough ability, strength, and wisdom to manage my life?
  • Am I anxious about my life and future?  Humbly trusting God leads to peace.
  • Am I consistently self-conscious?  Am I overly concerned about what people think about me or replay in my mind how I looked in various situations?
  • Do I have a fear of man more than a fear of God? Am I afraid to take stands or make decisions because of what others think?
  • Am I easily embarrassed and often feel insecure?
  • Am I always comparing myself to others?
  • Do I desire to receive credit and recognition for things and feel slighted when I don’t?
  • Am I deceptive about myself in front of others in order to preserve my reputation?
  • Am I selfishly ambitious and/or overly competitive?
  • Am I easily inconvenienced when asking to sacrifice or serve?
  • Do I feel a sense of favor when I help others succeed and I get no credit for it?
  • Do I feel better than others?
  • Do I make it hard for people to challenge me without attacking them or what they are saying?
  • Do I tend to see myself as more gifted and talented than others?
  • Do I feel deserving of things or entitled rather than seeing them as a gift?
  • Do I wallow in self-pity or am I overly consumed with how I am treated?
  • Am I jealous or envious of others abilities, possessions, positions, or accomplishments?
  • Do I tend to be a know it all?
  • Do I find it easy to reveal my own mind and have answers for practically every situation?
  • Do I have a hard time getting things out of teachings because I usually think of someone else who needs to hear them?
  • Is it hard for me to admit I am wrong?
  • Do I encourage people to correct me, but then make them feel uncomfortable in doing it?
  • Am I stubborn?
  • Is it easy for me to find things to criticize others about?
  • Is it hard for me to point to any one I am submitted to in a real way?

If these things look familiar run to the good shepherd and He will work His nature in you (Phil 2:11-13)..

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