What the Heart Wants

This entry is part 86 of 86 in the series Holiness Matters
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It seems nowadays everyone has their own angle. They are out to please themselves or get ahead in life. It doesn’t help that our American culture champions selfish ambition, greed, and every sort of desire.

If everyone followed their own desires all the time, we would live in a pretty selfish world. There are some people who use their selfish desires to help others, but usually they want the glory, praise, and attention. It’s to make themselves look good more than to help others.

God checks our motives regularly. The Holy Spirit is watching everything we do and he knows why we do them. The Bible talks about desires mostly as evil. “The Flesh” represents the selfish desires we have.

Christians fight the flesh every day. It always wants us to return to the days before we met Christ. But we must stand firm against it. The Bible also talks about godly desires. We must constantly choose to serve God instead of our flesh.

Selfish Desires

Jesus wants to change selfish desires into godly ones. The Bible talks about selfishness and the lack of self-control everyone has before they meet Jesus. When the Holy Spirit dwells in you, your desires change from selfish desires to serving desires.

We want to serve others and to serve God. We want to be servants in his kingdom. Jesus taught us as his disciples that the greatest one in his kingdom is the one who is servant of all (Matthew 18:4; John 15:12-15). Serving God’s kingdom is our greatest calling.

Selfish desires don’t look out for others. They only look out for number one, me. And don’t think for a second that just because you become a Christian your selfish desires go away. You have to fight them every day.

But we can have victory through the fruit of the Spirit, self-control and love for others, to name a few (Galatians 5:22-23). This is where God makes one of the biggest differences in our lives. He makes us want something other than our own success.

Christians begin to think of other Christians, and even those who aren’t Christians. They seek the welfare of others before their own. It’s not that we can’t satisfy our desires. But they have changed to serve Christ first. We seek his kingdom and glory before our own.

And God blesses our lack of selfishness. He blesses our desire to serve others. In serving others, we are blessed ourselves. We don’t serve others to get our own blessing. But God blesses us because we put others first.

Kill the desire to serve yourself. Put selfish desires away. Serve God and his kingdom, his people and others around you first, and you will find that everything else falls into place (Matthew 6:33).

Evil Desires

Another type of desire we find in the Bible that doesn’t please God is an evil desire. These are the sins we used to commit before we met Jesus. Evil desires focus on hurting others. They definitely don’t please God.

These are the desires that come from the evil one, Satan. He wants nothing more than to get Christians off track. One of the best ways to do that is to tempt them in every way. But he can’t tempt us beyond what we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13).

We need God to give us the way of escape when temptation comes. Be prepared for it. Have a plan so you can avoid temptation. You can’t be tempted if you make your escape plan beforehand. All you have to do is put it into action when temptation comes.

Another way to avoid temptation that leads to sin and evil desires is to be doing God’s works. When we work for God, we don’t focus on the passions of this world. We have a goal, a mission to accomplish. We get focused on what God wants us to do instead of what the devil tempts us with.

Avoid evil desires and temptation. Seek God’s kingdom and righteousness first. Remember that every time you fulfill an evil desire, you don’t just hurt yourself. One of the lures of sin is that it won’t affect anyone else. Every sin we commit hurts God’s heart and causes us strife.

Godly Desires

When you look at “desire” in the Bible, you’ll find that most of the references reference selfish and evil desires. But the Bible also talks about the godly desires Jesus gives us when he creates us as new creatures.

Psalm 37:4 promises us that if we delight ourselves and the Lord, he will give us the desires of our heart. What most people don’t understand about this verse is it’s not saying we’ll get whatever we want.

When Jesus tells us we can ask anything in his name, we are not asking for a convertible or 1 million dollars (John 14:13-14). We are asking “in his name.” When we get the desires of our heart, we delight in the Lord. Nothing is focused on selfish desires.

When we delight ourselves in the Lord, we want what he wants. Our desires aren’t selfish. They are God centered desires. This is the difference Jesus makes in us. We no longer ask him for what we want selfishly.

James cautions Christians to not ask God for their own selfish desires. They will never get what they want that way (James 4:3). Instead, we focus on what God wants and how to serve others. When we have these godly desires, God gives us the desires of our heart.

Every once in a while God blesses me beyond measure with something I have wanted. But I don’t seek that desire He surprises me with it. But these kinds of things only happen when we seek godly desires instead of selfish and evil ones.

Conclusion

The Bible talks a lot about our desires. But when we meet Jesus, our desires change from selfish and evil ones the godly ones. We want to serve God with all of our heart. We want to give ourselves completely to God’s will.

We learned very quickly as we serve God that his wisdom is better than the world’s. We get the most benefit out of serving God. We don’t serve him to look good in front of others. We serve him out of love and gratitude for his selfless act on the cross for us.

What are some ways you avoid selfish and evil desires? How do you serve God’s kingdom and his righteousness in your life?

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God’s Coming Kingdom

This entry is part 412 of 424 in the series Inquiring Minds
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What is the meaning of the expression, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed” in Luke 17:20?

In this passage, Jesus is teaching about the kingdom in the end times. Because he is teaching about it in this timeframe, he is saying that his kingdom has already begun in the hearts of men. That’s why you can’t observe it or see it.

The way you see it is in the hearts of Christians. They are showing you what it means to be part of God’s kingdom with their speech and actions. He is not saying you can’t observe the kingdom. He saying it comes in ways you are not used to seeing a kingdom come.

Jesus’ kingdom is not part of this world. It’s not like the kingdoms and empires and nations we see around the world. It’s not something that comes about in the same ways, founded by people and throwing its strength and weight around in the world.

At the moment Jesus answers the question of the Pharisees about his kingdom, he represents and is God’s kingdom on earth. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, when he says “the kingdom of God is in your midst,” he is saying that he as God’s kingdom is standing right in front of them.

When you take this understanding of the first century AD, all of the religious leaders in Israel missed the coming of the kingdom through the Messiah, Jesus. They were looking for it in other ways, but God chose to bring it through his Son. In a way, he was saying that if they are asking the question, they had already missed the kingdom of God.

Jesus inaugurated God’s kingdom on earth during his earthly ministry. But it continues in the hearts of people who trust and believe in him today and throughout history. So God’s kingdom has never worked the way earthly 6 do. That’s why they can’t observe it’s coming.

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Get a Grip

This entry is part 85 of 86 in the series Holiness Matters
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Who hasn’t destroyed a relationship, or at least seriously injured one, because of a hot temper? Jealousy can ruin a couple’s relationship in no time flat. We have laws against hate speech. You can get into so much trouble with your emotions.

Throughout the Bible we see some of these volatile emotions playing out. David is a man after God’s heart but commits adultery, conspiracy to commit murder, lying, and suffers an incredible loss in the death of a baby. Unchecked emotions can ruin lives.

The Bible speaks about all of these volatile emotions. Even more, God demonstrates most of them. Think about a God who is angry and jealous and hates. Who wants to be part of that religion? That’s one of the ways we know Christianity is true. God is not a god of human imagination or making. He is his own God.

I didn’t title this, “Get a Grip” because I think you need to fix your problems with volatile emotions. This may be something someone says to you, but don’t listen to them. You’re not broken if you experience any of the subjects I discuss.

We’re going to look at some of the most volatile emotions humans experience. What does the Bible have to say about these emotions? And how can we deal with them in a godly way?

Volatile Emotions

Volatile emotions are the ones that get us into trouble. They are the extremes of our emotional spectrum. They cover anger, hate, lust, jealousy, and even depression. These emotions are the ones that get us into the most trouble.

They usually cause visceral reactions in us that make our actions the kind to ruin relationships, jobs, and even lives if we aren’t careful. As I mentioned in my blog post Feeling It, we’ll have emotions but we must figure out how to react to them.

Some of our emotions are easier to deal with than others. In fact, the exact opposite emotions of these volatile ones we will discuss below are much more comfortable. It’s not that we never have any mixups with the emotion of love, but it usually doesn’t cause us to burst out in an uncontrolled reaction.

Anger

Perhaps the most volatile emotion we deal with his anger. We live in the climate of anger right now as I write this in our politics and society. Rather than listen to one another or find a way to compromise between two extreme positions, people choose to ignore one another and shout at each other.

Jesus internalized murder in the emotion of anger during his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:27-30?). He said that murder is the outward reaction to inner anger issues. We have anger management classes to try to control this emotion.

It’s not that if you get angry at someone you will murder them physically, but we do a lot of murdering in our minds. Here’s what I mean by that: if I’m angry with someone, I start thinking about all the things I wish I could do to them. I find a way to murder their character. Even the silent treatment is a reaction from anger. We are essentially erasing that person from the conversation.

We must be careful with our anger. The Bible tells us not to let the sun go down on her anger, to make sure that we don’t sin (Ephesians 4:26). But God is angry with Israel in the Old Testament and he has wrath for anyone who does not turn away from sin.

So how do we deal with anger like God does? By his very nature, God cannot be wrong. If he acts with anger, it is righteous. That’s the key. We need to learn how to have righteous anger in this world.

Righteous anger for us is an anger toward sin and the devil. It is anger for the injustices of this world due to wickedness and depravity. It’s not directed toward people as much as toward the principalities and evil spiritual forces in this world that currently control the world system.

We can be angry at the devil and angry at sin and wickedness for destroying relationships and lives. Any other type of vendor is probably not righteous anger. We can genuinely take it before God in prayer and allow him to help us with anger issues.

Hatred

The opposite of love is hatred. We have a lot of hateful and spiteful people in the world today. But the Bible talks a lot about hatred as well. John talks about hating our brother or sister in Christ, which you would think would never happen because the Bible tells us to love one another (1 John 2:9).

After all, we’re supposed to demonstrate the unconditional love of Jesus to everyone around us (1 John 4:7). But that doesn’t mean people don’t get on our nerves. We throw around the word hate too much in our world today. That might be the reason we have laws against hate speech.

Although I believe most hate speech is more political than relational, it is not hard for us to demonstrate hate thoughts or hate speech. The problem is that you can’t legislate emotions. You need a heart change and discipline from the Holy Spirit.

Even God demonstrates hate in the Bible. Some people think that when he says he hated Esau and loved Jacob that he was having an emotional reaction. But in that passage, it’s referring to God’s choice of one over the other.

He hates sin and the devil for what they have done to his creation. An awful lot of destruction has happened to God’s perfect creation since the world began. In the same way, we can demonstrate righteous hate by hating the same things God hates. It’s not about hating people but about hating the world systems and evil powers in this world.

Jealousy

God demonstrates jealousy throughout the Bible, especially when he talks about his people Israel’s desire to follow idols. God views his relationship with his people as a marriage. This is what he calls them adulterers, when they follow after idols.

Many prophetic books describe God’s relationship with Israel as a marriage. Hosea talks about the prostitution of Israel. He marries a prostitute by God’s command so his life and marriage becomes an image of what Israel is doing to God by following idols.

We have jealousy in our relationships too. But our jealousy comes out of selfishness and distrust. We can have righteous jealousy when we’re jealous for the things of God being used in the wrong way.

Jealousy is a difficult subject for some people. We begin to think that we own the person we are with, and that only spawns other problems in the relationship. Learning to trust one another and to be selfless helps in the category of jealousy.

Lust

Jesus also talked about last being the core in an emotion that leads to adultery (Matthew 5:27-30). Just as he talked about anger leading to murder in extreme cases, lust leads to adultery. This is one of the emotional states the world finds acceptable and exploits.

But the Bible tells us otherwise. Lust robs us of intimacy. According to the Bible, any relationship outside of marriage in which there are sexual thoughts or actions is sexual immorality.

Only within a marriage is sexual activity allowed. When we go outside of marriage even in our heart or thoughts, we violate the biblical rules for our relationships.

Lust draws us away from God. It can keep us from experiencing intimacy with him because we’re focusing on fulfilling our own gratification in the wrong ways. The Bible says a lot about lust, but let’s just say it’s out of bounds.

Depression

Depression is one of the touchy subjects within Christian circles. Biblical psychology and counseling have helped us to understand more about depression and why Christians would be depressed.

One of the standard responses to Christians saying they were depressed used to be, “How can you be depressed? Jesus fills our lives with joy every day.” But there are many different reasons for depression. There is long-term and short-term depression, and Christians can experience both.

One of the reasons for short-term depression could be the death of a loved one. It’s only natural to be depressed at their absence. Paul tells us we don’t grieve as the world does when Christians die (1 Thessalonians 4:13), but that doesn’t mean we don’t grieve at all.

Long-term depression for Christians comes from a range of issues. One of the most common is a chemical imbalance that can be corrected through medicine. There is nothing wrong with getting treatment for this type of depression.

Christians are often reticent to visit counselors or psychologists when they have clinical or long-term depression. This has been frowned upon in the past in Christian circles.

However, my advice is to go to a Christian counselor so your treatment will be based on biblical values. Don’t be afraid to get help. Jesus wants you to live the life of an overcomer. Within the body of Christ there are Christian counselors and mental health professionals that can guide you in that direction.

A Biblical Approach

All of our volatile emotions can be challenges. There is help in Jesus for each one of them. First, evaluate whether or not it is a righteous volatile emotion. If it is, direct it in prayer against the powers of this world. If it’s not, ask God for his help to react properly to the emotions you feel.

If you need the help of other saints in the body of Christ who have the professional capacity to counsel you, seek them out. God doesn’t want you to suffer with depression or grief long-term. He wants you to live a life of freedom.

Some of these subjects and emotions are touchy ones. I’ve done my best to give an introduction to volatile emotions and some avenues on how to deal with them. In many churches, the pastoral leadership can help you find resources to deal with these emotions. Don’t be a stranger to those who can help you.

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Jesus’ Mother and Brothers

This entry is part 411 of 424 in the series Inquiring Minds
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What is the meaning of Matthew 12:46?

While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”” (Matthew 12:46–50, ESV)

Through Jesus’ ministry, he had to balance his earthly family with his heavenly family. One instance is the beginning of John 2 at the wedding in Cana when his mother essentially told the servants to do whatever Jesus said, even though he asked to not be involved.

Yet he did it anyway. He took care of the supply of wine at the wedding feast. But Jesus never does anything at the command of a human being. What he did at the wedding in Cana he did to show his divine provision and power.

So when Jesus says that his mother and brothers are those that do the will of his Father, he isn’t disowning his earthly mother and brothers. He is making a spiritual comparison. Those who do God’s will are part of God’s family. Therefore, they are Jesus’ brothers and sisters and mother.

At the point of this account, Jesus’ earthly mother and brothers are interrupting his teaching. No matter what they want, it can wait until after he is finished teaching and preaching. Jesus cares deeply about his family on earth. But they must not keep him from doing the Father’s will also.

For anyone who is involved in any type of ministry, even as a volunteer, this same ability to weigh family relationships with God’s work is a challenge. Depending on your family background, your family members may not understand the importance and priority you place on being part of God’s work.

Many of Jesus’ brothers did not come to believe in him until after his death and resurrection. But some of their writings are recorded in Scripture, most notably James and Jude. But at this time in his ministry they did not understand the importance of the Father’s work for Jesus.

Perhaps what the family had to tell Jesus was important at the time. But it’s hard to interrupt him in the middle of his teaching. So he makes an illustration of what it means to do God’s work and be part of his family.

This doesn’t give us permission to neglect our family members when we are working for God. Too many ministers have families that have been torn apart because they did not give adequate attention and time to their family members.

Part of doing God’s work is loving your spouse and raising your children in the fear of the Lord. If you don’t accomplish that, all of the other things you do for God will be judged and held in question at the end of the age.5

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Carried by Angels

This entry is part 410 of 424 in the series Inquiring Minds
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What does it mean that Lazarus was carried off by the angels to Abraham’s side (Luke 16:22)?

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 is only conveyed by Luke. None of the other Gospels have this parable. It seems to indicate that we either receive our blessings from the Lord in this life or the next.

The parable begins with a rich man who has everything he wants in this life while Lazarus, a poor man outside his gates, is mistreated by him and suffers while the rich man could help him. But he chooses not to do this, so Lazarus suffers while the rich man enjoys his wealth.

Both Lazarus and the rich man die and are taken to their eternity. The rich man ends up in Hades under extreme pressure from the heat and fire around him. Lazarus goes to “Abraham’s bosom,” perhaps a Hebrew phrase for heaven.

Jesus proceeds to tell of how the rich man suffers in Hades and Lazarus is finally comforted. The rich man asks Abraham to have Lazarus serve him even a drop of cool water. Abraham explains that he received his enjoyment while he was on earth.

The parable ends by the rich man asking Abraham to send Lazarus back to his brothers and family so that they can hear about what happens after this life. Abraham tells them that they have the prophets and the Scriptures.

They won’t even believe if a man like Lazarus is raised from the dead to tell them about what happened afterward. They should listen to the source they have, the Scriptures, and obey them. He may have even alluded to his own resurrection that will happen after his ministry, death, and burial.

The phrase, “carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom” may be euphemisms for death and heaven. To be carried by angels probably refers to Lazarus’ journey through death to heaven. Abraham’s bosom is probably a Hebrew euphemism for heaven, the place for Abraham went to.

What’s just as interesting is that Jesus presents Abraham as being alive and in heaven in this parable. In other words, Abraham is not in Sheol. This goes against the idea of soul sleep. If we take this parable to be a representation of what happens when we die, we are in the presence of the Lord immediately.

It is an interesting parable because of some of the things it represents. But since it is only in Luke, it is even more interesting that he would cover this parable and no one else did. Regardless, it is part of the scriptural record and therefore can be believed just as much as something that is said more than once.

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Beginning of Genesis

This entry is part 409 of 424 in the series Inquiring Minds
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How does the Book of Genesis begin?

Genesis is the book of beginnings. So it would make sense that Genesis begins at the beginning of human history. It doesn’t tell the beginning of God, because God has always existed and will always exist.

But it does begin with human history, creation itself. God is the agent of creation. He is above and beyond it. That’s why the very first verse of the Bible tells us that in the beginning (of human history) God created the heavens (universe) and the earth (Genesis 1:1).

Many people discern what they call a “gap” between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. The way the language works, this could either be the beginning of a new sentence or the continuation of the old. I suggest that it is the beginning of a new thought. I will explain better below.

Genesis 1 continues by outlining in poetic form God creating the universe and everything in it by his voice. He speaks the word and it happens. Creation responds to the presence and voice of God.

There are a couple of things about the creation poem people don’t understand. First of all, they think there is an inconsistency between all six days. People wonder how God can call forth light on day one but then on day four he puts lights in the sky.

One of the schemes running throughout the poetic passage is that God forms creation on the first three days and then fills what he has formed on days five through six. This forming and filling is based off of two Hebrew words in the beginning where the earth was formless and empty or void. That small Hebrew phrase sets up the idea of the forming in the first three days and the filling in the next three days. The number three is significant throughout the Bible.

The other thing people wonder about is why there is “evening and morning” instead of morning and evening. Basically, in the Hebrew culture, a day goes from evening to the morning. As an example, the Sabbath is observed beginning in the evening on Friday and ending in the evening on Saturday.

At the end of Genesis 1, God describes how he makes humans with a special, privileged status. He decides to make humanity in his image (Genesis 1:26-27). This is one of the ways distinguishes humans even from the animals that he creates.

In Genesis 2, the chapter opens with an explanation of the final, seventh day. God rests on the seventh day not because he needs the rest, but to set an example for humanity for later. Throughout the Pentateuch/Torah, the Sabbath rest becomes part of the Law of Moses.

God teaches by example that humans need a day of rest. During that day of rest, we do not only physically rest from work, but we rest in the presence of God. It is a day dedicated to the Lord in worship. It is a day where we rest not only physically, but spiritually and mentally.

The rest of Genesis 2 focuses on God’s creation of animals and humanity, paying specific attention to humanity. It expounds on how God created humans differently than the rest of his creation. Whereas he spoke everything into existence, he slows down and “forms the man out of the dust of the earth.”

God slows down because he wants to take time with the pinnacle of his creation. Genesis 1 tells us he made us in his image. Genesis 2 tells us he takes time to form us out of the dust personally. He doesn’t just speak humans into existence. Later the Bible talk about him forming us in the womb (Psalm 139:13-16).

The third mark of his special creation is that he breathes the breath of life into us (Genesis 2:7). The word for breath and Spirit in the Bible is the same in both languages. This may bear significance, that he breathes into man and not into animals. It has a spiritual sense to it. This may speak of the human soul or life given by God, the eternal part of us housed in the dust of the earth, our bodies.

There is one more mark that we are his special creation among the creation. He institutes marriage among men and women, but also even more significantly, he gives humanity charge to steward the earth as its masters.

The image of God may be reflected in us mastering creation in a smaller way, as he is the Master of his creation. His image may also be reflected in marriage, and the joining of man and woman together, two compatible people for one another, just as the members of the Trinity are compatible with one another in intimate relationship.

Returning to the point about the gap between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2, there is a larger structure at work in the beginning of Genesis. Imagine a telescope. The end is larger than the beginning. We look through the small and and it gets larger so we can see smaller things.

But if you reverse that image, Genesis 1:1 is like looking through the wide scope first, seeing the wider picture. Then beginning at Genesis 1:2, the scope gets a little bit smaller, beginning to zero in on the story in more detail.

By the time we reach Genesis 2, the scope gets even smaller, further zooming in on the details of creation. It is not a gap, but zeroing in on the details of creation each time. It’s just most noticeable from the first verse to the second.

The book of Genesis doesn’t stop there with beginnings. We will next see in further chapters the beginning of the fall of man, the first murder, the beginning of separation between good and evil, the first violation of marriage by the “Sons of God” marrying the “daughters of man” and having relations with them.

We will see God become so disgusted with the wickedness of humanity that through the Flood he starts over with creation. We will also see the beginning of wickedness again starting with Noah, and the Tower of Babel later on.  

We will finally see the beginning of nations in Genesis 10-11. Since none of these plans works for God’s redemption of his creation, he will begin again with a person instead of a nation, Abraham, and build a nation for himself, Israel, beginning with him.

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Feeling It

This entry is part 84 of 86 in the series Holiness Matters
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

For many of us, emotions run our lives. None of us can stop the emotion from happening. And there’s a few of us who don’t even think about how we react. Our emotions can get us into trouble and most of them can’t be trusted.

Emotions make and break relationships. At some point, because of emotions we fall in love or begin a friendship. In that same token, if people believe falling in love is the only criteria for marriage, divorce can happen when they fall out of love.

We’ve been discussing the biblical mind and what all is included when the Bible talks about our heart and mind. In this post we are going to look at how our emotions play a role in our thinking and decision making process.

Thoughts and Feelings

One of my favorite TV shows, Star Trek, has an alien named Spock. He is a Vulcan, completely devoted to shutting out all emotions and not reacting on them. He’s half human, so he has emotions even more than other Vulcans. But he does his best to repress them.

But we are not Vulcans. And the Bible doesn’t intend for us to be Vulcans. It includes our emotions in our thought process, the thoughts we have, and our feelings. As much as we like to tear systems apart in our sciences and figure out how each component contributes to the system, human beings aren’t built that way.

Sure, you could take all of the members that make up our bodies and see the relationships in each of the bodily systems. But when it comes to the brain, the mind, and emotions, it’s way different. No one can take a component or two away and figure out each part, then work up to the whole system.

Emotions are particularly tricky because they are not only based on our thoughts and intentions, the ways that others react to what we do or say, but include our background, cultural norms, thought processes, social expectations, and probably more I can’t even think of.

When I took a psychology class in seminary, the books and the professor said that our feelings are based on our thinking. This is mostly true, except for everything I pointed out above. The fact is that science can never fully explain the emotions we have and the ways we react.

Some people have a very high social IQ while others are like Sheldon from the Big Bang theory sitcom. They have no idea what you are feeling no matter how many facial and the social clues you give them.

The way we think includes our background and all of the other things I’ve mentioned. And once we go through the process of thinking, emotions come along with it. That’s why the Bible includes the heart and mind together.

We often say that the seat of our emotions is in our heart, and we reason and think with our mind. But we can’t separate one from the other. When a person makes a decision to move, the way they feel about the place is as much a factor as the cold hard facts and bottom-line of the new move (Yes, I’ve been watching way too much HGTV as well).

So instead of trying to hide our emotions in our reasoning, we need to accept the fact that we think and feel at the same time before we make our choices. As usual, the Bible is not unfamiliar with the makeup of human beings. The Hebrew culture got this right by including the heart and mind together, and the Bible reflects that.

Emotion Influencers

In my opinion, the number one influencer of our emotions is our relationships with other people. The way other people react to what we say and do plays a big part not only in current decisions, but in future thinking and decisions.

When we get a positive response, our brain is trained to enjoy that response and try to repeat it. If we think that we, our emotions come right along with it. When we don’t make a favorable decision, we figure out what went wrong and try not to do it again.

There’s a lot of science in training your brain. People try to figure out how to get the brain to think the way they want so they get the responses and actions they want. Habit tracking is becoming a big business.

Self-help books fly off the shelf, especially the ones that promise they can change your life and habits in months or even a year or two. And our emotions come along for the ride. They are often the result of our thought process.

Our background and culture influence our thinking more than we can imagine. We learn from a young age what’s expected of us. The brain works the same way. It looks for ways to please others and receive a positive result. But it shuns negative experiences.

If we learn to talk and think a certain way in our culture, we carry that with us wherever we go. Even in a new environment, old habits and backgrounds are hard to break. The brain is adaptive and may be able to change those background and cultural settings eventually, but it’s going to take a while.

Everyone has emotions. We can’t avoid them. We can’t shut them off or form habits that keep us from experiencing emotions. God didn’t make us to be mindless drones or people who only use reason. He created us like him, so we have emotions as he does.

The Bible doesn’t tell us not to feel. It gives us wisdom on how to react to those feelings. In my next post I will address the volatile emotions God and we have from time to time. We can use our emotions in positive and God honoring ways.

A Genuine Approach

Since we can’t turn our emotions off or hide them, we need to deal with them in a genuine and biblical way. Embarrassment, overreaction, and a host of other problems can result in our relationships and social lives if we don’t find this approach.

One of the ways I try to deal with my emotions before they get the best of me is to take them before God. In my prayer time, I have no problem telling God how I feel about something. He has broad shoulders and I let him take the brunt of my emotions before I react to my social situations.

When it’s in the moment and I don’t have time to go before the Lord, a quick prayer helps me to take a moment before I react. I have heard of some solutions where people count to 10 or think about something else before they react. I prefer prayer because I can quickly talk to God about the situation. Even if it’s just in my thoughts without speaking, it helps.

Often times as a minister, I am asked about bringing our emotions before God. Many people try to pray prayers that don’t include any emotional responses. But this isn’t the way the Bible, does it. Just read a couple of David’s psalms. He lets loose before God regularly in his prayer time.

God already knows how we are feeling. If we try to hide it from him or don’t address it, it doesn’t do us any good. He is there ready to listen to us. One of the reasons relationship with him is so important is because it allows us to address how we feel about issues.

Instead of exposing yourself to awkward or detrimental social situations, put your emotions before God first. How much different is that from sharing your plans with him? When I start my prayer time and can’t get an event or task out of my mind, I talk to God about it first. I get it out of the way so I can focus on the rest of my prayer time.

When you go before God, especially if you have been offended by someone else, you can’t keep those emotions from surfacing. Why not let them surface? Let God talk to you about it.

After all, you can’t pray for your enemies and those who offend you until you address the emotional impact of their offense. You can’t pray blessing over an enemy until you forgive. So don’t hide your emotions from God and be genuine in his presence. He can handle it better than you can.

Conclusion

When you interact with others, you are going to have emotions. Some of them are good; some of them are bad. Some of them are desirable and others are not. But all of them can be sifted through prayer before you react.

We can’t stop thinking or feeling. But we can realize that our feelings are attached to our thoughts and decisions. Acknowledging this helps us to make the best decisions for everyone involved. Instead of trying to cut ourselves up into pieces over decisions, we allow our whole person to make the decision.

Leave a comment and tell me how you make decisions. Do you allow your emotions to get the best of you or are you cool, calm and collected? Do you need to use your emotions along with your reasoning?

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Casting Lots

This entry is part 408 of 424 in the series Inquiring Minds
Image by 955169 from Pixabay

What is the “Lot” in Proverbs 16:33?

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.

Proverbs 16:33

This proverb concerns the decision making process. The “lot” here refers to a decision-making device. Casting lots in the Old Testament refers to the practice of throwing dice.

The dice would be rolled, and whatever the result was, the person followed it. Often casting lots referred to one type of divination. Divination is seeking to understand what the gods or even the God of Israel wanted you to do.

However, in Israel this practice is rare. The priests relied on the Urim and Thumim in their breastplate to inquire of the Lord. Many of the kings regularly inquired of the Lord whether or not they should go to battle. Got often told them whether they would win the battle or not.

But for the nations around Israel, the most common way to understand what the gods expected of them was through divination. Some of the most common forms of divination were looking at the inner parts of animals and casting lots.

While we consider casting lots or throwing dice in gambling today to be a game, it was used in the Bible as a form of idolatry. That is why this proverb is so interesting. The proverb speaks of decision making, finding out what the Lord once us to do, but saying that if we use dice or lots the Lord will return the result he wants us to do.

This was essentially the Israelite way of decision-making with casting lots but it not being an idolatrous practice. Because they sought the Lord’s counsel they expected the result of casting the lots was the Lord’s answer.

Instead of trusting in false gods to give them an answer through divination in casting lots, they cast lots trusting in the Lord to give them the answer through the dice. This practice ends in the Bible right before the Day of Pentecost for believers.

When the disciples in the Upper Room through prayer and scripture seek to replace Judas with a twelfth apostle, they cast lots and follow this proverb, expecting that the board will answer them through the dice (Acts 1:26).

But this is the last recorded instance of believers using lots to discover what the Lord wills them to do. On the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, everyone in the Upper Room is baptized in the Holy Spirit. This empowers them to use the direct line to God through intercession of the Holy Spirit to make decisions from then on (Acts 13:2-3; 15:28; Romans 8:26-28).

Another possible interpretation of this proverb is that even if a person uses lots to make decisions, the Lord is the one who decides the course of action. It is much like another proverb that says the heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps (Proverbs 16:9).

Despite the approaches we make to our decisions, the Lord ultimately is sovereign and his pathway for us will be made clear and followed. This is especially important for believers in Jesus.

When we make decisions, there are ways we may use to find out what God wants us to do. Ultimately, the decisions of our lives fall to wanting to please and glorify God. In those decisions, no matter how we come about them, he guides our steps.

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The Biblical Conscience

This entry is part 83 of 86 in the series Holiness Matters

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People use the phrase, “Get a conscience” all the time. They usually refer to people they think are morally base. These are people who don’t make the right moral decisions as far as they are concerned. It’s usually phrase we used for criminals.

But everyone already has one. It’s one of those things we develop early on in life. What is a conscience? And how does it help us with morality?

Conscience is tied to the mind. It gives us the ability to discern whether we are following the moral frameworks we have agreed upon. As we take a look at the human conscience, I am discussing it from a theological point of view, not a psychological or sociological one.

In the Garden

Our discussion of conscience in the Bible starts under a tree with a piece of fruit. God told Adam and Eve they can eat a family tree in the Garden of Eden except for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

With so many choices in front of them, the serpent drew them to the one place they should never be. The Bible doesn’t mention any curiosity about God’s rule or the tree before Genesis 3. And we don’t know how long they were in the garden before this event.

Taken on face value, this tree may have represented the knowledge of morality, the ability to choose what is good over what is evil. Before this moment as far as we know, Adam and Eve had no concept of evil. Only good as mentioned by God up to this point when he created everything.

But then this fateful day happened. When Eve examined the tree and its fruit before she ate it, she said it seemed like any of the other fruit in the garden (Genesis 3:6). This shows one of the reasons why we should not be the arbitrators of morality. She couldn’t even see the dangers God foresaw in this tree.

We won’t get into the philosophical questions of why the tree was in the garden but God presented a boundary humanity couldn’t resist. Before the moment when Adam and Eve partook of this tree’s fruit, they relied on God to handle the waters of morality.

The moment they partook of the fruit, they became responsible for moral choice. Never needing a conscience before, it now would be the arbiter, the monitor of whether they followed moral laws or not. Humans opened themselves up to a matter beyond their depth, and not much has changed today.

Morals Monitor

The Bible doesn’t describe the conscience as something that ties us to a moral law system. Whatever moral system we agree to follow, it holds us to that. In other words, if your moral system was God’s commandments and laws in the Bible, your conscience will hold you to that system.

If you don’t have that moral framework, whatever morality you are taught or follow is the basis for your conscience. It monitors the morality placed in your mind and heart. I contend that humans were not made with a blank moral slate.

I suggest that God’s basic moral laws have been placed within every human being. We all know it’s wrong to murder and commit adultery. We have a general understanding of the golden rule reversed, that we don’t want anyone to do to us what they wouldn’t do to themselves. I also believe that every person understands that there is a greater being than themselves.

But beyond these very basics, most people look to society to tell them what moral laws they must follow. Every civilization has its rules, usually written down for people to follow. They listen to the opinions of other people about morality, and if they agree, they follow them as well.

Most societies contain social and civic laws. Social laws may be unwritten rules, and they may change from time to time, but the conscience holds people to those rules as well as the civic ones. You may find yourself having the hardest time remembering which social laws are in vogue at each moment.

Although the conscience doesn’t define our moral rules, it holds us to the ones we expect ourselves to follow. It defines the principles we will follow, punishing us when we fall short. But it also rewards us when we obey the laws we subject ourselves to. It’s a worse taskmaster than the laws themselves unless we don’t listen to it.

Types of Consciences

the Bible describes at least three types of consciences. Most often talked about is the clear conscience. This is a conscience that is right before God and does not penalize us in our moral decisions and actions.

Paul seeks to have a clear conscience before God and others (Acts 24:16). He says to Timothy that one Christian goal is to exercise love from a pure heart and good conscience (1 Timothy 1:5). A good conscience is a companion to faith (1 Timothy 1:19; 3:9).

Paul served the church with a clear conscience (2 Timothy 1:3). The writer of Hebrews connects a clear conscience with the actions that follow (Hebrews 13:18).

Peter says that a good conscience comforts us when we are being dishonored by others (1 Peter 3:16). They are the ones who end up feeling shamed. Part of being redeemed is receiving a good conscience from God (1 Peter 3:21).

On the road from a good conscience to one that is headed in the wrong direction, a seared conscience happens next. A good conscience before the Lord means we are clear from any wrongdoing. But a seared conscience doesn’t convict us because it suffers blow after blow of us ignoring moral laws and our conscience.

In 1 Timothy 4, Paul describes false teachers who twist the truth of God’s word, teaching doctrines that go against God’s Word. He describes them as liars who have a seared conscience (1 Timothy 4:2).

A seared conscience is not completely destroyed yet. But it is well on its way. False teachers know better. You don’t become a false teacher by not knowing the truth. It’s possible to teach false teachings you have learned from others, but it’s more likely you knew the truth and began to change it to suit your own desires.

As we travel down the wrong path of ignoring the law and our consciences, they become depraved and evil. They may even go so far as to completely ignore the base code of God’s law imprinted upon every human heart.

The writer of Hebrews describes our conscience before we met Christ and he became our high priest, sprinkling clean our hearts (minds) from an evil conscience (Hebrews 10:22). He affirms that our conscience was evil before we met Christ. No Christian should ever return to this state of conscience.

Paul discusses the peer person versus the evil person. An evil person has both an evil mind and an evil conscience (Titus 1:15). This means that they ignore their conscience so that they no longer even reference it or a moral system. But the mind also was evil, thinking evil thoughts and finding new ways to displease the Lord.

It’s a Start

The conscience is a good start toward morality. But it still relies on whatever law we consider moral. Morality is only part of holiness. God is not only concerned with thinking and acting the right way. He is more concerned that it is integrated and becoming more like him.

Paul gives an example of comparing Jews and Gentiles according to God’s law and how their conscience is involved (Romans 2:12-16). Jews have special revelation from God, knowing his laws and expectations he gave them on Mount Sinai.

There are Jews who do not follow the law of God. They are no better, maybe worse, than the Gentiles who don’t have that special revelation. Gentiles don’t know what God expects of them. But on the day of judgment their conscience will accuse and even excuse them because they have followed God’s law and their hearts even without knowing the written law (Romans 2:15).

I think this is a most telling passage of Scripture. It affirms what I mentioned earlier, that God has a base code of morality written into humans, for even the Gentiles understood God’s law, though not having it written down.

It also affirms that the conscience holds us to the standard we know is right, even if it is not a full-fledged understanding of God’s complete laws. Our conscience monitors our morality and penalizes us if we get it wrong, but rewards us if we get it right. It’s just so much easier to know God’s laws and expectations.

The conscience is a start because it won’t get us into heaven but it also won’t let us fall into immorality if we listen to it. It won’t save, but it will condemn. This is why we must learn of God’s laws and expectations before it’s too late.

Conclusion

The Bible says some interesting things about conscience and morality. We are in the very best of circumstances when we know God’s laws and follow them. We must listen to our consciences because they keep us in the right with God and everyone else.

Our consciences help to train us to be holy. As we listen to them and allow the Holy Spirit, to redeem and renew our consciences so we not only know what is right but follow them, we will be blessed.

We will be conformed to the image of Christ and find ourselves one day in glory with him for eternity. Leave a comment and describe how you understand the conscience from a biblical framework.

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Divine Messiah

This entry is part 407 of 424 in the series Inquiring Minds
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

To whom does Micah 5:2 refer and how should we understand the phrase, “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting”?

This is a prophecy about Jesus, the Messiah. It probably had a preliminary fulfillment in the times of Micah, but it’s ultimate fulfillment is in Jesus. The prophecy is about someone who will rescue Israel from the Assyrians.

Old Testament prophecies sometimes have multiple fulfillments. We see that especially in the prophecy from Isaiah we talk about during Christmas about the virgin giving birth in Isaiah 7. That one is also a messianic prophecy about Jesus. It is fulfilled in the beginning of the Gospels.

In the same way, we can understand this prophecy to be partially fulfilled in the times that it was given, but its ultimate fulfillment is in Jesus. It is even quoted by the scholars King Herod consults when he asks about the special birth of this king (Matthew 2:5-6).

This is very significant because it means that even the scholars in the day that Jesus was born consider this a prophecy about a Messiah who had yet to come upon the scene. So it had a minor fulfillment in its time but looked forward to the ultimate fulfillment of the Messiah, Jesus.

It’s confirmed even more in the quotation you mentioned in your question. Micah prophesies that Bethlehem will be the place that the Messiah will come out of. Little did they know in the day of Jesus that he was not born in Nazareth, but Bethlehem.

Calling Jesus the ruler of Israel looks forward to his second coming when he reigns on the throne of David for a millennium from Israel. The next phrase refers to the divinity of the Messiah Jesus. Speaking of his “coming forth from of old, from ancient days” speaks of his eternal nature.

Jesus is divine and the prophets of the Old Testament pointed out when they talked about the Messiah. The phrases they use refer to divinity and eternity. Jesus fulfills all of this because he is the Son of God who came from heaven to earth.

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