Follow Your Heart? Only If It Knows Where It Is Going!

Follow Your Heart.jpgWe are told in popular media, psychobabble circles and in our neighborhoods, that we should always follow our hearts.  To not do so is to be dishonest; “What do you really want in life?”  To not follow my heart is somehow supposed to be a violation of “who I am,” to deny the “real me,” as if my choices are somehow already made for me based on my biology.

However, a genetic predisposition for particular behavior does not equal absolute necessity of said behavior.  Just because I am “born with” a taste for black coffee does not mean I must drink it that way.  Desire does not equal genetics and genetics does not equal desire.

To say these ARE equal would validate the argument that some are “born criminals,” or are born pedophiles, racists, murderers, etc..  But the desire or inclination to a behavior does not necessitate obedience to that choice, “choice” being the operative word here.

Dr. James Watson (of Watson and Crick fame) believes everything we do is genetically programmed, that free will does not exist.  By his reasoning, then, I am constrained by my genetic make-up to argue against his absurd proposition.  So take that, Watson! emo-tongue Just because one feels rage at another does not mean he/she MUST behave in a destructive way toward that person.  Just because one feels lust for another does not mean he/she cannot resist that urge and be faithful to a chosen spouse, or at least, not indulge in treating another as an object that exists only for one’s own pleasure.

Follow Your Heart 5.jpgYet, Paul in Romans 2:15 tells us that God’s law is written on our hearts, making it reasonable that God may judge us fairly, based solely on whether we “followed our hearts!”  So is the heart, or the conscience, a safe guide to do what is right?  Should we not follow our hearts?

The key here is understanding that the heart is a good guide, as long as it is informed by God’s laws written thereon.  However, no one’s heart perfectly matches God’s will, and so we must inform our hearts not only by what we “feel” is right, but by the Bible which tells us explicitly what pleases God and what distances us from Him.

The first thing we will find in the Bible validates that a conscience is a good thing as long as it leads us closer to God.  Colossians 3:1 instructs us to set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”

 “The conscience reacts to the convictions of the mind and therefore can be encouraged and sharpened in accordance with God’s Word. The wise Christian wants to master biblical truth so that the conscience is completely informed and judges right because it is responding to God’s Word. A regular diet of Scripture will strengthen a weak conscience or restrain an overactive one. Conversely, error, human wisdom, and wrong moral influences filling the mind will corrupt or cripple the conscience. In other words, the conscience functions like a skylight, not a light bulb. It lets light into the soul; it does not produce its own. Its effectiveness is determined by the amount of pure light we expose it to, and by how clean we keep it. Cover it or put it in total darkness and it ceases to function.”  John MacArthur, The Vanishing Conscience

God did not give us hearts with the intention that we should ignore them, but we must lead them, especially when there is question of whether we are heading the right direction or not.  In The Love Dare, Stephen and Alex Hendrick emphasize this principle in one of their appendices: How Do I Lead My Heart?  They suggest five factors to leading your heart, instead of simply following it.

  • Check your heart: This means periodically asking yourself where you spend your time; in front of TV, at a sports bar, on the internet, with your spouse?  Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.”  (Matthew 6:21)
  • Guard your heart: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 14:2)  This means to simply pay attention to what you allow to capture your attention.  If all you think about is money, power, physical pleasure, ease, or material possessions, these will pull your heart away from what is really important and dull its sensitivity to the Father’s voice.
  • Set your heart: There are times we may not feel like doing the right thing, but that is when “following your heart” will lead you most away from the satisfaction of pleasing God.  We noted earlier the instructions from the Bible, “Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is.”  (Colossians 3:1)  Sometimes this will take extremely harsh self-discipline, but then discipleship is where we want to go, at times refusing to “follow our hearts.”
  • Invest your heart: What matters most in your heart will someday become evident to everyone around you.  “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”  (Matthew 12:34)  If a man spends every dime he makes as soon as it’s in his pocket, he will have little to show by the time he is old.  But if he invests it so that it will earn more interest, he will someday gain a good reward for his investment.  Think of where you spend what is important to you: your time, energy, and money, and determine to lead your heart into wise investments.
  • Pray: David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, oh God.”  (Psalm 51:10)  Only the Father knows the secrets of your heart, and He actually knows them even better than you do, yourself.  So trust our Creator to put into your heart the desires that will please Him.  And if you lack such desire, back up as many steps as you need and ask Him to give you the desire to desire Him, or the desire to desire to desire . . . etc.  He is here and He is not silent, if you will listen for Him.

Then, when you know that He is leading your heart, it will be safe to Follow Your Heart.

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The End Is Nearer

At the risk of sounding like a burlap robed hippie with a sandwich board declaring “The End Is Near,” let me be very clear:  The End IS Near!

the-long-walk-on-the-beach-1On a vacation to Prince Edward Island several years ago, my wife and I walked onto a beach to enjoy a quiet stroll from where it began at a wooded campgrounds to where it ended as a sand spit, a tiny dry finger of earth extending into the Atlantic Ocean.  If you have never been to PEI, Cavendish Campgrounds, trails and beach is a must-stop on a trip to this beautiful island.

the-long-walk-on-the-beach-2When we entered the beach area, I thought the walk to the end would be about an hour of perambulating on the wet sand close to the surf.  The dry stuff higher up on the beach is very difficult to walk in as the sand sinks away with every step.  The swimmers and lifeguard slowly became smaller as we moved westward by the gentle waves touching the shore.

After about 90 minutes, I photographed the route we had taken and then turned to picture how much further we had to go to reach the end.  For anyone with experience walking beaches, you will know how I was fooled by the deceptively “short” beach we were on.

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90 minutes into our “stroll”
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The End Seems Near!

Passing several more large dunes on our left, we slowly made our way almost out to the end.  We could actually see where the land ended and ocean separated us from the opposing shore.  It really seemed very close, but our “stroll” thus far convinced us it was probably further away than we imagined or hoped.  I wish we had made it all the way, but after two and a half hours of walking one way, it finally began to sink in that we had to go back the same way . . . now a five hour hike by the time we would be finished!

the-long-walk-on-the-beach-4I took a quick nap on the soft grass between two dunes and then we headed back.  The binoculars had made it seem so close and the distances had appeared much shorter than they turned out to be.  The walk was exhausting as evidenced by the ease with which sleep overcame me when I laid down for our midway break.  (Keep in mind that this was only a couple years after my last stroke and my stamina was still significantly decreased.)

After finishing what turned out to be a six-hour eight-mile hike I had learned how distorted distance perceptions can be on a beach!

This may serve as a reminder of what “The End Is Near” may look like in the real world of following Jesus.   We often see things through the binoculars of the prophets’ visions, and our own experience leads us to believe we are almost there.  World events, globalization, political turmoil in the Mid-East which is the epicenter of end time events, all suggest we may be only one dune away from seeing the end of our peninsula of time reaching into Eternity.  (ahh, another blog subject!)

It is most important that we keep some foundational principles of Scripture in front of us while on this hike through this world.

  1. God will wrap up the end of this world someday; maybe tomorrow, maybe quite a few years from now . . . but it will happen. (2 Peter 3:9-10)
  2. We will not know the day or the hour; possibly the “seasons,” but be very careful when anyone claims to see the end.  It may be farther off than we think, or it could be just around the next dune. (Matthew 24:26-36; Matthew 16:2-4)
  3. The identity of The Antichrist (according to John there are many smaller ones) is a mystery; i.e. we will not know until he is revealed. (I John 2:18; Revelation 13:1-8)
  4. Do not become obsessed with end time events.  They will happen whatever we believe about them.  Our only responsibility is to be faithful to Him who has called us to live as lights in an ever-darkening world. (Revelation 2:10; 3:4)
  5. Jesus’ instruction on future prophecy is very clear:  “I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.” (John 14:29)   In other words, He did not tell us what was going to happen so we could read the newspapers and make accurate guesses about what was going to occur next week.  He told us so that we could recognize the times when they occur.

All-Powerful OR All-Good?

Batman vs Superman1.jpg

For those of you who might not be comic book fans, or at least more interested in Marvel’s Avengers than in The Justice League of DC comics, the Lex Luthor character is one of Superman’s continual nemeses.  In the most recent iteration of Superman and Batman, Lex shows up as a brilliant, though maliciously evil, scientist.  The movie was panned by the critics, an assessment with which I agree.  Do not bother renting the video nor streaming it when it becomes available; one of the rare comic book movies that was a total waste of 151 minutes.

However, the movie does a good job in presenting the argument that God must not exist. In a significant point in the movie, Lex confronts Superman with a brief story of how he was abused by his father, and came to the conclusion that “if God is all-good, He could not be all-powerful; if He is all-powerful, He is not all-good.”  batman-vs-supermanAbout the only coherent and useful scene in the movie: to present an atheist’s view of God.  Sadly, even though the “good guys” win in the end, the challenge from Luthor is left unresolved.

Recalling my recent fall that resulted in a broken back, one could wonder, “Well, c.a., why do you continue to believe in a God who could not catch you when you fell, or better yet, prevent you from falling in the first place?  After all, didn’t God promise Jesus His angels would ‘bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone?'”  (Psalm 91:12)  Why could not such promises apply to you?”

Interestingly, this was the same promise quoted to Jesus by Satan when the evil one was trying to get Jesus to assert His own authority apart from the Heavenly Father’s.  (Matthew 4:5-6)  Even if we assume Jesus never hit his thumb with a hammer nor stepped on a nail, one has to wonder what the demons thought when they succeeded in getting the Roman soldiers of Jerusalem to capture Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, and proceed to beat the living daylights out of Him.  Is God the Father all powerful or all good?  How could He possibly be both and allow His own Son to suffer and die?  (What the devils were thinking is a subject for another blog another time.)  This issue for today is The Problem of Pain.  If God is all good, why does He not do something to prevent His children from pain.  If He is all powerful, can He be all good?

This problem arises because of God’s allowance of free will and His time frame for justice.  Free will, by definition, means that one can choose good or bad.  This was the same choice for the first couple in the Garden of Eden: trust (believe in) God or trust Satan (and your own reasoning).  Choose His way or another, but since He is the source of all good, the source of all order and sense in the universe, any other way will become bad, disorderly and senseless.

God’s time frame for justice arches over the ends of the universe He created.  So allowing for free will means He will not change a bat into a feather simply because someone decided to hit another in the head with it.  He will not defuse a suicide bomber’s vest at the moment of detonation and turn it into a radio.  But His justice will mete out what is right one day, though for the time being, the poor victim at the bat’s end will suffer and the bomber will inflict terrible damage.

This does little for the victims of abuse or of a bomber in the immediate.  If the abuser or bomber repents, there is hope even for him, and there may be elements of redemption for his victims as well.  But rest assured that Abraham’s confession of faith will stand in the end: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”  (Genesis 18:25)

C.S.Lewis covered this subject with much more clarity and wit than I can, so I give you his words to describe the process (with a strong recommendation for the book 😉 ):

“There is a paradox about tribulation in Christianity. Blessed are the poor, but by judgement (i.e., social justice) and alms we are to remove poverty wherever possible. Blessed are we when persecuted, but we may avoid persecution by flying city to city, and may pray to be spared it as our Lord prayed in Gethsemane. But if suffering is good, ought it not to be pursued rather than avoided? I answer that suffering is not good in itself. What is good in any painful experience is for the sufferer, his submission to the will of God, and for the spectators, the compassion aroused and the acts of mercy to which it leads.

“In the fallen and partially redeemed universe, we may distinguish (1) the simple good descending from God, (2) the simple evil produced by rebellious creatures, and (3) the exploitation of that evil by God for His redemptive purpose, which produces (4) the complex good to which accepted suffering and repented sin contribute. 

“Now the fact that God can make complex good out of simple evil does not excuse – though by mercy it may save – those who do simple evil. And this distinction is central. Offenses must come, but woe to those from whom they come; sins do cause grace to abound, but we must not make that an excuse for continuing to sin. The crucifixion itself is the best, as well as the worst, of all historical events, but the role of Judas remains simply evil.

“We may apply this first to the problem of other people’s suffering. A merciful man aims at his neighbor’s good and so does ‘God’s will,’ consciously cooperating with the ‘simple good.’ A cruel man oppresses his neighbor, and so does simple evil. But in doing such evil, he is used by God, without his knowledge or consent, to produce the complex good – so the first man serves God as a son, and the second as a tool.  For you will certainly carry out God’s purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John.”  C.S.Lewis, The Problem of Pain

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rR_Rdb1CTE

Where Was God When I Fell?

Where was God when I fell two weeks ago ()?  Just having written blogs about being aware of His presence in everything we do (August 20, 2016August 28, 2016) I actually had pictured Him beside me as my sister-in-law and I made our way to the Golden Bear Bridge bears for one of my favorite pictures: me atop a statue.  So I was “practicing the Presence.”  But where was He when I dismounted and put my foot out into thin air so that I flew to port and crashed into a guardrail post, breaking my back in several places and ruining three more days of hiking in the forests, not only for me, but for my wife and sister-in-law?

Each of us at one time or another has probably asked this question, some with more and others with less profundity:
∗ Where was God when my puppy died?
∗ Where was God when my cancer was diagnosed?
∗ Where was God when I was abused?
∗ Where was God when my infant son died?
∗ Where was God when the bombs fell?

My nickname for Him has been “The God Who Is There” because that is what He is; but perhaps I should call Him “The God Who Is Here,”  because He is not just housed in a far-away-Heaven.  He is ever present with us, in all places and all the time.  He was by my side as I climbed the golden bear, He was at my elbow when I stepped out into thin air, He was whispering into my ear when I thudded against the guardrail support.

You see, the real question is not “Where was God?” but “Why did He not do something?”  Could He not have ordered angels to prop my foot at the right place?  Could He not have “floated” me down to the ground?  Of course, He IS God, and could do any number of things to prevent me from falling or suffering injury, so why did He not do something?

The Bible is filled with stories of God’s interaction with us and if you’ve followed Jesus for long, your life probably has its own stories of His supernatural intervention, a miracle or two.  Mine does.  But what makes a miracle special is just that: it is special for a special purpose.

Consider when Elijah came on the scene in 1 Kings 17 to prophesy a coming drought to wicked King Ahab.  He was then told to go to Zarephath in Lebanon, about 200 miles north of Shechem, the Israelites’ capital.  There at a widow’s house, God would miraculously provide him food through the drought.  Acting as the agency for this miracle meant the widow and her son would also survive the three year drought that left many dead.

Later, Jesus recalled this story to His critics when He pointed out that there were many starving widows in Israel, yet God had sent Elijah to a Lebanese widow; He also noted the many lepers in Israel at the time Elisha, Elijah’s successor, was working miracles, “and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman, the Syrian.”  (Luke 4:25-27)  Sometimes God does not behave in ways we think He should, and that takes some getting used to.  We must remember HE is God, and WE are not.

God created a universe with sensible order, not one that was subject to magic spells or deific whims.  There are times when He decides the “laws” of physics need to be ignored for His purposes, like the instant healing of a lame beggar (Acts 3:1-10) or the opening of prison doors (Acts 5:17-26).  However, most of the time He allows us to live in an orderly universe that is logical and consistent.  And if I choose to step off a statue into thin air, though mistakenly thinking I would step properly, God will not usually change the location of the statue base, the direction of my foot, nor the consequences, beyond what could be understood without faith.

His purposes are not thwarted by my injury, and in some ways may find fulfillment by my ineptitude.  Consider the interactions we had with the doctors and staff at Sutter Coast Hospital.  On one occasion the physician’s assistant came to my room while my sister was on speaker phone, praying for me.  Now my sister knows how to pray, as do many members of my family.  But Jacque is one of the best prayerers.  She takes you right into His throne room and you know where you are.

I glanced nervously at the PA, in that I did not want to annoy him, but I certainly was not going to interrupt my sister’s audience with The King.  When she had finished and we turned our attention to him, instead of expressing exasperation, he commented on how the prayer had moved him!  Later this opened a dialog about faith in God and what it means to follow Christ.

The graciousness of my sister-in-law was in full view throughout this episode as well.  Afraid she would be upset by the curtailing of her hiking in the forest, I apologized, to which she replied, “It’s not your fault, c.a..  Accidents happen, that’s why we call them accidents.”  Later she thrilled me with a comment about how fortunate we were to have God by our side!  Hmm, maybe I should ask her if she saw Someone I did not when I fell.

So where was God when I fell?  He was there!  Right by my side, running to my aid with my sister-in-law, comforting my wife as she drove us to the hospital, opening doors for the growth and sharing of our trust in Him.  Yeah, He was there. 😉

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  ― C.S.Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Next week () I’ll suggest some answer to Lex Luthor’s accusation against God:  “If He is good, He cannot be all-powerfuI; if He is all powerful, He cannot be good.”