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Using reason to evaluate feelings

7 Apr

There was a man named Manoah.  He enjoyed a God-centered marriage to an unnamed wife who ‘happened’ to be barren when the story begins.  One day, an angel appeared to her and told her she would soon be pregnant and have a son.  (The son turns out to be Samson).

The wife ran and got her husband and filled him in on all the details of the conversation.  He believed her. (Smart man!)

The angel next appeared to both of them, reiterated the same message and agreed to wait while Manoah prepared a meal for him.  But this divine being did not eat the goat and bread set before him on a rock, instead caused fire to consume it. He then disappeared in the flames.  Manoah realized at once that this angel was the LORD and feared for his life.

Read his panicky reaction from Judges 13: 21b-22. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the Lord. And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.”

The text doesn’t SAY he was frozen in fear, but I can imagine his emotional state.  If I cried out to my husband, “We’re gonna die because….!” there would be A LOT of emotion.

Manoah’s wife did not share her husband’s panic.  Instead, she responded with REASON, with truth.  This is what I want us to look at, her assessment of the situation.  She calmly fed her husband with facts, in a way that he could evaluate whether his feelings were well grounded or false.

Judges 13: 23  But his wife said to him, “If the Lord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these.”

Apparently, that was enough to settle Manoah, because the next verse in the text simply announces that she bore a son.

When Mike and I read this account last week I remarked to him, “Look at her logic!”  I love seeing how God encourages us to use our biblically informed minds to reason through situations.

I find that I often churn with emotion when I am not thinking biblically about a situation.  Here’s a simple and very real example.  I’m coming to the end of my Spring Break.  And like many of my students and colleagues as well, there is this reluctance to get back into the saddle, plunging into the fast pace of the workweek.

As I tried to THINK my way scripturally through this dread, the Holy Spirit brought to mind a new application about why we are not to worry.  I’ve written about the battle against anxiety and angst on my other blog site. What helps me fight the sin of unbelief  (at the root of worry) is the idea that when I think about TOMORROW, all I see are the potential circumstances minus God’s provision of grace.  He gives ‘manna for the day’.  And since it’s not yet tomorrow, the pre-planned grace is invisible to me right now.

My variation of that tactic was to think about the idea of what I’m going to call ‘joy-moments’.  I started telling myself yesterday each and every time a ‘dread’ thought popped into my mind, “Maria – God has planned moments of joy and delight for you on Monday – whether with your colleagues or students or in an email or a turn of circumstances. You just can’t see them yet.  All you are imagining are the bare circumstances unadorned by God’s goodness.”

Today, I found the biblical warrant for that idea.  Psalm 16:11b states ‘In your presence there is fullness of joy.’ Before today I assumed that this promised condition referred to my future in heaven when I am face to face with Jesus.  But this morning, a Saturday, I had time to think. And I realized that Jesus’ presence TODAY, on this earth, is promised me.  During Jesus’ explaining the ‘Great Commission’ He promised that He would be with us all the days of our lives.  And the writer to the Hebrews in Chapter 13 argued that we can “…..be content with what (we) have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.

So here is how I used my reasoning abilities to fight the emotion of dread about going back to work:

P1 – As a Christ follower, I have the promise of His permanent presence.

P2 – The Bible teaches that in His presence the believer experiences joy.

C – As a Christ follower, I can expect to experience joy each day, from being aware of His continual presence.

No, I don’t know what that joy will feel or be like, but I trust God and His Word.

And that is ENOUGH of a rope to cling to when I’m battling anxiety.

Your worries might very well be weightier and more serious today than mine.  But these every-day fights for faith are where I live.  And I am a BELIEVER!   I’m in that category of Christians who confess:  ‘Help me, Jesus, for I’m fighting unbelief!’

And God’s answer to my prayer?  He has given me reason AND His Word, to think my way out of some of these emotions that seem to want to keep me locked into ‘churn’ and sadness.

What do YOU do when your negative feelings tend to dominate?

Do Christian beliefs rest on ‘blind’ faith?

23 Mar

Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”  John 20:29

I love Venn diagrams!  Creating categories helps me think through possibilities and provides a way to understand what something IS because I can see ‘what it is NOT!’

Take screwdrivers.  When I’m new to a concept, in order to picture it through descriptive words, I have to know what the other possibilities might be.

My dad first introduced me to the screwdriver by sending me to fetch a Phillips.  I asked him what one was.  He described the cross-recessed tool.  I had to know if there were other possibilities besides this design.  As I recall, he only mentioned the other common device – the slot drive one.  If your curiosity is piqued, then take a glance at this website.

Back to Jesus’ comment about ‘those who believe without seeing’.  Just like with screwdrivers, I want to know how many possible kinds of believers are there and what distinguishes each from the other.  Are believers merely binary?  That is, are there only 2 kinds – those who believe because they see Jesus and those who believe yet don’t see Jesus?   Or are there other categories because of different distinctives?

I think the ‘world’ outside of Christianity will respond with a hearty Yes!  There are those who believe because they SEE and then there are “the blind-faith kind“.   These folks are often parodied as those who ‘check their brains at the door.’   I’ve even run across some Christians who proudly echo a version of that kind of belief.  When queried about why they believe, they’ll respond with an ‘I just do!’

But is that the only basis for trusting Christianity to be true?

No!  and fortunately not.

We believe that Jesus is God and that all He said about Himself, His Father, the world, the past and the future IS accurate because we have eyewitness testimony.  The written Bible is a document that has been historically validated and stood the test of time.

Yes, the Holy Spirit has to open eyes and hearts to accept that the testimony is true.  But the documentation exists, nonetheless.

So back to Jesus and His blessing on those of us who were not around to encounter Jesus in 1st-century Palestine.  We have the benefit of being able to read every single day the evidentiary accounts of God dealing with Old Testament Israel and her enemies.  And we have written testimony by the apostles of what happened in the life of Jesus and after His ascension.

Don’t forget, many of those who DID hear Jesus teach and see Him perform miracles did not believe.  This fact alone throws into question the adage, ‘seeing is believing’.  It certainly wasn’t for everyone.

If you believe and rest in the fact of Jesus being who the Bible says He is, then thank God for giving you this living faith. It IS a gift.  But it’s not a blessing bestowed in a vacuum.  The Bible exists; be glad about that!  And please practice being able to point to this evidence with confidence when someone asks you why you believe.   As the apostle Peter wrote, honor Jesus for the testimonies:

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.  1 Peter 3:15

 

My heart’s desires – the logical approach

17 Mar

Consider this argument: 

P1 – Designers who manufacture products know best how they should operate

P2 – God designed and made human beings

C – Therefore, God knows best how they should operate

 

Psalm 33:15 refers to God as He who fashions the hearts of them all (the children of man)

Given our topsy-turvy contemporary culture, I’ve been thinking about the desires that pour out of our hearts and incline us to move in different directions.  Society’s icons counsel:

  • Be true to your heart
  • Follow your heart
  • Look within
  • Trust your heart
  • Go after your passion

But that assumes that what the human heart wants is optimal for humans.  This ‘wisdom’ also presupposes that in our reasoning, we know when we should yield to the heart and when we should hold back. (Or worse yet – that the mere existence of a desire MEANS an automatic seeking to fulfill it!)

Imagine a car, fresh off the dealer’s lot.  Having written a very large check for your vehicle that should work well since it’s new, you cautiously ease onto the road, headed home.  You don’t have to drive very far until you notice a distinct tug by the steering wheel to the left. The wheels seem to have a mind of their own, wanting to veer into oncoming traffic.

The way this car operates at the moment is what happens to be natural for it. It ‘desires’ to pull left.

But you, the operator, know better.  And in fact, the car manufacturer knows better.

Yet if your car could talk, he might even argue, ‘THIS makes me feel good, to favor the left!”

Are we any different, from the point of view of being something designed and made?  We human beings have bodies, hearts, and minds purposefully planned and fashioned by our creator God.  Only when we align ourselves according to His Word, the Scriptures, do we ‘operate’ or ‘function’ correctly.

To assume that all desires are GOOD and beneficial for not only us but society is dangerous and misleading.  Yes, people will argue, “That’s just the way God made me.  If he hadn’t wanted me to feel a certain way, he would have designed me differently.”

There happens to be one detail that throws that argument out the window!  Given the fall of one man and woman (thanks, Aunt Eve and Uncle Adam!), all of creation has been disordered.  AND God alone both knows and has the manufacturer’s right to prescribe how we should function to optimize LIFE.

 

Bible Promise Logic

11 Jan

John 8:31-32  If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free

I’ve been struggling with knowing God’s truth, but not having it make a difference in my day to day life.  Here’s how this struggle looks in a partial syllogism or Enthymeme:

  • Premise:  If you know the truth
  • Conclusion: Then, you will be set free

To complete or make explicit the missing premise in this enthymeme, I can write it like this:

  • P1 – All those who know the truth will be set free
  • P2 – I know the truth
  • Conclusion – Therefore, I have been set free

But here’s the rub:  I DO know the truth about Jesus and how I have a new identity as a regenerate Christian, adopted child of our Triune God.  But I still live in bondage to some faulty thinking EVEN though I know better.

So the syllogism that describes my true, functional condition looks like this:

  • P1 All those who know the truth will be set free
  • P2 I am not free, but in bondage
  • Therefore, I do not really know the truth

Solution?  There’s only one way to be set free.  And that is to immerse myself in the Gospels and pray, asking God to grant me to know Jesus and what He did for me both in atoning for my sins and in fulfilling the law.  The shorthand way to describe that remedy is for me to meditate on just how much He loves me.

A verse I read this morning caused me to see that possibility: 1 John 4:16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.

Maybe I don’t TRUST God’s love for me because I don’t really know it.  I see now that even before my recent frustration with feeling trapped in habitual practices, I was groping for a deeper and more intimate knowledge of God.  I had chosen my 2018 New Year’s Resolution to notice and study God’s glory wherever it comes up in the Bible.

I intuitively feel that the path to liberation lies in going deep into seeing, observing, studying, meditating on the glory of God as manifest in Jesus and being satisfied with who He is and what He has done.