The Worst Advice You Could Ever Give Someone

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In “Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot” Sting sings:

Let your soul be your pilot
Let your soul guide you
He’ll guide you well

Some of you may remember “The Land Before Time” (1988). In it Littlefoot’s mother says: “Let your heart guide you. It whispers, so listen closely.”

And Steve Jobs said: “Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

Follow your heart.

That’s the worst advice you could ever give anyone. That assumes that our heart is the ultimate authority in our lives. That our heart won’t mislead us. That our heart knows what is best and right and true. But for believers in Jesus, we know, or eventually come to know, that our hearts are flawed and deceptive, and that lots of bad stuff can come out of them. That’s why God gives us his Word. Kevin DeYoung says:

“On every matter in which the Bible means to speak, the last word goes to Scripture, not to councils or to catechisms or to science or to human experience, but to the word of God.”

Psalm 138:2 says:

You have exalted above all things
your name and your word. PS 138:2

God’s word is above all other authorities. It gets “the last word.” So…

If Science tells us the universe came into being by a Big Bang and was not created by God speaking it into existence, then Science is wrong (and many scientists believe in creationism)

If Science tells us that man evolved from monkeys and not created by God out of dust then breathing life into man, Science is wrong (again, many scientists believe God created man).

If culture tells us that it’s ok for men and women to have sexual relations outside of marriage, then our culture is wrong.

If our culture tells us we’re all born basically good and our main problem isn’t that we sin and incur God’s wrath, but we just need more self-esteem, then our culture is wrong.

And even if the church tells you that you must be a conservative or a liberal or you must home school or send to Christian school or you must or must not vaccinate, then that church is wrong.

When I was a young Christian I heard someone say the following and it has helped me immeasurably over the years:

God said it. I believe it. That settles it.

First of all if God said it, it’s true, whether I believe it or not. But for Christians, we must believe God’s word. We must accept it by faith, whether we feel it or not. That settles it. End of story. We don’t let our hearts guide us, but God’s word. Our circumstances may scream that God has forsaken us. But Jesus said he’d never leave us nor forsake us. So I believe it. That settles it.

Don’t let your soul guide you. Don’t let your heart or intuition be your final authority. Let the Word of God, be the final word in your life.

God said it. I believe it. That settles it.

NOTE: I preached a message on this topic yesterday. It’s called “Breathed Out by God.” If you would like to listen to it you can hear it here.

Feelings Are Real. But Are They Always The Truth?

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There’s a new movie coming out about James Brown, who sang the hit song called “I Feel Good.” He’d wail, “I FEEEEEEEEEL good. I knew that I would now.” And of course in his song “Happy” Pharrell Williams gives us some deep insights into that emotion:

Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

Have you ever thought about how many feelings we can have? God has created humans with the capacity for an incredibly wide range of subtle feelings. We can feel happy, playful, calm, confident, courageous, peaceful, joyful, comfortable, optimistic, delighted, encouraged, satisfied, jubilant. We can also feel angry, afraid, depressed, hopeless, confused, hurt, sad.

Our culture is feeling-oriented and feeling-driven. Of course, Nike tells us “Just Do It” whether we feel like it or not. But popular music tells us we can’t help falling in love, and can’t help it when the feeling’s gone. We say “I’m just not feeling it.” Rather than saying, “I believe we should do this,” we say, “I feel like this is the way to go.” Even as believers we use “feeling” language a lot – “I feel like God wants me to go into music.”

I don’t have anything against feelings. They are a gift from God. But I’m grateful that early on in my Christian life I heard a truth that helped me immensely:

Feelings are real but they are not necessarily the truth.

Feelings are real – we truly experience them. We don’t imagine them. They are real. But they are not necessarily the truth. They may be the truth but they aren’t always the truth. If we believe in Jesus Christ and feel like God loves us and accepts us that is the truth. If we feel condemned or or that God has abandoned us that is not the truth.

Feelings are a poor barometer of the truth.

As believers we live by faith, not by sight. Our circumstances may appear to indicate that God is not for us or that he is giving us too much to handle. Yet we live by faith in God’s word which says despite our circumstances God is for us and is not giving us too much to handle.

So it is with our feelings. We live by faith in God’s word not what our feelings tell us. We may feel hopeless. We may feel like we can’t go on another day. The challenge for believers is always what are we going to believe– our feelings or God’s word?

We must believe and obey God’s word no matter how we feel.

I’m sure that Jesus did not “feel” like going to the cross for us. But Jesus didn’t live by his feelings. He obeyed his Father whether he felt like it or not.

We may feel like we can’t go on. We may feel like it is impossible to forgive someone. We probably won’t feel like rejoicing in the midst of affliction or giving thanks in everything but we can and we must obey God’s word.

Of course to be able to live by faith in God’s word we need to know God’s word. If we regularly take in God’s word and meditate on his promises, our faith will increase and we won’t be dependent on our feelings.

So remember:

Feelings are real but they are not necessarily the truth.

Feelings are a poor barometer of the truth.

We walk by faith and not by feelings.

I hope that you feel great today. I hope you feel God’s love and pleasure today. I hope you feel happy and joyful and thankful. But if these feelings elude you, don’t be discouraged. Thank God anyway. Praise him. Ask him for the feelings you desire. And believe and obey his word whether you feel like it or not.

What Parts of the Bible are You Ignoring?

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It’s not easy to make sense of scripture. Parts of it are downright weird or even horrific. The story of Judah and Tamar, God’s interaction with Hosea and Gomer, and any story using the phrase “devoted to destruction” come to mind. They are the stories you don’t see in children’s Bible story books, or if they are included it is with some serious sanitation and airbrushing (a Thomas Kinkade version of reality, so to speak).

Those passages get ignored because they gross us out or break our fragile understanding of God. But there are other portions of scripture we ignore in an entirely different way – commands that are uncomfortable or nigh impossible to follow. It is so easy to willfully overlook them, much easier than learning how to reconcile them to my life and God’s reality.

Love your enemies.

Forgive 70 x 7 times (that means ALL of the times).

Bless those who curse you and pray for those who persecute you.

Honor you father and mother.

Children, obey your parents.

Give to any who asks of you.

Lay down your life and follow me.

If it causes you to sin, cut it off.

Husbands, love your wife as Christ loves the Church.

Do not covet.

Serve God, not money.

Do not commit adultery (which includes willfully lusting).

Consider others before yourself.

Pray without ceasing.

Judge not lest you be judged.

Take up your cross and follow me.

And so on.

We have so many rationalizations and excuses for overlooking and ignoring such commands. So often our mindset is that of a transaction: every disobeyed or ignored command is a debt owed, and we simply can’t pay them all back. We’re in over our heads, and it feels impossible to face our wrongs and admit them. But we must, and it’s good and freeing when we do because we are not settling accounts with God; we are being restored in relationship. God’s grace and forgiveness far surpass our willful ignoring of his commands (that’s in the bible too, don’t forget). His grace is so great that what the debt we do owe was paid already so that we can be free to come to Him for forgiveness, as children.

So be brave and ask yourself “what parts of the Bible do I ignore?” Then trust God’s grace for understanding and forgiveness as you would trust a good father, a perfect father. He gave us scripture to show us as much of Himself as we can handle. It is for our good, our peace, even if we can’t riddle it all out. We can trust the parts that tell us of His mercy, goodness, sovereignty, and forgiveness. We can rest in the parts that tell us of redemption at the cross and the coming of a perfect helper to teach and grow us. When we rest in these parts of scripture we will begin to improve at all those hard commands and come to terms with those tricky parts.

How To Avoid The Whirling Dervish Syndrome This Christmas

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Martha would be firing on all cylinders at Christmas. Beginning with a Black Friday marathon, she’d probably be a whirling dervish of baking Christmas cookies, hanging stockings, stringing lights, and dressing the family dog like Santa.  Her house would be a cacophony of lights and lawn ornaments.

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

Martha was serving her guts out.  She was doing a good thing – she was serving Jesus. She wanted him and her guests to enjoy themselves. She wanted to bless them. She wanted them to enjoy their challah and gefilte fish, bagels and lox and matzah ball soup and dishes of knish she’d prepared.

But Martha was “distracted.”  She was distracted by “much serving”. Martha was serving like a madwoman. But she was unable to focus on Jesus or concentrate on his words. She was probably catching some, but unable to think about what he was saying or reflect on it. “I heard him saying something about a lost sheep,” she said. “But who has time for stories? I got blintzes in the frying pan.”

Martha may have been joyful initially but now she’s getting annoyed at her sister.  She keeps glancing at Mary, hoping to catch her eye and motion for her to get in here and help.  But Martha’s enamored with Jesus.  Ahhhh this lazy sister of mine!  Martha thinks.  Now Martha is serving, but not joyfully.

Jesus said Martha’s problem was deeper than mere distraction about getting the meal on the table – she was “anxious and troubled about many things.” The cares of this life regularly choked out Mary’s joy and God’s word in her life.

In Martha’s eyes, Mary was being lazy and selfish. She wasn’t helping with all that needed to be done. Jesus said “one thing is necessary.” It is “the good portion.” What is this good portion? Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.” She was focused on Jesus and his word. She was undistracted in her devotion to Jesus. She was simply putting Jesus first. Her relationship with Jesus, getting to know him, and meditating on his teaching was her priority.

We too can be distracted, anxious and troubled about many things. I talked to a friend recently whose stress on the job feels like a tsunami breaking over him. Another friend is battling cancer, which is not only incredibly miserable for him, but painful, sad and distressing for his wife. Another woman’s husband has early onset dementia. I know a number of families who live paycheck to paycheck. Most of us know someone who struggles with the fury of depression, or who has a sick child.

These are major temptations to anxiety and fear. Serious distractions. Now add to all this the additional distractions and stressers the Christmas season presents – presents to buy and wrap, getting a tree, decorating, family gatherings, travel, then there’s the gift wrap outreach and the food collection and the Christmas eve outreach with the live camels. Ok, most of us don’t have to worry about live camels, but you get what I mean. And if aunt Mary and aunt Jean come to our Christmas meal it’s going to be tense, and who knows if Joe is even going to come…you get the idea.

Only one thing is necessary.

To sit at Jesus’ feet. To listen to his word. To rest in him.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3).

To avoid the Whirling Dervish Syndrome this  Christmas, as hard as it is to do, we must seek to stay our minds on Jesus and trust in him. Don’t neglect to take time in God’s word and to pray this Christmas season. Put that first. Make that top priority. A little time every day in God’s word. Carve out a time to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to his voice.

How The Heck Does Modern Day Prophecy Work?

When it comes to the ongoing, modern-day work of the Holy Spirit there are few things more confusing to people than the issue of prophecy. Many people have had bad, weird, crazy experiences with self-proclaimed prophets. Many people have even made poor, life-altering decisions (like marrying someone!) in response to a “prophecy” of some sort. When you throw guys like Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland into the mix it’s no wonder many Christians don’t want to mess with the issue of prophecy.

But I’m convinced many of the problems with and confusion regarding modern day prophecy are the result of failing to follow the relatively straightforward commands in Scripture regarding modern day prophecy. I’ve seen prophecy done properly and I’ve seen prophecy seriously jacked up. So…(deep breath)…let me attempt to lay out a simple, biblical case for what modern day prophecy should look like. 

PROPHECY IS FOR THE ENCOURAGEMENT OF THE CHURCH

1 Corinthians 14:5 says, “Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.”

The primary, central purpose of New Testament prophesy is to build up and encourage the church. This is in distinct contrast to Old Testament prophecy in which the prophets would call down divine judgment upon the people of Israel and the surrounding nations. Old Testament prophets received direct, infallible revelation from God regarding God’s judgment on Israel and surrounding nations. The teaching of the Apostles along with the testimony of the New Testament make it clear that New Testament prophecy serves a very different function.

New Testament, modern-day prophecy is intended to build up, edify, and encourage the people of God. If a dude stands up and starts foaming at the mouth, prophesying judgment and hellfire and brimstone, I immediately tune him out. Why? Prophesy is intended to build up and encourage the church.

PROPHECY IS NOT NEW REVELATION ABOUT GOD

Prophecy is never, ever, ever new revelation about God. Once the canon was completed all revelation about God ceased. The fullest revelation of God is Jesus Christ. The teaching of the apostles fills out and explains who Christ is and what he accomplished. Anyone who claims to have new revelation about God is a heretic and should be driven out of the church.

So what exactly is prophecy? I would argue that modern day prophecy is God-given insight into specific circumstances which could not be known otherwise and which in turn enables a person to bring God’s word to bear on those circumstances (you may want to read that again).

Let me give an example of what I mean. Recently Jen and I attended a friend’s church. During the service a woman came up to the front and shared what she believed was a prophetic picture from the Lord. She saw a picture of the someone laying train tracks out in front of a person one small piece at a time. She believed this picture was a reminder that God will lead us one step at a time exactly where we need to go.

Now, there was nothing weird about this experience. I didn’t get the heebie jeebies. The woman didn’t convulse or say, “Thus sayeth the Lord.” Her eyes didn’t roll back in her head. I didn’t get goosebumps. I didn’t see visions of glory. It was all very calm, ordinary, and orderly. Once she was done she quietly went back to her seat.

What I did receive was encouragement. Jen and I are in a period of transition right now. We don’t exactly know what the future holds for us. It’s actually kind of scary. The words shared by this woman encouraged me. I already know from God’s word that he will lead me. I know from God’s promises that he will give me wisdom and lead me in the proper path. I know he has good things in store for me. But I don’t always remember to apply what I know to my current circumstances. The woman who was speaking had never met me or Jen. She didn’t know what was taking place in our lives. And yet God used her simple, ordinary words to encourage us and build us up. God used her prophetic words to apply God’s word to our current circumstances.

Prophecy is not new revelation about God. Rather, prophecy is when God gives someone insight into particular circumstances which they would not have known otherwise. This insight then allows God’s word to be brought to bear more fully on those circumstances.

PROPHECY IS NOT INFALLIBLE

In 1 Corinthians 13:9 Paul writes, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” Right now we only know in part. We don’t have a full understanding of God and all his ways. Because we know in part we only prophesy in part. In other words, prophecy is fallible. It can be partially correct or even incorrect. It is possible to misunderstand or misinterpret the things God reveals to us. 

In light of this fact all prophecy must be tested and evaluated according to God’s word. 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20 says, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good…” If a person prophesies something which contradicts the clear revelation of God’s word I immediately discard it as false. God’s word is the measuring stick by which all prophecy is evaluated. Anything contrary to the Word of God must be rejected as heresy. 

PROPHECY IS NOT BINDING

I get reeeeeaaaaalllllyyyyy nervous whenever a so-called prophet starts telling someone what to do with their life. This is where prophecy can go South really quickly.

It’s important to remember that New Testament, modern-day prophecy is not binding. In other words, we are not required to obey something simply because someone says it is from the Lord. An example of this is Paul’s interaction with Agabus. In Acts 21:10-12 we read:

While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’ ” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem.

Agabus prophesied that Paul would be arrested. In response to Agabus’ prophecy Paul’s companions and friends urged him not to go to Jerusalem. Nevertheless, Paul still continued on his journey to Jerusalem. He did not regard Agabus’ prophesy as binding.

Throughout my life I’ve had people give prophetic words over me. Sometimes these words are in regards to my future or what I should be doing. When I hear these words my mental response is always, “Well, we’ll see!” I don’t make major life decisions based on prophecy, I make major life decisions based upon the Bible. There are times when prophecy can instill fresh faith for a particular decision but it is never the basis for a life decision. Prophecy is not binding.

SO WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?

If you believe in prophecy but aren’t really sure what to do I would encourage you to do two things. First, read Wayne Grudem’s book The Gift of Prophecy In the New Testament and TodayIt is a much longer and more thorough treatment of the subject of prophecy.

Second, I would encourage you to bring your questions and concerns to the Lord. Tell him you want experience prophecy but you’re not sure what to do. Tell him about your bad experiences with prophecy. He wants to meet you where you are. He wants to give you good gifts. 1 Corinthians 14:1 should encourage you that God wants to help you in this area:

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.