One of my favorite fictional characters is Father Brown, the humble priest who also happens to be an incredible detective, and who lives in dozens of short stories from the unmatched mind and imagination of G.K. Chesterton. There is a modern take on the stories right now on television, but as I refrain from making any sort of public commentary on how true to the character the new shows are, I do encourage you to read the original Chesterton short stories. They are brilliant and thoroughly enjoyable.
Father Brown always knows who is guilty of the crime for two reasons. First, he is invariably able to put himself into the shoes of the guilty party. He knows that all of mankind suffers from the same fallen, sinful nature, therefore he can always imagine what the miscreant did. Without God’s love and nature in his heart, the priest knows he also could be capable of every awful, evil thing. The second reason is tied to the first - he has already heard all there is to hear in the confessional. In one story, Father Brown points out, ““Has it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear men’s real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil?”
This is an interesting part of the ministry. Eli and I are coming up on thirty years as university campus pastors, and in that time we have had the honor of knowing and ministering to many hundreds of young people. A significant part of this is that we have helped people walk through some horrible and difficult times, sometimes due to accident or illness or losing a loved one, but many times because that person has made a very poor decision and must suffer the consequences. There is a singular thread that connects all of these poor choices - acting on feelings rather than truth and reality.
lf there were a single, defining characteristic of this age, it could be said that this is an era which worships feelings. Society tells us that we should pay close attention to our feelings - they are the very thing that should guide our relationships, plans, and actions. This line of thinking says that if something feels right or good, we should do it, no matter what; conversely, if something feels wrong, then we should just walk away, regardless of what it costs anyone. The pressure is now building that we should encourage everyone to follow all of their deepest feelings, no matter how wild, though the bitter end of this path is yet to be seen in full. Feelings rule the day.
But what are feelings? They seem so powerful and sometimes almost overwhelming, but they have no substance at all. They are very difficult to describe or categorize, and so many things can impact them. We might eat too much spicy food late at night, and wake up the next day feeling rotten and melancholy right out of the gate. We might receive a bad piece of news and feel that the world is coming to an end. A loved one might treat us differently than we expected, and we might feel that the relationship is lost. But none of these things is reality. The rotten day is actually packed with promise and potential; the bad news is truly not the end of the world; the family relationship cannot be lost.
All of these scenarios prove what our friend Winkie Pratney has said...
Feelings are never the true test of reality. Feelings are just feelings, and will change frequently with time and circumstance.
An interesting thing to note about feelings is that they can become just as much a habit as anything. If we give into them enough, feelings - no matter how unreasonable - can dictate our lives. Say you live in Huntsville like I do, but you work in Houston, which is 70 miles south of here. Without consulting a map, you might feel like going west to College Station and then turning south to Houston. This gets you where you need to go, so you do that every single work day for a year, and that becomes your habit. If you had only taken the time to consult the map, you would have clearly seen that your habitual route was adding at least an hour and half of driving time to work for just one way. If you had simply taken the interstate south, you could have cut off three hours of driving time every day. This silly example serves to make the point that living by feelings is a horribly inefficient way to live. You can let them direct you, but feelings are very unreliable guides.
When my girls were young, and occasionally misbehaved, I noticed that I would often say, “Please act right.” What an interesting thing to say! It is essentially saying, “Look, you are not behaving the proper way. Please stop doing what you are doing and, even if you do not feel like it or want to, behave this other way instead. Pretend and go through the motions if you must.” Of course, we say that because there is a standard of conduct that we expect and strive for. As Christians, we all aspire to live like Jesus lived - a beautiful, sinless, unselfish life lived entirely for the glory of God. In 1 Corinthians chapter 11, Paul says this plainly and urges the church, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.”
Even if we do not feel like it, we should live like Jesus lived and do the things Jesus did because it is the right thing to do. I think it would be proper to say, especially if we do not feel like it, we should choose instead to act like Jesus would have. Jesus always chose unselfishly; His life consistently pointed people towards God and eternity with Him in Heaven, and that is how our lives should look. We can know the way Jesus lived by studying the Word of God consistenly. We can know what is real and true by knowing and memorizing the Bible, and by heeding the voice of God.
-Tomorrow, if I wake up feeling full of doubts and fears, I can remind myself that the Bible says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
-If I feel like a failure and a mistake, I can remember that Psalms 139 tells me, “For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.”
-If I feel like doing something really selfish and wicked, I can recall what Galatians 5 informs, “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
-If I feel like blowing up and letting someone else just have it, I can recall what Jesus said again and again, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
-If I feel like I cannot possible bear the circumstances in my life without the help of some other substance, I can recall the truth of 1 Corinthians 10, "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." Instead of using a crutch, I will start looking for God's help.
After all, going forward and acting on my feelings of gloom and despair will not help anyone know God better, least of all myself. Acting on my feelings of selfishness or anger will likely lead me to do or say something I will regret, and might cause pain to someone else. Numbing myself when I feel overwhelmed will make me miss so much in life. Giving in to feeling that myself or anyone else is unworthy and unloved will not lead anyone at all towards eternity with God. Feelings certainly seem powerful, but they have no power in the face of truth.
Our society is trying in vain to live by feelings, which is all you have left once you throw away truth and reality. Christians used to be called People of the Book, and this is something we should strive to become again. We do not have to be lead by ever-changing feelings. We can be guided by truth and love, which never fail.
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.
-2 Peter 3: 18
I hope that you are having a wonderful summer so far - we really are! It has definitely started to feel like East Texas summertime in the last few weeks. We have a bit of a jungle-feel here in Huntsville, and it is difficult to adjust back to such sultry conditions each year. A few days ago I was grocery shopping, and noticed the family at the register across from me having a heated argument. A few moments later, I heard the father and two kids behind me all snapping angrily at each other. On my way out the door, even the two workers stationed there were exchanging unpleasant words. I wondered what in the world was going on until I pushed my cart all the way across the broiling parking lot, and then I understood. It is difficult to be very positive or kind when you are so hot and sweaty.
Also this week, I resumed lap swimming for the first time in too long, and have been humbled by how out-of-swimming-shape I have become. It is going to take some real time and effort to get back in condition. Many of you have heard me say at one time or another that I was a swimmer as a young person. It was definitely the thing that my world revolved around, and by the time I was in college, it was pretty normal to spend four to five hours a day in the pool. This may sound like a lot, but I really enjoyed it. I loved the sport, and was glad to put in the training so that I could swim faster every year. I had some great coaches through the years, and they knew how to train us so that we could excel.
Both of these experiences in the same week got me thinking. Isn’t it so interesting and even surprising how much we dislike unpleasant circumstances in life? How intriguing that a few more degrees on the thermometer can make us all act so differently; the same with a frustrating situation, or an unexpected bill, or a relationship problem. Difficult things bring out all kinds of actions and reactions from somewhere deep within each of us, oftentimes leading us to do or say things that we soon regret.
I think that if we had our choice, most of us would opt for a care-free life, one with no stress or unpleasantness or trouble. My husband has preached an excellent sermon about spiritual growth, and in it he points out that people with stress-free lives would likely be called Marshmallow Christians since they would have no spiritual muscle at all. Spiritual growth is just like growth in physical fitness. If you want to grow something, be it a muscle or godly character, you must have real resistence, repetition, and then rest. Without these things, there will be no growth. Yet, resistence and discomfort in life are the very things we fail to embrace.
As an athlete, it honestly would have made me very frustrated if our coach had us just float around for a little while every day for practice. I did not want to float, I wanted to swim fast when race day came! Being ready when the time comes always requires putting in the daily work. A good coach knows how to see the potential within each person and bring it out of them with proper, disciplined training. They know how to stretch the athlete enough to help them achieve more, but not too much as not to inflict injury. And, assuming the athlete puts in the effort, a great coach knows how to take them further than they ever thought they could go and become better than they ever thought they could be.
Now, think about the greatest Coach in the universe; imagine what could He help people become. God made each one of us. He knows us better than we know ourselves and knows exactly what we are capable of becoming through Christ. We are all created in the image of God, with tremendous potential for world-changing good. Even more than that, Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life when He walked this earth, and left us a wonderful example to follow. He never reacted poorly, even when people were doing awful things to Him. He did not run from the daily annoyances of life, even when He knew what road was ultimately before Him.
It is so interesting to consider what we might have been like if the Fall had not happened, and then to think what life might be like in Heaven. We can suppose what it would be like to live as a people and in a place untouched by sin, but we cannot know for certain. What is certain right now is that we live in a fallen world, each of us with a fallen, sinful nature to contend with - which means frustrations and annoyances are bound to occur daily. We often have many carefully cultivated bad habits of selfishness, and too often let our circumstances dictate our actions. And we are far too content to let time roll by without taking advantage of the great training ground this fallen world provides.
Remember what Jesus said in John 16:33, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” We do not have to let circumstances or feelings rule our lives. The truth and power of Jesus helps us to become people who look and act like He did - astonishingly different from everyone else, and full of joy and hope even in the midst of trouble.
If I have surrendered my life to Christ, yet continue to react in anger every time someone or something frustrates me, then I am not growing. If I take the opportunity and attempt to react with grace and patience instead, then I am moving in the right direction towards Christ-likeness. If I continually withdraw and check out every time a situation becomes difficult or when my feelings become too strong to manage easily, then I am not moving in the right direction. If I learn to face the unpleasantness and find joy and peace even in the midst of it, then I am growing to become more like Jesus.
God is the great Coach. He knows what we are made of, and gives us everything we need to grow. He will never give any of us more than we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13), and He will help us navigate this fallen world with strength and grace. You can trust the training regimen He has for you. Make full use of it each day to become what you were created to be. There is a watching world, and we have a responsibility as Christians to represent Jesus well. When we know that frustrations are sure to come daily, we must meet the challenge to learn and grow to become like Jesus - full of grace and peace, and ready to bring hope and healing in every situation.
How different we could become if we stopped seeing everyday annoyances as stumbling blocks, and instead saw them as stepping stones along a path to growth in godly character. How strong we could be if we stopped being surprised by frustrations and embraced them as an opportunity to stretch and grow in our faith. How much further we could go if we did our part to grow in the grace and knowledge of God - and how many more people all around us would see a clear and magnetic representation of Jesus through our lives.
Spiritual growth is vital for every Christian. Spend some time this summer learning more about how to walk with God - please click below to order your copy today!
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)