Don’t Forget Your Heart
JULY 1, 2020
My friend, Ralph Richardson, was the part-time janitor at the first church we served on Cape Cod.
Ralph also owned the local print shop and sometimes did odd jobs for some of the rich folks in our village. One time Ralph told me how much fun he was having buying a new car. Then he pointed up the hill to the house of the wealthiest man in our village and said, “I feel so sorry for him sometimes.” I asked Ralph why, given the man had more money than God.
“Because,” Ralph said, “he will never know the joy of buying a new car. When he wants anything, including a car, he just buys it. And, if he doesn’t like it, he will just buy another one. I’ve had so much fun looking for my new car, thinking about it, and picturing myself driving it. That’s something he will never experience and it’s sad.”
Two or three months ago, I bought a new Honda Accord. My old one had over 250,000 miles on it and, despite losing the “mileage bragging rights,” it was time.
So I read through articles on new cars in Consumer Reports. I did a pile of research on the Internet. I talked to friends who bought cars within the last few years. I test-drove a lot of cars and listened to pitches from multiple car salesmen. I compared prices, and determined what I could and could not afford. And of course (after all, I’m ordained) I prayed about it and even fasted a couple days.
And if you believe any of that, you probably still believe in the tooth fairy.
This is how it really happened. I saw the new Accord and said, “Wow!” Then I bought it.
Like with Ralph, buying the car was fun. It just took less time for me. I love my car and only my natural humility prevents me from including a photo of it here. Can I afford it? I’m not sure. Will it get to 250,000 miles like my last car? I don’t know. Is it safe? Well, it has seat belts. But that’s not the point. I sort of fell in love with my car, bought it, and enjoy driving it.
Brant Hansen’s The Truth About Us is a game-changing book and the best book I’ve ever read on self-righteousness. With laugh-out-loud humor he nails you, me, and everybody else, all without being self-righteous. That’s close to a miracle. Brant points out in his book that our “rational” decisions are hardly ever that. Almost all of our decisions (like my buying the new car) are emotional and the rational justification comes later.
I was recently asked to preach on Psalm 23 and, while working on the sermon, I noticed something new. I felt good working on it. There are, of course, propositional and doctrinal truths in that Psalm, but I discovered that God designed Psalm 23 (along with a lot of other Psalms and a good deal of Scripture) to move my heart as much as my head. In other words, God’s Word isn’t designed just to give us a list of facts. Along with the facts, God speaks deeply to our hearts. The result isn’t just a simple affirmation of the facts, but also something that goes far deeper. God designed his Word to appeal to our emotions.
That’s because God designed us that way. We are thinking beings . . . but if you leave out the feeling part, you miss a good deal of what God does for his people.
I’m a Calvinist and Reformed, and we Calvinists do things “decently and in order.” We don’t speak in tongues, tell jokes, or dance . . . but if we do, we don’t do any of that very well. We believe that if you get the facts right, then it’s enough. It’s not. It’s not nearly enough. So often we (and a lot of serious Christians who aren’t Reformed) “know the words, but miss the melody.”
As you perhaps know, throughout the history of the church there has been major controversy concerning the Eucharist. Many have become “serial killers” over what actually happens at the Lord’s Supper, defending their views and castigating others over transubstantiation (Catholics), consubstantiation (Lutherans), real presence (Presbyterians), and a number of other views within those groups. I’m not saying that the theological positions aren’t important (they are), but I fear that we get so busy defining the Lord’s Supper that we don’t get around to the profound and moving act of experiencing it.
In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul talks about the Lord’s Supper and he is shocked by the “divisions among you.” Then Paul writes that Jesus broke the bread and passed the wine, saying, “‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me . . . This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’” That’s quite simple and emotionally moving.
What do you think about that? Maybe more important is another question: What do you feel about it? Could it be that the Holy Spirit speaks as much to our hearts as he does to our heads?
Did you know that you can buy plates, plaques, and cross stitch items with the old sexist saying, “Kissin’ Don’t Last, Cookin’ Do”? It is a quaint way of making the point that feelings aren’t nearly as important as we sometimes think they are. That is certainly true when you don’t “feel” God loves, forgives, and accepts you. Remember the truth of Scripture. Feelings sometimes don’t last, but facts do.
But with that being said, don’t forget about your heart.
On a talk show in Miami, I once interviewed a man who came out of a very dysfunctional family. And as a result, he had walked down some dangerous and destructive roads. Now God was using him in some significant ways. I wondered about his story and asked him to tell it to me. Instead of telling me his story, he started crying.
I said to him, not harshly, “This is radio. You have to talk or this won’t work.”
I gave him my handkerchief, and told him that when he could talk, I would get back to him. Before he told me his (amazing) story, he said, “I’m sorry, but when I think of where God found me, how much he loved me, and what he’s done in my life, sometimes I can’t stop the tears.”
The tears were from God. Sometimes laughter is too . . . and dancing, shouting, and passion. It’s one of the reasons I love my Pentecostal brothers and sisters so much. We might quibble about some of the finer points of theology, but I envy their freedom and covet their feelings. They can dance without looking at their feet, laugh without caring who thinks they’re crazy, and weep without pretending something is in their eyes. When I see that, I often pray, “Lord, could you fix me?”
And sometimes he does or I wouldn’t be talking about it with you.
Let me give you some advice from an old guy.
Read Psalm 23 (I could give you a long list of other passages too) and when you do, for God’s sake and yours, don’t analyze it, check the commentaries, or ask a preacher or biblical scholar what it means. Instead let what you “feel” wash over you. That’s him!
One of the most asked questions we get at Key Life is that of assurance: “It feels like God doesn’t love me . . . What can I do?” “I don’t feel like I’m saved . . . What can I do?” “I’m so bad in what I do, say, and think, I feel like I can never be forgiven . . . What can I do?”
In our standard response (and it is helpful), we give them the facts, what God says in his Word. We quote a lot of Scripture, and remind them that anything else is a lie, and they shouldn’t believe the lies. I’ve been thinking about it, though, and I’ve decided that we need to add something to our standard response. Given that “feelings” got them into the tangle of lies, it is reasonable to think that God will use “feelings” (at least partially) to get them out of that tangle.
My late friend, Aiken Taylor, once said something to me that I’ve never forgotten. Aiken was the editor of The Presbyterian Journal, now World magazine. Aiken also led my brother, Ron, to Christ and, if for no other reason (and there were a lot of others), I loved Aiken. He was one of the straightest (well “stiff” might be a better word) Christians I knew. Then something happened to Aiken and he changed almost overnight. I said to him, “A lot of folks think you’ve become a Charismatic. Have you?” Aiken laughed and said that he hadn’t, but he had been “found” by the Bible.
Aiken explained, “You can’t choose the Scripture that ‘finds you.’ It chooses you.” He told me that he went up on a mountain near Asheville, took out his Bible, and¾starting in the Gospel of John¾he just read. “Jesus took his Word and found me. I can’t tell you how wonderful that experience was and how I felt.”
Feelings sometimes don’t last . . . but that doesn’t mean feelings are unimportant. That’s him too.
He asked me to remind you.