The Theology of Emotion

I feel like…

I don’t think it’s fair that…

I don’t feel like God would make someone unhappy…

Christians are saturated by thousands of blogs, articles, and thoughts about what is ok and not ok to do and be in our day.   One of the more dangerous false teachings I see creeping into the American Christian world is what I want to call the Theology of Emotion.

Theology simply means the study of God.   Our culture is increasingly a generation of Christians that are basing their beliefs about God more heavily on how they feel than what God has revealed about Himself through the Bible.

If you need examples of this just go talk to most young Christians and ask them if they think living together before marriage is wrong.   Or ask them if they think homosexuality is wrong. It seems that many who claim Christianity today are more concerned with how they feel about something than what God has said in the Bible about it.

Don’t get me wrong emotions are a great and powerful driver.   Emotions are the great catalyst to actions. I love so many passionate movements going on in the Christian community such as the “End It” movement to end sex trafficking.   I love the pregnancy care centers that are all over our nation that provide options to mothers who feel like they have no options. I love the push for Christian families to be involved in foster care and adoption. These are great pictures of how God uses our emotional heartstrings to rally us around causes that are close to His heart.

If we do not feel then we do not care and we are never moved to action.

Emotions are great motivators but bad decision makers.

When we allow how we feel about any certain issue to supersede what God has revealed we become our own god and no longer trust Jesus as the authority.

One recent example I read was in an interview with popular Christian author Jen Hatmaker.   I know many women in my church that love her books. Most of what she writes is helpful and beneficial. But when I read her recent comments on the homosexual community I was taken back.

Here is what she said, “From a spiritual perspective, since gay marriage is legal in all 50 states, our communities have plenty of gay couples who, just like the rest of us, need marriage support and parenting help and Christian community. They are either going to find those resources in the church or they are not. Not only are these our neighbors and friends, but they are brothers and sisters in Christ. They are adopted into the same family as the rest of us, and the church hasn’t treated the LGBT community like family. We have to do better.”

I find her statements very disturbing.   The Christian community has the biblical mandate and responsibility to love and minister to every person, red, yellow, black, white, male, female, straight, gay, confused or other. But what she says takes this to another level.   She is taking people who embrace a life and identity that God clearly defined in scripture as a direct rebellion against Him, and associates those who embrace that lifestyle as a fellow believer in Christ.

This is anti-biblical to the core.   Jesus is so clear that when we become His followers we sign away all of our personal rights. We become willful slaves of Christ.   Here are the words of Jesus, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

Those selfish acts of rebellion no longer characterize our life.   We willingly choose to deny what may seem pleasurable and best to us in order to follow what Jesus says is best.

The Apostle Peter said it this way,

“So then, since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had, and be ready to suffer, too. For if you have suffered physically for Christ, you have finished with sin. You won’t spend the rest of your lives chasing your own desires, but you will be anxious to do the will of God. You have had enough in the past of the evil things that godless people enjoy—their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols.” (1 Peter 4:1-3)

Dietrich Bonheoffer said so clearly, “the call to follow Christ is a call to die.”

My goal is not to throw stones at Jen Hatmaker or even those who identify as LGBT. The goal is to expose a larger problem that is a bitter root in the tree of American Theology.   It is the idea that we can change our theology to match the spirit and feeling of the day. The beauty of the scripture is that it is unchanging. No matter how we feel about an issue we yield to Christ.   We do not seek to make the scripture fit our feelings. This applies to all of us!   This is no indictment on any particular sin.   It is prerequisite for all of us.   I make my kids take off their shoes before they come in the house.   We must shed ourselves of all of our sins when we come to Christ.

When we come to Christ we do not have the option of holding on to any sin.   Our identity is no longer found in our activity but in our Savior.   The sex addict can come to Christ, but he must repent and turn away from his sex addiction.   The thief can come to Christ but he is no longer a thief, he now seeks to look like his Savior. He goes from taker to giver. The idol worshipper can come to Christ but he cannot bring his idol with him. He must destroy it. The homosexual can come to Christ but he no longer identifies as a homosexual. My point is not to say that Jesus followers will no longer struggle with their sin but that they will STRUGGLE. They will embrace the internal battle that is going on inside of them. They will not give themselves over to the sins of their past. The Holy Spirit inside of them will no longer allow them to be happy in their sin.

Adrian Rogers once said, “Our feelings are the most shallow part of us. God does not do His deepest work in our most shallow part.”

If you are a follower of Christ I would challenge you to read your bible more than you read the latest Christian book.   Remember that if something has been true for 2000 years of the Christian faith then God is not going to suddenly change His mind because the culture now embraces some particular sin.   The call of the Christian life is a call of self sacrifice. It is a call to lay our sins down and lay our lives down for others.

Let’s not make a golden image of god in the likeness of the American culture of our day. The world says that we should be happy and we find happiness when we do what makes us feel good.   The word of God teaches us that we should seek holiness.   When we seek to be holy, only then do we find happiness. Happiness in the Christian life is not the goal but the by-product. It’s not found in sin but often found in service.   Happiness can be briefly experienced in the passing pleasures of sin, but that kind of happiness will quickly leave you empty again. Real happiness can only last in the conscious surrender of ourselves to Christ and His calling on our lives. Get your theology from the Bible and not from your heart.

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Parenting Gremlins (Teenagers)

How do we keep our children from throwing their lives away and breaking our hearts in the process?

A few weeks ago I dropped my 5 year old twins off at Vacation Bible School (VBS) at our church. Both daughters cried and would not let go of me when they arrived with their group.   They made quite the scene as I attempted to pull away. I was frustrated with them and scolded them and told them to go to their class.   Looking back I know the day will soon come that I will be dejected because they will no longer want to hang on to me, instead they will want to let go of me. I have been told by a number of parents with grown children, “When they are little they step on your toes and when they get older they step on your heart.”

I have seen many broken-hearted parents with teenagers and young adults that have gone astray. I cannot help but believe that while young people will make their own decisions, there are some very practical things parents can do to keep their children from going down a path the leads to misery.

Recently, I witnessed some pretty disturbing things among teenagers and preteens. Here are a few:

Middle school age children, both boys and girls, addicted to pornography.

Teenagers cutting themselves with razor blades to ease the pain they feel.

Teenagers contemplating or even engaging in a same sex lifestyle in 8th grade.

Middle school and high school age children taking pictures of themselves naked and sending them to their boyfriend or girlfriend.

Teenage Stress…

Teenage Depression…

Teenage Despair…

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These are scary accounts you might expect to hear from hard on their luck, inner city kids, but that is not where these came from.

These stories came from upper middle class church kids at youth camp.

I recently was the evening speaker at my church’s youth camp. There were 323 sixth through twelfth graders along with over 100 adults. The students were awesome and God moved in a big way.   There were students giving their lives to Jesus, surrendering to ministry calls and many tears of brokenness over sin.

The reality of what kids are dealing with today versus 5-10 years ago is amazing!   Sin is still the same.

The internal struggle is still the same but availability, access, and the cultural moral compass have changed.

I would like to offer what may be some helpful thoughts for Christian parents and youth leaders.

Youth today are further down the sin path then they were ten years ago.   Let me explain what I mean.

Ten years ago at youth camp there were usually a few boys struggling with pornography.

Today most of the guys are struggling and many of the girls are struggling with pornography.

Ten years ago you never would have thought to talk about kids struggling with same sex attraction in a church camp setting.

Today most of the youth have accepted homosexuality as a normative behavior.

I can remember in 8th grade it being pretty scandalous if you were kissing your girlfriend, and yet this generation has self-identified homosexuals in 8th grade!

All parents know that there are no guarantees in parenting but there are patterns and there are some wise decisions we can make as parents that will help our children. Here are some ideas that I think Christian parents must consider.

It may be (It probably is) worse than you think – When you hear about kids struggling do not automatically jump to the conclusion, “That’s not my child.” Maybe they’re not…but maybe they are. Most parents of teenagers who are seriously struggling do not know their kids are struggling.

Praise your children for things that are praiseworthy – It is very easy and even natural for us to see what is wrong with our children. We correct them and try to change their behavior to make it what is acceptable. It is so important that we parent according to the gospel. Jesus calls believers His children. When His Spirit convicts us of our sin it is a calling up and not a pressing down.   Satan uses fear and guilt. Satan reminds us of how bad we are and how we could never be accepted.   Many times I am afraid Christian parents employ Satan’s strategy in parenting.   We shame our children. We scold them and tell them how bad they are.   God’s Spirit of conviction in our life is different. He convicts us of sin, not to shame us, but to call us to be who we already are in Christ.   We are a son or daughter who was adopted into God’s family through the blood of Jesus. He tells us we are to act like who we already are…His children.   I am working to remind my kids of who they are and not who they aren’t. Find what they are doing and encourage them.

IT is OK to tell your children that there are things that are NOT ok!   We must not let the insane illogical world of culture dictate what is true in our homes. We live in a day of illogical confusion. We have laws to save endangered birds and also have laws that make sure we have the right to kill our own children in the womb. Our politically correct gibberish is creating a generation of confused young people.   Parent, it is ok to say that a white woman who claims to be a black woman is actually wrong and confused. It is ok to teach our children that a man that thinks he is a woman is not a hero but a very broken person in need of finding his identity in Christ. It is ok–no, needed–that we teach our children that a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex is not ok. It is important to teach your children that it is not ok to look at pornography.  This list could go on for a long time but basically you must teach your children truth based on the Bible and basic common sense. These are lost in our day.

Teens are begging for their parents to help them. They would not say it that way…in fact they would not verbalize it at all. The thing they think they want least (their parent’s love, discipline, and instruction) is the thing they are crying out for most. They are drowning!   Teenagers from the beginning of time have struggled with sex…body’s change and hormones rage.   All adults wandered through the awkward years of adolescence, but today is a day like never before. For centuries gone by, sexuality has always been a curiosity to teens but always something that was subdued until a time of marriage.   A man’s strong desire for sex would drive him to work and to be a responsible man.   A young woman’s virtue was her highest prize.   A combination of unlimited free pornography, unlimited Internet access and most kids having smartphones has changed everything! Porn is the ocean in which our children are drowning. Some just feel like they cannot do anything to get free.

We need to give them a plan.  It is not enough to say pray and read your Bible. They don’t need shame. They need help. They don’t need you to yell at them.   When most parents find out their children have some great sin issue or struggle they blow their top, yell and scream, and threaten to lock their children up for the next 10 years. Most of the time these kinds of reactions only cause more separation between the child and parent.   Parents should be hurt and even angry that their child has drifted into the deep waters of sin, but they must use that deep emotion to help their child develop a plan for getting out!   Some issues need professional help. Sometimes it may be some simple levels of accountability.   Every situation is different and requires wisdom and a long term plan for help. Maybe you are thinking, “I have no idea how to get my child help!”   Start with the local church you attend. Ask a pastor. That is what they are there for. If they cannot help you, they can point you in the right direction.

We do not need to put undue weight on them.   They “need” a cell phone because everyone else has one. We give them one because every other parent has given their child one, but what if they actually don’t “need” one.   What if giving them a phone is not helpful but really the weight that pulls them down in the ocean of porn. Remember a phone is not a phone anymore. The thing they use their phone for the least is actually calling people. It is an eye gate to the world. It is an information center. It is the key to everything social.   Their phone holds the key to everything they will find their identity in. Is that what you want for your 12 year old? It is the object that shapes our child’s worldview.   I don’t even know if they make “just phones” anymore. Be very slow in making the decision of when your child will get a phone. Be very fast in taking their phone away if they are struggling.   I don’t let my 18 month old play with knives because she will hurt herself. Most young children are not ready for smart phones when they receive them. We are giving our children a tool to hurt themselves.

Parents must make sure their children have safe, Godly people to talk to other than themselves.   At church youth camp I was again shown the importance of Godly spiritual adults.   I was reminded that the day will come where my children may not feel like they are able to talk to me about a particular subject because I am their authority figure and I make the rules. They must be able to talk to someone!   I am so thankful for youth pastors, girls’ directors, small group leaders, and Sunday School teachers because they are that safe harbor where kids can go to talk. You must get your kids around Godly adults and leaders other than you that you trust. If they are not going to talk to you, then who will they talk too?

God’s Word is the best counselor. I am starting to get on a regular basis questions that I was never asked 5 years ago. Things like: “I have a child that is a girl, but wants to be a boy. What do I do?” or “How can I help my child who is attracted to the same sex?” or “My child is in Middle school and has been sexting. What do I do?”   Because these issues are different than issues parents have dealt with in the past sometimes we feel inadequate…which we are.   I have found that the best advice for parents is not something new, but something old. We must choose to believe God’s word and use it as counsel.   While the problems may be complex, the answers are simple.   We are sinners in need of Jesus. When we repent of our sin and live in a way that is pleasing to God, eventually our heart changes. Transformations are rarely overnight…they take time, but God’s word is true and He knows us better than we even know ourselves.   We must choose to believe about us what God says about us. The best counselor a parent can know is their Bible!   Most parents feel inadequate to help their children because they do not know what God’s word says or where to find it.   Here is a novel idea for all parents: Read your Bible everyday. Pray for your children everyday!   Don’t miss church and be among other Christian parents!

10 Things I’ve Learned In 10 Years Of Marriage

I can remember it like it was yesterday. It was one of the most defining moments of my life. All the people that I cared for showed up (minus a few that hadn’t been born yet).   My best friend stood beside me. My hands were sweaty and my knees were weak. There was a harpist playing a beautiful melody as couples walked down the aisle dressed to the nines. And then the moment happened…the automated bells tolled and the doors swung open. There she was, my love, my dream girl, my to wife to be! I have never seen a prettier sight.  I was 23 and she was 22 (that seems awful young to me now).   We were two kids in love with a lot of dreams. I am usually not too nervous in front of groups of people, but I was really nervous that day. I answered the preacher and looked into her eyes and meant every word I said. That was an amazing day that I will never forget.

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From that day to this day seems like the blink of an eye. I have a belief that the more you are enjoying your life the faster it goes. We are 10 years into this journey together. I pray we have at least 40-50 more together.   Life has gone by at the speed of light and every year it gets better and every year it moves faster.   I wanted to take just a minute to reflect and share some lessons I have learned in the last 10 years with my amazing wife, Charyl.

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It gets better and things change. Our first year of marriage was not horrible but it was an adjustment. Every year we know each other better and love each other more.   Don’t give up. Maybe you are in year 1 or 2 and you feel like you have been tricked.   Stick with it. As you grow together you begin to grow together. The more life change you experience together the more you learn to trust one another.

Here are just a few of the changes that we have been through in 10 years:

We have lived in 7 different houses.

We have had 4 children.

I added between 20 – 35 extra pounds.

Charyl got more attractive (if that was even possible).

Together we have had 8 different jobs or career changes.

Our income has gone up. Our expenses have gone up.

We have had 2 dogs.

We have had 7 different cars.

We bought and sold a house.

I have infinitely more gray hairs than I had when we got married.

We have made more new friends than we can count.

I have been to 7 different countries.

Charyl started a very unexpected business that has become a career and ministry (Premier).

I have been a youth pastor, middle school pastor, young families and college pastor, senior pastor, and am currently the discipleship pastor.

Charyl went from RN to Jewelry lady.

We became special needs advocates (particularly for families who have a member with down syndrome)

Jesus has been with us every step of the way. He has never left us. He has never forgotten about us.

He has been most near when things have been most difficult.  

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Happy Wife, Happy Life (Or if you are a woman: Happy Man, Happy Land) – Maybe you have heard this statement, “If momma aint happy then nobody’s happy.” When Charyl and I got married my mother gave me some advice that I almost blew off at the time. She said, “Rick, your job is to help Charyl not be stressed.”   In the last 10 years I found this to be a peach on the tree of wisdom. I heard Tony Evans say that if you want to know where you are spiritually as a husband, then look at your wife.   She is a reflection of you.   I have found when I have not been the husband I need to be it affects Charyl. When I do not love, serve, and make time to meet her emotional needs then it affects everything else in our home. She is the heart of our home.   Husbands would do well to give great attention to the heart.   This is an area I hope I am growing in.

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Marriage Is Not 50/50 Or Even 100/100 – I believe the best marriages give all they can don’t expect anything in return. The best ratio would be 100/0 or 100/not my responsibility.  As long as you are expecting something in return you will struggle. Appreciate what your spouse does. Don’t act like what you are doing is harder or more important than what your spouse does. Never belittle them. Your job is to build them up and not tear them down.

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Time Is Short So Don’t Waste It. The first ten years have blazed by. Life has only picked up speed.   Take time each day to hug your spouse, kiss your spouse, pray with your spouse, and talk to them. Go Home! Work is hard and long. If you don’t go home then you will grow distant from your spouse. Date your spouse. Try to make a time weekly or at least a couple of times a month where you just focus on one another. Family time with the kids is vital but it is even more vital that you connect with one another in a setting where you can really talk with no stress and no distractions.

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Little Things Will Kill Your Marriage Or Make It Stronger – Most fights are over little things. He didn’t put is clothes in the hamper. She didn’t remember to get what you asked her to get at the store. Instead of flying off the handle, build a bridge and get over it. They are not perfect and neither are you. Growing your love for one another is also built on little things. Pick up flowers for no reason. Hold hands with one another. Leave notes for one another. Look for little things to appreciate in one another. When you see something, say something. Never let a complement go unsaid. Words have the power of life and death…particularly in a marriage.

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Marriages Are Not One Size Fits All – There are so many marriage books out there but your marriage is not like any of them. Principles can help but your marriage is like you…it’s unique. A system that worked for your parents may not, probably will not, work for you. Make your own normal.

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Your Children Will Bring You Together Or Push You Apart…You Choose Which.   Children are one of life’s greatest blessings. They can bring so much joy to your life and your marriage.   If you make your children the most important thing in your life then your marriage will suffer…it may even die. I have witnessed too many couples that had children and forgot about each other.   The best thing you can do for your children is having healthy marriage. Do not let your children drive a wedge between you and your spouse.

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Marriage Means There Is Someone With You At The Hospital. When you are a teenager, love and marriage is all about emotion and romance. Most of the romance revolves around attraction and the hope of a great sex life. This is all well and good but as your grow older you realize that there is nothing better than living with your best friend and knowing they will be there for you for better or worse, through thick and thin. Romance turns to something more beautiful called commitment.

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Find Something You Like To Do Together. We watch “Chopped” together. This is a cooking show that is on Netflix. My wife and I don’t watch much TV. We really don’t have time. But there is a brief moment at the end of most weekdays between about 8:30-9:30 that the kids are asleep and we still have enough energy to talk. We talk for a few minutes and then we watched Chopped.   We don’t say much. We might hold hands but it is the simple act of being in the presence of one another. Enjoy each other’s company.

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Without Jesus We Would Not Make It – Pray for each other. Worship together. Make church attendance a non-negotiable of your home. Have family worship time at the dinner table at least a few times a week. There is NOTHING more important in your marriage than keeping Jesus as the foundation. There are not many things that make us more like Christ than the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit through marriage.

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