Israel Day 3: It is the Heart that Matters

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It’s 6am here in Jerusalem.  I’m taking stock of what I’ve seen, heard, and the conversations I’ve had on this trip thus far and I am struck to the point of tears this morning at one simple reality: It is the heart that matters above all else in the affairs of man.

Yesterday we met with Jerusalem Post journalist Herb Keinon who offered an insiders view of Prime Minister Netanyahu from his years covering Israeli politics, and traveling oversees and around the country with him.  Then we visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum here in Jerusalem.

The Yad Vashem experience was led by a tour guide who asked a lot of questions in order to convey her ideas and the thrust of the museum – perhaps it was just her style, but it was a good way to open up the lid a little and get people thinking about the deeper issues surrounding not only the Holocaust, but hatred and killing in general. The questions that summed it all up were: How could human beings do this to other human beings? What is it that happened inside their minds and hearts? What is the genesis of this grotesque defect? What can be done to stop it in the future?

Hold that thought…

After Yad Vashem, we had lunch with Brig. General for the IDF Reserves Nitzan Nuriel.  The lunch was nothing short of fantastic.  Nuriel is an amazingly candid and heroic man.  His vision of survival, optimism, and hope for future Israeli generations was clearly what surfaced during our time together.  He exuded strength, good naturedness, and resolve.  In short, this was one of the greatest leaders I have ever met in person.

During our conversation with the General, we asked many questions.  The dialogue was great – as it has been all week here in Israel.  And Nuriel seemed to echo what Keinon had said earlier in the morning, namely that long term peace and long term solutions to living in peace are elusive, and frankly probably not the way to focus all one’s efforts.  Living life to the fullest and best in-between conflicts is what counts, said Nuriel. What do we do with that time?  In the context of why he has hope for the future, Keinon put it this way, “Israel is remarkably good at finding solutions to short term problems.”

When you approach the problems these men are describing about Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon, Iran, Syria, the border with Jordan, and on and on, you come to quickly realize there is no easy solution. They are dealing with people who are not playing by the same rules.  A member of Hamas has one goal in mind: exterminate the Jews. If they die trying, so much the better – they aren’t afraid to die, because of all they’ve learned about their supposed rewards in the afterlife.  YET, many palestinians who live in Gaza or the West Bank simply aren’t as militant.  They want a life of their own, and they are people with rights as well.  Israelis, more than anyone I know, understand the fundamental gritty truth that Palestinians, Muslims, Arabs etc. are human beings with families, lives, and souls.

The rock and the hard place are coming into focus, are they not? How do you live next to people and sit across the negotiating table with people who want to kill you because you’re a Jew.  They are completely unreasonable – they are terrorists.  Yet, there are millions and millions of men, women, and children whose lives are at stake and if you come from a Jewish background, there’s no way you’re going to wantonly kill innocents in any battle – even to defend your own people.  This is a nation of people defined by the holocaust, and that means it has been indelibly marked on them the fact that all people are human beings – just as they are.  That is one of the impressions, by the way, that one learns from Yad Vashem.

Making it all Make Sense

In the evening we had the privilege of meeting with three start-up businessmen and women who were success stories here in Israel.  It was a great dinner at a fun Moroccan restaurant in the Center City portion of Jerusalem.  As fun as it was to meet them, I was even more moved by a meeting that occurred just prior with a Palestinian Christian Pastor. I won’t tell you his name because he’s suffered enough persecution and I’d like to protect his privacy.

This young pastor was about my age – mid 30’s – and is on the front lines of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Palestinians – Muslims.  He has been beaten, had his church bombed, had his friends harassed and on and on.  But he still continues to preach.  What does he emphasize?  Loving your enemy. Why? Because this is what Jesus taught, yes, but how is he able to do it?  Because His heart has been changed radically by God. 

And…his ministry is flourishing. People are coming to Christ.  Interestingly enough, it is this idea of “love” and an understanding of mutual humanity that bridges gaps on an interpersonal basis even among secular Jews and Palestinians.  The entrepreneurs we listened to last night confirmed that as well.  But the difference between common decency and the radical nature of Jesus’ love is that one promotes harmony until the other party wrongs us, while the other – the love of Jesus – helps us love people while they wrong us.

Why did men mass murder other men and women?  Why do members of Hamas blindly hate and target Jews – sacrificing their own citizens in order to do this?  These questions are deep, but not as deep as the answers to how these problems are solved.  If we acknowledge the depth of our sin and fallenness as humans, that is the starting point.  That is the obvious answer to Yad Vashem.  But what is the answer to the second question?  How is this nature overcome?  How is hatred and ignorance overcome?  By the love of Jesus Christ.  

This is a supernatural love, an alien love, a love not found naturally in the corrupt hearts of man. It is also a gracious love, a love which God has shed abroad in the hearts of men and women who share a faith in Christ.  For those who are Christians, we need to understand that the ultimate answers to the difficult questions of our time both here and at home, begin not at the military, political, or diplomatic level, but in the hearts of mankind.

Pictures from Day 3 below:

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Posture and Worship from the Heart

Many of us gathered yesterday for a time of great fellowship, Bible study, and worship through song.  I know that for many of you this was a very enjoyable time, and I also relished the time together.  So in light of that wonderful time of worship and study, I wanted to pass along an article I read today that was convicting and insightful regarding how we worship and where are hearts ought to be.

1 Samuel 16:7 says this, “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.'”

With Arms High and Heart Abandoned – Why Posture Matters by Stephen Miller

I was Michael Jordan’s biggest fan. I regularly wrote him to ask for his autograph and invite him to my birthday parties. I was convinced I would one day be great like him, so finally after much pleading, my parents sent me to basketball camp when I was a pre-teen.

I hated it. It was nothing but drills on proper free throw techniques. Coach would shout, “Bend your knees. Follow through. MILLER! BEND YOUR KNEES! FOLLOW THROUGH!” I was not a natural born athlete and it felt awkward. Eventually I realized that I would never be the next Air Jordan, but I did get to a point that shooting with the proper posture didn’t feel so uncomfortably awkward – it felt natural.

Posture matters.

When a young man meets a young woman that he wants to impress, he stands up straight, shoulders back, gut sucked in. He maintains eye-contact and a smile. When he wants to propose, he gets down on one knee. When he has messed up royally and needs to apologize, it’s two knees.

If that man has a gun pointed at him, his hands are raised in surrender. If that man’s children want him to hold them or want to lavish him with childlike adoration, they raise their arms to him.

Paul writes in 1 Tim. 2:8, “I desire then that in every place [people] should pray, lifting holy hands…” He is referring back to many passages in the Old Testament where over and over, people were encouraged to pray and worship using specific postures – in this instance, the raising of hands.

King David, the innovator of music in corporate worship, wrote hundreds of songs for the purpose of engaging the mind, heart and body in worship. He understood that posture is an outward expression of an inward reality. Our body naturally acts the way our hearts feel. So we see encouragements throughout scripture to bow humbly, raise hands joyfully, shout and sing loudly, clap hands and even dance before the Lord. This must have felt very awkward to the people of the day, who had never seen anything like this before.

Similarly, we have been shaped by our past cultural experiences and may be tempted to forego these postures to avoid feeling awkward or uncomfortable, saying, “That’s for other people. I was raised (whatever denomination) and we never did that.” In doing so, we are failing to realize that our posture is shaped by our heart.

We raise our hands because we are growing more fully consumed with adoration of our God. We bow before God because we are becoming more fully immersed in a deep sense of humble, reverential awe. As we experience the inward heart-reality of worshiping God with all we are, it will undoubtedly work itself outward because our bodies naturally express what is happening in our hearts.

At sporting events, when a person’s team scores, he jumps up in the air, pumps his fists and shouts as loudly as he can. When the ref makes a bad call, he throws his hands up in frustration and boos vigorously. His heart is caught up in the experience of the moment, which causes his body to express itself outwardly.

That is why robotically going through the outward motions of worship without actually worshiping is not God’s desire for us – it only addresses the symptom rather than the actual problem. The fruit of our outward expressiveness reveals the root of our hearts.

Certainly there are moments to stand still in silence before the Lord – that in itself is a posture of worship. However, if we consistently find ourselves in corporate worship with our arms folded, simply mouthing the words with a blank look on our face, it may be an indicator that we are not experiencing an inward heart of adoration, wonder and awe that is characteristic of true, spiritual worship. But rather than forcing our hands in the air, we should ask God to draw us nearer to him and seek how he desires to be worshiped. We should plead with him to captivate our hearts and reveal any sin that might be keeping us from seeing and savoring him with all we are.

God wants our hearts, not just our arms raised or our knees bent. He wants more than just our shouts or our songs. He wants more than just our theological intellects. He wants all of us.

As he gets all of us, our bodies will always naturally follow. It may be awkward at first, but Jesus sees the beauty in the sloppiness of total abandon. Don’t worry about how you look when you worship. Just go for it with all your heart.

How have your past experiences shaped how you view posture in worship?

Have you ever had moments where you realized you were going through the motions of worship without the heart behind it?

Have you had moments in corporate worship where you have wanted to worship more expressively, but felt like you couldn’t? That something was holding you back?

You can find the original story here.

Getting to the Heart of Parenting: Ted Tripp

This weekend Kate and I went to a homeschool convention in Cincinnati, Ohio and heard from many good speakers.  The topics ranged from teaching creation to logic, to teaching latin, but probably my favorite lecture was from Ted Tripp on addressing obedience issues from a heart perspective.

In case you don’t know who Ted Tripp is, you can find his seminal book on child rearing here, and learn more about him and his ministry here.

A short outline from my notes of what he said, this isn’t the thing in its entirety, but sums up some of the key points he was making:

The heart sets the course of life – Prov. 4:23

“All hopes and desires are all coming out of the heart.  It is the seat of emotions and desires.  Many things we think of as cognitive activities are activities the bible says are from the ‘heart’. It’s possible to setup idols in our hearts and still inquire of God.  So even though people participate in the outward structure of religion they are still idol worshiping in their hearts.  God will not disclose himself to those who are idolatrous.  Ezekiel 14:3-4”

1 John 5:21 says ‘dear children keep yourself from idols’ and John is addressing the most important question for parents. Does something or someone else have control of my child’s heart other than Jesus Christ?   Anything that rules the heart is an idol.  What is driving them?  What is capturing their attention?”

Much time in parenting is wasted in trying to remove bad from and replace it with good fruit that is completely alien to the root system of the tree instead of dealing with the root system of the tree: Idolatry.”

(Therefore, we) should look at our lives and see if there are functional idols (Fear of man, pride, image, others approval).”

Look at what our heart desires.  Where is our treasure?  Matthew 6:19 says everyone has a treasure.  Every child has a treasure.  Whatever that treasurer is will own them. It will own their hearts.  Whatever they treasurer will shape their choices and control their behavior.

There are three kinds of desires.  The desires of the flesh.  (This is from Romans 13)

1. Pleasure seeking (seeks a rush etc)
2. Sensual passions
3. Relationship cravings

“So what rules me? What rules my child?  This is the Lordship question. The world Is always inviting us to desire what it has to offer and put ourselves under its lordship.”

Behavioral sins are always motivated by these internal things (the sin from within).  Jesus focuses on the heart and not the outward behavior (murder in our hearts, adultery in our hearts).  Mark 7:20-23 This is true when he talks about what comes out of a man is what defiles him. Translation: what comes out of a child is what defiles them.  This is a heart issue.  We see this in the greediness, envy, slander, malice, deceit, etc.  ‘From the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks'”

We hang fruit on the tree instead of concerning ourselves with the root system.  We do this by shaming them, heaping guilt on them, threatening them etc.  All of these ways are just ways of manipulating their behavior.  But once you remove those external motivations the fruit rots because it’s not motivated by the life giving roots of the tree.  We are offering our children a false basis of ethics.  We are training the heart in a wrong way.  The real problem isn’t being addressed.  We are manipulating them with the fear or man, pride of life etc. and this doesn’t incorporate he gospel or make it central.  Lastly, it shows the idols of our own hearts: control, pride, etc.

So what are our motivations as parents?  Is it idolatry or a God-centered desire to please and glorify Him?

We need to make the gospel the center in all of our teaching and parenting.  If we don’t then we make hypocrisy the center of our lives because we are sinners as well.
Identify them in their struggle (as Christ identified with us) and bring them to Christ and the cross.